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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Mary Beth Grybowski Shares How Michael Catalano Inspires Kinnelon Writers

Mary Beth Gyrmbowski
Although I missed Michael Catalano's event at the Kinnelon Library, I almost feel as if I were there thanks to Kinnelon neighbor, Mary Beth Grybowski, who shared with me how Catalano's presentation about his experience as a published writer inspires her own writing.

Not only does Mary Beth share her story in this post, but she also answers a few questions about Kinnelon and writing.

C.B.: Mary Beth, tell me about yourself.

MBG: I grew up in River Edge, NJ - a very small town in Bergen County. I am the 4th of my parents' six children and the oldest female. My mother and her sister Betty were such wonderful story tellers, so I find myself mostly writing about real life situations. I categorize my style as ‘Everyday Silly’. I attended River Dell Regional High School (graduated in 1980). In my honors classes was a young man by the name of Joe DePietro. Last year he took 2 Tony Awards for the Broadway hit Memphis. I attended Cook College (Rutger's University) and graduated with a Human Nutrition Degree. Once out in the work world, I did not find this field challenging enough, after a year, I switched jobs and somehow landed in the Information Technology field. I have done Computer Support, Programming and Database Administration. I am currently a Database Manager.

C.B.: How long have you lived in Kinnelon?

MBG: My partner and I have lived in Kinnelon since August of 2006. Prior to that we lived in Bloomingdale (4 years as renters, 8 years as homeowners). When we put the house in Bloomingdale on the market, it sold in 2 days.

The very first time I drove through Kinnelon was to get to a housewarming party in Denville. As we were driving along Kinnelon Road, I thought, Wow, this is wonderful. To be able to live in Kinnelon was always a dream for us. But we have worked hard in the last 18 years that we have been together, to make our dreams come true. We both went back to school about 15 years ago to further our careers. My partner is back at school again, to transition from working for a Pharmaceutical Company to becoming an Occupational Therapist.

C.B.L What do you like best about Kinnelon?

MBG: What I like best about Kinnelon is the natural beauty. The house we bought is a raised ranch and from the living room (which is on the upper level) I can look out on the mountains. I love to hike, but I find Kinnelon's trails are not as good as the ones in West Milford. Pyramid Mountain is OK, but there are power lines running through the trails and some of those rocky ledges are really dangerous.

Speaking of hiking, anyone who goes hiking with me also gets a history lesson, either about the Wisconsin Glacier or about the people who settled the area. Also, if you 'Google' my name, you will see that I currently hold the record for 'Fastest Woman Winter Challenger'. It is a hiking competition in West Milford that is run by the author Don Weise. Some guys broke my record the next two Winters, but I remain the fastest woman. I completed the 17 required hikes during the Winter of 2008-9 in 60 days. Now, had I not had a full time job, I could have done them in 14 days or less. As a result of my efforts, I got a certificate (big woop) and started to experience a lot of pain below the waist.

All of Winter 2009-10 I spent in Physical Therapy 3x/week. This past Winter, to play it safe, I decided to start writing a novel that has been kicking around in my brain for the last 2 years. I joined the writing site StoryWrite, because I could not find a local writing group to join. Once I joined the site I became addicted. I have about 50 new short stories that I have written since February. Unfortunately, I haven’t done any further work on the novel since February. In my head, I have gone back to the original beginning. For me that is the hardest part- where to start the story.

C.B.: It sounds like Michael Catalano's session about his book 'Dropping Fear' inspired you!

MBG:  Yes. Following Michael's discussion, I did email Ellen DeGeneres since Oprah is no longer on the air to promote her 'Book Club'. I'm not sure if Ellen has a book club on her show, if she doesn't she should. Because on her sitcom years ago (named Ellen), she played the owner of a book store. That show aired 1994-8. I wrote Ellen saying, "A very nice young man who grew up in town wrote a book that I heard is wonderful. Here's the dilemma, I don't read dark or horror. Perhaps you would like to read it and give him a little promo?" I know it's a long shot, but who knows. Michael seems like a nice guy and his dad said that every good writer needs a good marketing plan.

C.B.: What inspired you to attend Michael's session? 

MBG: I know everyone has their own unique style to flesh out a story. I thought it would be nice to meet a published author in person. My mom attended something years ago at the Oradell Library. The author that evening was Mary Higgins Clarke. She had just published her first novel. After my mom listened she said, "She's got a lot of stories in her, I can tell." My mom was absolutely correct.

Twelve years ago, my partner and I were attending an event in NYC where Patricia Cornwell was in attendance. My partner recommended that I go up to her and talk, but I let her know that wasn’t a cool thing to do in NYC. She excused herself and headed to the ladies room. A few minutes later, I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was my partner with someone beside her. When I looked to her right, I recognized the face- it was the very blue eyes that gave her away. It was Patricia Cornwell, in the flesh, and I awkwardly reached out my hand to introduce myself. “I enjoy reading your books,” I remembered saying before my mind went blank. I guess that’s a symptom of being star struck and that’s honestly all that I can remember. I was back to feeling like I was four years old with nothing to say and wanting to hide in the nearest closet.

These days due to the internet, published writers are a bit more accessible. For instance, in the last year, I have read 5 books written by an author from Rochester, NY. I emailed her to let her know which of her books I enjoyed the most and why. A month later, she emailed back. That was very cool. I was able to contact her through her blog, which is how I contacted you, Christine.

