Larry talks about…setting and The Priest and the Peaches

1. Why did you choose this setting?
I was born and raised in NYC (the Bronx) so the setting was ingrained in me: the people, the sights and sounds, the places, the smells, style of living, etc.

2. How is it a fundamental part of your overall theme?
The setting is in a blue-collar neighborhood of God fearing, family oriented, hard working men and women, husbands and wives and their children, who were more or less all on the same socio-economic level and for the most part were mostly Catholic (of varied ethnicities) sharing a similar value system. This value system is part of the Peach kids and the people in the neighborhood understand it.

3. How challenging was it to write about?
The challenge was in creating a sense of place. For example, in NYC there are many ethnic groups that are always interacting and fifty years ago there was a lot more of the old-world customs that were still very pronounced within these different groups. So, sometimes the interaction among the folks was strained because of “differences”. Amazingly, most folks learned to get along. But some never did and that would lead to prejudices.

4. How did you develop your setting as you wrote your book?
The setting was more or less established early on in the book. It was a neighborhood in the Bronx back in the mid 1960s and the people there were more or less living comparable lives. Once that was established the setting was in place for the rest of the book.

5. How do you transport them there through your writing?
I try not to be overly descriptive because the action and dialogue and emotions might be shut down. So I think the answer to this might be through dialogue and inner emotion which I try to show using omniscience.

6. How do you introduce them to an area they may not be familiar with?
This is where description comes in. I do try to introduce the impending description through dialogue or a visual by a character. For example, Teddy and Scratch arrive at the funeral parlor and talk a bit before going in. Once inside, Scratch leaves Teddy alone and then Teddy begins looking around. Now I can describe what he is seeing which is the lobby of the funeral home.

7. How do you go about making the setting come alive for the reader?
I guess you have to try to make sure that the setting and the characters and the various scenes all come together. I mean, don’t write a descriptive scene if you don’t need it. It has to be part of the emotion of the moment. Who cares about “beautiful flowers up on the hill” if they have nothing to do with the story. If someone is hiding behind the flowers with a high-powered rifle, then there is a point to writing about it.

Larry talks about….plot and The Priest and the Peaches

1. Who is the plot based around?
The plot revolves around the five Peach children, Teddy, 18, Joanie, 17, and their three younger brothers, Dancer, 14, Beeker, 10 and Joey, age 6. Their father suddenly passes away and, since their mom had died a few years earlier, they are now on their own. Teddy is in charge and they have to join together to begin their fight to stay together as a family as “grown-up world” attacks them head on.

2. What is the main idea of the plot?
The book takes the reader on a journey where the importance of faith, love and belief in God can prove to be an invaluable ally in trumping the challenging and pressure filled world of creditors, past due bills, an empty refrigerator, having no money, and many other things adults have to deal with. These kids are raw rookies who have been unexpectedly thrust into the “big leagues.”

3. When does the plot take place?
The time frame for the story is the mid 1960s.

4. Where does the plot take place?
The story takes place in a south Bronx, blue-collar neighborhood.

5. Why did the plot develop the way it did?
It was simply a progression of a real life situation. From the sudden shock of being orphaned, followed by having to plan a funeral for their father, to discovering the rent and utilities are behind, not having any money available and so on. It was simply a natural progression into a quagmire that many adults have trouble dealing with, no less kids. They are quietly guided (as adults often are) by the steady and calming hand of the parish priest, Father Tim Sullivan.

6. How did you come up with the idea for the plot?
My brothers and sister and I did lose our folks when we were quite young. I had never planned to write anything based on that but when our brother, Bobby, died a few years back we were all sitting around after his funeral reminiscing about the “old days” and we wound up having a grand time sifting through and recalling memories. That is the point in time I thought I might base a book on those days. I guess I just ran with it because the book is fiction.

Larry talks about…the antagonist

1. Who is your favorite character?
Beatrice Amon, the antagonist.

2. Why is he/she your favorite?
As the story unfolded Beatrice morphed into someone that even surprised me. Hopefully the reader will be as surprised as I was.

