Ann Arbor is typically a peaceful town. At the University, students converse in the Diag, friends catch up for a meal on State Street and squirrels nibble quietly on some thrown-out snacks. But to author, ’73 alum and U.S. Administrative Law Judge Debra Goldstein, Ann Arbor is the location of a murder.
Goldstein hosted a book signing on Monday at Nicola’s Books on Jackson Ave., where she discussed her journey to becoming a writer and her new book, “Maze in Blue,” concluding with a question-and-answer section. A group of 10 men and women sat in the cozy bookstore listening to Goldstein, who was charismatic and excited while talking about how she became a writer. She explained to the crowd that this book is in a sense, her dream — and her dream takes readers down a road of murder, mystery and a little Michigan history.
In “Maze in Blue,” her debut novel, Goldstein and her readers travel back to a 1970s Ann Arbor, where protagonist and ‘U’ senior Denney Silber’s best friend Helen is suspiciously murdered. Denney feels compelled to solve the mystery of Helen’s death. To add another dimension, Goldstein took bits and pieces of the University and planted them into the story.
“There are a lot of places here that I thought just lent themselves to murder or to some whodunit intrigue,” Goldstein said.
Whether the characters are in Markley’s Blagdon Hall or the Law Quad, or are members of deactivated local sorority Collegiate Sorosis, the University plays a large role in the mystery of Helen’s murder. The University’s many mazes also make their way into “Maze in Blue,” from its interconnected buildings to the underground steam tunnels linking together the campus.
“Obviously it’s a play on the color, but in a murder mystery it’s always a maze to solve it,” Goldstein said.
Goldstein said two different groups of people are picking up the book: mystery readers and alumni. Readers connect to the general college experience portrayed in the story, as well as to specific sites and locations.
“I drew upon experiences that I’ve had,” Goldstein said. “I drew upon experiences that would’ve been fun to have. I drew upon locations and things that you could do.”
While Goldstein — also a one-time Jeopardy finalist — is now a novelist, she remains an active judge, too. She keeps her government life separate from her writing but wants her characters to go in the same direction she did — completing their undergraduate degree at the University and then going on to practice law.
Though Goldstein enjoys her time as a judge and law practitioner, she feels legal writing is stifling.
“I kind of lost my creative ability, but I didn’t think anything of it,” Goldstein said. “But I was always the one who would write the skits — like when you’re going to roast somebody or do a corny thing, I was the skit writer.”
Goldstein explained that a skit she wrote for a group project helped her career take off. Her friend’s husband commented on her writing ability and then from there she went on her innovative adventure, writing chapters for her novel, entering essay contests and even winning one. That essay, “Maybe I Should Hug You,” was published for More Magazine online.
“Sometimes somebody just says the right thing to you and it changes your attitude,” Goldstein said of her rise.
Goldstein is contracted to the publishing company Chalet Publishers to write another book — a follow-up to “Maze in Blue.” It hasn’t been written yet, but she has a few more tricks up her sleeve.
“This has been just a fun release,” Goldstein said. “It’s been such a great outlet. And because I have the other job, I’ve been able to not be tied to what a success is. If it makes money, if it doesn’t and I give it all away, that’s fine, too.”