C.B.: Mary Beth, I'm so very pleased you contacted me! Thanks, too, for sharing this story you wrote about the Kinnelon Library event with Michael Catalano.

Dropping Fear

An evening with Michael Catalano, published Horror Writer, at the Kinnelon Library

by Mary Beth Grybowski

Yes, I can hardly believe it myself. Last night, May 25th, 2011, I spent the evening with Michael Catalano, a published Horror Writer. And my other half was the one who pushed for me to do it. Oh now, now, it’s not what you think. Get your mind out of the gutter. Never mind, I purposely pulled you down that path to pique your interest. I must have it, because you are still reading, right?

Let me provide you with some details about the evening. "Local boy makes good, 1996 graduate of Kinnelon High School, comes to the town library to talk about his book." Read the e-mail that came in on Sunday via the Smoke Rise Blog. Monday I phoned the library to make my reservation. The woman at the desk seemed excited, so I naturally assumed that I was the first to call.

Wednesday night arrived and I was prompt for the event. I was actually ten minutes early, wow that hasn’t happened since . . . gee I cannot remember. If you knew anything about me, you’d know that I would be late for my own funeral. So that tells you how much interest I had in meeting this young man. I walked into the room that I had been to before, for voting purposes. Chairs were arranged in a circle, it reminded me of a Twelve Step Program meeting.

Michael jumped up to greet me and shook my hand. I felt like I was the celebrity at this event. “Wow, someone that isn’t related to me or a friend. Cool,” he said. Sitting within the circle were three friends, a friend’s parent, and Mrs. Misnick- his second grade teacher. “So you’ve read my book,” he assumed rather than asked.

“Actually, no, I don’t read horror or dark or anything violent.”

“Oh, well then what brings you here?” Michael inquired.

“I like to write and I wanted to hear your story. Not your book story, but YOUR story. How you get your ideas, how often you write, how much you try to write at one sitting, how you got published . . . that kind of thing.”

Within a few minutes, Michael’s sister, niece, and mother arrived. A few minutes later an International Exchange Student named Yu joined us; she barely spoke English. Five minute later, Emily joined us; her family was hosting Yu for half a school year. Both girls were sixteen.

The discussion started just after seven pm. Below, I have outlined what Michael shared about his experience as a writer.

- He thought that growing up in Kinnelon was boring, nothing happened in this quiet, forest-laden community. I told him that Kinnelon was far from boring. I'm constantly seeing wildlife in the yard - wild turkey, deer, bear, red fox and even coyote.

- This was his sixth novel, but the only one published.

- WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW, was his advice. This book was written during a stressful period when he and his wife were having difficulty conceiving their first child. Writing Dropping Fear was Michael's way to unload his mind, during that time. A friend and his sister noted that the book strangely paralleled his life.

- To try to get his book published he started by sending queries to Literary Agents; that’s what a published book told him. I thought he should have asked someone's advice instead. We live only thirty miles west of New York City. Many of the major publishing houses are within reach.

- Finally a publisher responded with advice, "This looks good, you should send it to Dark Press, they're new and looking for work like this."

- He said he writes about a page a day which generally takes him an hour. First he goes to the bottom and types in notes. Once he is done with that page, he cross-checks to see that he has converted all his notes to story form. Most books take him a year to write. He’s not writing to be rich. His royalty check this month barely covered the cost of a drink. He works full time at a normal job.

- He asked about me since he knew I liked to write. I told him about having bursts of creativity when my life is in transition. I told them about work and all the great stories I get from my friend Lee’s mishaps in the kitchen or with English. I told him about all the books I read last Summer. I also divulged the weirdness that started in my brain in February and how I noticed that good writers had a rhythm, but it was like a song. As I gave them the details that I wrote in my story The Tune in My Head, I glanced over at Mrs. Misnick and I could tell by her body language that she was enjoying this.

- I told the group about StoryWrite and how I discovered it when I went searching the internet for a local writing group.

- Michael let us in on the next big genre . . . ZOMBIES. I thought that was pretty relevant to today's world. Just look at all the drug commercials on TV and listen as they read the side effects! The 'zombification' of society. Hmmm, sounds like a good topic for a story or even a horror novel.

His father had walked into the discussion about half way through. He talked about the importance of good marketing. The father relayed the story of a woman in his office. She said, “Wow, I just read the best book, the author has the same last name as you.”

I told Michael that he should set up shop outside of Borders Bookstore just a few miles away. “Too bad Oprah just did her last show today. If you get on Oprah’s Book Club, it’s guaranteed millions of reads. Perhaps we should start a writing campaign, pitch your book to Ellen Degeneres.”

Everyone in the room giggled a little, but then nodded in agreement.

We wrapped it up at eight pm.

Mary Beth, are you on Facebook?

I shook my head to say, ‘No’.

Why not? You should. Give me your email account.” I gave him mine and I have his- it was on the invitation.

He asked if it was ok to give me a hug. “Of course,” I replied. If you think that’s weird, it’s not, he’s Italian.

Tomorrow, I’ll be working on that letter to Ellen Degeneres.

© 2011 Mary Beth Grybowski

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Mary Beth, thanks so very much for sharing with us your story about meeting Michael Catalano!
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