Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Confidentially, Dad Wrote a Book

So I wrote a book.

This is something I considered doing for, well, decades. But I never got around to it.

When I was nine years old, I decided I wanted to be a cartoonist. I started taking more interest in art classes and spent a lot of time thinking about which cartoonists I really liked, stylistically and thematically.

Within a year, I came to the realization that I had a number of artistic limitations. First and foremost, I lacked the "eye." My teachers would give me instructions and my stuff did not have the dimensionality of other students. In fact, I was mortified that I – the presumptive future artiste – was being casually outdrawn by classmates. Sometimes in a matter of minutes.

Yet people still clamored for my stuff. Not just other precocious students. My teachers would examine my comics and chuckle. In sixth grade, I was even asked to produce, single-handedly, a comics and puzzles publication that was distributed to children in local New Jersey hospitals.

Well then, why me? If my drawing skills were not top drawer, why was I chosen? Ah, it was my writing. Other kids drew a few lines to create six boxes on a page. They doodled a couple of characters with a promising start in box one. By box three, their story was going nowhere. Then they would come to me, holding out the sheet of paper for suggestions. Occasionally I was stumped. But most of the time, I would go box-to-box, leading to a punchline. My prize? After their byline, I added, "& Jeff Cohen."

I decided to become a writer. I was 10. Over time, decades of time, I started dozens of lengthy projects. Some had outlines. Others had notes. There were many Chapter Ones. Even a couple of Chapter Twos. Perhaps, a long time back, a Chapter Three. But nothing went more than 30 pages. I gassed out.

When you're young, you think you've got time. When you're old, you think you're out of time. With two kids, I had some time, precious little down time. What made me put my fingers to the keyboard and clatter until I completed this specific project? A confluence of elements came together.

The Short Backstory
My first day of college, I was elated to learn that the campus newspapers were located across the hall from the student radio station. I spent the majority of my university years in a circular radius of no more than 15 yards. When I pursued journalism as a career, the radio element went away.

In late 2009, I started reviewing children's music. That "fed" my blog. I began to listen to a number of podcasts, which refueled my fire for broadcasting. I had appeared on the Howard Stern "Super Fan Roundtable" numerous times. I could articulate my thoughts about Stern – perhaps I had more to say. In April 2012, I made a last-minute deadline I'd given to myself and started my podcast, "MrJeff2000 Explains It All," which continues on a weekly basis.

The podcast was a liberating experience and it reminded me of other long-ago goals. Twenty years ago, I had a concept for a graphic novel about a detective in the city. It involved taking many pictures of urban settings and juxtaposing a faceless detective (and other characters) into those settings. Once again, I was thwarted. Although I had access to programs like PhotoShop, I lacked the knowledge to run them properly. And while I had a concept, for a writer I was hopelessly blocked on how to complete the project.

Ten years later, I thought about writing about my experiences as a father (this is all pre-blog). But there were others who had "gotten there first." I abandoned the project, but thought perhaps I could do something in that vein with a multimedia concept, or perhaps a graphic novel. Abandoning my pursuit of cartooning looked foolish now, decades later. Here I was, with a ready-made concept and no way to get it done.

Flashback to high school: Still doing amateur cartoons (for my friends mostly), I meet Robert Wallman in health class. A year older, he is also a better artist by leaps and bounds. After he graduates in 1980, our paths do not cross again until 1991. I am hired at Information Builders and introduced to other departmental staff – including him.

A few years later, I start a pro wrestling newsletter and Robert does some spot illustrations for it. I forward some issues of my shoddily-copied 'zine to a "major" wrestling newsletter and the editor goes bonkers. He hires Robert to do some comics for him (mostly based on my concepts of current events in pro wrestling).

After Robert left the company, we kept in touch through social media networks. But in early January, I approached him about doing some graphics for a book project. He asked for some samples. I hit the ground running and wrote a prologue. Fine, he replied – what do you want, exactly? I described two scenarios in the four page segment and the next day, I had two graphics. Feeling lightheaded, I dropped them into the text.

And So It Begins
That's how we operated over the next 9-10 months. Whenever I would fall into a writing hole and stop sending concepts for a few weeks, I would offer a brief apology. But I stuck with the concept, chapter by chapter, month by month (the chapters ARE months in the book).

When I was "done," I cut and pasted all the chapter files into one master document. Yikes. It was more than 300 pages long. If anything, there would have to be some trimming when I did the second draft.

And now here we are. It's coming out. Finally. After 11 months or after 40 years, take your pick. DAD CONFIDENTIAL is hitting ebook retailers on Tuesday, December 3. Smashwords will launch it at all major outlets, including Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, etc.

It's kind of a big deal and I've been surprised at the people who have said they're looking forward to reading DAD CONFIDENTIAL. And people have downloaded the free samples! I thank everyone for their kind words and hope it lives up to their expectations.

What's next? Well, I've always had a hankering for opera....


DAD CONFIDENTIAL will be published on Tuesday, December 3. You can download free samples in numerous formats for different readers at its Smashwords page.
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