Lehrer and wife sign books for area readers

September 12, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

Randy shouted into the door, "Is anyone in there? This is the police! Kansas City PD!"

He waited and listened for a count of five. On ten, Randy turned the knob and pushed. The door opened easily.

"Please ... don't hurt me ... please...."

It was the faint, weak, slow voice of a man.

- From "Flying Crows" by Jim Lehrer

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.VA. - - Author Jim Lehrer asked that if the standing-room-only crowd at Four Seasons Books took just one thing away from a book reading and signing Saturday, it was this: His wife's new book "Confessions of a Bigamist" is absolutely, without question, 100 percent fiction.

More than 40 people crowded into a small room laughed with Lehrer, the author of 14 books and the executive editor/anchor of "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" on PBS.


He and his wife, Kate, both novelists, live in Washington, D.C., and Charles Town, W.Va.

For an hour, the Lehrers discussed their writing styles, how they conduct research, their sources of inspiration and personal life stories. Jim Lehrer also offered insight into a book of his that is being edited and another he now is writing.

Afterward, a line of people wanting to have books signed snaked through three rooms of the German Street bookstore.

Jim Lehrer's newest novel, "Flying Crows" is about a man who escaped from an insane asylum in 1933 and has been living since then in the storeroom of a restaurant in the mostly empty Union Station in Kansas City, Mo.

Lehrer interspersed a modern-day tale with scenes from the 1930s and the Civil War.

He read the first three pages of his novel to the crowd and, afterward, said he enjoys writing books set in more than one time period. His next book, now being edited, is about Benjamin Franklin, but also contains a current plot line.

The book he currently is writing takes place on one train ride from Chicago to Los Angeles in the 1950s.

Lehrer said he often is asked whether it is difficult having two authors in the same family.

Although it can be, he said it's a bit easier because they do not write about the same things or in the same style. They often critique each other's work and offer assistance.

"One of our strengths will be the other's weakness," Kate Lehrer said.

Although in the beginning of their relationship criticism quickly led to shouting, both have matured, they said.

"We've come a long way" and no longer need reassurance, Kate Lehrer said.

Kate Lehrer's book is about a woman who is married to two men. One is a simple man in Texas who runs a bird sanctuary, while the other is an international lawyer in New York City.

A book such as "Confessions of a Bigamist," about a strong woman willing to push the envelope, is a great way to discuss multilayered lives and selves in this multilayered world, she said.

If one thinks of bigamy as a metaphor for ambiguity, the book can apply to everyone, she said, adding that her main character chose both paths when she came to a fork in the road and wondered which to take.

One woman in the audience asked the couple whether they write primarily in Washington or Charles Town.

Kate Lehrer said she always writes her first draft in longhand while in bed, so she prefers to write in one place. Jim Lehrer said he can write anywhere, at any time, even if it is 5 a.m. and he had a hangover, was underwater and hanging by his thumbs.

He said he never leaves home without the floppy disk that contains the novel on which he is working.

Admitting that she is a much slower writer and a nonstop rewriter, Kate Lehrer offered a humorous story.

She said that one time, she and her husband went to South Carolina for a writing vacation. She was in bed, writing, while Lehrer was in another room, typing.

Jim kept coming into the bedroom, reading entire scenes to her. When he came back later in the day for a third attempted reading, she stopped him and told him not to read anything else "because I'm on the same ... page," she said.

To do research, Kate Lehrer said she relies on the Internet, books and old newspapers on microfilm.

Lehrer agreed and said he completely changed the ending of "Flying Crows" after he was able to tour Kansas City's old train station and saw something - which he did not name - on the wall.

Both said that despite their busy schedules, they still read for enjoyment.

Kate Lehrer offered a list of her favorite authors, including Virginia Woolf, John Updike, Edith Wharton and Henry James, whose works she continually rereads.

Jim Lehrer said he both reads and listens to books while driving. On Saturday, he finished listening to Gore Vidal's "The Golden Age," he said.

While waiting to have a copy of "Flying Crows" signed, Wini Polis of Shepherdstown described herself as an avid fan of Lehrer's "NewsHour."

"He's been in my home (for a long time)," she said.

Despite that, Polis said she had not read any of Lehrer's books until she recently was "laid up" after having surgery. She since has read "No Certain Rest" and "White Widow."

"No Certain Rest" contains both a current and past plot line dealing with the Battle of Antietam.

"I feel as though it really happened," Polis said of the book. "I couldn't put it down."

She planned to give the signed copy of Lehrer's latest novel to a friend who is retiring.

Of the Lehrers' presentation, Polis said she found the couple to be warm and welcoming and the event to be instructional for both writers and readers.

"It was great," Polis said. "It was so personal."

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