Alone in New York City

I mostly live in Asheville, North Carolina with my wife and two daughters, but for about thirty-two weeks a year, I spend quite a bit of time in New York City where I teach First Year Writing Courses at St. John’s University. In NYC, I rent a 400 square foot studio apartment in Kew Gardens in the borough of Queens. The place is just a bit bigger than most of the hotel rooms in which I’ve stayed.


People–and these are often people who have a lot of daily family obligations–want to know what I do with all the time I have to myself. Well, for example, here’s what I did last Saturday:


Work / Write

For almost a decade, I was nearly an everyday writer. I’d do an hour or two first thing each morning and that work allowed me to complete a book-length manuscript each year. After all, even with some missed mornings at the writing desk, a page a day allowed me to write over three hundred pages a year. There’s much more to finishing a book than enough pages, but that schedule gave me a manuscript to work with.

Lately, I have not been an everyday writer, but instead I have wrote in binges. Because I’m gone so much during academic semesters, I feel guilty about holing up in my home office to write. I’m also often flying twice a week. This involves catching morning trains or driving about ninety miles from Asheville to Charlotte, and so writing first thing in the morning is often not an option. For the last year, I’ve been writing essays. This lets me take some days off and then spend many hours for a few days in a row to pump out drafts of essays. If I’m writing novel, I need to write everyday to keep my head in it. When I’m doing essays, it’s not so hard to start from the beginning the next time I have a few days in a row to binge work.

On this particular Saturday I’m telling you about, I spent the morning sending out essays (and one story) for consideration of publication.


in the small studio apartment, naps are always a threat to writing goals


At home in Asheville, I get up to see everyone off to school. Indy the dog needs walked. She needs to be told to be quiet when she barks at everyone who ever walks by our house. There are dishes in the washer to put away. Dry cleaning needs to be picked up. One of the cars needs an oil change. The grass needs cut. I think I’ll paint lines on the basketball court. I’ve got plans for a green-screen wall in the garage. You get the idea. You probably know what its like. There’s a lot that asks to be done everyday.

In New York, I often wake up with no obligations other than to answer email and read student work. The small studio is clean. I already washed the one dish and glass I used the night before. All that awaits are long hours at the writing desk, something every writer says they crave. I’ve learned that I can’t do much more than three hours straight at the desk. I can do more than one three hour stretch a day, but I need a break and usually my breaks are working out.

I run and lift weights. There’s a little gym in the basement of my building. I often go down there twice a day, once to lift and a second time to walk on the treadmill or ride the exercise bike and watch sports. I figure riding the bike and watching sports beats (at least long-term) drinking a beer and eating nachos in my studio while watching sports. You might be surprised what a great place Queens can be to run.


this road in Forest Hills Park is closed to cars



the pull up bar marks the halfway point of my regular run

Stand Up Comedy

I like comedy, and I think that’s because of the writing. I’m interested in what makes a story funny and the creative process that takes an idea and evolves it into something that a comedian performs. My favorite places for comedy are the Comedy Cellar and both locations of the Upright Citizens Brigade.


the train rumbles right outside my studio apartment window, that’s the station just down the tracks

On this night, I took in a comedic double header. First, I saw Mike Birbiglia perform his “Thank God For Jokes” at the Lynn Redgrave Theater in the East Village. Mike’s act is heavily informed by his Catholic education. He says something like, “I did the program,” by which he means Catholic high school and college. Here’s a memorable line from Mike’s show:

Jesus was the original Bernie Sanders.

-Mike Birbiglia in “Thank God For Jokes”

Mike notes that Jesus, like Bernie, was a Jewish Socialist. Before this performance, my favorite stuff from Birbiglia was his film (available on Netflix at the time of this writing) Sleepwalk With Me. I thought the performance I saw was Mike’s best work yet, and I highly recommend the show.

To get to Manhattan, I took the Long Island Railroad to Penn Station. From there, I walked the two miles from the station to the East Village and the theater.


there was plenty to see on the walk from Penn Station to the East Village


Cooper Union (college of architecture, art, engineering)


the banner out front of the Lynn Redgrave Theater 

Comedy Part II

The back half of my night of comedy was at the improv at the Upright Citizen Brigade’s East Village location. I saw a show called “What I Did For Love.” The troupe brings up an audience member for an interview on stage about their love life. Then the performance is based on information derived in the interview. The whole thing felt like a relative to my novel Love on the Big Screen and my enthusiasm for the decade of the eighties.

I feel at home with the people who attend shows at UCB. They feel like people who like to talk about making stuff, and they enjoy attending a performance where people make stuff on the fly. I’m especially interested in the structure that informs improv. I recently obtained The Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy Improvisation Manual. I think this summer will probably bring some improv exercises for the whole family in the living room.


Out Front of UCB in the East Village 

The Saturday night I’ve described above is a bit uncommon for all of its late-night activity.  On most days in New York, (sorry to disappoint) I meet my teaching obligations, write, workout, write some more, workout again, and then I read or watch movies in the evening.

