Introduction to FROM THE TEETH OF ANGELS
No matter how many books an author writes, there is at least one among them that is their signature work. There is no predicting when that book will arrive—at the beginning, middle or end of a career. It is often not even up to the writer—at some point it just comes out of them and defines or announces what the artist believes about life, death, love, God—all the big matters. Of course readers debate which it is—War and Peace or Anna Karenina? The Brothers Karamazov or The Possessed? The Great Gatsby or Tender is the Night? But what I find most interesting is which book an author thinks is their signature work. Which one they want carved on their gravestone as a summation not only of their career, but of what they have seen and come to believe about life and how it functions? The answers can be surprising. I once asked a very famous and prolific author what she thought was her signature book. She asked if I meant her favorite. I said no, the one that essentially combines everything you’ve been trying to say your whole career. To my surprise she immediately named an early novel most people hadn’t read and those that did weren’t very impressed. She went on to great fame and fortune but to this day in her mind, that rather short early novel says it all.
For many years I thought FROM THE TEETH OF ANGELS was my signature work. I rarely re-read my books but for a number of reasons I did ANGELS recently in two long intense sessions (I’m a slow reader). It’s been almost six thousand days since I wrote the novel but by and large, I still hold with what it says about life, love, and what we can do when death comes whispering. I’m not sure anymore if it will end up being my signature work –there are still a few things I would like to say about how the big clock ticks. But if for some reason I don’t wake up tomorrow and they decide to put “He wrote FROM THE TEETH OF ANGELS” on the stone, that’ll do.
Introduction to VOICE OF OUR SHADOW
I grew up in a town about an hour from New York City. It was in the Hudson Valley right next to the river. When we lived there most of the residents were either Irish or Italian, descendants of the workers who had built the New York Central railroad and eventually settled in the area. I gather the town is very chic now because of its proximity to Manhattan. Houses that once sold for barely five figures are now seven and more. But my memories are of a gritty, mostly lower middle class burg where there were two restaurants (both red sauce Italian) and the only places to take a date were either the run down movie theater that never seemed to change its feature or ‘Scappy’s Harmony Inn’ bowling alley.
Most of my friends had last names that ended in either “I” (Fanelli), or “O” (Costello), with an occasional “Newman” or “O’Connor” here and there. The boys were tough and the girls budding dreamboats who led us around like puppies on leashes, that is when we weren’t brawling with each other or getting in trouble with the police.
But there was one guy (there’s always one guy, you know?) who had all the others beat in terms of scariness: Johnny M., a friend of my brother. I only knew him as a sweet, generous, always ‘on’ guy who was funny and nice whenever my brother allowed me to hang around with them. But Johnny M. was also a red zone psychopath who scared the total bejeesus out of everyone, and I mean everyone—even adults in town. He was constantly doing things that were either nuts, dangerous, or scary as hell. He robbed the local VFW of all its guns, was reputed to have burned down the house of one of his enemies, once used a beer opener on an opponent’s face in a fight. Stuff like that.
When I began writing VOICE OF OUR SHADOW I knew I wanted to write about my old town and Johnny M who, by the way, was eventually killed in a shoot out with the police in the middle of our quiet little town just after he had kidnapped a girl and was trying to make a getaway. True story.
VOICE OF OUR SHADOW isn’t true, but Johnny and the town are—I’ve just changed the names and features around a little bit.