Monday, April 28, 2008

Keep Your Eyes Open

I don't know what title is attached to a guy who spent 22 years in the newspaper business, a guy who wrote 'stories' nearly every day for the first 12 years and then wrote more than once a week for the last decade. A guy who's clippings fill up a couple of file drawers.

In the book business, if he's not published (yet), you call him a rookie (I loathe the word 'novice').

So, this rookie may make a few rookie mistakes along the way, but that's okay. They won't be deadly.

Say, did you know that there's a thing called "rookie stripes" at the Indy 500? At least while I was covering auto racing for seven years, during the month of practice leading up to qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 any driver who was at the Brickyard for the first time had pieces of parallel tape applied to the back of his car. The strips of tape were there to enable drivers coming up behind the car to know there was a rookie driving and to take appropriate caution.

(I think, in the last couple of years, the stripes have been dispensed with. The cars are going so fast now - over 200 mph - by the time a driver would see the rookie stripes they would already be too close.)

Wouldn't it be great to have rookie stripes in real life?

Ooops ... watch out for that advice, it comes from a rookie! Don't want to hire that plumber - look at those rookie stripes!

Anyway, you're forewarned from me.

To the point? Oh, yeah. Keep your eyes open. We live in Manhattan, so there are lots of great 'locations' as settings for scenes (as 'Law & Order' has proven on its many spinoffs). My wife and I have taken to wandering around the city, looking for a quiet place to sit. Often, I'll write while she reads a book. And, often, the setting ... wherever it is and whatever it is ... will find itself as the setting for a scene in one of my chapters.

Sure, not every place is Manhattan (Believe me, Manhattan is cool. Lots of other things, too - like dirty and noisy - but this city is really cool). But, no matter where you are, where you are has something unique about it. Use it. Color it, shape it, squeeze it, date it - who cares. But get out and write about real places. Eyeball witness adds great texture and richness to writing.

If this is a rookie observation, that's okay. Just give me a wide berth as you zip on by.



Monday, April 21, 2008

Lost in Space Bar

A couple of years ago I had a really great idea for a book. It took me a year to write it.

Everyone I talked to about the idea, including other authors, loved the idea.

Everyone who read the completed manuscript has really enjoyed it, told me how good it was. I got connected to an agent, who also liked the book. Liked the way I write. Agreed to represent me. So we submitted it to 13 publishers in mid-January.

In spite of the odds, in spite of the competition, the shrinking publishing market, the fact that I'm a "rookie" at novels - I was sure this book would click, someone would agree to publish it and off we'd go.

Now, it's past mid-April. Four of the 13 publishers we submitted it to have declined. The other nine seem to be lost in space bar.

My agent admits she's surprised by the lack of interest generated by the book. Yeah, it burst my bubble, too.

But here's my quandry, oh-great-web-universe in the ozone. Now what?

I've got three other book ideas kicking around: an old one that is complete but needs a major overhaul to come off life-support, and two others that are sketched out in synopsis form and the first few thousand words. But neither of the two in summary form is as much fun as the first book. Only one includes terrorists, international intrigue and weapons of mass destruction ... the things that stoke my engine.

Seems the market now is for "small" stories, intimate stories.

Now, this ... this is work.

Give me a good disaster any day. Must be that old reporter is still kicking around in my psyche.

Friday, April 11, 2008

God Lives on the LES

My wife, Andrea, and I have lived on the Lower East Side of New York for the last eight years - more or less. We've gone to the theater, the opera and concerts in Central Park. We've visited the major museums on a regular basis. Discovered a plethora of little, out of the way restaurants that are out of this world. Seldom have we trolled the dive bars where music is plentiful and excellent.

I thought we were pretty plugged into the city. We live in one of the most trendy sections of Manhattan - NoLita: North of Little Italy, where SoHo is spilling over into uncharted territory. Our sidewalks are packed with tourists every weekend and much of the 'normal' time.

But when God has a curveball aimed for your head, there ain't no duckin' and divin'.

Andrea has been down at her sister's place in New Jersey this week - cleaning out the storage space and the attic for a much-needed yard sale. Me, I'm trying to find story ideas in a desert of blank. At the end of the week, I'm looking for someplace to go ... something to get my mind off the things that are always on my mind.

Recently, The Times ran a story about all the blue grass music that is available in the city. I was looking through that article, searching for a place to fritter away my lonely Friday night. One of the spots was the RockWood Music Hall - two blocks from home!

So, after a dinner of Guiness and pizza at our local Spring Lounge, I wandered over to the RockWood Music Hall (yes, having told Andrea of my plans in advance) in search of some music, and no trouble.

Guess what? God was waiting for me.

The RockWood Music Hall is a little, hole-in-the-wall bar on Allen Street, just off Houston, two blocks from where we live. It's smaller than our apartment. I squeezed myself inside the packed confines. I wanted to hear some music. (I'm a dive rat from way back ... saw Dylan at the Cafe Wha in Greenwich Village in the mid-60's). And what do you think I heard?

