Jeffrey D. Boldt spent 24 years working as an administrative law judge for Wisconsin. Upon retirement, Boldt switched gears and now he’s a novelist.
His first book blue lake was released earlier this year. Set in Wisconsin, the story folds into environmental issues and pressures to deviate from the rule of law.
Boldt’s interest in literature began during his undergraduate years. “I started publishing poetry when I was a history major in college and have tried to publish something, either an essay or a short story, almost every year since,” Boldt says.
His path to law school began a little later, while living and working in New York. “I was given the opportunity to become a management trainee at this major UK international bank and just thought about what I really wanted to do with my life,” says Boldt.
He chose law school at UW-Madison. “I was lucky enough to get the job of administrative law judge some time after practicing in private practice and doing a lot of litigation,” says Boldt.
Administrative law judges are part of the executive branch of Wisconsin. “And their decisions become the final legal decision, often, of a state agency,” Boldt says in particular of the DNR. “Because much of the authority comes from the federal government and the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, the AOJ’s decision is the final legal decision of the [Wisconsin] Department of Natural Resources.
Bold says blue lake “Drawn out of the intrigue and drama inherent in some of my experiences hearing environmental cases statewide.”
Boldt envisioned his book as a hybrid of a literary place novel with environmental themes and a dramatic setting.
“The book opens with Jason, the main protagonist regaining consciousness after being shot, and then slowly over time we go back in time and get to know the four main characters,” Boldt explains.
Set under the Walker administration, the main protagonist, like Boldt, is an administrative law judge from Wisconsin.
Boldt says his own experience seeps into the book more than he originally anticipated.
“The plot and the setting and frankly my love of the state. I roamed the state for 24 years; I have a favorite restaurant in every county seat in the state, and I also have favorite natural features in every county,” Boldt says. “And there was also some grounding from real cases that informed my creative work in the book.”
He says balancing the freedom to write fiction, while crafting a story that is legally plausible and touches on important environmental issues is “a very difficult needle to thread”.
Boldt says transporting the reader to location and time is essential. “What I wanted to do was have an entertaining dramatic narrative that addressed some critical issues for our time, and those include climate change, obviously, environmental degradation, but also to give some kind of perspective on the pressure that the individuals responsible for upholding the rule of law,” adds Boldt, “Unfortunately, we are learning the limitations of this type of system.
The stakes are high, says Boldt, for our democracy.
Boldt traveled Wisconsin to promote blue lake. Along the way, he met fellow state employees.
“Some of them have told me that they’ve been under similar pressures and similar threats,” Boldt concludes, “that if anything makes me want to talk about the dramatic possibilities of the next book even more than talking as a citizen very concerned about the environment, the climate crisis, i guess it’s called the climate emergency, also the attempts to undermine the rule of law and the attempt to designate individuals as vulnerable decision makers.
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