What was your inspiration for writing Pryme Knumber?
I started writing when I was ten years old. My first “novel” was a sixty page effort when I was twelve. I think humor is the best way to make sense out of the very difficult political issues that confront us, and I loved the idea of the underdogs (Milwaukee, a kid like Bernie Weber who grows up in difficult circumstances, a Milwaukee college) beating the big dogs from out of town.
Why math? What does the incorporation of math mean to you?
I’ve always been fascinated by math, and especially by the history of mathematical discoveries. But it can’t be too detailed, or few people will read it. It’s a good way to create a superhero without giving him magical powers.
Have you ever known a Bernie Weber character in real life?
He is loosely based on my nephew who passed away, although obviously no one in real life can do what Bernie can do with math.
How has your experience in both politics and law influenced your writing?
Politics gave me excellent characters and stories, some so strange that people could object that they can’t possibly be true. Law is the best preparation for writing. I approach it as if I am writing a reply brief—-short page limit; no word wasted; direct and to the point; every sentence and phrase essential to the story, but no more.
What’s your favorite aspect of living in Milwaukee?
The people are very friendly and courteous. The City is clean, well run, and not crowded. I love to visit other places, but I love to return here to live.
Do you have any piece of advice for aspiring authors?
Sit down and do it. A blank page can be intimidating, but it really isn’t once you start. Think out what you want to say and accomplish. And then just do it. Once you start, you will find that phrases, sentences, characters and scenes will occur to you. Keep a log where you jot down ideas for the work–names of characters; phrases that occur to you or that you hear; possible plot and character ideas. But above all, sit down and do it. And keep doing it on a regular basis.
What was the overall message you hoped readers would take away from the book?
I’ve refrained from trying to impose what I think about my book because of an interview I read when I was in college. It was the late sixties, and Joseph Heller, the author of Catch 22 was interviewed by the college newspaper. Catch 22 was very popular at the time, and we all had our ideas about what it meant. They asked Heller why he called it Catch 22 instead of Catch 44 or 19 or some other number. He said it had no significance–he started with another number but ran into some issue (I don’t recall if it was a copyright issue or something else) so he just used 22. Because Catch 22 had passed into our language as a shorthand for a concept we all understand (a double bind), I thought he unnecessarily minimized his accomplishment. Every reader gets something distinct from every book. My main objective in writing my books is to entertain. Moliere said “before you instruct, you must first entertain.” What the instruction is I leave to the readers.
What can you tell us about the upcoming story, Bernie Weber and the Riemann Hypothesis?
There is even more action than in PRYME KNUMBER. The City of Madison comes in for well-deserved satirical treatment. So does the Governor of Wisconsin, and both the Republicans and the Democrats.