Donald Forst AR’58 is a retired architect who lives in Lakewood, Colorado with his wife.
He and his wife are avid artists and travelers. Don has recently published his first novel and is currently writing another novel. He was recently interviewed by Mary Lynch ChE’82.
When did you know that you wished to be an architect and why did you choose to study at The Cooper Union?
My choice to study at The Cooper Union came before my decision to be an architect. My art talent was recognized while I was still in grade school. I was fortunate to attend the High School of Music and Art in New York City. My high school prepared me for an art career and admission to the Cooper Union Art School. I entered Cooper in 1950 and my fist year included studies in commercial art, fine art and architecture.
When the Korean War broke out, I took a leave of absence from Cooper and joined the Air Force. The Air force sent me to surveying school. My first assignment was to be an instructor in surveying to Army personnel at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Then the Air Force sent me to Alaska where I was given some architecture drafting assignments. At that time I developed my love of architecture.
Following my discharge from the Air Force, I resumed my studies at Cooper in 1
956. With encouragement from Professor Dowden; I chose to major in architecture.
What did you do following graduation from The Cooper Union?
I began as a draftsman in an architecture firm and worked my way up. I got a NYS license in architecture in 1964. I became general manager in a NYC architectural firm where I designed and supervised some major air rights projects and high rise residential buildings. The projects involved 1500 apartments and buildings 40 stories in height. Then in 1969, I formed a firm (Forst-McCutchen) located on Long Island. We designed numerous senior citizen residential units, suburban office buildings and private homes. One of my favorite projects was my own home, located in the Village of Lloyd Harbor. I was able to design it and supervise its construction as the general contractor. I moved to Colorado in the 1980s and worked for eleven years with the Denver Housing Authority as the Administrator of Modernization.
How did you become a novelist?
On August 23, 2012 at 6:30 AM, I woke up with the i
dea for a novel, exploring what would happen to the world art market, if Vincent Van Gogh could come back and produce more paintings. An analysis of reincarnation and what is talent? Where does it originate? Out of nowhere, I developed a strong desire to write this book. I dove right into both the writing and the research.
Your novel, The Reincarnation of Van Gogh—A Novel, is a suspenseful thriller with multiple villains. It also deals in an analysis of what is reincarnation. Is it fun writing about thoughts, the motives and actions of the heroes and the villains?
That was the best part in writing. Through a trial I could present the various attitudes and beliefs of religion and people about reincarnation. The research was a challenge. The fun of writing about conflicts and thoughts between the characters. Then putting the words in their mouths.
How long did it take you to write this novel?
I wrote the full draft in less than a year. Then I hired an editor whom I met wi
th once a week for another 6 months. She helped me with character development and the structure of a thriller novel.
That seems quick. Had you written anything before this novel?
I had previously written some poetry and an autobiography. I think I was able to write the novel quickly because the characters, the setting, and plot are all subjects that I know. The main character is an architect with a practice on Long Island. His views and behaviors are very much like my own.
The main character in The Reincarnation of Van Gogh—A Novel, is both an architect and an artist. Do you paint as well?
Yes, I paint. I paint in oils when working near my home and I paint in watercolor while traveling in Europe. My wife is a watercolor artist. We both love to paint while we travel. I drew on these experiences while I was writing the book.
So the main character, Mark Reed, is similar to you?
Yes, Mark’s home in Lloyd Harbor is the one that I designed and built. Ma
ny of Mark’s likes and opinions are my own too. But you may have noticed that he is younger than I.
I did notice that. Why did you choose to have the novel action take place in 2013?
That was a recommendation of my editor. It also made it possible to incorporate the use of high tech equipment into the story line.
The story line also includes a romance between Allison Weeks and Mark Reed. Did you enjoy writing the romantic portions or did you find them difficult to write?
Female members of my family and friend (wife, friend and granddaughter) read the first draft of the novel and gave me similar advice. They told me to add more romantic details and more sex. I took their advice.
Your novel has two interesting female characters. One is a gallery owner and the other is a computer specialist. Can you tell us something about them?
I like strong women and I wanted the female characters to be strong women who can think for themselves.
Will you be writing any other books?
I’ve already started on a sequel. It will have some scenes from Africa where my wife and I had travelled a few years ago. I find writing rewarding. I also like contriving the plot-lines and doing the research. The story comes together like a puzzle.
Do you see any parallels between your writing research and architecture?
Architecture is a problem solving career. The field is challenging and fascinating and an architect learns from the problems that he solves. In writing you create problems and then you solve them.
What makes architecture fun?
Designing is fun. As an architect, I create a design in my m
ind and then to see it built is very rewarding.
What architects do you admire?
I admire Frank Gehry. In particular, I like the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao Spain and the concert hall in Las Angeles. His work is very sculptural.
Review by Kirkus Reviews: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/don-m-forst/the-reincarnation-of-vincent-van-gogh/