The title of my new novel, DEAD STOCK, refers to vintage clothing that has never been worn. It is a term that could be applied equally well to the manuscript, which sat in a box, lost and forgotten, for nearly a quarter of a century before being published last fall by Cozy Cat Press.
During the summer of 1989 I was 23 years old and living back at home on Long Island, after several failed attempts at making my mark in the world. I worked at a local machine shop (making parts for bookbinding machines, no less!) and made several trips a week to the local library, where I loaded up on mysteries, modern poetry and—believe it or not—books on etiquette (the experience of absorbing the complete poems of William Carlos Williams, James Ellroy’s The Black Dahlia and Miss Manners simultaneously is one of the most bizarre literary mash-ups I ever experienced). I would come home from the machine shop and type late into the night, churning out pages of poems and short stories on a manual typewriter that I acquired from a local thrift shop.
At the end of that summer I was ready to move on again. I dumped the hundreds of pages that I had written into a few garbage bags and dragged them to the curb for recycling—forever depriving the world of my youthful genius (you’re welcome, world). It wasn't long before I had established myself as a freelance journalist, newspaper publisher and creative writer; I quickly forgot about those early efforts.
It wasn’t until a few years ago, during a routine visit with my mom, that she mentioned that she had found a box of my old papers in the basement. I opened the box and found a manila folder inside, filled with some overlooked pieces of writing from that long-ago summer. Near the top was a fragment of a mystery novel that I had begun but quickly abandoned, featuring a 23-year-old protagonist who is stuck on Long Island against his will. The story begins with him typing a journal entry on a manual typewriter, purchased at—that’s right—a thrift shop:
Whoever said that thing about how no man is an island probably doesn’t live on one.
Like my protagonist’s knowledge of classic poetry, the story was quite rough—but I was sufficiently charmed by this early, forgotten effort to see if I could finally finish the story. A couple of years later the first installment of my “new” Bert Shambles mysteries had found a home.
Some things really do get better with age.