5 burning questions with Marlene Trestman

Marlene Trestman is one of our featured writers at our August 13th reading. Check out our interview with her below.

What is your first memory of writing for fun?

For me, to be honest, writing has never been “fun.” It has been deeply rewarding, a source of personal pride, and indeed one of the tools of my trade as a lawyer, but it has always involved hard work compounded by self-doubt. Holding a copy of my first book for the first time? Now, that was fun.

How many drafts = done?

I can’t answer this question with a number of drafts, but I can tell you that excluding the numerous online drafts that were never printed, just the printed versions of draft chapters for my first book, Fair Labor Lawyer, fill a large banker’s box. The best description of my writing process is food-themed: I start out with a huge pot of watery, bland, broth which I keep cooking, seasoning, and reducing until it blends into a bowl of thick, rich, gumbo.

What is your favorite book or favorite book-of-the-moment?

For the book I am currently writing, I keep nearby Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns. Not only a literary masterpiece, it sets a gold standard on how to transform a mountain of interviews and archival research about six decades of complex American history into a beautiful narrative by telling the deeply moving stories of a few principal subjects.

What is it about your discipline that gets you the most excited?

I love the research (often accompanied by long hours digging through documents in distant archives) that necessarily goes into non-fiction writing. I enjoy the thrill of the hunt as much as the ultimate satisfaction of figuring out a difficult puzzle.

What’s your favorite word or words? What about it/them appeals to you?

“Wordsmithery” is a favorite of mine. It’s such a wonderful set of syllables that precisely identifies the skill of finding the correct words and putting them together in a pleasing and purposeful way.

“Feminist” is also a great word for me simply because of its seemingly relentless power to generate controversy. Some of the world’s greatest feminists refused, or only reluctantly allowed themselves, to be identified as such.


Marlene Trestman: Former Maryland Assistant Attorney General Marlene Trestman retired from her 30-year law practice to write the biography of her trailblazing mentor, Fair Labor Lawyer: The Remarkable Life of New Deal Attorney and Supreme Court Advocate Bessie Margolin (LSU Press, 2016). Inspired by Margolin’s childhood and her own, Trestman is now writing her second non-fiction book, Most Fortunate Unfortunates: New Orleans’s Jewish Orphans’ Home, 1855-1946 (LSU Press, forthcoming). More information at www.marlenetrestman.com.

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