Monday, October 20, 2008

Another Writer from the Bronx

Just reread BROTHER ONE CELL by Cullen Thomas.

It is a recollection of the 3.5 years that Thomas, an American from Long Island, spent in a South Korean prison for trying to smuggle hashish into the country.

I'd read the book back in NYC after hearing a clip about him and the book on NPR and thoroughly enjoyed it back then.

Here is a link to the amazon page for the book.

Rereading it after stumbling on it at the Hong Kong Central Library, it occurred to me just how much and well Thomas really 'got' Korean culture. I guess being in uncomfortably close contact w/ Koreans inside the prison and Thomas' relatively young age at the time (he was 23? or so?) allowed for that.

On top of all that, I realized that that there is a connection between Cullen Thomas and myself.

You see, after I got my MFA from NYU and had dug myself into a financial hole by making my 16mm feature film debut w/ FREE COUNTRY, I scrambled to find some source of employment and was hired as a staff writer for CURRENT BIOGRAPHY, a reference publication that's published out of a strange building in the Bronx, some 10 minutes away from Yankee Stadium.

For the next several years, I'd trek to the Bronx every day and sit in a cubicle and write 3-5 page bios of prominent people in the news based on newspaper clippings compiled for each person. It didn't pay much, but I got to read a lot of newspapers and actually learned a lot.

I also stole time from my workday and started writing my first novel BOY GENIUS there in that little dark cubicle in a forgotten corner of the Bronx.

Anywa, to make a long story short, it turns out that Thomas, too, had worked at CURRENT BIOGRAPHY as a staff writer after serving his 3.5 years and being sent back to the U.S.

There were only about 5-6 staffwriters when I was there, and Thomas was not one of them. I can't really figure out the timing, but I have a hunch that Thomas was there just before I got there. Who knows? Maybe I got the job that he left??

Whatever the case, I've since written two novels and Cullen Thomas has published BROTHER ONE CELL.

Kudos to him!!

As for all those other aspiring writers out there, the lesson here is a simple one.

Go to NYC.

Go to the Bronx.

Get a job as a staffwriter at CURRENT BIOGRAPHY.

It's better than an MFA.

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