The not-so-great part about going into the city is either waiting for the train to take me back out to Queens or the long ride back on the subway that can take up to an hour. So I figured that while I was making the trip into Manhattan, I take in two of my favorite things about being in New York.

Thanks so much for checking in on the site and reading my post. It’s fun to make stuff, but it’s also fun to have a few readers. I appreciate you!

Christmas Eve

We spent a fair amount of the day making a Christmas Spectacular video for family without realizing that we (by which I mean “I”) had the mic on the wrong setting. No sound!  We re-recorded the opening and maybe we’ll have enough energy to finish it tomorrow. I hope you had a good day!

Christmas, New York, Rockefeller Center

the angels at Rockefeller Center

ginger cookies for Santa

Christmas, icicles, Fendi, New York City

“icicles” on the Fendi store in New York

So glad my sister Anne made the trip from L.A.

Merry Christmas!

Two Days Until Christmas

Sharing a Few Holiday Moments from Our Family

big sister and the tapemaster team up to wrap their mom’s present

Mayans, end-of-the-world, New York City, Christmas, party

 Was anyone even a little bit nervous about the Mayan Prophecy?

these panels swung in the window at Macy’s in New York

Happy Holidays from Our Family to Yours!

Not Published Yet: A Viking on the Subway

Last week my writer friend Greg Lilly wrote about a work in progress (WIP) and invited me to do the same this week. I did, and for next week, I’m passing the WIP baton to my friend Jane Roper. I read and enjoyed Jane’s camp-themed novel Eden Lake, and I’m touched by the regular writing she does about her family as her daughter Clio undergoes chemotherapy treatment. Jane is a funny and smart lady, a great mom.  First, here are my answers to questions about a work in progress:

What is the working title of your book?

A Viking on the Subway

Where did the idea come from for the book?

A couple of ideas converged to provide the catalyst for the writing of this book: an article about a ship burial in Norway caught my attention. The ship uniquely held the remains of two women. Most of the time, these sorts of burials were reserved for local kings. Additionally, for a growing period of five years or so, I’d felt more uneasy about how little I knew about my family’s Norweigan ancestry.  My Aunt Olive Torgerson put together a rich family history that included Peter Magnus Torgerson who was born in Bergen, Norway and buried in Oakwoods Cemetery in Chicago.

When I read the ship burial article, I had just started living in New York under what is called Hell Gate Bridge, and I was taking my first subway rides. I decided to bring one of the woman from the ship burial in Norway to contemporary New York City. I had to figure out what she was doing on the N train from Queens to Central Park. The story proceeded from there.

science fiction, epic fantasy, urban fantasy, Vikings, Subway, New York City

the family strikes a Viking pose

What genre does your book fall under?

I just followed the seed of the story into Urban Fantasy. I think “science fiction” would also work. I grew up reading C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series, and those books probably began the training I’d need to write something such as A Viking on the Subway. I read a lot of science fiction as a kid including Star Wars books and amazingly (what a contrast from C.S. Lewis) L. Ron Hubbard’s Battlefield Earth. It was over a thousand pages, and I was probably around thirteen years old when I read it. I liked The Hobbit and most of Kurt Vonnegut. I remember Vonnegut’s Bokononism, a made-up religion in his book Cat’s Cradle. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is probably the most recent science fiction I have read. I can’t believe I liked that book. The premise sounded so hopeless and terrible.

What actress would you choose to play your lead character in a movie adaptation?

Well, why not dream big and have Scarlett Johansson as the protagonist, Maija Finehair? I love imagining a fleet of Viking longships sailing down the Hudson or a dragon emerging from the pond by Belvedere Castle in Central Park.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Maija Finehair is a Viking warrior whisked across the heavens to contemporary New York City where she finds herself in the midst of the events leading up to the last great battle on earth.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’m open to all the sorts of ways a story can reach an audience. I’ve wondered about selling this as an eBook for something like a $1 straight from this website. While I’m mentioning this, I’m also thinking about curating more books, short films, and music I admire from indie artists I encounter. If you like what I like, maybe you’d be willing to come by the site and check out the artists’ work.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

The time is takes me to do a draft isn’t nearly as hard to figure out as the length of time  necessary for a book to be ready for submission. I write 800 words a day six days a week when I’m on a project. I wrote this in under ten months.  That’s certainly not National Novel Writing Month speed.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

This question is part of my trouble. I followed the seed of this story into a genre I haven’t read in a long time. In this novel, there’s old-school Vikings running around contemporary New York City.  I don’t know contemporary urban fantasy. Can you help me out?

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

The book is set in a geographically accurate New York City except for (as far as I know) the secret trap doors in the floor of the Belvedere Castle in Central Park which lead to Odin’s Valhalla. I did a lot of the writing of this book while I was physically sitting in the space where the story was set. This means I took my laptop and sat down to write in Chinatown, Union Square, Central Park, outside of the Upper East Side entrance to the New York City Road Runners Club, and on the subways. As you might know, there are lots of characters walking the streets of The Big Apple.

So it works like this: I link to another writer who answers these questions about their own work in progress. Meet Jane Roper.