A WRITER’S START, PART 1: YOUNG ADULT FICTION & MORE!

Professional writer’s get their start in a variety of ways and for yours truly, author of Lee Marvin Point Blank,  it actually began with the genre of young adult fiction and later non-fiction. As noted in a previous blog, I was working as a waiter when I met Mike Miller of Miller Educational Material. He took note of my past experience writing for local newspaper and decided to hire me on to work on his company’s catalog. In short order, one catalog became two and then two became three when he decided to branch out into publishing his own short fiction for the young adult market.

THE COOLR KING, published 2001 by Artesian Press.

My first was The Cooler King, described in the company catalog (also by yours truly): “Marty Berger had been terrorized by Ricky Hyde for as long as he could remember. Even worse, Theresa was watching as Ricky challenged Marty to a fight. All Marty really wanted to do was just watch old movies on his VCR. Why couldn’t he be cool like his hero, Steve McQueen? With the help of a little man and a magical videotape, Marty gets more than he bargained for…he gets the late, great Steve McQueen! Can the original “Cooler King” help Marty face Ricky Hyde?”

The subject of the young adult fiction was my own, with publisher Mike Miller’s approval and artwork by his former Disney artist wife, Fujiko. It was one in a series of five short books published by his Artesian Press, the small company’s newly formed publishing division.

FANTASY TEACHER’S RESOURCE GUIDE written by, me, Dwayne Epstein!

In fact, each of the various series put out by Artesian Press required a resource guide, all written by yours truly. They included Horror and Romance Resource Guides, also.

Speaking of horror,
I was also offered to write one of those in the series, as well, entitled From The Eye of the Cat...

FROM THE EYE OF THE CAT, published 2002 by Artesian Press. .

As summarized in the catalog, written by your humble narrator:
“Saturday was Ernie’s favorite day of the week because he got to play in the fields with his friends. Lately, the’ve been spending more time taunting the neighborhood cats. They’ve even taken to calling themselves the Cat Stalkers. Ernie would rather just play army. Then, one morning, he woke up to a living nightmare. Somehow, he became a cat himself. Now he must survive in this frightening new world he sees from the eye of a cat.”
Granted it’s not Hemingway but it did fit within the requirements of the company’s guidelines of young adult fiction subject matter and, most important of all, the reading level dictated by schools nationwide. Sales were decent and some name authors in the field contributed to the various series via Mike Miller’s persistence. I found myself on the receiving end of a promotion, a small staff that I had hired and of course, more responsibility. This included help editing all the titles and, on occasion, adding to the series, such as my entry into (gulp!) the Romance Series entitled Connie’s Secret:

CONNIE’S SECRET, published 2003.

“Shy Connie Martinez has a secret for doing well on school tests. Class clown Jerry Gordon has a secret to being popular. Even though she’s not sure of his reasons, Connie and Jerry agree to share their secrets. Will romance blossom for the mismatched pair?”

In several instances, I was required to do something more. Take for example another title, this time in The Ancient Egyptian Mysteries Series called The Great Pyramid.
“The Oldest and greatest “Wonder of the World” stands silently and demands explanation — how and why? The Great Pyramid of Khufu is so big, so old, and so beautiful that many can’t believe it was built by an ancient people…but it was! And that is the greatest mystery of all — the mystery of the this great people; their organization, enthusiasm, and genius.”

There was yet another mystery which had nothing to do with the pyramids but the actual author of the title. The credited author was a friend of the publisher but the resulting manuscript he turned in left much to be desired in terms of readability. Now I can solve that mystery: I rewrote the entire thing!
As Johnny Carson used to say, more to come!

THE GREAT PYRAMID published in 2004.

 

 

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THE COOLER KING: MY FIRST PUBLISHED BOOK

The Cooler King, nice name for a debut book, isn’t it? Well about 13 years before Lee Marvin Point Blank saw the light of day, that’s exactly what it was. However, my tale of publication is not typical of most published authors.

The cover of my first book, THE COOLER KING, a young adult novel written for the ESL market.

