The Skylight Room
I’d heard that a super model with a truckload of money wanted to get hold of an old building in Greenwich Village, buy off all ten tenants and renovate it from top to bottom. It never happened, but I couldn’t get the “What if’s” out of my mind whenever I walked past that building.
What if she’d carried through with the plan, successfully bought out nine tenants - but run into a snag with the tenth tenant, the one in the skylight room?
What if the tenant in the skylight room was an old lady who’d been up there on her own for nearly seventy years?
What if the whole thing became a crusade in the pages of the New York Post - the villainous super model trying to kick out the angelic old lady?
What if the old lady turned out to have led a life twice as fascinating and wild as that of the super model?
And what if the old lady was on the road to becoming a super model herself, back in bohemian 1950s Greenwich Village - until tragedy struck?
My wife says this is the best of my books. Can’t disagree with her.
One Hit Wonder
The question all creative people ask themselves is: Will I be able to do it again?
Mickey DeFalco writes one hit song, and that’s it. No more hits. His life falls apart, until the girl of his dreams reappears after many, many years.
I set key parts of this story at the Little Neck Inn, a bar where I spent many nights of my youth, looking for whatever men think they’re going to find in bars and rarely finding it.
But the Inn it was a wonderful place, big on laughter and short on decor. I wrote that the owners “did a lot with the color brown,” and shortly after publication I bumped into the real owners in Little Neck - a husband and wife who’d read the book!
I braced myself for a punch in the mouth, but they just laughed. “The color brown,” the wife said. “You really nailed it!”
The Inn is long gone. Now it’s a sushi restaurant, full of bright colors. Oh well.
Here’s a true story about the night astronauts walked on the moon in the summer of 1969.
My grandparents had been over for dinner, and suddenly there was a special bulletin on TV - Walter Cronkite announcing that the moon walk was just minutes away!
It’s no exaggeration to say that the whole world was watching. That’s when my grandmother turned to my grandfather and said: “Let’s go, Charlie. It’s late.” My grandfather turned to his wife. “Do you realize what’s happening?” he said. “These guys are going to walk on the moon!”
My grandmother waved a dismissive hand at the grainy picture on TV. “Ooh, them too,” she said, “Who told them to go?” Who told them to go. We all burst out laughing. Grandma and Grandpa stayed to watch Neil Armstrong take those immortal steps, but Grandma kept her coat on.
That night I realized we’re all different when it comes to the things we care about. Seemed like a good thing to write about, in time for the 50th anniversary of the moon mission.
My Ride With Gus
This book sold to the movies (Fox) even before it sold to a publisher (Pocket Books). I’m still waiting for the film, and I’d love to see the brothers played by the Baldwins - Alec, Daniel and William.
If people are wrapped too tightly, explosions are inevitable. That’s the case with Jimmy Gambar, an architect who plans to propose to his girlfriend on New Year’s Eve. But things go horribly wrong, and he winds up with the body of a dead woman on the floor of his SoHo loft, and no one to turn to for help but his brothers - Gus, a Mafioso, and Joey, a priest.
As so often happens in life, the most legitimate brother is the least likeable one. (Funny how dull straight-arrow types can be, isn’t it?)
Three Irish brothers, playing Italian brothers. Wouldn’t that be a casting-against-type kick?
I like to think of this as the ultimate father and son story - the divorced dad has been fired from his job, the boy has been kicked out of prep school, and with nothing left to lose they share their truths over a wild and crazy weekend.
And I wrote it in the present tense, which always gives a story that little bit of extra urgency.
There are loads of laughs in this book, but the biggest one for me happened at a reading I gave on the Upper East Side. People lined up to have their books signed, and when New York Post sportswriter Phil Mushnick set his copy down on the table he deadpanned: “Make it out to E-Bay.”
This novel wasn’t easy to sell, because it’s about a child but it’s not a children’s book. Publishers love categories, and this didn’t fit into one. Luckily for me, the Atlantic Monthly Press took a chance on this tale of a sensitive ten-year-old boy who spends a turbulent summer at his grandparents house in Brooklyn after his mother’s death in 1961.
The grandmother is the book’s most vivid character, inspired by my own grandmother, Millie Carillo. The day the book deal happened, I phoned her.
“I’ve got big news for you, Grandma,” I said. “I just sold a novel called ‘Shepherd Avenue.’ ”
“I’ve got big news for you,” she replied. “I just sold my house on Shepherd Avenue.”
Same day, two Shepherd Avenue deals. Couldn’t have been a coincidence.
Return To Shepherd Avenue
This is a “What if” novel, inspired by a subway ride I took to see my grandparents’ old house on Shepherd Avenue in the East New York section of Brooklyn a few years ago.
The windows had bars over them and the driveway was gated, but otherwise the house looked just as it did when I was a kid.
That’s when the craziest “What if” of my life hit me:
What if the troubled little boy from ‘Shepherd Avenue’ is now a troubled man in search of peace he’s never been able to find?
What if he thinks he can find that peace by moving back into Grandma’s old house?
That’s what he does, and that’s how “Return To Shepherd Avenue” was born. It was published 31 years after the original novel.
You can’t rush these things, know what I mean?
God Plays Favorites
Most reporters on tryout at the New York Post started out in the police shack, but my tryout in 1981 was a little unusual - they assigned me to the contest beat, writing about the weekly “Wingo” $50,000 cash prize winners.
Other reporters laughed at me, but it was serious business, intended to boost circulation (which it did) and increase ad revenues (which it probably didn’t.)
What the brass didn’t count on was the type of people a newspaper contest like this attracts in a city like New York - as it says on the Statue of Liberty, “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
It’s wonderful when a contest like this goes wrong, especially if you turn it into a funny novel. The narrator is an Ivy League graduate whose real education begins when he hooks up with a streetwise photographer, Vinnie Corcora, to do stories about the contest winners.
Vinnie is a distillation of the hard-bitten photographers I worked with on “Wingo” - they spoke out of the sides of their mouths, but they were straight shooters. I miss those guys.