B&H Blog

Just Deceits Book Launch

Sat Oct 18, 2008 7:01 am Celeste Bennett

The following article with photograph can be viewed at The Ballard News Tribune by clicking here.

More photos and text are available at the Seattle P-I by clicking here.

Just rewards

By Peggy Sturdivant

Monday, October 06, 2008

Loyal Heights resident Michael Schein has been traveling two paths for nearly two decades. Husband and father, neighbor, legal professor and poet on one path, while on the other he's been writer and detective on the trail of 200 year-old courtroom mystery. Last week his paths crossed as his novel, Just Deceits, about that famous trial launched in the place where the idea was originally birthed - on Loyal Heights.

"I must have died and gone to heaven," Michael said as he stood in front of an audience at the Loyal Heights Community Center that included his legal, literary and Loyal Heights' worlds.

"I've always written but I didn't necessarily want to be published," he said. "I believe you're a writer if you write, not because you're published. But I had stories I wanted to tell and I wanted those stories to be read. It seems you need to be published to make that happen."

If the evening seemed magical, with its period Mozart, 18th century recipes, stage setting and reenactments from the novel that was also because Michael's collaborative publisher, Celeste Bennett of Bennett & Hastings had wanted to create a very special book launch. The fairy godmother at the end of Michael's literary journey is Celeste, who rightly likened a book launch to that of an actual birth. It just so happens the gestation period was almost 18 years.

Michael Schein grew up in Vermont and attended Reed College in Oregon. His wife's graduate studies brought them to the Seattle area; they bought a home near Loyal Heights Community Center 20 years ago. He taught Legal History at University of Puget Sound, before it was acquired by Seattle University and still hopes his passion for history, theater and law helped make his courses interesting for former students.

While teaching he became interested in a court case from 1793 Virginia that involved two members of the state's most imminent family, the Randolphs. For the defense were a young John Marshall, the fourth Chief Justice, and Patrick "Give me liberty" Henry. Michael's subsequent research led to John Marshall's original trial notes at the Virginia Historical Society, detailed cultural studies pertaining to plantation life, slave culture, architecture, and 18th century food while he worked on a fictional account of an enduring legal mystery.

Sometimes the book would sit in a drawer for years, or more literally on a computer's hard drive. Meanwhile Michael also wrote poetry and appeals on the Exxon Valdez case as a maritime law attorney, all the while returning to the book, revising it, attending conferences, workshops, working with various agents. Then he began to focus on being able to share his work, which led him to contact New York publishers. Time passed, his older daughter left for college, his younger entered Salmon Bay Middle School. There were rejections, waiting periods, other projects. Last spring he decided to look online for local publishers and found Celeste Bennett and George Hastings had founded an independent press within ten blocks from his home.

On Saturday, Sept. 27 it was already dark by 7:30 p.m. The poster version of the Just Deceits cover design featuring one oversized green eye seemed to suggest horror story rather than a historical novel. Then again the true story of a man and woman accused of infanticide is haunting. An activity room on the second floor of the community center had been transformed into parts of a Southern plantation, drawing room music, a bedroom and a huge buffet of food prepared using recipes from Thomas Jefferson's cookbook. In the hallway six actors in wigs and period dress prepared to act out two scenes. Seated just inside the door Michael was beaming as he autographed copies his book, a heavy box sitting on the floor next to him that had been airlifted in advance of the truckload of books on its own way from the Southern states.

Michael and I had met a few weeks earlier for tea at Miro's on Ballard Avenue to talk about his first novel. "It was a way to explore what I've learned from trial work," he said. "And a trial is a trial even if it was 200 years ago." As for creating a fictional account rather than non-fiction, he told me. "In a novel you can get at certain essential truths in a way that most history books cannot; it allows you to go beyond the facts and think about what is really happening in their lives."

I asked Michael if the intended release date would be a special day after his long odyssey with this book. "Well," he said, "I try to practice that every day - every moment is special but there will be a day when a whole bunch of books arrive and I can open the box and take one out. That day is will be a little more special."

For all his measured remarks over timed teapots, it was obvious that September 27th was very, very special for Michael, his family and all of his friends. The entire evening was a convergence of overlapping orbits and talents - his wife's preparation of an elaborate buffet, Celeste's sister creating a plantation setting from materials on-hand at the community center, a mutual connection to Taproot Theater providing the actors. It was evening designed to be special for veterans of readings, and first timers.

"I must have died and gone to heaven" Michael said after Celeste introduced him, clearly relishing every moment. In the next months there will be other readings, invitations to speak at the homes of Patrick Henry and John Marshall in Virginia. Along with Bennett & Hastings Publishing he'll be marketing the book, encouraging shops to carry it, beginning research on his next novel. But on that September night, just blocks from where he has lived and worked for 20 years the night itself was the culmination of a dream come true: one that was created, birthed, and celebrated in Loyal Heights.