The Zach Williams Band ( playing some great rock & roll (my opinion), story-driven songs ... about Christ and faith.


One song was about the stuggles Zach had when his wife fell off a horse and was diagnosed with several fractured vertebrae. How God saw them through. Another was about - somehow, with a great beat - the seven deadly sins.

I'm sitting there, on a bar stool, looking for rock & roll, and this guy is evangelizing (subtely) the ultra-cool of the LES.

What is going on here?

After the set, I asked the band's handler/manager: "Are you guys Christain?"

He looked at me as if I was from Mars.


"Well, God bless you."

Later, after the next band was playing, I got to talk to Zach on the sidewalk outside the RockWood Music Hall. He and his wife live in Brooklyn - Park Slope. The rest of the band are primarily from Canada, most of then non-believers. Zach says:

"Man, I've been praying for you. I've been asking God to send me a mentor, someone of maturity (read, old guy!) to help me. Help me with discernment. Tonight, this was a showcase for Warner Brothers. Last night, we did a showcase for Atlantic Records. Tomorrow night there's a guy flying in from Florida - a believer - who's tied in with (some record company). Can I call you?"

Ahhh, sure. (Gee, I just wanted to tell the guy how much I enjoyed his music). I just live around the corner, in The Bowery Mission.

"The Mission! I'm going to be doing a benefit for The Mission in July ... something on the river."

You have got to be kidding.

Kids With a Promise, one of the ministries of The Bowery Mission, has an annual fundraiser on the Fourth of July. The ministry charters a luxurious, very large, yacht and has a dinner cruise around Manhattan Island, ending up in the East River, right below the barges that are about to unleash one of the largest and most spectacular fireworks displays in the country.

And these guys are going to be the music?

Ready for another curveball? My daughter works for Kids With A Promise, overseeing the minsitry to children in the inner city ... After School Programs and summer Day Camps. These are the kids that the July 4th cruise will benefit.

And here I stand, in the rain, on Allen Street on the Lower East Side of New York - outside the RockWood Music Hall, looking for good music - talking to a Christian troubadour who is trying to bring the saving grace of Jesus Christ to the "very together", very cool denizens of the LES.

And that's where I happened to drop in on the Friday night I'm lonely and looking for something fun that is not debauched.

Hello, God? Are you listening?

Absolutely, you knucklehead!

I can't tell you how awesome it was to walk out the door of the RockWood Music Hall, take Zach Williams by the hand, and share the power of Christ's love for all of us whackoos!

Miracles happen every day ... even in New York City.

Praise God.

Terry ... blown away at The Bowery Mission.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Fact Check

Monday night, the last day of March, my wife and I attended an author's night at the Tenement Museum ( on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

Joseph O'Connor, the Irish-born author of Star of the Sea and the 2007 released sequel, Redemption Falls, was interviewed by fellow author Kevin Baker (Dreamland). Star of the Sea, set in 1847, tells the story of a few of the two million Irish who fled their homeland during the great potato famine when over one million Irish died of starvation.

Star of the Sea, which sold one million copies, was O'Connor's first venture into historical fiction. He has written five other novels, two short stories, five works of non-fiction (including The Secret Life of the Irish Male), three stage plays, three screen plays and was editor of a serial novel, Yeats is Dead!, by 15 Irish writers. Not bad for a relatively young man of 44.

Okay, so you get the picture. O'Connor, who lives in Dublin, is an accomplished and successful author. Went to Oxford. Had a year's fellowship to study historical correspondence at the New York City's main research library on Fifth Avenue and Bryant Park. The guy's a pro.

Here's one of the stories he related Monday night.

Pius Mulvey, the main character in Star of the Sea, (not necessarily the protagonist - the book is written in several voices), is walking the deck of the title ship, late in the night, watching the shadow of Ireland fade in the distance, perhaps watching the stars over Ireland for the last time. O'Connor said he wanted to insert some "softer element into what was a rather stark description". So, as Mulvey searched the heavens, he recalled a "nonsense phrase" a teacher had given him to remember the distance of the planets from the sun:

Mary's Violet Eyes Make John Sit Up Nights Praying.

"So, I got a letter from a fellow at the National Astronomical Institute. He said Pluto was not discovered until 1930. Great. The book was selling well, so, before the second printing, I took out 'praying.'

"The second edition comes out, and I get another letter from the same guy at the Astronomical Institute. 'Well, you know, Neptune was not discovered until 1847, so, unless your 'teacher' was an astronomical genius ...' You think he would have told me this the first time.

"So, I changed it again for the next printing. Out comes Neptune. So, my universe kept shrinking the more the book sold!"

O'Connor's point, for which he had many illustrations, is that readers demand accuracy, even in works of fiction. If we're using known places, things, times, people - even though it's a work of fiction - we better get our facts straight.

Or the letters will start filling your mailbox. (Not a bad result, really. At least somebody's reading.)