A Conversation with Gary Morgenstein, author of Jesse's Girl

Novelist/playwright Gary Morgenstein is the author of four novels. In addition to Jesse’s Girl, a thriller about a widowed father’s search for his adopted teenage son who has run away from a drug treatment program to find his biological sister, his books include the romantic triangle Loving Rabbi Thalia Kleinman, the political thriller Take Me Out to the Ballgame, and the baseball Rocky The Man Who Wanted to Play Center Field for the New York Yankees. His prophetic play Ponzi Man performed to sell-out crowds at a recent New York Fringe Festival. His other full-length work, You Can’t Grow Tomatoes in the Bronx, is in development. He can be reached at www.facebook.com/people/Gary-Morgenstein/1011217889 or at Red Room at www.redroom.com/member/garymorg.

Welcome to The Writer's Life, Gary. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?

Jesse’s Girl is my fourth novel, along with Loving Rabbi Thalia Kleinman, Take Me Out to the Ballgame and The Man Who Wanted to Play Center Field for the New York Yankees. I’ve also written two plays, You Can’t Grow Tomatoes in the Bronx and Ponzi Man. I’ve written since I was eight years old and developed a story about a fictitious New York Yankees shortstop. I grew up in the Bronx, in the shadow of Yankee Stadium. I’ve been a news journalist for the Cincinnati Post, sportswriter for Newsday, and for three years was the foremost professional wrestling writer on Earth. Talk about odd professions. For more than 20 years now, I’ve been in TV PR. Among the places I’ve worked are PBS, ABC News, A&E, History Channel, and in London for a British film and television producers association. Now I work for Syfy Channel. I love rock and roll and dancing and yoga and books and live in Brooklyn, New York, the center of the Universe.
Can you please tell us about your book and why you wrote it?

There’s nothing more difficult than being a parent. Please indulge my hubris in quoting my own words. The main character in Jesse’s Girl, Teddy Mentor, explains that we think marriage is ‘til death do us part, but that’s not true. Not when about half the marriages in America end in divorce. It’s parenting which is until death do us part. The good and the bad.

I wanted to write about being a father, in this case, a widowed father dealing with a teenage son, Jesse Mentor, gone off the rails, suffering from the awful illness of addiction. Throw in that the kid’s adopted, struggling to find his roots, plus Teddy and Jesse don’t exactly have a Ward and Beaver Cleaver relationship, and let the ride begin. Many times my heart ached for Teddy and Jesse because loving your child so badly you will do anything to help them, only to be roadblocked by their own resistance, creates an overwhelming anger, frustration and pain.

You parents know what I’m talking about. And if you’re not a parent, you’ve been a child and you understand from that window. But most novels about parenting are done from the perspective of a mother, few from the Dad. Without banging my tambourine for Male Liberation, guys hurt, too. We cry over our children and lie awake nights and get stressed. Perhaps, because of society and the way we’ve all been raised, both genders, we don’t show it or are afraid to show it. But it’s there.

As an adoptive father, I also wanted to explore the theme of adoption. The process is wonderful and we all celebrate the gift of a new child into the family. Yet what that masks is the trauma of the adoptee torn from his/her biological mother. The underlying sense of rejection lingers, sometimes maliciously so. Then comes puberty, the doubts about one’s origins inflame, may become infected, add to that the turmoil of teen years in the best of circumstances and you’re confronting a highly combustible situation.

I wanted to look at the difficulty of adoption from parent and adoptee, instead of just whisking issues under the rug. So the search of Jesse in the novel for his biological sister as he reaches for something to hold onto following the breakup of his parents’ marriage, exacerbated by the death of his mother, his descent into addiction, his fear of being 16 and confronting a dangerous world with no rules. What’s it like when you don’t know what your own parents look like?

Fatherhood. Addiction. Adoption. Above all else, Jesse’s Girl is about regular people. Teddy struggles to hold onto his job, 50 plus and being phased out at a PR firm. Jesse, a scared teenager with the courage to find his sister, Theresa. She in turn, looking for her own past, for love not shadowed by domestic abuse like an alien mother ship. On and on. Regular folks like all the regular folks who make up this great country, day by day, getting by, trying to do the right thing, often succeeding, but not always, and living with the consequences of both.

What kind of research was involved in writing your book?

Since I am a father, I understood what it’s like to have a teenage son. Though the issues in Jesse’s Girl are fictional, the emotions are very real. I’m a great believer in writing what you know in terms of characters, because if the people aren’t real, readers will see right through you. That said, I also strongly believe in using the reality to create the fiction; emotional footprints if you will. Take what happened but make it a new world. That is what a writer owes his audience. Otherwise they can read a newspaper.

Has it been a bumpy ride to becoming a published author or has it been pretty well smooth sailing?

I think heart and soul to being a writer is a bumpy ride. The same people who say “Oh yeah, my writing career’s a piece of cake” are those who say, “Yes, I loved my high school years.” Uh-huh, right. I published at a young age, 27, followed it up with another novel at 30, and then went into the wilderness, focused on plays, my family, until returning now to novels, my true love. How can anything as ephemeral as the creative process be anything but rocky?

For this particular book, how long did it take from the time you signed the contract to its release?

The book is a publication of Amazon, so it was quickly available at the largest online store in the world. I figured if Amazon was President Obama’s choice to publish his two books, it’d be good enough for me. My dear friend Maximillien de Lafayette, a best-selling author at Amazon who has written more than 30 books on the ancient Annunakis, introduced me to the people there.

Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/is is? If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it’s necessary to have one?

I don’t have an agent though I have had them before. Like any situation where you put your trust and faith in someone, a good agent is a Godsend, a poor one something much less so.

Do you plan subsequent books?

Oh sure, I’m already working on a new novel now, another thriller, also touching on the issues of fatherhood.

Can you describe your most favorite place to write?

I like sitting propped up in bed like Marcel Proust. Except I listen to hard rock on my iPod and use a laptop, which I don’t think he used. Though we both like red wine.

If money was no object, what would be the first thing you would invest in to promote your book?

I’d create a trailer that would run on the Yankee Stadium scoreboard and at Madison Square Garden during New York Knicks games. I’d also have Jesse’s Girl written on the back of the New York Giants uniforms. And maybe I’d slip the President a few bucks so at his next press conference he’d say, “Buy this book or I will raise your taxes.”

How important do you think self-promotion is and in what ways have you been promoting your book offline and online?

It’s critical. There are so many entertainment choices along with so many talented writers that you need to find any way to break through the clutter and get recognition for your work. I’ve been blogging, garnering reviews (excellent ones by the way) and have an angel named Dorothy Thompson, who has put together a virtual book tour for me at Pump Up Your Book Promotion. That’s my first virtual tour and I don’t know what to expect, perhaps a hologram of me in cyber-space.

What’s the most common reason you believe new writers give up their dream of becoming published and did you almost give up?

I’m like Rocky Balboa. I never give up, no matter how many times my knee or other parts have hit the canvas. I think writers give up on their dreams for the same reasons most people abandon their dreams – the effort is too great and they’re not prepared to pay the price. But what is life if you don’t pursue a dream?

Any final words of wisdom for those of us who would like to be published?

Work work work at it. When asked how he wrote, the late great New York Times sportswriter Red Smith said, “I just cut open a vein and bleed into the typewriter.” That about sums it up. The exhilaration and torment of writing is an incomparable experience. The overwhelming preponderance of us won’t become rich and famous. So you must write to reach people, for those simple moments when you can touch a perfect stranger and move them with your words. That is what it is all about.

Thank you for your interview, Gary. I wish you much success!

Thank you so much for having me on The Writer’s Life.

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