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Author Lisa Novick Goldberg: “We all have our special story to tell”

Perhaps the most empowering lesson that I would like to impart to my readers is that most of us have to have the strength, the ability, and the resilience to change the parts of our life that consistently hold us back from reaching our best selves. I always say, “our past explains who we are, […]

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Perhaps the most empowering lesson that I would like to impart to my readers is that most of us have to have the strength, the ability, and the resilience to change the parts of our life that consistently hold us back from reaching our best selves. I always say, “our past explains who we are, but our past doesn’t define us.”

Another empowering lesson is that we all have our special story to tell. I encourage my readers to capture their memories in writing… the good, the bad, the happy, the sad. Your life story is your gift to your children and in some cases, to the world. There is no need to be concerned with the quality of your writing, just open your heart and a journal to those feelings and stories and messages that are uniquely you. The result can be liberating!


As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lisa Novick Goldberg.

Lisa was born in Brooklyn and grew up in the Five Towns on Long Island. Lisa received her bachelor’s degree from Vassar College and her master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia School of International and Public Affairs. She now lives in Coconut Grove, Florida, with her husband, Stan Blake. The Apple and the Shady Tree is her first book.


Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?

The Apple and The Shady Tree is my first book; at 62 years old I found my true “career” path! I have always known that I could write well… compositions and essays in school usually received high marks, speeches written for celebrations were applauded, and even letters and emails with less-than-upbeat messages have been acknowledged for their substance. Nonetheless, I ignored what might have been my true calling and spent my younger years in the non-profit world and then administering the family’s retail food businesses.

Okay, so maybe I had the writing skills, but that is only part of the equation in becoming a good author… you need a good story! In my case, I needed decades to gather my ingredients and allow them to cook. You see, I come from a family that could be the poster child for dysfunction: Mental illness? Check. Crippling co-dependency issues? Check? Poor choices? Check. Perhaps the “piece de resistance,” my Jewish father was the moneyman for the Genovese crime family. What material! An author’s dream!

I had always been encouraged by friends to share my lifelong collection of memories, some very funny, others profoundly sad, with the outside world. In 2014 I was introduced to a woman who had been a successful executive in the entertainment industry and she and her husband heard some of my tales and thought that a book or screenplay was screaming to be realized. Less than 6 months later, my husband was diagnosed with cancer and our normally frenetic social life came to a screeching halt. I finally had the time and inclination to write.

Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

Since I am a new author, the course of my career is limited to the production of my one book. Perhaps the most interesting story involved a close family member of one of the men whose story I detail in my book. It was Christmas morning, my book had already been published and I woke-up to find an email from this man asking me to please remove an anecdote that I had written about the relationship between our fathers and the mob. He was afraid of possible retribution from telling the story, even though it had taken place over 50 years ago. It was important to me from the outset of my writing not to “throw anyone under the bus” and yet, right out of the gate, I was causing someone pain. What had I done? I immediately assured him that I would remove the offending content from all copies of the book published in the future, despite cost. And that is just what I did.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?

The Apple and the Shady Tree took me four years to complete, in which time I faced two major challenges. The first involved the following questions that played over and over on a loop in my mind and often hindered my progression: “Why am I writing this book? Why am I telling the world such private and often unflattering details of my life and my family’s? What am I hoping to accomplish in putting myself out there? Could I be putting myself in danger by sharing my stories? Am I opening-up old wounds or am I trying to close them?

Intense work with my psychoanalyst helped me to answer these questions and move on to complete my book.

The second challenge concerned what to do with my manuscript once it was finished. The publishing process seemed daunting. As a first-time author, I knew that going the traditional publishing route would not be easy and self-publishing seemed overwhelming. I sought advice from a friend who had his own books published and he encouraged me to self-publish with the help of a production company that worked with me to handle all of the steps involved in the process.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I have come to view the “surprise” that I got during the researching of my book as funny rather than traumatizing. I began my research into my father’s past by contacting the FBI under the Freedom of Information Act. I received a letter back from the FBI stating that there were some 29,000 pages potentially related to the subject that I had requested! OMG! OY! Faced with the sobering realization of the extent of my father’s involvement in organized crime, (on whatever level), I had to prepare myself for what I was going to learn. How would I mentally handle this cache of information?

As it turned out, I only received a small portion of what the FBI had to offer due to time and cost constraints, which I chose to consider as some sort of protective divine intervention!

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Due to the positive response to my first book, I have just started to think about my next. I am toying with the idea of a book on how the pandemic has influenced the “bucket list” of senior citizens. Stay tuned!

Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

My appearance before a Grand Jury investigation of the mob’s control in the NYC metropolitan area is the most interesting story that I share in my book. Initially, the reader may not understand why testifying in front of a Grand Jury in December 1988, when I was 30 years old, was a pivotal moment in my life. After all, people are subpoenaed to serve all the time! But in my case, I knew that I would be asked questions about my father and his closest friends and their involvement in organized crime. I had been assured by the criminal attorney that my father hired for me, that I should be on the stand for 15, maybe 20 minutes, but more than 2 hours later I emerged from the courtroom in somewhat of a catatonic state. Had I said something that would send my father to jail? Was I going to jail? Would this investigation go on for years? I went home and got into bed for the next week. My connection to reality had slipped away as I alternated between long bouts of wild panic and crippling depression.

My extreme reaction can onlybe understood in the context of my upbringing, which is detailed in my story.

What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?

Perhaps the most empowering lesson that I would like to impart to my readers is that most of us have to have the strength, the ability, and the resilience to change the parts of our life that consistently hold us back from reaching our best selves. I always say, “our past explains who we are, but our past doesn’t define us.”

Another empowering lesson is that we all have our special story to tell. I encourage my readers to capture their memories in writing… the good, the bad, the happy, the sad. Your life story is your gift to your children and in some cases, to the world. There is no need to be concerned with the quality of your writing, just open your heart and a journal to those feelings and stories and messages that are uniquely you. The result can be liberating!

Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need to Know to Become a Great Author”? Please share a story or example for each.

A good author needs to have patience. Brilliant thoughts matched with clever execution of writing skills don’t necessarily present themselves daily. They ebb and flow with your moods and the weather, so learn to accept the unproductive times and carry-on! While writing my book, I experienced weeks, sometimes months of the dreaded ‘writers’ block.” My humor, which usually managed to make me laugh out loud, would land on the keys of my computer with a deafening THUD. My ability to translate intense feelings of pain and fear often resulted in hollow prose. But I didn’t give up! I stepped away and returned when I was ready.

A good author needs to be organized. Whether you are writing fiction or non-fiction, you need to develop outlines that will evolve from very broad to very detailed over time. I set-up numerous folders of researched notes to support and enhance each of my stories.

A good author needs to establish a connection with the reader. I knew that there would be a whole group of readers who would relate to my stories of growing up in Brooklyn and Long Island in the 1960s and 70s. I also have a relationship with readers who follow books on the mafia, troubled family relationships, Judaism and emerging from a tumultuous past to find one’s identity and true path.

A good author needs to believe in themself. Writing for publication ain’t for the weak at heart. Outside criticism will come in heaps… Use it constructively without compromising your goals. My early manuscripts were a series of vignettes that lacked a cohesive story. I knew that I needed to establish links between my stories to effectively convey my message. I spent most of my summer vacation in the mountains of North Carolina editing and editing; I knew I had a story to tell and I was going to get it right… no matter what!

A good author needs to push themself outside of their comfort zone. Try new styles of writing. Experiment with language and grammar in unconventional ways. Don’t be afraid to draw material from your own life experiences, which are closest to your heart and therefore, potentially the most powerful. The Apple and the Shady Tree, while being all of ME, has numerous universal themes.

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?

I think that my honesty, in my writing and relationships with people, is the biggest contribution to my success. I am not afraid to risk being vulnerable. My book shares intimate details about my weaknesses and failures as well as my challenges and hopes for the future. There was a power to putting my intense emotion into words. For one, there is a validation that my feelings did exist and were justified when they were given context. Also, honesty provides a connection between the writer and the reader; strangers can bond over a bravely shared story. Following my first book signing, I had several people come up to offer thanks for having the courage to share my brutal experiences with my family’s issues with mental illness. They briefly shared their stories of their struggles in this arena and told me that my willingness to be so open and hopeful was an inspiration. We connected on a level that I had never anticipated when I was writing my book.

Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?

I do not hesitate to turn to self-help literature when I am in need. When life throws me a particularly stressful challenge, I find comfort in knowing that I am not alone, that my fears are not unique and that coping skills do exist or solutions are available to help deal with a situation.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If I were a person of enormous influence, like say an Oprah, I would start/further a movement to make mental health less of a stigma. I would saturate the public eye with books, movies, blogs, television shows, etc. that factually portray the spectrum of mental illnesses. While doing my best to raise awareness of the issues, I would put together a “think tank” of doctors, teachers, administrators, politicians and most importantly, real folks of all ages to determine ways to identify and alleviate the pain and stigma associated with the range of diseases that is believed to affect one in five Americans.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Best to reach me on my website: lisanovickgoldberg.com

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