When I write a book, I like to have a clear sense of the story and the subject before I begin. My first novel, Old Buddy Old Pal, explored a long-term friendship between two young men. The second, Dark & Light, dramatized a cultural clash between a lonely white man and a temporarily homeless black woman. In My Impending Death, I impersonated an isolated, cynical joker who sees no better future ahead and decides to end his life.
Eulogy took a few years to come together, because the subject arrived long before the story. The seed came from the news. A man had a seizure on a New York subway platform and fell on the tracks; another man jumped down and covered him with his body while a train passed over them. There isn’t a lot of clearance down there—I wouldn’t have thought the rescuer could survive—but both men did, and the hero wasn’t even injured. He went home afterwards with some grease stains on his cap from the underside of the train.
There are many stories like this, about ordinary people who do seemingly fearless things on the spur of the moment. Every time I hear one, I’m in awe. I wonder if I’d have the courage to do something similar. (I’ll bet you do, too.)
That was the beginning: I wanted to write a novel about an unassuming person who does something heroic, at great risk to himself. But I wanted his brave action to involve something more than physical courage.
The idea sat in a file for a few years, incomplete. Then I delivered a eulogy at my father’s funeral, and discovered a new possibility. Instead of telling the story straightforwardly, I decided to add another layer: the hero’s son has never suspected that his unimpressive father once did something extraordinary. He learns about it a few hours after delivering the eulogy that sums up his father’s life, and spends the rest of the book trying to figure out why his father served a three-year sentence in prison, what really happened, and how to reconcile this startling news with the unassuming person he thought he knew.
Readers may wonder how much of the book is autobiographical. How much does Morris resemble my father, and how much does Ken resemble me? I don’t mind answering the question: not much, in either case. But I have lent Morris certain details of my father’s life, in part to furnish him with a biography, but even more, because I love these stories and wanted them to live on.
About my background: I grew up in Queens, New York, home of Simon and Garfunkel, Archie Bunker, and the Ramones. I have a Master’s from the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins. In addition to the books mentioned above, I’ve written three novels for adolescents: 6-321, which crams the dramas and traumas of my childhood into one fateful school year in the 1960s; The Watermelon, based on a tense encounter my wife experienced as a teenager on a kibbutz in Israel (but relocated to South America, because I’ve never been to Israel); and Cheater, a farcical comedy about high-tech cheating in high school.
For seventeen years I lived in a studio apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. With a baby on the way, my wife and I moved to Montclair, New Jersey, twelve miles west of the Hudson. My children are now in their twenties. (Time has flown.) As I write this, I’m working on a long novel set in Manhattan in the 1970s, when I was the same age as the protagonist. I’d love to tell you more, but don’t want to give away the storyline, which I hope will charm everyone.
Regal House Publishing is proud to publish Michael Laser’s Eulogy in 2022.