Although, truth be told, I don’t really know what is typical. That aside, I don’t know of anyone who ever got published by virtue of being a waiter.
I used to work as a waiter in Orange County in the early 90s and like most decent waiters, I had a few regular customers. One such regular was a tall, thin, amiable middle-aged man named Mike Miller. He ran his own educational material company and came in once a week for a lunch of jambalaya and a tall ice tea. All these years later and I still remember. Geez! Anyway, He was affable and fun and we also enjoyed each other’s conversation. When he spoke of his work, which was located nearby, he bemoaned his inability to find someone who can complete a decent sentence for his regular catalog production. When I told him I used to write for a newspaper, he gave me a copy of his previous catalog to proofread. I gave the proofed copy back the next time I saw him, he perused my corrections and asked me if I’d like to join his staff as an editor. Simple as that. Talk about being at the right place at the right time! By the way, I found out much later that I was only person who saw the catalog and corrected the fact that Robert Louis Stevenson did NOT write Moby Dick (!)
Anyway, my tenure at Miller Education Materials was a fun one as I began to move up the company’s ladder, eventually becoming production manager and hiring and overseeing small office staff as the company grew to include a publishing arm, Artesian Press. Pretty heady stuff for a guy who never finished college! Through it all was Mike Miller, who allowed me to pick his brain, encouraged my writing, laughed a lot and gave me my first writing credit as an author. He asked for an idea, I gave it to him and he published it! Also resulted in an audio cassette version…remember those?

Audio cassette of THE COOLER KING

It may seem a stretch but there never would have been Lee Marvin Point Blank had there not been a Mike Miller and THE COOLER KING first. I miss them both.

The last time I saw my old boss, Mike Miller, was at a book signing I did at the Long Beach Barnes & Noble. A year later he died of a brain tumor. I sure do miss him.

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MY 1994 INTERVIEW IN HONOR OF THE LATE DON GORDON

Researching Lee Marvin Point Blank meant never knowing where the work would lead, case in point is my interview with actor Don Gordon, who passed away April 24, at the age of 90. I had long been familiar with his work as I was a lifelong Steve McQueen fan and Gordon and McQueen were close friends.

Steve McQueen (left) as Det. Frank Bullitt with his partner Delgetti (Don Gordon) in a scene cut from the final version of BULLITT (1968).

(L-R) Steve McQueen, Don Gordon, Billy Mumy and Dustin Hoffman disembark for Devil’s Island in 1973’s PAPILLON.

(L-R) Norman ‘Woo-Woo’ Grabowski, Don Gordon and Steve McQueen as firemen confer on how to handle THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974).

 

 

I had not thought of interviewing Gordon, that is  until a mutual friend suggested I should as he may have worked with Marvin on  some early live television. The interview was arranged and we spoke briefly about the subject of my book. The interview proved to be full of revelations, despite the fact that Gordon didn’t think he had worked with Marvin. The follow-up interview proved otherwise. As readers of Lee Marvin Point Blank discovered — along with the author– many of Marvin’s unheralded TV performances proved his versatility more than most of his films and I owe a debt of gratitude for that to Don Gordon. He helped to set me on the path of discovering Marvin’s TV work and proved to be quite an eye-opener. Like Gordon himself, if you take the time to watch his work, despite the fact he wasn’t that well-known to mainstream audiences, he (and conversely, late life success of Lee Marvin) made an impression in whatever he did. Below is the full, unedited transcription of our phone conversation. It was brief, yet enlightening. He had no reason to be, but you’ll see that he was friendly, honest, forthcoming and insightful. Rest in peace, Mr. Gordon. You will be missed.

