Goshgarian’s Sidebar: The Literary Life


By Daphne Abeel
Special to the Mirror-Spectator

BROOKLINE, Mass. — If Diane Goshgarian were to characterize her interviews with authors for Brookline Access Television (BATV) in her own words, she would probably call this volunteer endeavor a “sidebar.”

Her main — paid — job is quite different. Goshgarian is a licensed nurse practitioner with a master’s degree in nursing from Simmons College and her primary occupation is handling “telephone triage” for Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates. She is the person who answers emergency calls after hours.

“I determine over the phone what level of care the person may require and by asking questions spot the red flags. Many people call in with back pain, and usually they do not need immediate attention,” she said.

On the other hand, Goshgarian’s interview program, “Behind the Pages,” is clearly a labor of love and she works at it as hard as she does her medical career. She has been producing the show since 2005 and scans about 40 books a month to choose the authors she will interview.

“I do two or three shows a month. The publisher’s publicist will send me a book and usually follow up with a phone call. Typically, an author will be on a book tour and making a stop in Boston. I have to be able to fit them into my work schedule, and if there’s a local author who’s just published a book, I might do two interviews in one show,” she said.

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The show is taped in the local cable television station in Brookline, where Goshgarian lives with her husband, a retired Brookline fireman. The program airs weekly on BATV and also on other local access stations in Cambridge, Newton, Boston, Burlington and Woburn.

“Sometimes, we tape in Cambridge, but in any case, the studio makes copies of the show, and I send them out to other local cable television stations. I think there is considerable interest in my program, because it is the only television program in the Boston area that interviews writers exclusively. Sometimes WBUR will interview a non-fiction writer, but I interview many novelists and because I’m the only show in town, I often get to talk with some fairly important authors,” she said.

She has interviewed writers as well known as novelist Russell Banks and local authors such as David Hosp, a partner at Goodwin Proctor and Hoar, who published a book, Among Thieves, earlier this year, based on the art heist from the Isabella Gardner Museum.

“I think when a person reads a novel he or she always wonders where the author gets his or her ideas from. I get to ask writers these questions. Writers write and behave in a certain way and it seems, very often, that their work is based in some way or other on personal experience. I get to probe the writers about their characters and get them to go behind the scenes of what they write and I think this enables the viewers to go behind the scenes, too. A lot of people avoid interviewing fiction writers because they don’t want to reveal how a story ends. I don’t deal so much with plot, but with story development, character and character motivation,” Goshgarian said.

One author on her show, Cornelia Read, wrote a novel titled The Crazy School about a school for disturbed teenagers. “I found out that Read had worked at such a school some years before and was motivated to write the novel, because she observed that many of the children were heavily medicated and probably not receiving the treatment the parents thought they were getting. She wanted to get the story out,” she said.

Goshgarian has been able to observe the many changes in the publishing world brought about by the digital revolution.

“There are different ways to publish now. One writer I know, Ron McCarty, an actor, wanted to produce a book just as an audio. He self-published it and it was available on Amazon. Someone gave it to Stephen King, and he called it one of the best books he’d read (or listened to) in years. He called his literary agent and there was a bidding war for the book, which was titled The Memory of Running. McCarty had actually written the story years before, and so it was finally published as a book.”

In a sense, Goshgarian comes by her interest in and sympathy for fiction writers through personal experience. In 2000, she published a novel herself and in some respects, it was an agonizing effort. She became involved with a company in Kentucky that turned out to be run by scam artists. They asked her to pay them a fee for publishing her book (something that no reputable, commercial publisher would do) and she ended up reporting them to the Better Business Bureau and the attorney general.

“I found out they had lied about almost everything and they were doing the same thing to hundreds of other unsuspecting writers,” said Goshgarian. “The AG in Kentucky just wasn’t interested in pursuing the case and eventually, I went to the FBI in Boston. They were interested and they took copies of all the documentation I had made of what had gone on between me and them. Eventually, the district attorney in Lexington, Ky. took up the case after it was publicized in the Washington Post and the people were tried for fraud and went to jail.”

Goshgarian ended up publishing her novel herself. Titled The Arbitrary Sword, it is based on her maternal grandmother’s experiences as a survivor of the Armenian Genocide.

She said, “She was from Kharpert, and her parents were relatively well to do. Her father, who had a farm, took in an orphan boy and he and my grandmother were married. He had a brother in the US and escaped but my grandmother was left behind on the farm in Turkey with her mother and her two sons.”

A Kurd offered to marry her and she did live with him for three years, but after World War I ended, she was able to leave and join her husband in Watertown,  Mass., where he worked at the Hood Rubber Plant. Both Goshgarian’s parents were born in the US and, she said, “They were the generation of Armenian-Americans who wanted to become American. They moved to Carlisle, where I think we were the only ethnic family in town. Sometimes I would take lamejun with me in my lunch box and the other kids would ask me what I was eating.” After elementary school, she attended the regional high school in Concord. Later she attended Boston University and received her master’s degree from Simmons.

“I never went home again,” she said. Later, Goshgarian also took some writing classes at Emerson College. She continued, “It was through writing the book about my grandmother that I connected with my Armenian past. I honestly did not even know that my grandparents had come from Turkey. My mother told me they never wanted to talk about the past. I don’t speak Armenian and my grandmother really didn’t speak English, but somehow, we were able to communicate enough so I could learn her story.”

Although Goshgarian has been able to affirm her Armenian identity, she does not attend an Armenian church and nor has she brought up her children to speak Armenian. Her husband is French-Canadian, and his first language is French, which they often speak at home.

Interested viewers can find the schedule for “Behind the Pages” online (www.behindthepages.com) and readers are likely to appreciate Goshgarian’s penetrating and intelligent questions that illuminate authors’ intentions and their characters’ motivations.

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