I was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in Lucerne County, the self proclaimed, “Valley with a Heart”. It needs to be that optimistic because, every once in a frequent while, something bad happens there. Since it is anthracite coal country, often the bad happening involves a fire or a collapse in the mines. Sometimes it is the Susquehanna River overflowing its banks and making a pure mess of things – but it is always something.
I have no idea whether it is because of these tragedies, or in spite of them, that the area produced such wonderful people, many of whom were my family members. When I was a kid, a great day would be a trip to Harvey’s Lake. I can remember the excitement at just the thought that such a day was being planned. My grandfather had built a humble little cottage near the lake that I am pretty sure I never went to since it had been sold off before I was born, but the family stories of the place were so vivid sometimes it feels as though I spent my youth there.
In my later life I discovered the Adirondacks, and fell in love with Lake George. It probably is a substitute for Harvey’s Lake, since even now I get just as excited at the prospect of a visit there as I did when I was a kid in Pennsylvania. The story in my book, Desperate Hours, is set on Lake George, and I have tried to capture the beauty and the history of the place. Writing the book allowed me to spend more time at Lake George in my mind than my professional life would allow in person. Writing the book also let me scratch an itch I have had since my seventh grade English teacher (at Cedarbrook Elementary School in South Plainfield, New Jersey where my family had moved when I was in the second grade) convinced me that I could push a noun against a verb and create something that people would enjoy reading.
He encouraged me to write, and made a special effort to critique my efforts and help me improve. Thankfully, none of those early efforts have been saved for posterity. He was the type of teacher that all teachers should aspire to be. He taught me that the little things in life – once properly examined and considered – could hold great fascination. He introduced me to the writings of Paul Gallico, and the mystery of diagramming a sentence.
My father was a teacher as well, and he put a great emphasis on the importance of education. For that reason, I was sent to study under the “gentle” tutelage of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart at St. Joseph’s High School in Metuchen, New Jersey. In spite of my initial misgivings (the scriptural quote on the board in my homeroom was actually not a threat directed at potential scholastic failures as it turns out), I received a rather good education during that four-year reign of terror, for which I will be eternally grateful.
I was also lucky enough to have a wonderful English teacher in Brother John. An excitable man who loved Simon & Garfunkel as much as a well crafted sentence; he was fully prepared to eviscerate anyone who dared submit a carelessly drafted paper. His encouragement increased my confidence in my writing ability. Nevertheless, I am sure that were he to discover this brief biography he would send it back to me covered in blue and red pencil marking and require a rewrite.
With my father and these other wonderful teachers as my role models it seemed only logical that I would become a teacher myself. I went to Rutgers intent on training to be a teacher in their image. I majored in History and Education. I studied my theory and methods course diligently – and then tragedy struck. Reality ran smack dab into theory during my practice teaching course, and it became blindingly clear to me that I did not have what it takes to be a great teacher. In fact, halfway through my practice teaching experience, I had to acknowledge to myself that I did not have what it takes to be even a mediocre teacher.
While working as a lifeguard had provided me with an ample source of income to enjoy some of the finer things in my young life, it was also beginning to dawn on me that I might not always be able to count on my parents to provide food, shelter and the other accoutrements of life to which I had become accustomed. I would graduate soon and either had to look for work I liked but was not trained for (and had yet to identify since left fielder for the Yankees seemed like a long shot); or, I could go to work in one of the two fields in which I arguable had experience in, but now hated – teaching or being a bank teller.
In fairness, I hated teaching, but I was just bad at being a bank teller. The nice folks in charge at Franklin State Bank were whimsical enough to make me wear a smiley face button emblazoned with the message, “We Love You For Your Money”, but were OCD about making sure that my cash draw balanced every day, and that I remembered to lock it up without fail in the vault rather than leaving it conveniently located in the drawer at my work station. One day my cash box might be off by two dollars too much, and the next it would be short by two dollars. Instead of seeing this as no errors, merely the universe righting itself, they would arbitrarily and capriciously assign me two demerits that would conspire against my securing the $25.00 monthly bonus that the more fastidious tellers would regularly receive. Clearly, I could not see myself making a career surrounded by such inflexible people.
