Seeing our talented Trainjotting correspondents publish books fills us with an extraordinary amount of pride. We were pumped when the brilliant Engine Bob (a.k.a./d.b.a. Robert Klara) published FDR’s Funeral Train, and if it’s possible to be even more psyched, then we are because Straphanger Joe publishes his novel Open Wounds this week.
What makes us extra pumped is that we knew Open Wounds when it was but a 10 page idea for a book several years ago. Straphanger Joe, or Joseph Lunievicz, is an old friend and a writing colleague and was good enough to mention us in his gracious acknowledgements page. He’s the hardest working fiction writer I know, and no one deserves the honor of a book deal more than he.
Open Wounds is published by West Side Books. Here’s what the weekly publishing Bible Publishers Weekly said:
Lunievicz’s impressive debut is a dark, often brutal story, balancing some of the meanest villains in recent memory with a beautifully portrayed historical New York and a movie-obsessed boy determined to overcome the hand life has dealt him.
Open Wounds is classified as a Young Adult novel, but always struck me as plenty grown up. It can be bought for 17 bucks on Amazon. I suggest you do so.
If you see this man on the subway, he may be writing about you for Trainjotting
Here’s an interview we did via email with Straphanger Joe Lunievicz.
Trainjotting: So what pays better–being a correspondent for Trainjotting, or getting a novel published?
Straphanger Joe: That’s a good question, Mike. I really valued my Starbucks gift card when I got paid some year(s) ago by Trainjotting. Countering that payment with cash for the novel–I just don’t know. I wish I could be wittier but the truth is I wrote a lot of Straphanger Joe columns when I had nothing else to write and was pretty down on the whole publishing game. It’s what rejection can do to you. Your work and the Starbucks gift card kept me putting fingers to the keyboard and I’ll always be grateful for the forum you gave me. That gift was priceless.
Trainjotting: Tell me about the book.
Straphanger Joe: Open Wounds is the story of Cid Wymann, a scrappy kid fighting to survive a harsh upbringing in Queens, NY. By the age of six, Cid is almost a prisoner in his own home. His only escape is sneaking to Times Square to see Errol Flynn movies full of swordplay and duels.
He’s determined to become a great fencer, but after his family disintegrates, Cid spends five years at an orphanage until his injured war-veteran cousin “Lefty” arrives from England to claim him. Lefty teaches Cid about acting and stage combat, especially fencing, and introduces Cid to Nikolai Varvarinski, a brilliant drunken Russian fencing master who trains Cid.
By 16, Cid learns to channel his aggression through the harsh discipline of the blade, eventually taking on enemies old and new as he perfects his skills.
The book took me over seven years to write and I used my background in theater, stage fencing, and competitive fencing to inform the writing of Cid’s story. I’ve received some pretty good reviews so far from bloggers and a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly so I’m off to a good start. I’ve hired a publicist to get my name out there, JKS Communications, who’s also doing a great job of teaching me about how to market my book.
At a certain point, it seems the book takes on a life of its own, as people start to read it and the story reaches out past my circle of friends.
It’s both exciting and terrifying at the same time.
Trainjotting: There’s a memorable scene on the subway, involving the main character, a young boy, following his grandmother to Manhattan from Queens. Can you describe the scene in more detail?
Straphanger Joe: The novel begins with the protagonist, Cid Wymann, almost seven years old, following his grandmother, Mad Maddie Wymann, out the front door and out of Sunnyside Gardens where he lives, and south towards the elevated train on Queens Boulevard. Cid’s been trapped inside his home up to now both physically and psychologically (his grandmother tells him if he leaves the house demons will rip his throat out and eat his innards for dinner) so following his grandmother out of the house is a big event.
She goes to church services every Saturday morning like a good Anglican, and Cid follows her to find out just what these church services are. Up onto the elevated train platform, pushed into the mouth of a subway car, Cid grabs a pole and, with his grandmother’s swollen ankles and sagging wool socks still in sight, rides down into the belly of Manhattan.
The doors closed and the car jerked forward a few times before its ride smoothed out. I grabbed a pole and held on tight. Every time the train stopped I was thrown forward, then back, knocking into heavy coats and women’s thick purses. A barking man’s voice came from outside the door shouting the names of streets as the doors opened and closed, letting some people off and others on. Maddie sat down on a bench. I pressed my face against the pole and lowered myself to the floor. The windows darkened as the train went below the earth. My ears popped and the lights went out. I thought Maddie had found me out and punished me by taking me down into hell.
For Cid the ride is terrifying at first, but then exhilarating when he realizes he’s not inside a real beast and that he’s not down in hell. It takes him up until he reaches the surface again near Times Square that wonder replaces terror.
Trainjotting: How did you research what the subways were like during that time period? What were they like, compared to now?
Straphanger Joe: In order to get the trains just right, the stops, the lines that were in service and what they were called I used three types of resources: books, internet sites, and face-to-face interviews. So for example names like the Flushing and Astoria Lines into Queens rather than the 7 and N as we call them today came from internet sites like New York City Subway Historical Maps all part of NYCsubways.org. These had pictures of the cars on each line. I asked questions on Railroad.net, a list serve about trains across the US both above ground and below. Railroad.net helped me to answer the question, “Did subway cars in 1936 have loudspeakers or intercoms?” The answer was a few test cars did but overall it was safer to say for the common subway experience – no.
Books such as The WPA Guide to New York City, The Federal Writers Project Guide to 1930s New York gave me the names of lines, where they went, and what the cost was along with maps of the neighborhoods with stops marked on them.
Interviews with my father-in-law helped me to catch the loudspeaker mistake. I originally had the conductors speaking over their loudspeakers and then changed it to the step out of the car and shout method – probably better than today’s fuzzy static filled intercom anyway.
So although I knew a lot about the cars, about trivia like the Miss Subway contest and what the posters of Miss Subway contest winners looked like on the subway cars, about porcelain straps for straphanging, bullseye lighting, and wicker seats, I didn’t need them all to mark time and place in the book. Too many details are overwhelming in an historical novel. So I went with the conductor shouting out the stops from his window and people looking out the doors to check on the stop if they couldn’t hear him yell. And I think that was enough.
Trainjotting: Will you still contribute to Trainjotting now and then, now that you’re a hotshot author?
Straphanger Joe: Anything for you, Mike. Anyway, I’ve been storing up ideas this spring. Have you noticed the sheer number of Kindles, Kobo, Ipads on subways these days? Only a year and a half ago I was just noticing one or two Kindles. Now it’s an epidemic.