John Dandola
Charity Interview


• You seem to embrace charitable causes. Is that always as positive an experience as one would hope?

J.D.: It's most definitely a double-edged sword. At best, it's exhilarating to be in a position to assist what you perceive to be worthy or even lost causes.

• Can you give us some specifics?

J.D.: On the "pro" side, one of my wonderful experiences has been with A Taste of Murder— cookbook which compiles recipes donated by modern mystery writers, who then partake in booksignings so that the cookbook sales can benefit a national organization which combats hunger.

Doing a booksigning for charity is a very special way an author can give back.

I've had quite a bit of enjoyment and success doing the "An Evening With John Dandola" format which incorporates a discussion on the different writing techniques for novels, screenplays, and local histories with personal experiences, audience questions, and finally a booksigning. It's usually a lot of fun.

• How are you influenced in considering such projects?

J.D.: I weigh whether an organization or cause is something which coincides with my beliefs and/or is something I consider to be a worthwhile pursuit. But that is only the first half of the equation. I enter all new situations with extreme politeness and I have reached a point in my career where I rarely have to put up rudeness. I simply don't like working that way. On any level, lack of courtesy or civility falls under my heading of "not acceptable behavior" regardless of an organization's goals.

• You mentioned a "pro" side to such things. Is there also a "con" side?

J.D.: Unfortunately, yes. When that happens it makes for a most unpleasant experience.

• Are there any such unpleasant experiences you would care to share?

J.D.: Only in general terms in the hopes that similar predicaments can be avoided in the future.

There was the historic site which asked me to use my name and to do a booksigning in order to help them raise money. I was also asked to write the decree which they were to be awarded by the local mayor. I was doing a lot of giving and my self-important committee members repaid me for everything by all showing up for the newspaper photo receiving the decree but never telling me about it or mentioning my name in the accompanying article.

Then there was the formal history book I was asked to undertake for a municipality. It consumed a year and a half of donated daily work on my part but I considered it a very worthwhile cause.

In the middle of it all, the municipality had proven inept in raising funds for the project so I footed their bills on the proviso that I be paid when the money came in.

Once the formal history was published and lauded by librarians and historians and the money had been raised, the municipality refused to reimburse me. My lawyer stopped the sale of the book and we took them to court. Only then was the money reimbursed to me.

• Those sound like very intentional cases. Can things go wrong when no spite is involved?

J.D.: Yes, usually due to complete lack of common courtesy.

For instance, I have always had a wonderful relationship with my local library. I have always been the one they turn to with local history questions. But within the past couple of years, the director and several key personnel have retired and every time I now go into the library I see fewer and fewer familiar faces working there.

In the Spring of 1999, I received a phone call from one of the new librarians asking if she could have a newspaper reporter interview me on their behalf to bring attention to residents about using the library.

I thought it was a nice idea so I did the interview. Several other authors who now live here were quoted but because I have lived here all of my life and since I had always worked so closely with the library staff in the past, my interview was much more in depth and constituted about three-quarters of the article. The article also accomplished its goal in spades.

A personal note from the librarian to thank me was never mailed; a follow-up phone call to thank me was never placed. It's the little things and life is all in the details.

This lack of social graces was further magnified by the unceremonious dismissal of the existing library board—at least one of whom had served for nearly thirty years—in an inappropriate power play for more mayoral political control. Although the mayor appoints all but one of the library board members (the superintendent of schools appoints one), New Jersey state library law decrees that a board must remain autonomous. By remaining unpolitical and doing a collectively superlative job, the board members had held their positions through several administrations. On occasion through the years, a member might step down of his or her own volition but no one was ever dismissed—until the present. Unfortunately, in the current administration, the library has ceased being what it should be—an oasis from the town's usual political intrigues. Needless to say, I'll think twice before I ever lend the library another assist.

A very similar incident occurred during the centennial celebration of my grammar school. The school had never wanted for anything if my family could help it as far back as when my grandfather had been a student there. That was always the constant in my family: if that particular school needed it, it was given no matter how difficult it was for us to obtain—a practice which continued long after we were students there and even throughout my college years.

I even did a very successful booksigning on their behalf which was very special to all concerned.

When the school's centennial rolled around, the present school principal, who had been a teacher at the school when I was still a student (and who also had been a personal recipient of many of my and my family's favors), doled out several slights and insults. One was to me.

After members of the PTA picked my brain about the history of the school for a pamphlet or slide show or some such project they wanted to produce, the principal saw fit not to invite me to speak at the ceremonies opting instead (through much internal PTA bickering) to have a very much less informed political speaker.

That kind of snub permeates and saddens some your fondest memories. The whole incident was so far beyond inexcusable that I will never lift a finger to help them again.

• After all of that, do you still do work to benefit charities?

J.D.: Absolutely. There's an old Irish saying: "Forgive your enemies but never forget their names."

• So you've learned to deal with things differently in order to avoid some of the dreadful incidents you've experienced?

J.D.: That's it exactly.

First and foremost, I've learned to earmark whatever money is raised through my efforts for the use of something I personally believe in.

Secondly, when pettiness raises it's ugly head or factions occur, I cut bait and leave.

Thirdly, I do not ever deal with politicians.

No matter how worthwhile the end result could be, I no longer allow the journey to take an emotional toll on me...

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