My journey into fiction took half of a lifetime and had many influences. A turning point came while touring Ireland with relatives and I mentioned that I had written a memoir I was planning to publish. My aunt, an artist, said, “Well then, you must join a writer’s workshop.” Before our conversation, the only workshops I was familiar with were those that required physical skills, for instance carpentry and welding.
When I got back to the States, I discovered that I lived in a literary-rich area, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, only a short bike ride from the Pearl S. Buck House where the Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning author once lived. I then found the Bucks County Writer’s Workshop and requested to join to have my memoir critiqued. The workshop was for fiction writers, with one exception—the memoir.
I had never written fiction, and began to wonder what I should do as critique of the final chapters of my memoir unfolded. I read everything I could find on literary icons like Hemingway, Carver and Steinbeck who all asserted that fiction was based to some degree on experiences from life. Take Doc for example, the marine biologist in Cannery Row, who is based on John Steinbeck’s best friend Ed Ricketts.
I am as fascinated with Cannery Row today as I was when I first read it decades ago; the way Steinbeck took a collection of drunks, whores and bums and wrote a story about wisdom, romanticism and humanity. I read about Doc and Mack and Dora and Lee Chong, and it struck me—I know these people. I worked with them in warehouses and on the waterfront; sat among them in dive bars; and mourned with them when we lost a brother or a sister. I began to experiment with some essays I’d written, and so I wrote.
My first work of fiction is Stories for Beginners, a collection of eleven stories about the men and women who labor for a living; in other words the infrastructure of our society. My characters—welders, carpenters, ironworkers, bartenders, roofers—are flawed and endearing, fragile and resilient, and their lives are lessons about hard work, hard living, love and redemption. They work arduous jobs, raise families, battle their demons, coach Little League, and then congregate at pubs in the evening. The stories are set in Philly shipyards, warehouses, construction sites, pubs and homes, but are relevant to any urban environment.
Stories for Beginners is forthcoming, and I will post periodic updates of the process to publication. A short essay version of the story Once A Welder appeared in Still Crazy Literary Magazine in the summer of 2012. The opening sentence of both the essay and short story, “I was a paperboy, carwash grunt, street corner vendor, beer distributer stock boy and a Teamster before I began a welding apprenticeship on my eighteenth birthday,” is my brief resumé upon which the other stories are constructed.
A thread that weaves through my life—my work, my family and my play—is running. I began running over four decades ago, initially for physical conditioning, and then I realized it was as invigorating for the creative process as it was for the cardiopulmonary system. Many of the ideas for my stories occur when I am immersed in the sanctity of sweat, like I Died Today in the Middle of a Two Hour Run.
I am presently busy working on my first novel Miracle of Federal Street, a story about Shamus Gore, a young shipyard welder growing up in a row house, blue-collar neighborhood in Philadelphia. Shamus is raised by his mother Claire, his guiding light and inspiration. He never knew his father, Seán, who Claire always refers to as gone or passed, but never deceased. Shamus has an innate attraction to the downtrodden and disenfranchised, his tendencies lean toward the volatile of society—homicidal ex-cons and hopeless drunks—where he finds humanity and romanticism buried deep inside of them. Shamus downplays mysterious events that occur while growing up to coincidence, until he performs an act after a fight in a South Philly parking lot that cannot be explained by any natural means. The incident causes him to set out on a quest to investigate his ancestry, which takes him to Northern New Jersey and New York City before he travels to Ireland and discovers an extraordinary detail about his own life.