“Good Luck to Ya!”

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Heaven help me…I am this close to pub date (March 30!) for my first book, and I have not yet officially thanked my guardian angel, Frank McCourt. To be sure, Mr. McCourt is never far from my mind, since he unknowingly helped me get through some of the toughest moments during the writing of  “Under a Red Sky.”

The first time I met him, it was at the Post Office on Columbus Avenue and 68th Street, right around the corner from Barnes & Noble. The intersection of these worlds — mail and literature — did not escape me since I was then still writing direct mail copy, but was also in the midst of writing my first book. In fact, the reason I was at the post office to begin with is I had to mail a chapter of my manuscript to a prospective agent. I don’t remember the exact words we exchanged, but we did acknowledge each other. Not in a formal way, though I felt that rush of recognition! I was well aware of Frank McCourt, the legend; the Pulitzer prize author of “Angela’s Ashes,” and the fact that he was a late bloomer. I could relate to that. I too, am a late bloomer. I too, have ink running through my veins.

To the unsuspecting observer, that first encounter might have been described as two dogs circling each other before darting off to play in the park. The entire meeting must have taken less than a minute, but when it was over, my overarching impression was that Frank McCourt was far more than a brilliant writer. Here was a very kind man.

The second time I bumped into him, it was again at the same Post Office. The thought that this may not be entirely by accident vaguely crossed my mind. Still. I decided to stay firmly rooted in what I then called “reality,” and chalked this second encounter to coincidence, chance, or at best, my “good luck.” This time we had a brief conversation about Ireland. I had actually been on a trip to the Emerald Isle, and I told Mr. McCourt that I had never seen so many shades of green in my entire life. He smiled and nodded knowingly. Again, his kind face stayed with me.

The third and last time I saw Frank McCourt, was not a coincidence. I went to one of his readings. He had just published “Teacher Man” and I was standing in a long line of admiring readers waiting for his autograph. As I waited, it occurred to me that perhaps Mr. McCourt might help me by referring me to his agent. After all, I was more than halfway through my memoir! As I inched closer to the table where he was sitting and signing books, I lost my nerve. Who do you think you are? I thought. He doesn’t even know you, he doesn’t know if you’re a good writer or not, so how could you ask for an agent referral? Besides, you’ll be holding up the line, and that’s not fair to everyone else. These were my thoughts as I found myself face to face with Mr. McCourt. He looked up and smiled. To this day, I have no idea whether or not he recognized me from our last two encounters at the Post Office.

“I’m writing a memoir myself,” I stammered. “Wish me luck.”

He autographed the book, closed its cover, and looked straight into my face. His eyes were piercing and startlingly clear, as he asked in his Irish lilt:

“Have you gone through the pain yet?”

I shook my head, and stammered affirmatively, but in truth, his question had completely taken me by surprise.

“Good luck to ya! Good luck to ya!” He said, beaming a great big smile at me.

Months later as I immersed myself deeper into the writing of my book, and long-forgotten memories of my family emerged quite painfully, his words struck home.

Have you gone through the pain yet? Aha…so this is what he was talking about! I realized then, that I had to write through my pain. There was no other way out, but simply to complete the task of writing.

I do not know how other writers do it, when they’re going through the pain — be it the pain of memory, or just the everyday ups and downs that come with the territory of writing. But I do know that Frank McCourt’s few words sustained me in ways too big to put into words. I am sorry that I cannot thank him in person for his kindness today, yet something tells me that he already knows it.

When you’re a writer you know who you are. Good look to ya!

haya signatue 2

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