Keith Alexander, Author of “Forgery of the Month Club”

What is your book about?

Forgery of the Month Club is a memoir of redemption in which I tell stories about collaborating with my mother in 1970’s Chicago, perpetrating a series of illegal schemes such as bank fraud, shoplifting, burglary and art forgery. In the end, I leave Chicago and that life and use what I learned as her co-conspirator to shepherd my newborn daughter through a series of health crises.

How long had the idea of your book been developing before you began to write the story?

Since I was a teen ager. Imagine you had a mother who did fake Picassos, devised a way to scale a statue in the middle of a public park and scrape the 24k gold from it, and who stole bicycles from high rise basements. Eventually you would have to write them down, and publish them. Before I began writing them, I treated them as heirlooms of an audible nature.

What inspired you to write this particular story?

My mother has a 200 level IQ, invented a human-powered flying machine and built a castle, among other wacky pursuits. Yet, my sister and I grew up with little to eat at home. To live with such genius day to day is inspiring and maddening. The act of writing became a way to map out the various stories, characters and motivations within them. It was also a way to map out my emotions about growing up in this family.

How much of yourself is hidden in the characters in the book?

I like to think that I’m not hidden; that, as my mother’s collaborator, I am presented in the book simply as one who hopes to keep mom from getting locked up, in the hopes that one day we could convert one of her wacky ideas into cash. But in the process of writing I did not just edit the words I wrote, I was also editing the feelings I had while writing. I have not yet devised a way to record my emotions during any sustained period of time so alas, much of what I felt during the 14 years of writing Forgery of The Month Club has evaporated.

Why will readers relate to your characters?

I’m not sure readers will relate to them, but I am certain they will be entertained.

How long did it take you to write your book?

Two years to write the book, and twelve years of rewriting. Even when I had a polished story, I had second thoughts about perspective, what to emphasize, and what to minimize. Whether to structure the stories as memory or in a standard chronological structure was a persistent challenge for me, as was deciding to structure the stories for a marketplace, or to structure the work as a work of art.

How much of a story do you have in mind before you start writing it?

I had a series of stories in anecdotal form simmering in my memory from my youth, until the time in my life came to sit down and write the book. That was July 1998. Then came interviews and research.

Did you do any research for the book?

The primary form of research was interviewing mom, her sisters and her mother. Then I spoke with her cousins and dug up everything I could about her father. After that I did genealogical research on my father’s side and discovered my great great grandfather was a slave in Natchez, Mississippi at the start of the Civil War, who quit and joined the union Army, fought in local skirmishes and was mentioned in dispatches. I love research, so I follow every bit of information I can about every topic touched on in the book.

What about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Personally I like the procedural aspect of some of the capers, whether they are fantasy activities like building the castle, or illegal antics like evicting deadbeats. Some of the characters are noteworthy such as mom, Sarge, Breno and Susan.

How do you develop and differentiate your characters?

The characters I write about are real characters, who have their own fears, limits, histories and scars. They differentiate themselves. Sometimes I change their names.

How (or when) do you decide that you are finished writing a story?

When, after reading it, I cannot think of anything else to say or any other way to say it.

What are your goals for the book?

I want my readers to say “Wow! What a ride!” Then I want them to say: No matter what I have done in my life, I can change.

Does your understanding of the story you are writing change during the course of the book?

Yes, both during the writing of it, and during the reading of it. When I began writing Forgery of the Month Club, it began as a eulogy. It then became an investigation, and then a story of redemption. Each of these approaches required different intellectual questions that guided the research and writing. They also informed the subsequent approaches. Over 14 years, these different approaches mirrored my emotional evolution. When I read the book, there were moments when I read it as though it was a eulogy, at other times it read as an investigation and at other times it read as a story of redemption.

What is your favorite place, real or fictional?

My favorite place is a bit real, and a bit fictional. Home is my favorite place, and yet I love travelling. When I travel, I get impatient until we reach our destination. To calm my impatience, I imagine home; this fantasy image of home acts on me like a tonic during 14-hour long flights, 4-hour drives or 20-minute grocery store excursions.

If you could have lunch with one person, real or fictitious, who would it be?

It would be my maternal grandfather, Arnold Israel Freedland, who was born in Daugavpils, Latvia in 1900, immigrated to Minneapolis via Hammersmith, London. He and his parents steamed across the Atlantic in the Teutonic, sister ship of the Titanic. He died when my mother was 14 years old, an event to which I attribute my mother’s moral separation from the law-abiding world. To me, as a child who grew up with an indifferent father who was married to another woman, the history of my grandfather nurtured hopes in me of an adult man who would love me, mentor me and generally take an interest in me. There were no consistent males in my life that did this. My yearning turned to Arnie, and to that end, I learned as much as I could about him from mom, her sisters, my grandmother, older cousins, great aunts, photos, letters, film fragments, sketches and his civilian army service record. All that was missing was the actual person.

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