Samples of my work
I figured if you are thinking of hiring me, you might like to read some of my work. Here are samples from my novels 'Vinegar Hill' and 'Hotel Continental'. I hope you enjoy what you see!
"Vinegar Hill" is the first sequel to my novel 'The Music Teacher'. It takes place in Brooklyn, N.Y. in the early days of WWII and tells the story of a romance between a champion swimmer and a poet and what happens when they accidentally stumble upon a German spy ring being run out of a gay brothel near the Navy Yard. 'Based on a true story," as the saying goes...
"Hotel Continental' finds the nephew of a character in "Vinegar Hill" (and the grandson of a character in "The Music Teacher') in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive, and what happens when he becomes involved with a press photographer who happens to be the son of a famous Hollywood movie star
From "Vinegar Hill":
Solly Harker realized the man sitting opposite was watching him. How long had he been doing this? He hadn’t noticed him until now. He checked his fly, his hair – anything else he could think of that could be the reason for the stranger’s attentions. As the doors closed and the train pulled out of the Prospect Park station, Solly realized he was trapped.
What could this man want? He looked young, at most only a few years older than Solly. Maybe it had something to do with the war. That was the reason Solly went downtown in the first place. At the Navy Office, Solly spoke to an officer who reassured him that his college enrollment would normally allow for a deferral, but considering recent events it was impossible to say anything definitive. ‘Recent events’ – that was his euphemism for the Japanese attack. Then, as quickly as he started, he dismissed Solly and attended to the next of the dozen other young men in line bearing the same burdensome question and seeking the same absolution.
When the train pulled into Church Street, Solly hoped that the man who was watching him would get off, but he didn’t. Worse, it now seemed as if he knew Solly had noticed him. Could Solly have encountered a spy? Was he in some kind of danger? Suddenly the silliest things sounded possible. In the school hallways and during long walks along Flatbush Avenue, Solly had listened to his friends’ talk of double agents and espionage. The sudden disappearance of one of the college’s most respected professors of German literature was taken prima facie as proof of a conspiracy, and now with America at war no detail could be ignored. Just last night his brother Danny, who works in the Navy Yard, told him they found a dozen sticks of dynamite buried in the hold of an Argentine freighter. But, Solly thought, what can they do to me? I know no secrets, and thus I have no secrets to divulge.
By Avenue I, Solly felt the perspiration rising on the back of his neck. It may have been early December but the overheated car and the mystery of what the man was up to – if he was up to anything at all – was getting to him. Maybe he is as much on edge as I, Solly thought, seeing a mad bomber in my nervous expression. Solly moved his book bag to his lap, as if to say here – would I blow myself up with you? Then the car rolled into Avenue P and Solly got off. He strode briskly across the elevated platform and dashed down the iron stairwell, trying very hard not to look behind him. But the man was still there and he was smiling at him. This changed everything: spies never smile.
The best way to end this, Solly thought, is to end it. He gathered his courage and turned to face the man. The stranger held on to his smile, even as he stuck a cigarette in his mouth and spoke:
“Got a light, kid?”
Solly looked squarely into the man’s face. It was a pleasant face, handsome like a model in a magazine advertisement except for a small scar cutting across his upper lip.
“No, I’m sorry.”
There was nowhere else naturally for the conversation to go, but Solly was hesitant to say anything else, aware that another sentence would perpetuate whatever it was that the man had started. So he just stood there with one hand buried in his pocket and the other gripped tightly around the strap of his book bag and waited to see what the other man might do.
“Live around here?” the stranger asked.
The fragment of a sentence allowed Solly to make the encounter more like a game, and this, in turn, helped to lessen the state of his nerves.
“Did you mean do I live around here?”
The man chose to ignore Solly’s implied reproach.
“I do, but I’m late getting to my Papa’s store.”
“Papa? So… you live with your family?”
“Everything about me seems too bad to you.”
The man brought up his hand and touched Solly lightly on the chin. The movement was so sudden and unexpected that Solly flinched, but in the same moment he was relieved to finally and fully understand what was happening. It was a pick-up.
“My name is Friedrich,” the man began. “But you can call me Fritz.”
“I’ve got to go,” Solly whispered, backing away down East 3rd Street.