3. How did you come to create him/her?
Once I happened to pass by a woman as I was walking and she was dressed in a black dress that hung to mid-calf, wore thick soled, ugly black shoes and sported a wide rimmed black hat that sat on her head at an angle. She was walking like someone who was on a mission, fast and purposeful, and had a mean look on her face. Her eyes never waivered from looking straight ahead. Our encounter lasted for about two seconds but I never forgot her and the bleakness that surrounded her.

4. Where was he/she given life in the creative process?
In my quest to find a suitable antagonist I toyed with several ideas: a mean nun and/or an overbearing relative, (that almost happened with Aunt Vera) to name a few. I settled on the mean, intrusive neighbor. It just seemed to fit into where I was going.

5. What do like the most about him/her and what do you dislike the most about him/her?
What I like about Beatrice is who she really is and why. What I do not like is how she masked herself by shrouding herself in meanness to escape her reality.

Friday Fun Q & A with Larry

How did you come up with the title of the book?
The book title underwent an unexpected metamorphosis. Why? Because the book did also. The original draft presented the Peach siblings as adults, living their lives, each having their own families etc. At a get together they were reminiscing about their early years. The first title might have been “Back in the Day”. That was sort of lame. The story was also too confusing. Anyway, things began to change and ultimately I simply took the reader back to 1965 and began from there. Enter Father Sullivan and the antagonist, Beatrice Amon. Result, “The Priest and the Peaches”. When I began writing this book that title was the furthest thing from my mind.

What were the challenges to getting the book published?
There have been quite a few reviews where two comments impact me about the work. They are, “It was an easy read” and “I loved the characters”. That tells me that if you can actually put together a story that flows freely and engages the reader you are well on your way to overcoming the principle challenges to becoming published. The trick is to NOT fall in love with what you write. Respect the person who will be reading your work.

What book are you reading right now?
At this very moment I am reading (or studying) a text-book titled “Child Welfare—case-studies”. The reason is—research for my current project which is the sequel to “The Priest & The Peaches”. I also have started reading a 1996 publication titled, “The Search for The Shadowman” by Joan Nixon which is a YA novel.

When did you write your first book and how old were you?
My first book only made it halfway through the first draft. That was 25 years ago. There were so many things going on back then I could not focus. It is still sitting in a box under my desk. I plan to pull that out one of these days and actually finish it. Some quick math tells me I was 41 at the time.

Do you have any advice for other writers?
Sure—be tenacious, never quit and make sure you’re work is mechanically sound. Be prepared to re-write and edit over and over. Don’t count on spell-check and computer formatting to do it for you. If you write any slang dialogue the computer will tell you it is wrong. Remember that a machine does not know everything.

What are you currently working on?
As mentioned above, the sequel to “The P & The P”. I have neglected it somewhat as I have journeyed around on the book tour but it is foremost in my mind. I’ll give you a “peek”. The youngest Peach kids, Joey, now 7 and Beeker, 11, spend their summer vacation out in the country with friends of Father Sullivan. They meet a strange young girl in the woods. I’ll leave it at that.

Speed Round:
Favorite Book?—————“The Old Man & The Sea” by Hemingway.
Favorite Author?————-toss up: C.S. Lewis/Hemingway
Favorite place to read?——wherever it might be quiet
Favorite Genre?—————I have to go with YA.

Last fun one:
If you could choose to be a character from any book, who would it be and why? I’ll be honest here. 20 years ago I may have answered this question as asked. So, I thought about this and have come to the realization that the answer is, none. I would not want to be anyone else, real or fiction. Each and everyone of us is unique in our own way and, to paraphrase Popeye the Sailor, “I am what I am.” It works for me.

New questions, new answers by Larry

What was the inspiration behind your novel?
My brothers, sister and I did lose our folks when we were quite young but I never actually considered writing about anything relating to those days. Then, about four years ago our brother, Bobby, suddenly passed away. After his funeral we were all hanging out with old friends at a pub in Monroe, NY. Stories of “back in the day” began to flow free and easy and before you knew everyone was laughing and more and more memories were being triggered. Even though it was a sad time it also became a beautiful time. That was when I began thinking of using our experience as the basis for “The Priest and The Peaches.”

Do you see any of yourself within the cast of characters you created?
Yes, I’m sure I can find part of myself in Teddy Peach.

