" How thrilling it was to be a young writer in Greenwich Village, with a cheap rent and rich dreams! "
I took a job as a copyboy at the New York Post, thinking I’d stay a few months. I kept moving up, and stayed fifteen years. Best thing about writing for a newspaper? There’s no such thing as being “blocked.” Give ‘em ten paragraphs on that fire in Brooklyn, or you’re out on your ass.
In those years at the Post I was a reporter, a rewrite man and a columnist. Now and then my column appeared opposite the words of another columnist, the legendary Pete Hamill. I’d loved his work since I was a kid, and now here we were, team mates in the greatest game of all: journalism. How lucky can one guy be?
Well, I was lucky enough to talk about Pete in the award-winning HBO documentary “Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists.” He could be emotional without being sentimental, touching without being touchy-feely. That’s quite a wire-walk, and it’s the best lesson I learned from Pete.
By this time I was a father, and The Post wasn’t paying enough to cover the bills, so I jumped to TV, working as a writer/producer on “American Journal” and “Inside Edition,” both award-winning news magazine shows. The daily challenge of matching words to pictures wasn’t easy, but it resulted in a more vivid, visual writing style. And through the years, there was always my night job - writing fiction.
They say you never forget your first time, and it’s true. My agent had been shopping my novel “Shepherd Avenue” for many months, and then one day the phone rang in my basement apartment in Greenwich Village. “Go celebrate,” she said, and I sure did, calling everyone I knew to come over for beer and pies from the best pizzeria on the planet, John’s on Bleecker Street.
It was a great night, and “Shepherd Avenue” was named one of the best books of 1986 by the American Library Association. How thrilling it was to be a young writer in Greenwich Village, with a cheap rent and rich dreams! I lived in the Village for thirty years, and it works its way into almost everything I write.
So does the town of Douglaston, Queens, where I grew up. Three world-class tennis players put Douglaston on the map - John McEnroe, Patrick McEnroe and my sister Mary. When I was eighteen and still thinking I might have a future in tennis, little John McEnroe (he must have been all of 15) beat me in the local tournament 6-0, 6-0. I won a total of one point. Total humiliation, but thirty years later sold the funny story of my defeat to the New York Times. Nora Ephron was right - everything is copy.
But sometimes, you’ve got to let a story marinate for a while before you tell it. That was true for “Shepherd Avenue,” as well as for the nine novels that followed. Think about it, mull it over, write it.
The "let it marinate" rule didn't apply to my only non-fiction boo, "The Way We Are" about the history of Inside Edition. Deborah Norville and I co-wrote it on a tight deadline!
I consider my latest novel, “The Skylight Room,” a love letter to the Greenwich Village I once knew. Romance, hopes, dreams, tragedy...it’s all there, on those streets I love best.
Meanwhile, everything changes. I now live in London, and that basement apartment in the Village where I got the good news about “Shepherd Avenue? It’s not even an apartment anymore, it’s a kitchen. A state-of-the art kitchen in a totally renovated house that recently sold for $9 million. Nine million bucks, for that little red brick building. Hell, my monthly rent was just $350!
So the world has gone crazy in many ways, but there’s one thing I cling to that keeps me going, and it’s this:
Storytelling is still storytelling. And somehow or other, you’ve got to keep the reader wondering:
What happens next?