Sunday, April 20, 2008

Make Them Smile, Jack

Over my strong objections, The Famous Author guest blogs today. He even made me run this stupid picture. I don't know why he doesn't get his own darn blog.

FAIRFIELD, Conn. -- I take deep breaths as Diane Defonce takes the microphone to introduce me. Diane is Manager of this two-story Borders store, and was named Bookseller of the Year by The Romance Writers of America. Tonight is mystery night, however, and seven authors--me included--are talking about their books.

“So tell us about your new book, Jack,” Diane says.

Here I go again. The pressure’s on. I have ten minutes or so to interest a room full of people in my novel. I’ve learned from experience that being clever, funny, entertaining, and charming is absolutely mandatory.

I wish I’d remembered to wear socks.

“My second novel, BIG MONEY, was sparked by a true event,” I say. “A gangster’s black limousine pulled to the curb in front of my father-in-law’s contracting office one day, and three large men made him go for a ride.”

So far, so good. I have their attention. Now I give them the punch line.

“I didn’t see this happen to my father-in-law. I just read about it on the front page of the local newspaper--the same day I met him.”

It’s a great story. And true. It was 1979. My future wife and I traveled back to New Jersey to meet her parents and attend the wedding of my wife’s brother. At the kitchen dinette that first morning, I found myself eating breakfast with the star of the local paper’s front page.

The big news that day was about the trial of a local gangster, and much of the previous day’s testimony concerned my future wife’s father and that limousine ride. The driver had been wearing a wire, and much of the conversation was played aloud in court.

In the back seat of the limousine that day, a gangster threatened my father-in-law with death if he didn’t pay for protection. My father-in-law said...well, he refused in colorful language. Told the gangster to go ahead and kill him. Then the gangster threatened his wife and children--including MY future wife. My father-in-law said, go ahead and kill them, too, and something like, “They hate me anyway.”

There were a lot of blank spots in the newspaper story, quotes with holes for cursing. At one point in court, during the playing of the taped conversations, a juror raised his hand and asked, “Which one is the bad guy again?”

Of course, when it came down to pointing out the guys who’d taken him for that limousine ride, my future wife’s father refused. He said he couldn’t be sure.

My father-in-law was tough, not stupid.

“You were a big hit,” Diane says after the show. “Does that story really have anything to do with your book?”

“There’s a limo ride,” I say.

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