Most of us don't, the task being not as easy as it looks. Or, especially among journalists, too blithely talked out over drinks. I began my own first novel in college. It was a swell yarn, lifted in part from Remarque's "Three Comrades" (I was then smitten with Norma Shearer) and Odets' "Waiting For Lefty." If you're going to steal, choose the better writers.
The hero was a young German war veteran (he fought on the Russian front, of course) who returns home dedicated to organizing coal miners in the Saar and falls in love with a beautiful young aristo, whom he meets over a pilsner while she's slumming in a blue-collar gin mill. The novel had gotten as far as chapter three when it occurred to me I had never been in love or to Germany, and knew nothing about war, labor unions or how they mine coal.
I did better with subsequent efforts and this month published my seventh novel. Which was what got me on "Imus in the Morning."
Some months ago, being a practical fellow, I dropped a note to Imus' producer (and on-air splendor) Bernard McGuirk, to the effect it was never too early to start sucking up, and that as soon as I had finished books I'd send a couple off to Imus in hopes he'd have me on the show to talk about it. After all, if you want to promote a book these days, it's Oprah or Imus or Amazon-dot-com. A couple of weeks ago the call came through from Bernie, and we set a date. Not only that but The I-Man was sending his own car and driver to get me to the underground Kaufman Astoria Studios. Except that when dawn broke that morning, Brant the chauffeur was out driving Deirdre somewhere. Since she is Imus' wife and I was just another guy promoting a book, guess who got the car.
I've been blown up by Imus on-air, accused of "weasel-dom," banned for life, and once, while bedridden in Paris suffering from (let me put this delicately) a crisis of the liver, was cut off in mid report for "bringing nothing to the table."
But on this occasion the man was graciousness personified. Even his opening line on-air was gentle and caring. "Boy, is your timing lousy! You come out with a book the same week [my brother] Fred and I do."
Mea culpa, I replied. You do not win many arguments with The I-Man on his airtime. Then, getting to the book itself, "You're all a bunch of phonies out there in the Hamptons. And right at the start you bump off this phony with a stake of privet hedge through her heart . . ." "Yes," I said, "on the beach. Nude."
"Nude," Don said thoughtfully, "yeah, that part's good." Then, returning to his theme, "You ought to bump off all the phonies. Why stop at one?"
I agreed he was correct, and I promised to kill everyone in the sequel. During a commercial Charles McCord and I discussed his Bible-reading classes. It does no harm to suck up to Charles as well, so I said we Catholics might be better off if we read the Bible more. In his producer's chair Bernard squirmed, being a Fordham man and presumably a Catholic.
I then denied the novel's victim, Hannah Cutting, was based on Martha Stewart. "She's every woman who comes out of nowhere to achieve power and is seen as a threat not only to men but to other women and to the Establishment which by divine right thinks it runs things." Yes, said Imus, "she's Martha." I hung in there, claiming Hannah to be a combination of Coco Chanel, Claire Booth Luce and Tess of the D'Urbervilles.
Then we talked a bit about why I went to work for Women's Wear Daily and lived in Paris. "You just wanted to get laid," said Imus pleasantly. I denied this. We discussed the Marine Corps. Ad Age. Parade. Pete Hamill. The MSNBC robot cameras tracked my every move. Eerie. So we compromised by talking about Imus' book, "Two Guys Four Corners," which has wonderful photos and was designed by Rochelle Udell of Self and which I mistakenly thought (from the photos of Don and Fred) was a memoir of the survivors of the Donner party.
People are often critical of Don, accusing him of self-absorption. Not at all. Consider his generosity of spirit, his greatness of heart, his vast, embracing soul, deigning to talk about my book when his and Fred's was on sale.
We did 25 minutes and had some fun and sold lots of books and then I was out of there, feeling much like Albert Speer quitting the fuhrerbunker for the last time after a hearty farewell to dear Adolf. Charles urged me to return to the Bible, and Bernie, ever the pragmatist, had someone call me a car.
James Brady's new book, "Further Lane, A Novel of the Hamptons," from St. Martin's Press, is now in the book shops (concealed, one assumes, behind thousands of copies of "Two Guys").