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Blogs, Interviews and Reviews

The Shortest Verse in the Bible, or "What Makes an Author Tick?"

I had finally made it.

My first novel The Ripper Gene had just been published, and my wife had wisely scheduled our family to be nowhere near a bookstore, but rather at the New Jersey shore on vacation… in a sea town without a bookstore for twenty miles, during the momentous occasion of my first novel’s release.

The first night of the official day of my publication, after everyone in my family had gone to bed in the shore house, I quietly cracked open my MacBook Air and logged onto Amazon at midnight as my novel "went live”. I watched for the first few hours, disbelieving my own eyes as I watched my novel creep into the top 100 the Hot New Releases list, and then into the top 100 of the overall Best Seller List for Medical Thrillers. Suddenly I couldn’t sleep at all, as I watched my novel slowly join the company of so many other incredibly talented and famous writers I'd read and admired over the years in my own chosen genre.

I felt truly blessed and overwhelmed to have finally "made it".

The hours ticked by- midnight, one, two, three a.m. And what to my wondering eyes did appear but my novel already sitting at #3 on the Hot New Releases and #24 on Best Sellers lists for Medical Thrillers in those first few hours of its release! What joy I felt in those early hours of the morning.

I continued to watch, disbelieving, until at one point it (something?) finally hit me. I had just taken a screen shot to post onto social media (my new best friend). At that point my novel was wedged between some other novels on the list which were also captured on my screen- my internet browser only accommodated six novels at a time- and at that particular point my novel happened to be surrounded by books by Michael Crichton, Patricia Cornwell, Robin Cook, Michael Palmer, and Tess Gerritssen. With little old me as the sixth and final book on the screen.

Readers of this genre will immediately understand, and perhaps most readers will as well. To borrow my 5th grade son’s favorite all-purpose word, that was some pretty "unbe-frickin’-lievable" company for a first-time author like me.

When I stopped for that moment, and realized what had finally happened for me, after all the effort and strife and rejection and self-doubt and persecution and myriad other hurdles and obstacles I’d encountered (and ultimately overcome)…. can you guess what I did?

I wept.

I’m not too proud all to admit that I cried like a big baby: I wept deep, silent tears and felt them trickle over my face and into my sideburns and onto the pillow as I tried to catch my breath between sobs. And these were the real deal- no one else in the world watching. They weren’t the crocodile tears of a Tammy Faye or a Ted Bundy or the Menendez Brothers or any of the other millions of tear-stained liars that have come and gone in this insane world of ours. I was actually trying my best to stop crying, to make sure I didn’t wake my wife asleep beside me.

But I wept. There was nothing false or showy about it.

I wept.

But why? Why was I crying? Even as I did so, I couldn’t figure it out. It was incredibly frustrating (even now) as a writer for me to be unable to explain exactly the cause for all those tears. I reasoned (even while weeping) that if I couldn’t figure out the cause of my own tears, then HOW in the world would I be able to figure out future emotional states for any of my future characters and make them believable to readers!?!

Yes, those were quite literally the “writer's thoughts” going through my brain that night. I lay beside my slumbering wife and continued trying hard not to wake her with my emotional quasi-epiphany (that is to say, feeling as though you’re on the verge of understanding something very important about yourself, but not quite figuring it out after all).

I felt for sure that they had to do with my long journey.

I’d pursued the dream of becoming a novelist for almost fifteen years to that point. My first manuscript was a biomedical thriller and it was ALMOST published by Mysterious Press back in 2001, by the late great editor Sara Ann Freed. But that deal fell through when they didn’t like the revision, and it was back to the drawing board and square one for me. Rather than continuing to try and publish that book, I put it away as so many great authors have advised (wasn’t it Victor Hugo who said the first 100,000 words were crap anyway?), with the intent of picking it back up afresh. My long-suffering and talented agents had expended their last energies on the Time Warner deal, so we parted ways cordially. But even then, agent-less once again, I eventually began work on a different novel that became my passion- a novel that would ultimately help me find another agent who believed in me, and who would help me in turn find a publisher- a novel that eventually came to be known as The Ripper Gene.

