Early retirement was an offer I didn’t expect to take. The clincher came when I realized the last day to exit the company was my thirtieth anniversary date. I’ve learned to never question fate—so I took the plunge.
One day I was in a high-pressure job living on a constant flow of adrenalin. The next, I faced the harsh reality of having nothing but free time, lots of free time. I quickly realized that I needed to find a challenge. That’s when I remembered the above quote from Eleanor Roosevelt.
I wrote down three things I believed I would never accomplish: become an artist—I’m color blind; learn to play a musical instrument—I’m tone deaf; and write a novel. Why a novel? That’s a story onto itself. Suffice it to say, I had been a very poor student until I realized during my junior year that I have exceptional visualization capability and my life changed. I became an A student, but I could still hear my elementary school teachers (the nuns) telling my parents that I was retarded and didn’t belong in their school. Not even a Ph.D. and a successful career could break that yoke. Maybe, just maybe, writing a novel would prove them wrong.
So, I bought several books on writing, a pencil sharpener, and a dozen pencils to begin a new chapter in my life. After reading several writing tutorials, I picked up two important tidbits: write a detailed story outline and know your characters by writing their autobiographies.
Being an engineer, I decided to write a science fiction novel. A week went by with me sitting at my desk for eight to ten hours a day producing basically nothing. I was incapable of writing an outline and the thought of getting to “know” my characters was overwhelming. So I threw the writing books in the trash, made up a title, and started to write with just an image in my mind.
One eventful day, halfway through my science fiction novel, I got the idea for a detective series. So I started writing science fiction in the morning and The Gumshoe Chronicles in the afternoon.
A year passed, and the science fiction manuscript was completed and collecting dust, while I was fully engaged in The Gumshoe Chronicles. At some point, my wife very subtlety told me my writing needed some help and suggested I hire Teresa Funke, a local writing coach she’d read about in the paper. Ten years later, The Gumshoe Chronicles Trilogy is self-published and available on Amazon. Currently, I’m rewriting the science fiction novel.
The Gumshoe Chronicles tells the story of Joey Batista who returns from WWI and starts a detective agency in his Italian New York City neighborhood. Each book records a year in his life, starting in 1920. You get to know Joey’s colorful family and to see how the mafia has woven itself into the fabric of the neighborhood. And you watch as Joey comes to grips with how the war has changed him.
I’m able to write without an outline because the story reveals itself as if I’m watching a movie. My main challenge is how to describe what I’m seeing in my mind’s eye so the reader will feel right there with me. The setting is New York City, where I was raised. The buildings are based on memories of my relatives’ apartments.
I have found a creative way to “know” my characters without the burden of character sketches. When a new character arrives on the page, I ask: who do I know that would fit into this scene? It might be a relative, a childhood friend, a coworker. Then I ask how they’d respond, what they’d say, what emotions they’d feel, and I write it into my character.
I still have a lot to learn about writing, which is why I find it so exhilarating. If you read The Gumshoe Chronicles 1920, 1921, and 1922, I hope you feel you are right there with Joey taking on the mob, outwitting the corrupt DA, and hoping to win the girl in the end.
Tom and Judy were both raised on Staten Island, New York. They met in high school and have been married for forty-six years.
Tom retired from Hewlett Packard Company after thirty years and Judy is a retired middle school teacher and registered nurse. They are founding members of the Soaring Eagle Ecology Center in Red Feather Lakes, Colorado. You can learn about the Ecology Center by visiting their website.
This is their third novel, which completes The Gumshoe Chronicles Trilogy. They are currently working on a science fiction novel as their next project.