Why did you choose to write a Young Adult novel?
I did want to write this at the YA level because I wanted to demonstrate to the younger folk the power of family love and forgiveness. We do live in a very “me-istic” society where self-gtratification seems to be revered and I simply wanted to present another side to that mind-set showing that giving of oneself instead of thinking of yourself can be very rewarding.

What do you hope a reader can take away from your novel?
How imporatnt it is to L-Y-N (Love your neighbor).

What difficulties, if any, did you encounter while writing this novel?
The development of the antagonist, Beatrice Amon, was challenging but as she began to come “alive” I entered into her bleak world and began to really understand her. I believe I was able to capture the “real” Beatrice and share her with the reader.

Your book is set in the Bronx; do you have experience living in this area? How did you capture the character of this city?
Thanks for the easy question. I was born and raised in the Bronx. It is part of who I am. As I began to write the book the sights, smells, sounds, the people, the streets and so on turned into a DVD inside my head. It is amazing to discover how many memories you have stored inside you that are resting dormant just waiting to be ignited.

New day, new answers from Larry

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
Some folks have something inside of them that craves something they want to do in their lifetimes. They even made a movie called “The Bucket List” that addresses this type of thing. As for me, I know I always wanted to be a writer but it just took a very long time to get there. I am blessed, I am where I always wanted to be. My “bucket” is empty.

How many jobs did you have before you became a writer?
I‟m a senior citizen and stopped counting a long time ago.

How long does it take you to write a book?
This question more or less asks for an ambiguous answer. Who knows how long. You may think you have it all straight in your mind and then you begin to write and your muse kicks in and suddenly new things begin to happen and new people begin to appear and you are traveling to an unexpected destination. Then there are re-writes and editing and more re-writes and more editing and—-sorry, no definitive answer to this question.

Do you have a routine that you use to get into the right frame of mind to write?
Actually, no. I just do it and it is usually in the morning.

Where do you get your ideas or inspiration for your characters?
Characters come from people I know, have known, have been briefly in contact with or have maybe seen for the briefest of moments as they pass by. You never know what might trigger a simple thought or observation into exploding into all these other ideas. But they all come from somewhere.

What is the first book you remember reading by yourself?
I think it was Melville‟s, “Moby Dick”, in grade school.

What are you reading right now?
At this very moment, nothing. I read a book a few days ago called “The Dark-Thirty” by Patricia McKissack. Published in 1992 it deals with African American folk stories that were passed on from generation to generation through verbal story telling. “The Dark-Thirty” is the 30 minutes that precedes darkness each day and all the tales are scary. Learned a lot about the mind-set and culture of the African-American community from way back when. Loved it.

What is your favorite comfort food?
A fresh piece of warm Italian bread with butter. (That is some serious health-food)

What do you think makes a good story?
If the reader can connect with the characters and like them, especially the protagonist.

What book, if any, do you read over and over again?
I always go back to Hemigway‟s, “The Old man and The Sea”, because of its simplicity and its ability to draw you in and feel the very hearts of the two characters, the old man, Santiago and the boy, Manolin.

Fun random questions:
dogs or cats?———————dogs
Coffee or tea?——————-coffee
Dark or milk chocolate?—-dark
Rocks or flowers?————-flowers
Night or day?——————-day (early morning)
Favorite color?—————–blue
Crayons or markers?———crayons
Pens or pencils?—————-pens

More Questions & Answers with Larry

What’s your favorite thing to do outside?
I coached youth baseball for many years. Last time was in 2004. Surprisingly, and I am a “grandpa,” I was recruited to coach again. The local Little League called my son and asked him if he would manage a team. He asked me to be his coach (nepotism–lol). Anyway, we have a team of 7 & 8 year olds (one is my grandson) and we had our first practice the other evening. Two of the kids are “special needs” children. Five of them cannot even catch a ball. This will be a fun springtime. Stay tuned. They call me “coach gee-pa.” Gotta love it.

Has a review or profile ever changed your perspective on your work?
It is interesting how reviewers can come up with so many varied takes on the same story. I read them all and I do pay closer attention to the negative ones. This is the audience too and their take helps me to learn how different folks can be. I do not think that a review or profile has ever changed my perspective. You certainly cannot please everyone so, as a writer, I do not take offense at negatives. I must admit, I did have a review posted not to long ago that was not just negative it was almost angry. Since I have received so many positive reviews I was a bit taken back. This particular review bashed everything, spelling, punctuation, grammar, even the character of the priest. Funny part of it is, I did not even know who they were.

