How long have you been writing?
Well, I started when I was a teenager, so I’d like to say over thirty years, but I haven’t been actively working at it all that time. I started when I was in high school, where I was editor of the school newspaper, and I had a wonderful teacher who encouraged me. In college, I majored in English and had some stories published in the student literary magazine.
English Major? Very practical.
I’ll say. I graduated from SUNY Albany in 1982, which had had an unemployment rate much like it is today, and there weren’t very many entry-level jobs for liberal arts majors and I needed to make a living. I took a course in computer programing at NYU and got started in that. Getting into the software business back then was like stepping on a high-speed train just as it was about to leave the station. Computers and software just took in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and it hasn’t stopped. If anything, it’s just accelerated. Long hours, constantly trying to keep up with technology. It was very exciting. At the same time, I started a family, bought a house, and pursued the American Dream. I tried to continue writing on the side, and I managed to keep it up about three or four years, but it was hard to stay focused. First of all, there was no web to speak of so the market for literary fiction was very small. I got a “No thanks, but try us again sometime” form letter from The Paris Review, but otherwise it was very discouraging to send out stories one at a time — nobody accepted simultaneous submissions back then — and then wait for a year to hear from magazines with circulations of no more than 500 or 1000 copies.
Second, I was working in a business that was creative and took enormous amount of mental energy and focus to do well. In John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction, he talks about the sort of day jobs that writers should have: menial jobs that let you use your mental energy for your art. Software development isn’t such an occupation. In fact, it’s probably the worst day job a writer could have. I was working in an industry that made everything I knew obsolete every two years and when not working at my job, I had to spend time studying and learning just to stay employable. Not to complain too much about it, it’s been a wild, exciting ride and I still enjoy it.
So what brought you back to writing?
Back in about 2005, in the middle of a mild mid-life crisis I realized that my software career wasn’t fulfilling me by itself anymore, and there was a part of me that missing. I lost both my parents a few years earlier, an event which brings on its own identity crisis. I wanted to start writing again, but wasn’t sure where to start. I reached out to an old college friend, also a writer and English professor, who suggested I start with a personal essay about something that mattered to me. I decided to write about a former writing teacher. I remembered how important it had been to me to be accepted into his writing workshop some twenty-five years earlier. As I was working on the piece, it became clear that I was writing as much about myself as I was about him. In doing so, I rediscovered that part of myself that I had tried to deny and suppress while obsessing about software architecture and development. I generally scoff at the idea of “writing as therapy,” but in that case it certainly was. The essay I wrote was eventually published in the Oregon Literary Review, and is now available as an eBook.
Because I was spending all my time in a technology driven corporate environment, I felt the need to get reconnected to the literary and writing life, so for three years in a row I went to the New York State Writer’s Institute at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. I had gotten my Bachelor’s degree from SUNY Albany and had spent a bit of time in Saratoga as an undergraduate, it was like returning home. Meeting and forming friendships with other writers was rejuvenating to me and completed the journey of self-discovery that began with that personal essay. I also participated in some workshops led by writers whose work I admire: Gish Jen, Elizabeth Benedict, and Kathryn Harrison. They each helped me enormously.
I’ve also been able to rekindle a friendship with Eugene Mirabelli, who was my literature and writing teacher at SUNY Albany. He didn’t know it at the time, but he was very influential when I was young and influenced a lot of my early writing. He’s now in his early eighties but is still writing. He just published a new novel last year and has been publishing a blog, Critical Pages for many years. There’s probably Freudian dimension to this, but to have his approval in the form of his friendship and his review of my last book has been both fulfilling and encouraging. I’m now about the same age that he was when he was my teacher, but I don’t think mentor-student dynamic ever fades away completely.
Where are your books available?
My books are available at Smashwords and all of the other retail channels that Smashwords distributes to: Barnes & Noble, Sony, Diesel Books, and Kobo. I’ve also done Kindle versions that are available from Amazon. I try to take advantage of any free or low-cost marketing opportunities: Facebook, Twitter, my blog.
Tell us why readers will like your latest book.
If you like international intrigue, sex with and among vampires….
Well no, I’m not that sort of writer. My latest book, a small collection of stories called “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” is about growing up from the mid 1960’s to the early 1970’s. It’s definitely a period piece, so if you’re nostalgic and a fan of Mad Men, you might like it, but I hope it’s more than just a trip down memory lane for aging baby boomers. There’s quite a bit of sadness in the book, but I hope that readers will find something life affirming in it by the end. My two main characters, neighbors John and Miriam, from the age of ten through nineteen over the course of the three stories in the book amidst the chaos and around them. Ultimately, like every generation, have to chart their own course through life on their own terms. And so, I hope that with all the trappings of nostalgia, the heart of the story is about growing up in any age.
A few years ago, I read an unpublished novel written by a friend of mine that was about a family in upstate New York whose son is killed during the Tet offensive. The story is narrated by his fourteen year-old sister. It’s a fine novel and I hope someday it gets published. It evoked my own memories (as all good writing does) of growing up at the same time. I was just a child, protected from the cruelty of the outside world by loving parents, but that war was always there. The sound of Walter Cronkite’s’ voice on the evening news was just as much of a soundtrack as The Beatles’ records were . I was too young to worry about the draft or anything, but the war affected our community and our parents and so it affected us.
I made the characters in my story a few years older than I was at the time, but set it in locations that are very familiar to me. It’s not autobiographical in the strictness sense but rather about people I might have known.
I wrote each of the three stories about a year apart from one another, each of them on the spur of the moment when I particular scene or dramatic situation popped into my head. With that, I sat down and essentially riffed on the image I had in my head, not knowing where each story would end up or where my characters would be deposited. I didn’t realize that I was working on an actual story cycle until I wrote the third story.
What have your reviews been like so far?
I’ve gotten some good reviews for Only Love Can Break Your Heart. What’s been most gratifying they way the reviewers describe the book. It appears to resonate with each of them in a personal way, not one that I was necessarily conscious of when I wrote it, but in retrospect valid interpretations. That tells me that I did a few things right. It’s also, for me at least, what writing is all about. It’s not at all about expressing myself, but about making an intimate connection to a reader by creating a shared experience with him or her. That’s what literature does.
What are you working on now?
The story of John and Miriam will continue with more stories, the one I’m working on right now has a working title of “Fortunate Son” and is set in the beginning of the Reagan administration, about ten years after the last story. I’m also working on a short novel about a thirty love triangle that comes to a shattering end at a summer writer’s conference in Southampton, NY. It has the usual themes of love (romantic and platonic), friendship, loyalty, infidelity, and lust. In short, the whole of human experience, minus the vampires, zombies, and car chases, all compressed into a single summer.
When will we see them?
One word at time, one sentence at a time, one paragraph at a time…
In other words, you are avoiding the question.
Well, thank you for your time.
My pleasure. I spend most of my time walking around mumbling to myself anyway, so I might as well write some of it down.
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