Fortunately, there were other college students at Franklin State Bank who were good at tellering, but were struggling with their writing assignments. One such fellow had every intention of going to law school, but was worried that the goal might be slipping away due the low grades he was receiving on his papers. I learned much later in my life that this fortuitous intersection of need and ability had a name—synergy! I then began a writing assistance program that dramatically improved his grades; and, since he was doing all the transactions at the drive-thru, my error rate dropped substantially – allowing me to receive those coveted monthly bonuses.
One day it occurred to me that if he could go to law school based on my writing efforts, maybe I should consider it as well. Suddenly I realized that I had always been fascinated by the law, but had unconsciously rejected it on the basis that it was just beyond me. A quick trip to my Rutgers faculty advisor reinforced my feelings of inadequacy, and led to a follow-up visit with the career counseling office. There I was presented with a “skills and interests” inventory exam designed to reveal my innermost thoughts and yearnings. The near mystical scoring of this psychological exam would predict my perfect future career. Imagine my surprise when I learned the only career I was suited for was forest ranger!
Throwing caution to the wind, I decided to ignore science and prepare to take the Law School Admission Test. Since I came to this decision rather late in the process, I decided to forego whatever the usual preparatory course may have been, and to forge my own program. As it turned out, my own program consisted of merely paying the late fee to register for the LSAT, doing a drive-by of the address so I could find it easily on the morning of the test, and refraining from drinking beer the night before the test while I was busily sharpening not one, but four, number 2 pencils. It really is true that chance favors the prepared mind.
The amazing thing is that I did quite well on the test; and, since I wanted to combine my passion for SCUBA diving with my legal career, I applied and was accepted to the University of Miami, where I never even pursued its prestigious Law and the Sea program. A funny thing happened on the way to becoming lawyer. My law school considered its mission in life was to teach us to think and write like a lawyer.
Assuming arguendo that I knew, or should have known, that such an effort was contemplated by the parties when they entered into the scope of the educational contract……Oh well, you can see how my writing career may have been sidetracked by an education and career that encourages one to write in a such a stilted manner.
But what a wonderful career it turned out to be. I am very proud to be a lawyer. Not the type that you see on TV or in the movies; because, for the most part, they don’t exist. I have “tried” more jury trials than I care to think about, and not once did anyone stand up in the gallery and confess it was they and not the defendant who did it. Real lawyers work at the friction points of society. We see clients when they potentially are at their worst, and we help them find a way to be their best as they seek to resolve the conflicts and issues in their lives.
After law school I moved to the Central Florida area where I continue to live and work as a lawyer and as a mediator. I met my wife Eileen while in law school. She was getting her Masters degree, and with as much trepidation as you might expect from a girl who grew up in New York City, she agreed to move with me into the country. I am not sure she believed that there would be electricity or hospitals in her new home; but, with the spirit of the true pioneer, she bravely forged ahead. She became one of those truly dedicated and talented teachers I mentioned earlier, while I began my legal career.
I chose Orlando for my first job for a very practical reason. It was the only job I found. It turned out to be a wonderful decision. It is a great place to be a lawyer, with a very congenial Bar. My first job was in a very busy practice where I was able to really learn what it takes to be a lawyer from a number of very talented lawyers. I have been extremely lucky in the practice of law to have always had too much work to do, to have founded a firm in which I had partners that I was delighted to call my friends, and to have had clients that never asked me to do anything I considered unethical and who paid their bills by return mail. You would be lucky as a lawyer to have one of those things as an element of your practice, and I hit the hat trick!
It has famously been said that the law is a jealous mistress. It is certainly true; so, while I was tending my practice, other areas of my life received less of my attention. I have two wonderful children who have grown into fantastic young adults in whom I am enormously proud. I made most of their school events and Girl Scout camping trips; and yet, were it not for the influence of their mother, they would not have grown into the spectacular people they are; and for that I am extraordinarily grateful to my wife.
Now I have chosen to wind down my practice, to devote myself to working as a mediator, and to try my hand at writing again after all these years. I have enjoyed reading, and being invited into the world created by wonderful writers, and I have always wondered if I could do it myself.
Desperate Hours is my first published novel. I hope you will read it, and find in it some entertainment, some insights, and some diversion. You might also find some mistakes, or have ideas to improve it—I’d love to hear from you if you do.
My biggest fear when I began was that I would not be able to finish the book, so I wrote in secret, not even telling my wife what I was up to. Now that it is published, my biggest fear is that I will wind up with a garage full of unsold books; so if you liked it, tell me. Even more importantly, tell your friends – since it would not upset me to sell a few of these books!