Initial Phone Interview, 11/6/94
Dwayne (Call being returned): Hello?
Don Gordon: Hi Dwayne, it’s Don Gordon.
Dwayne: Don, thanks for calling me back. Listen, I don’t know what your schedule is like but you had mentioned you knew Lee Marvin casually and knew Michelle Triola, as well. I was wondering if maybe I could ask you a couple of questions about that now?
Don: Well, I don’t know how much I could tell you. I never worked with Lee but I knew him. I was friendlier with Michelle. I knew Lee years ago. He was a terrific guy. I had heard that he was known to have a bit of a temper but I never saw it.
Dwayne: Really? I never heard that. Where did you hear it?
Don: Well, you know, you read things about that kind of shit but I never saw it. He was always a great guy, as far as I’m concerned.
Dwayne: When would you see him?
Don: Well, mostly at different social functions. I would bump into him at those black tie affairs.
Dwayne: You said you knew him years ago. Was that in New York?
Don: No, no. Hollywood. We were both starting out playing heavies and then he eventually became a big star, which he rightfully deserved. You know, we were all young in those days. We’d see each other kicking around at Schwab’s when there was still a Schwab’s. I might see him at a friend’s house and we’d talk. “Hey, you’re really good. I saw you in such-and-such and you were really good.” You know, that kind of thing. Believe it or not, Hollywood really is a very small town. I suspect it’s still that way, but I’ve been out of the loop for so long, I wouldn’t know.
Dwayne: Really?
Don: Yeah, it’s partly by choice because I’m writing (Children’s books) now and doing some other things, so acting really doesn’t hold my interest anymore. Don’t get me wrong, if the right part came along..
Dwayne: Do you remember the first time you met Lee Marvin?
Don: No, I really don’t. I just remember bumping into him every now and again. We were all young and full of energy in those days, that’s what I remember. He was just a terrific guy.
Dwayne: Having know him over the years, did you see any change in the man over those years?
Don: Absolutely not. No change whatsoever. He was the same guy from the day he had no money to the day he was one of the biggest stars. And there’s very few people you can say that about.
Dwayne: Well, you just gave me a good quote I can use.
Don: (Laughs) Good. See, the thing is, I knew Steve much better. Not just at work, because we did work together a lot but we used to go and do things outside of work. We were friends.
Dwayne: You mentioned that you knew Michelle Triola much better. Why is that?
Don: Well, we got to know each other and found out we share a birthday. Not the same year because she’s a little older than me. But we had that in common and became good friends. In fact, we still are.
Dwayne: Could you put me in contact with her?
Don: I could ask.
Dwayne: I’d really appreciate that. I could provide references, if you need it.
Don: Well, let me ask her first and see what she says then we’ll take from there.
Dwayne: Thanks, that would be great.
Don: I could call you in a couple of days
——————————————————————
Follow-up Phone Interview, 11/10/95
Don Gordon: Got your message Dwayne. What’s up?
Dwayne: Well, I was recently in New York at the Museum of Television and Radio and I remember you telling me you had not remembered working with Lee Marvin. I viewed a tape of a “Studio One” called “Shakedown Cruise.” I realize you did a lot of work in those days and it’s hard to keep track but does any of this sound familiar?
Don: Boy Dwayne, I’ll tell you it really doesn’t. I’m sure you’re right but I just can’t recall.
Dwayne: I can understand that because it’s not one of the most well known shows like “Marty” or “Requiem for a Heavyweight”….
Don: I was in “Marty.” I had a really small part. I played the guy who didn’t want to stay with an ugly girl and wanted to pay somebody to get rid of her.
Dwayne: Yeah, well in this you played a sailor everyone thinks is a coward and you prove them wrong in time of crisis and if I do say so you were excellent in it.
Don: Thank you, very much. I only wish I could remember it. I haven’t seen any of the live shows I did in those days except for “Marty”. See in those days I did a lot of “Studio One”. It kept me alive. Don’t get me wrong. It didn’t pay that well. Only about $200 but it kept you going. I did one or two a month in those days and it was hard work. You would rehearse for about 10 to 12 days and then go out there live.

Don Gordon (left) tries to pawn off his ugly date for $5 to Rod Steiger’s Marty in the 1953 live TV version by Paddy Chayefsky, later made into the 1955 Oscar-winning film with Ernest Borgnine as MARTY.

Dwayne: I guess you could compare it to local theater only the recognition was much greater.
Don: Oh yeah. The next day you’d be walking around New York and all the cab drivers would say, “Hey I saw you last night in that show and you were great.” So the reaction was immediate. Cab drivers are the best that way.
Dwayne: Sure. they make the best critics because they don’t have an axe to grind and they can be totally honest.
Don: Oh, sure. They wouldn’t have any problem saying, “Hey I saw you last night and you stink!” I love New York cab drivers. Listen, I have your number, so if I remember anything, I’ll give you a call.
Dwayne: Thanks, I appreciate it. When they open the Museum out here next March, you might want to check that show out.
Don: I sure will. Take care. (END)

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