“See you around…what’s your name?”
“See you around, Sol.”
Solly allowed a smile as he shouted back:
“My friends call me Solly!”
The sun was almost down and Solly’s long shadow on the sidewalk seemed to mock him. He was not a tall fellow, nor – so he believed – was he a particularly handsome one, which is why he was always surprised when men – especially men like Fritz -- took an interest in him. He thought that only movie stars and athletes merited attention for their looks, certainly not Jewish undergraduate poets. Still, he was not immune to flattery. It was with a mixture of two parts relief to one part disappointment that he turned around and saw that Fritz had fled down Avenue P. Solly was alone.
For Solly led a quiet, unadventurous life. Any small thrill he received, like the one he felt with Fritz, was in its own way like becoming a movie star; every love affair, however oblique, contained the germinating seeds of a spy novel, with words spoken in code and gestures filled with ambiguity. And the war only raised the stakes. What would have happened, Solly thought, if I had followed Fritz to wherever he wanted to take me? Would I have ended up in a room in a downtown hotel, with a bottle of beer on the bed stand and an exchange of hollow promises? Or would Fritz have forced me into an alleyway at gunpoint, telling me just exactly was going to happen to me if I didn’t get my brother to reveal the fleet patterns for the South China Sea? (How did they know he worked in the Navy Yard? They always know everything).
When Solly would meet other men who felt the way he did, they often remarked that the lives they were forced to live were not unlike the stories they had read about espionage: that certain sense that you were being watched, the need to hide what you were thinking, the ability to tell in an instant whether the man in front of you was a friend or a foe. All of these abilities were useful, both for avoiding and, if necessary, for cultivating danger. In this regard, Solly Harker’s imagination was really not that different from any other average young American impressed by the violent turn of world events. But that didn’t mean – in fact, it often proved – that everything he imagined was true.
From "Hotel Continental":
I dreamed I was falling. I had jumped off a cliff and a great mass of roiling water was rushing up to greet me, but I wasn’t afraid. I was floating slowly in space, enjoying the view on the way down. I’d had this dream before, and I knew I was going to wake up before I reached the end. The landscape was a tropical paradise, not unlike the Central Highlands of Vietnam, a place I knew all too well. I had apparently been jostling in my dream, because when I awoke from it, the man in the bed with me pushed me away gently, put his arm around me, and willed me back to sleep. The green dial on the little clock next to the bed read few minutes after midnight.
Through the fog of memory, I can’t recall his name – I think he said it was Max – but I do remember that it was one hour later, when he was on top of me, that I first heard the explosions. It was Tet, the New Year, after all, and the sounds of firecrackers going off had been muffled and steady all night long. But now it was 1 A.M. and this noise had no muffler. I do recall Max, or whatever his name was, turning over and saying something to me about how he had heard that making love could be like fireworks on the Fourth of July but this was ridiculous. I tried to laugh but when the bed shook and it wasn’t because of Max, I quickly lost my sense of sang-froid.
My room was on the third floor of the Hotel Continental, one of several old piles of 19th century French architecture still standing in downtown Saigon. Both Newsweek and Time installed their bureaus one floor below me, which was extremely convenient for an almost twenty-two year old, loosely affiliated reporter like myself. (I use the word ‘loosely’ because that’s pretty much how the UPI described me, despite the fact that they handed me a check for $65 every week and paid my expenses from time to time). I suspect that the true reason for the location of the bureaus was their intimate proximity to the terrace bar of the hotel – the best place in town, as I quickly found out, to make an assignation, verify a rumor, cop a deal, or drink yourself to Nepenthe, whichever came first.
In between explosions, so-called Max jumped out of the bed and started to pull on his clothes. We were both civilians; that made it hard to distinguish his clothes from mine in the dark, but we sorted it out quickly enough and made it down to the terrace in less than sixty seconds. The bar was usually quiet at one in the morning, but the combination of Tet and the fireworks and – apparently -- a Viet Cong attack had drawn a crowd. I joined a couple of AP stringers I knew who were standing in the corner overlooking Lam Son Square. From there, you could see the trailing lights of the mortars making their parabolic paths across the sky. I turned to say something to the guy I had just slept with, but he had disappeared as simply and effortlessly as he had arrived, leaving me nothing but a pack of Winstons and the memory of the taste of salt on his lips.
