Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Q&A with Leslie Karst




Leslie Karst is the author of the new memoir Justice Is Served: A Tale of Scallops, the Law, & Cooking for RBG. It focuses on a dinner she cooked for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Karst also writes the Sally Solari culinary mysteries. A retired attorney, she lives in Santa Cruz and Hilo, Hawaii.


Q: What inspired you to write this book, and how long did it take to complete it?


A: I hadn’t planned to write a memoir about the events contained in Justice is Served. But on the trip back home to Santa Cruz from Los Angeles the morning after the dinner, as my then-partner (now-wife; thank you RBG!) Robin and I were reliving all the marvelous, amusing, and occasionally downright bizarre occurrences leading up to and including the big night, we both came to the same conclusion: I had to write it all down. Right then, before I forgot the details.


So I grabbed a pen and the sheaf of office paper we kept in our truck and as Robin navigated Highway 5, the two of us brainstormed regarding everything we could remember of the previous nine months—including all the conversations from the night before. Scribbling furiously, I took everything down, eventually covering some 20 pages with my notes.


As soon as I was home, I commenced writing the memoir. The draft was finished within a few months, but then there it sat for years on my computer while I was sidetracked, first by my work as a research and appellate attorney, then by writing and promoting my culinary mystery series.


Finally, after much egging-on by Robin, her mother, and various others who knew of the manuscript’s existence, I concluded that they were right. The extraordinary story needed to be out there, for others to read.


Q: The writer Reyna Grande called Justice Is Served “part memoir, part culinary odyssey, and part historical account of an extraordinary evening.” What do you think of that description, and how did you decide on the book’s structure?


A: I love that she described the book that way, because it’s very much how I envisioned the structure to be.


The memoir, of course, had to provide the underlying tale of my being tasked with hosting this momentous meal and my planning and preparation of (and angsting and obsessing over) the coming event, as well as detailing the dinner itself. And I also wanted it to be an account of my personal journey separate from the dinner itself—how the experience affected me, as a lawyer, as a romantic partner, as a daughter, as a person.


But as soon as I started writing it all down, I realized that since the memoir concerned not just me, but also the celebrated and iconic Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, this was her story as well, which needed to be woven throughout as part of the structure of the memoir.


Hence what I term the “interludes” that occur in each chapter: snapshots of RBG’s life and life’s work, each of which relate back to what was going on at the moment in my own life.


Q: What impact did it have on you to write the book, and what do you hope readers take away from it?


A: In hindsight, I realize what a healthy exercise it was, sitting down to write the memoir as soon as I returned home from the big event. For had I not done so, I would likely have fallen into a funk—suffering from a profound let-down after all the anticipation and build-up leading up to The Dinner.


But reliving it all as I typed away at my keyboard provided an emotional cooling-down period, allowing me to transition more easily back to my “normal” life.


And now that it’s a published book, I also realize what a gift it is to have such a detailed retelling of this momentous and impactful period of my life, much of which I would have long ago forgotten but for the existence of the memoir.


But perhaps most important to me, personally, is that the book serves to vividly bring back to life my mother and father, who played such an important part in the big event but are now, alas, gone.


As for what I hope readers take away from the book, my dream is that you find yourself uplifted, amused, more knowledgeable than before about RBG and her life’s work, and perhaps pleased that I’ve finally come to a place of peace in my own life. Oh, and I’m guessing you’ll be hungry, too!


Q: What do you see as Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s legacy today?


A: The obvious response to this, one might argue, would be her victories—both as a legal advocate and as a jurist—in the area of women’s rights. But to my mind, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s greatest legacy is just how she secured those results.


Now, more than ever, with people so intensely polarized regarding political and cultural issues, I believe that the most important lesson we can glean from RBG and her life’s work is the importance of embracing collegiality and compromise in our dealings with others.


As director of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, and then later as judge and justice, she consistently employed precision and logic—as opposed to fireworks and emotion—in seeking to woo others to her way of thinking.


RBG often spoke of her mother, Celia, and how she gave the young Ruth Bader this sage advice: To always conduct herself civilly and not let emotions like anger or envy get in her way. To hold fast to her convictions and self-respect, but be a good teacher and never snap back in anger, because emotions like anger and resentment only waste time and sap energy.


Not only is this a healthy and harmonious way of approaching life, but it’s also—given all those legal victories RBG secured over the years—a strategy that clearly works. We could well do with a lot more of that collegiality today.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: As some of you may know, I’m also the author of the Sally Solari culinary mysteries, featuring a fourth-generation Italian, part of the community of fishermen who first emigrated to Santa Cruz, California back in the 1890s.


Not yet 40, Sally’s already experiencing erratic hormones and hot flashes and, as a result, can tend towards over-the-top emotions and sarcasm (though cycling and bourbon help). But she’s also smart, stubborn, and resolute, and rarely takes no for an answer. So when Sally sets her mind on tracking down a murderer, you do not want to be the one who gets in her way.


I’ve just turned in to my publisher the manuscript for book six in the series, A Sense for Murder, in which the dining room manager of a restaurant-and-culinary bookstore is found murdered on the night of a benefit dinner, and the primary clue is the simultaneous theft of a boxed set of signed first editions of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The book releases this coming August, from Severn House.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Something many people don’t know about me is that before turning my sights to becoming an author, I was the lead singer, songwriter, and rhythm guitarist for a country-rock band called Electric Range. My sister sang harmonies for the group, which was described at the time as having “a post-modern Everly Sisters” sound. You can listen to the CD we recorded here: https://www.lesliekarstauthor.com/songwriter.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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