In an interview with Writer's Digest I was asked how long it took to write. I told them the truth, that it took only about 12 months to write the first draft of 600 pages.

But I also added that it took about another decade (i.e., ten years in case you skipped that last word) to get it accepted for publication. I wasn’t working day-in, day-out on my novel, either. Like many first time novelists, I had a day job. I worked day-in and day-out as a pharmaceutical researcher, and had to wedge in "writers time" late at night or early in the morning or on vacations to work in revisions, write a new chapter, sharpen a character, detail a scene, find a new agent or a myriad of other author’s tasks in the tiny spaces and slots that populated that entire ten year challenge… all the while working diligently in my day job, committed to finding better therapies for cancer through personalized medicine and translational research.

But through it all, I always held onto the dream of one day being a published author. I personally wanted my novel to be published by a traditional publisher- preferably one of the Big 5 in New York City. So I held onto that dream, and it took more than a decade to see it through.

But all of this still didn’t explain the tears sufficiently for me.

And also, I did not know at the time... on that night of my novel’s publication… that less than one month after my novel would be published and “the word” would finally get out that I was not only a scientist but also an author… and one day before my 47th birthday, no less… that I’d be suddenly terminated from my company for the first time in my life… at a company where I’d just proudly graduated as a member of its inaugural class of future R&D leaders… that I’d be fired due to a "departmental reorganization" that eliminated only a single role in the entire department- mine.

I’m the first to admit that the timing was amazingly unfortunate. To have occurred less than a month after my ten year journey to become a writer finally came to fruition.

But as Kurt Vonnegut might tell me, if he were to hear my sad story: So It Goes.

Oh, there’d be tears then. But those? Those would be tears of fear, and anger, and humiliation. I know exactly their source. But that’s another story, and one that will never see the light of day, because I signed a confidentiality agreement in order to keep food on my family’s table for several months while I looked for a new job. And I will uphold my end of that bargain.

So…rewind the tape to 29 days earlier. Why the heck was I crying then? On the night of my greatest personal triumph, perhaps, completely unaware of the unimaginable disaster that awaited me and my family less than a month away? What did I have to cry about then?

I wish I could tell you that by the end of this little confessional that I have the perfect answer. But I don’t.

The shortest verse in the bible is “Jesus wept”. It doesn’t say why, although it happens when Jesus learns that his friend Lazarus has just died.

If you’ve ever read the passage- wow. Brevity can sometimes pack a punch, can’t it? I wouldn’t know personally (this essay is clear evidence of that) but man, I can see it when I read it. And that phrase “Jesus wept” is a punch to the gut when you see it for the first time, and are reminded of his sheer humanity.

Why did the Son of Man cry, if he knew that he just need snap his fingers or speak the word and Lazarus would bounce up from his funereal wrappings and emerge from the tomb, famished and ready to sit down and enjoy the company of his friends over a good meal?

It has to do with human grief, but surely there’s something more to it. And it’s a mystery that cannot be solved. And most of Christendom is completely okay with that. Like I am.

So I guess that’s it. I don’t exactly know why I wept that night. I just did.

It’s not for lack of trying to understand it. I almost feel like I grasp it- almost. Why I wept that night is like a word on the tip of your tongue that you are so close to recalling- that feeling of fervently and furiously searching for it and just not quite remembering it, even though you KNOW you KNOW it. You’re sure that it begins with this… and that it rhymes with that…and…and...

Sometimes we just don’t understand everything in life, most of all even our own actions and reactions. But we keep living, and experiencing, and it’s all good in the end.

I hope I get a chance to cry again, and maybe next time around watch my next novel climb those same charts and maybe even reach greater heights.

Maybe I’ll even be able to put a finger exactly on why I cried on the night that my debut novel went live.

Maybe I won’t.

Either way, I’ll see you at the next launch date.
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