It’s been a strange time, living in two worlds.
I’d wake up to another steamy day in southern Ontario, to news of Trump inciting nascent assassins, and Michael Phelps winning gold medals.
Then, I’d return to working on the novel – and it’s a snowy Christmas Eve in Toronto, a crazed, drunken ex-NYPD detective is in the house, spilling his guts about rape and murder.
I was rewriting a novel I started in 1995 and thought I finished in 2010.
I’m done. Wrapped it up in about a month, which may sound impressive until you consider Frederick Forsyth wrote The Day of the Jackal from scratch in 35 days.
Working every day, sometimes eight, ten hours, I did more than tweak. I chopped large sections and added many new scenes.
What’s the book about? An aging newspaperman’s quest to solve the mystery of a missing woman, a woman who told him a shocking story when they met once, briefly, decades earlier. It is also about life, death, seeking justice, seeking love, being Jewish, and baseball.
The biggest change in the rewrite was moving the narrator, Charlie White, from an unnamed city in the northeastern United States to Toronto.
Why? Because as an American in Canada, Charlie will always think of himself as a visitor, an outsider, as I have.
Given the choice between being a Canadian immigrant or an expatriate American, I choose the latter.
I’m an expat. I like the word. Sounds like Hemingway in Paris. Of course, he eventually came home and blew his brains out.
I’ve also changed the title. It was Charlie’s Rules, words that still have a place in the narrative. I may have been inspired by such titles as Sophie’s Choice and Portnoy’s Complaint. I don’t recall.
But the new title, The Hudson Rivers, helped me set a new tone from the first new sentences.
Charlie lives in Moore Park, on Hudson Drive, where Linda and I moved in together the year before we were married. The Hudson Rivers was the name of my team in a wintertime tabletop baseball game I played with friends.
The new title and setting also guided me to stuff I’ve chewed on for the forty years I’ve lived here.
I often wonder why Toronto became a major city. There are no rivers big enough to float a dinghy, no Thames, no Seine, no Hudson. No landmark bridges. What other major city has no bridges to treasure?
But Charlie is not anchored to Toronto. His investigation takes him to many of my favorite places: San Francisco, New York, Boston, Washington, Sanibel Island, Florida, and Kennebunkport, Maine.
There is also a memorable visit to New York for a funeral, and a confrontation with his prime suspect in a hotel bar in Pittsburgh, at the outset of a cross-country road trip.
The last time around, I generally killed a litre of red wine writing into the wee small hours. Charlie still drinks – not as much – but I don’t anymore.
Charlie doesn’t curse as much as he did – or I do – either.
He still has sex with his ex-wives. But, this time, we do not share the explicit details.
Typing sober may have had something to do with these alterations.
The one thing I didn’t change is Charlie’s age. I leave it vague, but it’s clear he is in his sixties, as I am – for three more months, anyway.
I value his life experience, and mine, though I know this puts me at a disadvantage in trying to get the book published.
In my last effort, I was told flat out by a literary agency that it would not represent a first-time author of my declining years. No one would even read the manuscript.
They wanted fresh young writers – you’d call them prospects in baseball – with the hope for a lifetime of sales, not geezers taking a first shot.
(I just came across a website called Bloom, promoting writers over 40. I can’t find one called Wilting.)
If you’ve read this far, if you are one of my faithful “followers” or just wandered into this site, I need your help.
I suck at self-promotion. It gives me the willies.
So, if you know anyone who happens to be a literary agent or in publishing, or have a third-cousin or a friend from elementary school who knows an agent or is in publishing, please forward this piece and my contact info: firstname.lastname@example.org
Postscript: I have passed the manuscript on to my best proofreader, Linda, who always catches my typos, and my other unpaid editor, Judy.
In the meantime, I may start posting stories on this site again. Need to keep the old fingers nimble.