What’s your vision of a perfect society?
In my book the acronym, L-Y-N is used by Pops. He has taught this to his kids and when he holds up his thumb and pinky that is the sign for it. Many folks in the neighborhood are aware of it. It means Love Your Neighbor. Therein would be the answer to a perfect society. As long as pride is in us as a people it will never happen here.

What’s your definition of happiness?
Happiness is something that is inside you. You do not need money, or power or position or anything like that. Look at Whitney Houston. She had everything; money and fame and fortune but was she happy? How does someone like Mother Theresa remain so filled with peace and contentment. She literally had nothing. But she emptied herself for others. So, if I were to place a definition of “happiness” in the dictionary I would describe it as “the ability to empty yourself for others.”

What’s the weirdest thing that has ever happened to you with a fan?
Okay–I am getting a kick out of this. I’m don’t know if I actually have any fans. Maybe that is the weirdest thing of all.

What advise would you give to inspiring authors who want to get their stories published?
It is imperative to “stay the course.” You have to work at this. You have to deflect criticism and accept rejection. Norman Mailer’s, “The Naked & The Dead,” was rejected 12 times. Joseph Heller’s, “Catch-22,” 22 times; Louis L’Amour was rejected 200 times before he caught on. Nicole Langan, my publisher from Tribute Books, reminded me that it is “a MARATHON not a sprint,” so, I keep on trudging along.

Who inspires you?
People that inspire me are those that face adversity with a smile on their face. (Have you ever sat in a room where a dozen or more folks are undergoing chemotherapy treatments and some of them know that they are terminal. Yet, invariably, the majority are laughing and joking and have become friends with each other It is a beautiful thing. Folks who readily accept responsibility for their own action and do not always say, “It wasn’t my fault. This one did this or that one did that”. That is an example of what my inspiration is.

Do you write with music? Why or why not?
I find this question intriguing because I must have been asked it a half-dozen times. The answer is no and I do not know how people do that although a lot of writers must. It would completely distract me to listen to music and write.

What are your comfort books, books you can read again and again, that foster and rekindle your desire to write?
Hemingway’s “The Old Man & The Sea” and C.S. Lewis’, 7 volume “The Chronicles of Narnia.”

Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I always liked to write, even as a kid. It just took a heck of a long time to actually be a writer. Many detours along the way. But I was where I was when I was supposed to be there. It is all “good.”

Can you share a little of your current work with us?
I have begun the sequel to The Priest and the Peaches. That is a work in progress and, truthfully, I have neglected it somewhat as I travel around doing the virtual book tour. But answering question and doing interviews and guest posts etc has been a great experience and, as a writer, has helped me greatly.

An in-depth interview with Larry

Larry is originally from the Bronx, so the setting of the story came easily for him. I asked him what he liked best about his hometown.

“There is really no other place like it. When you are growing up there, you don’t realize it. It’s home. It’s the way it is. But when you grow up and sort of peek in from the outside you realize what an incredible city it is. The different people, ethnicity, cultural differences, all blending together. Millions of folks crammed into subways and buses every day , insane traffic jams and, although it is far from perfect, when stuff happens , like 9/11 and the Great Blackout of 1965, New Yorkers join together and help each other and give of themselves. It’s a beautiful thing.”

He has lived in Pinellas Park, Florida, for the past thirty years. He and his wife have a two bedroom home (his kids and grandkids live nearby, but not with them), and he’s converted one bedroom into an office. He has a file cabinet at each end of the long window wall. He bought a ten-foot kitchen counter top with a backsplash and set it between the file cabinets, making a work area. The counter has two computer stands below it.

“I have the monitors and office supplies on the counter and there is a small desk on my right. Papers are strewn all over the place and my poor wife, a quite orderly person, cringes when she peeks in,” he admitted. “It is OK—I know where everything is. I’m lovin’ my little world.”

Larry gets up between 5:30 and 6 every morning, makes coffee, showers, boots up the computer, then checks and cleans up messages. He goes to 7 AM Mass and is home by 7:40. In the perfect world, he tries to write for four or five hours.

