The Backstage Man
An Interview with West Orange, NJ writer Robert Gordon
NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: Your Passion Will Reveal Itself Again. Thank you, Rob & Ed.
Last week, standing in the dining room of Hat City Kitchen staring out at the clock on Forest Street, I was putting down chairs asking to myself, where's the culture? There is no doubt things have changed. I began contemplating whether or not I should post on social media how much I miss the old days.
But later that evening something happens to remind me that the "moments" have not disappeared entirely. The ones that lured me to the Valley Arts District, kept me here and made this neighborhood special. Part of that culture was lost with Ironworks and now with the familial and local feel of Hat City Kitchen and more.
Soon two distinguished gentlemen enter the dining room. I recognize Robert, who comes often with his wife. They were in a good mood, and honestly, I needed some of that. They tell me they were there to celebrate; they had just received copies of their published book, The Backstage Man. On the table next to them laid one of the very first copies; they had just stored boxes of them in one's garage.
The two writers, Ed Shankman (Verona, NJ) and Robert Gordon (West Orange, NJ), who happen to be [originally] from the Bronx, had been writing it together for thirty-five years. On Ed's Facebook page he shared, "just holding [The Backstage Man copies] is a dream come true." My eyes almost filled with tears. As an aspiring novelist, I can only imagine how amazing that must feel. I was so honored when the two newly self-published authors gave me a signed copy of The Backstage Man. (I am working on a book club and a way to share with all of you through Masconsumption Media.)
Needless to say, that encounter gave me some hope that there still is magic and moments here in the Valley Arts District. (It also gave me a new book to dive into!) Between this, planning the 3rd Annual Valley Gala at Hat City Kitchen, becoming a community listening fellow with The HUUB, continuing my connection with Tamika Withers and True Youth, Inc., things are going in the right direction!
Here is a short interview with myself, and co-author Rob Gordon on how The Backstage Man came to be.
Patricia Rogers: How did the two of you meet?
Robert Gordon: Ed and I are cousins, and our families were very close when we were growing up nearby in the Bronx. Ed's family then moved to New Jersey, and we didn't see each other as much for several years. Then we began to get together frequently when Ed was a teenager and I was in college and in the following years. We became very close, partly because we both had an interest in writing. Ed had started writing some innovative fiction, and I was an undergrad English major and then a grad student in a creative writing program. We worked together on several fiction pieces and got comfortable working together that way.
Why did you begin to write The Backstage Man?
Ed lived in Israel while in his twenties and then moved back to the U.S. He was living in Hackensack and had the idea for The Backstage Man. It reflected a great deal of the life and culture we were living -- it was an organic outgrowth of our lives.
We worked together on it for a couple of years and when the first draft was done, we tried to get it published. It was read by several major publishers, most of whom had very nice things to say, but no one was willing to take a chance on it. Then a small publisher in upstate New York decided to offer us a contract. We traveled to her office to sign the contract -- but when we got there she told us that she was, unfortunately, going out of business. We stopped at a bar on the way home and got drunk. That was in 1983 or so.
Meanwhile, we were both working in advertising and Ed had become a very successful, award-winning published author of children's books (see shankmanoneill.com).
So, as time passed, we decided the book could be better and we kept working at it, trying to get it published on and off all along. It happened that we also were working together in the business world in various situations and were both living in New Jersey, so we were able to keep at it. Finally, about 10 years ago, we found an agent in L.A. who suggested some changes. We reworked it in a significant way. The agent tried to get it published for a couple of years but wasn't successful. So we then reworked it again on our own and spent a couple of years on a very conscientious and extensive effort to find an agent or publisher. That didn't work out, so we decided to self-publish and here we are.
How does it feel to be published after this long and, I must say, inspiring journey?
It feels amazing to finally have the book in print after all those twists and turns. It also feels like the fulfillment of a lifelong journey.
Whoever the Backstage Man may be -- teacher, myth, memory or premonition -- his story holds meaning for anyone who has been called by the whisper of an inner voice. This book is an electrifying fusion of humor and philosophy, sex and spirituality, love, friendship, and, most of all... music.
About the Writer
Patricia Rogers, #ValleyGirlNJ, lives in New Jersey's Valley Arts District. The native New Yorker works as a writer, blogger and community activist. Starting Masconsumption Media in 2012, she has been passionate about capturing the stories of the vibrant up and coming Valley Arts District neighborhood through her blog, zine, events and more. She blogs for Jersey Indie, Luna Stage, and Hat City Kitchen and offers many creative media services. Visit her blog www.masconsumption.com and keep up with your favorite Valley Girl on social media at @valleygirl_nj (Twitter / Instagram).