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Wisconsin judge turned novelist blends environment with intrigue in 'Blue Lake'

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Jeffrey D. Boldt

Jeffrey D. Boldt spent 24 years working as an administrative law judge for Wisconsin. Upon his retirement, Boldt shifted gears and now he’s a novelist.

His first book Blue Lake was released earlier this year. Set in Wisconsin, the story folds in environmental issues and the pressures to sway from the rule of law.

Boldt’s interest in literature started during his undergrad days. “I started publishing poetry when I was a history major in college and tried to publish something, either an essay or a short story, pretty much every year since,” Boldt says.

His path into studying law began a bit later, while living and working in New York City. “I was given an opportunity to become a management trainee in this large British international bank and I just thought through what I really wanted to do with my life,” Boldt says.

He chose law school at UW-Madison. “I was lucky then to get the job as an administrative law judge sometime after being in private practice and doing a lot of trial work,” Boldt says.

Administrative law judges are part of Wisconsin’s executive branch. “And their decisions becomes the final legal decision, often, of a state agency,” Boldt says especially of the DNR. “Because a lot 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.”

Boldt says Blue Lake “Came out of the intrigue and the inherent drama of some of my experiences hearing environmental cases around the state.”

Boldt envisioned his book as a hybrid of a mystery and a literary novel of place with environmental themes and a dramatic setting.

“The book opens with Jason the main protagonist is regaining consciousness after having been shot and then slowly over the course we go back in time and we get to know the four main characters,” Boldt says.

Set during the Walker Administration, the main protagonist, like Boldt, is a Wisconsin administrative law judge.

Boldt says his own experience seeps into the book more than he originally intended.

“The intrigue and the setting and frankly my love of the state. I traveled the state for 24 years; I have a favorite restaurant in every county seat in the state and have favorite natural features in every county as well,” Boldt says. “And there was also some basis from real-life cases that informed my creative work in the book.”

He says balancing the freedom of writing fiction, while crafting a story that’s legally plausible and touches on important environmental issues is “a very difficult needle to thread.”

Boldt says transporting the reader in place and time is critical. “What I wanted to do was to have an entertaining dramatic narrative that addressed certain crucial questions for our moment, and these include climate change, obviously, environmental degradation but also to give some sort of perspective on the pressure that individuals who are burdened with preserving the rule of law,” Boldt adds, “Unfortunately we’re learning the limits of that kind of a system.”

The stakes are high, Boldt says, for our democracy.

Boldt has traveled Wisconsin promoting Blue Lake. Along the way he’s met fellow state employees.

“Some of them have told me that they experienced similar pressures and similar threats,” Boldt concludes, “That if anything makes me want to speak out all the more in terms of both the dramatic possibilities in the next book as well as speaking out as a citizen who’s very concerned about the environment, the climate crisis, I guess it’s called the climate emergency, also about attempts on the rule of law and trying to pick off individuals as vulnerable decision-makers.”

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Susan Bence entered broadcasting in an untraditional way. After years of avid public radio listening, Susan returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She interned for WUWM News and worked with the Lake Effect team, before being hired full-time as a WUWM News reporter / producer.
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