“There are distractions that you must attend to,” he explained. “For example, I am in the middle of a three month virtual book tour. It is necessary and takes a lot of time. But I am loving it and an unexpected perk has come from it. Answering so many questions about so many different things has helped me to know myself better, not only as a writer but as a person also. The fact is, I appreciate having this interview to do. It expands me for me.”

When Larry’s not writing, he’s very involved with The St. Vincent de Paul Society. He’s been a member for almost twenty years and works with the poor and homeless. He’s also been recruited and is returning to coaching youth baseball. He and his son have taken on a team of six and seven year olds.

“When did you first consider yourself a writer?” I wondered.

“Since the novel has been released and has received some awesome reviews I am close to believing I am a writer. I never really thought I was any good at it. Mediocre at best. But when people in the business who do not know you give KUDOS to your work it is humbling and also tells you your work is OK. So, I guess that does make me a writer. Now, ain’t that the cat’s pajamas.. Thanks for asking this question. You helped me finally figure it out.”

I asked him what inspired him to write.

“My answer has to be nothing. I just liked doing it. Even as a kid I enjoyed writing stories. I remember kids in school who loved to draw. They just were good at it and liked doing it. What was their inspiration? I guess it was the enjoyment they received from doing it. That leads me to have to retract my nothing answer. I guess many of us, depending on what we discover we like to do, inspire ourselves. That leads us onward to see what others might do in the same area and that results in further inspiration. I guess that’s how it works. “

When he moved to Florida after being diagnosed with MS, he went to college and then started freelancing. One of his jobs was as a columnist for the Pinellas Park News. He met Judson Bailey, the editor/publisher, and he gave Larry the best advice he ever got about writing.

“He had worked for the AP for many years and his home base had been NYC. He was quite the character. He had a huge mane of white hair and huge white eyebrows. He wore a white cowboy hat and always seemed to have his feet propped up on his desk, his red-cowboy boots with the silver, metal tips staring at you. He also smoked a corn-cob pipe. I am not making this up,” he assured me. “Anyway, he liked my work (most of it was tongue-in-cheek stuff about family and also satire). I wrote a column a week and he never edited anything. But he said to me, ‘Petie,’ (he called me Petie) ‘always be yourself. You have a unique way of saying things. Don’t let anyone change you.’ I never forgot that.”

I asked Larry how he came up with the titles to his books.

“I think it is a metamorphosis. My first book, Slippery Willie’s Stupid, Ugly Shoes was originally Willie Wiggles. It morphed into Little Willie Wiggles and, by the time it was published, it was Slippery Willie’s Stupid, Ugly Shoes. The Priest and The Peaches went through the same process. It was A Bronx Funeral and The Best Damn Funeral Ever. Once the priest, Father Sullivan, appeared and became a primary character it became The Priest and The Peaches.”

More Q&A with Larry

Would you tell us a little about yourself?
I was born and raised in the Bronx, NY. I spent 15 years working in the building trades as a Metal Lather/Reinforcing Iron Worker and left that business when I came down with MS. My wife, three kids and I moved to Flordia (doctors advice) 30 years ago. I began doing freelance newspaper commentary after graduating college in 1984. My first book (children’s) was published in Jan, 2011. The Priest and The Peaches is my first full length novel and I have begun work on the sequel (no title yet). I live in Pinellas Park, FL. I have graduated to “senior citizen status” and writing has become my “permanent senior moment.”
What are you currently working on?
As mentioned, I am currently working on the sequel to The Priest and The Peaches and I am also knee deep in a three month longonline book tour which has not only been a fun journey but has also taught me things about myself and my characters.  How cool is that?
What was the first book you ever wrote about and was it ever published?
The truth is, Slippery Willie’s Stupid, Ugly Shoes was originally penned long ago. Then it sat. I pulled it out about 22 years ago and rewrote it, shortened it and sent it off to HBJ. Now it gets weird. I received a phone call from their schoolbook division in Orlando, FL and a nice lady said to me, “Congratulations and welcome to the HBJ family.” That was a WOW! moment. Three weeks later I received a standard rejection letter from the San Diego office. Talk about a high and a low. I could go into more detail – but what’s the point? That just was not the right time. Anyway, I pulled the book back out about five years ago, rewrote it again and  changed the title, etc. and now it is out there. It’s all “GOOD.”