“They hit the Embassy,” one of the stringers said to no one in particular. “The radio station, too.”
Since I didn’t have the foresight to bring a pencil and a pad with me, the other reporters crowding around the bar must have thought I was some diplomat’s son or a typist from the press pool. I certainly looked the part: I had let my hair grow out until the waves grew unruly, and I only shaved once a week. I couldn’t afford the tweedy look that the older correspondents assumed, although I admired it. Most of the time, I reported to work in a collarless shirt and dungarees, the only clothes that looked good on me even when they weren’t clean. So I wasn’t surprised when another man – probably TV, because he had already knotted his tie – handed me a glass and said:
“Why don’t you do something useful, kid, and get me a fresh drink?”
Appearances aside, I was no dumb-ass neophyte; I had been in Vietnam for six months when Tet hit. Since November, I had been embedded in the 3rd of the 8th at Kontum – that’s the 3rd division of the 8th regiment of the 4th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army. There was a fire fight at Dak To, one of the supposedly pacified hamlets that ARVN controlled -- if you call ‘controlled’ running for cover when the first NLF cadres popped out of the jungle – and I reported it to a teletype machine in downtown Saigon and from there to New York and Mr. and Mrs. America.
Getting ‘embedded’ into an American unit was as simple as walking up to the commanding officer and shaking his hand. If you looked like him, he assumed you were on the same side and that was that. At Dak To, I was paired up with Tommy Schirra, an Army photographer who nevertheless loved to hand the Army whatever shit he could dig up. We made a merry pair and turned in a couple of good stories until my flak jacket flew off in the middle of a grenade attack. That was too close for comfort for my unit commander, and he sent me back to the capital city for a little r ‘n’ r. It was December by then, and no photographer wanted an assignment that would keep him busy through Christmas. Suited me -- Saigon was quiet. Then came Tet.
By dawn, I had figured out what was happening and what was not happening and I felt like I could make up my own mind about what to do next. From a corner of the bar, I could just make out the party boys from the television networks on the roof of the Caravelle across the square: they had ditched their lights but the glow of a dozen cigarettes was clearly visible, especially since they were moving. The Continental might have the best bar but the Caravelle had the best view and in a war zone, the latter trumped the former, so I grabbed a helmet and headed out.
Some of the heavier brass, such as the Newsweek crew, were important enough and rich enough to have an armored car at their disposal, so they took off towards the Embassy compound, clattering cameras and flak jackets in their wake. One wiseacre from the MACV who had ended up spending the night in the hotel for reasons that none of us felt privileged enough to ask tuned in the government radio station and got The Rolling Stones singing ‘Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby?’ That lightened the mood a bit.
I stayed behind. I knew I had to find Nguyen Van An.
An and I ‘went back’: he and I were undergraduates at Columbia four years ago. We found each other at a transitional moment of our lives: An was trying to lose his Parisian and Montagnard roots -- his father was a Degar who lived in the Central Highlands and then Hanoi before seeking his fortune and a bride in Paris -- and I was trying to write like Ernest Hemingway on pot. It was An who enticed me to Vietnam as the most surefire way to make my reputation before I died – Hemingway, again – and now it was An who most surely would know what was actually happening on the ground in Saigon during an offensive. This was more than the U.S. Army would know and I smelled a story.
In the lobby, I borrowed a jacket from the kid behind the desk (you always went to the kid behind the desk for anything – a flak jacket, a bottle of gin, the spare key). Luckily for me, just as I hit the street the best photographer in the whole world, Heinz Baak, rolled up in a bullet-battered taxicab. Heinz and I had crossed paths before, but I had never worked with him. But I was here, and I had a pulse.
“Harker, get in,” he shouted, kicking the door open with his feet.
“Where are we going?” I asked, as the cab swung out into the dark, deserted boulevard.
“Wherever our pass will take us,” Heinz replied.
I left my credentials in the hotel.
“Not to worry,” Heinz began. “They’ll shoot you, regardless.”
And that’s how I ended up wandering the streets of Saigon on the first day of Tet, under siege, looking for Nguyen Van An with a thousand questions on my lips. That, plus whatever was left of Max’s last, salty kiss.