The stories that really touch me always deal with affairs of the heart. Even War and Peace is basically a great love story.
So I've always longed to draw on my own bumpy relationship experience to write a romantic comedy.
My first novel, Crazy for Cornelia, is about two socially distant people who connect with each other in an odd way.
Kevin Doyle, a struggling artist, is forced to take a doorman job on Fifth Avenue and meets Cornelia Lord, the loopy debutante in Penthouse A. When Cornelia's father locks her away in "The Sanctuary," an exclusive psychiatric hospital, Kevin resolves to follow her into that hospital to win her heart.
The story isn't autobiographical. But let's say I know the terrain pretty well.
The Doorman Prince
Growing up in Manhattan, we lived in a high-rise building on Gracie Terrace. The doormen wore starchy grey uniforms like West Point cadets.
With unfailing courtesy and good humor, they performed their job as our guardians. They also learned all the dirt on everyone in the building, but would never divulge the residents' secrets.
As a kid, I sometimes hung around the doormen and drove them crazy asking questions about their job.
One told me a wonderful story about a young Irish doorman he called "The Prince." This handsome doorman and a girl who lived in the building fell in love. When she told her father, he ranted and threatened to have him fired. But the young doorman won him over. Dad gave his new son-in-law a seat on the New York Stock Exchange as a wedding present.
You're probably thinking that, even as a fourteen-year-old kid, I must have rolled my eyes at the Doorman Prince story as one whopper of an urban fairy tale.
But I didn't.
True, the Manhattan I grew up in was sadly divided into people who knew where the "21" Club was and people who didn't. Whenever the two tried to mingle too intimately, an invisible snob curtain came crashing down.
Still, I truly wanted to believe in the Doorman Prince for a selfish motive. If a doorman could win a debutante, maybe I had a chance with a girl in my Ninth Grade class. I secretly thought of her as . . .
The Girl Who Would Always Have Everything
She was both blonde and brilliant. The kind of budding goddess who, when she came back from mid-winter vacations in places like St. Barth's, her sun-streaked hair looked as though her parents had dipped her in gold.
I thought, after she passed me sly notes in English class, that she would be my lifelong soulmate. I ached to spend one-on-one time with her. That was my problem. She always had a crew of boyfriends crowding around her. Lots of them. She loved the attention. And I couldn't bring myself to do convoy duty. So I vowed to myself that, one day, I'd be rich and famous and she'd be alone and destitute and need me. I'm sure you know that one.
It didn't happen.
In those wilding days before Mayor Guiliani, New York City throbbed with wicked distractions like all-night clubs. The glamor of a nightly program of self-destruction appealed to everyone. Especially me.
When I was twenty, I met the woman who I recognized as my real soulmate, in a private psychiatric hospital in Connecticut where I was doing time as a boy interrupted.
We snuck around the "no physical contact" rules, enjoying the odd freedoms of our confinement. We kissed in closets and talked about spending our lives together. Then, one morning, she shattered our plans by jumping the fence and going AWOL without me.
I chased her back to Manhattan. She insisted we were wrong for each other. I had to agree. A few months later, we were married.
We only lasted for a year.
But I still believed that if I just kept trying, I would find that elusive Eighth Wonder of the World who exists out there somewhere--my true soulmate--and our real lives could begin together.
Isn't That Corny
Definitely. But, like most things in life, it works if you just keep at it.
Ten years ago, I met Carolyn and we were married on a gondola. She's a TV news reporter turned documentary producer--a kinetic redhead who inspired the heroine of my novel. We built a house together we call Casa Terrifica, just close enough to Miami to use bulletproof glass.
And I'm working on my next novel. To confront writer's block, I go aerial dogfighting in a restored World War II fighter (like one of my characters in Crazy for Cornelia).
But what I love most is splashing in the surf with Carolyn and, every evening at sunset, strolling the beach together and feeding the seagulls day-old focaccia.