What or who made the biggest influence on you wanting to become a writer?
I don’t think anyone did. I just liked doing it. This is one of those questions that have made me think about things as I travel along the blog-tour highway.

Do you have any writing habits that people might find unusual?
Not really. I do write with pen and paper before I go to the keyboard and I am a morning person. That’s it. 

I have heard that many authors listen to music while they write. Do you? If so, what do you usually listen to?
I don’t nor could I. That’s like trying to read while you watch TV. My brain is not that nimble.

Do you have a favorite character or one that is especially close to your heart?
I guess this means in general and not necessarily from my book – I love Santiago from Hemingway’s Old Man & The Sea. He is old, worn out, alone on the sea,  doing what he has to do, no fan fare, no audience, and is having  the greatest battle of his fishing career. He wins the battle and the sharks strip him of his trophy yet, he has no regrets.

What is the best gift you have ever received and who gave it to you?
Being THANKED by a perfect stranger for writing the book and letting you know how important it was to them.You know it came from their heart. That’s the best.

What are three things (not people) that you wouldn’t want to live without?

My faith, my eyes and an early morning before sunrise.
What is something that you have always wanted to do, but just haven’t gotten around to it yet?
Nothing really. I have not done much in my life but I’m content and at peace with most everything.
All the music in the world is being destroyed and you can only save one album, what would you save and why?
Too much beautiful music to choose from. So, give me Chopin’s Major in E-flat.
What is your all-time favorite book? What is your favorite book you have read this year?
Hemingway’s Old Man & The Sea. This year, Under The Same Sky by Cynthia DeFelice. About a 14-year-old who goes to work with migrant workers on his father’s farm to earn some money and learns some life-changing lessons about being with folks who are “different.”
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Probably read.
Are you an early bird or a night owl?
Early bird for sure.
If you were throwing a dinner party and you could invite five people (fictional or real, dead or alive) who would you invite?
Abraham Lincoln, Charles Dickens, St. Joseph, and my parents (who have been dead a long time).
You are given a ticket that will bring you anywhere that you want to go, at anytime in history. Where would you go and why?
The battlefield at Gettysburg,
Nov. 1863 to listen to Abraham Lincoln deliver the Gettysburg Address.

You've got questions? Larry's got answers!

When did you first get the idea for The Priest and the Peaches?
My brothers and sister and I did lose our parents when we were quite young but I never considered writing about that or something based on that. Then, about four years ago our brother, Bobby, suddenly passed away. After the funeral we were at a pub up in Monroe, NY, and were were sitting around reminiscing. Well, more and more memories began to come forth from all of us and, before you knew it, we were laughing our heads off and having a grand old time. It was awesome. That is when the idea began to germinate. The book is a fictionalized account of those days and many of the characters and incidents can be attributed to “poetic license.”

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I guess so. But it took me most of my life to actually get there. The cliche, “You gotta do what you gotta do,” would fit me well. I was where I was when I was needed and always tried my best to do what I had to do no matter the circumstances. This relegated writing to the lower echelons of what “needed” to be done. Today I am blessed to be enjoying what I like to call my “permanent senior moment” which is that of being a writer.

If you could go anywhere in the world where would you go and why?
I really have no desire to go anywhere in particular but if I actually had to choose it probably would be the Vatican. The history and treasure trove of artifacts there would be something to see.

What is one item on your bucket list?
There is something and it just popped up last week. My son and I began coaching a Lttle League team of six and seven year olds. One of the boys has a form of autism. He does not pay attention , cannot throw a ball or catch one. If we can get him to actually learn how to throw and catch by April that would be quite an accomplishment. That is the one thing on my previously empty bucket list. We’ll see how it goes.

Describe The Priest and the Peaches in just five words!
Loving your neighbor means forgiveness.

Chocolate or vanilla?
Vanilla (but today it is chocolate—I am flexible)

Target or Walmart?
Walmart is two miles from where I live. So, Walmart equals convenience.

Ice cream or frozen yogurt?
Ice cream

Movies or books?
Books, although I do not read nearly as much as I would like to.