After reading "The Soldier, The Dancer, and All That Glitters" by Tom Callahan in "Dark City Lights: New York Stories" (edited by Lawrence Block), I reached out to Tom via Twitter to tell him how much I enjoyed the story.
He DM'd me immediately, and soon we were exchanging emails over the next several years. I was an amateur writer, never having published a single word except for an occasional Facebook post. We learned about each others goals, hopes, and dreams, why I wanted to write, what I was working on, what he was working on (a novel and screenplay titled "Bronx Rhapsody", an extended version of the aforementioned short story above).
But, mostly, Tom unselfishly devoted his words for encouraging me to write for all the correct reasons. He warned me about falling into "the current trend trap" because what's hot now won't be by the time the work is published. "We have enough of whatever that is anyway", he had said. "Write stories from the heart, with heart, keep writing and reading, and you'll be fine. One day you'll have a pool in your backyard." :0)
He recommended "A Drinking Life: A Memoir" by, his friend, Pete Hamill upon learning about my sobriety. Others, such as "The War of Art" by Steven Pressfield and "Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print" by Lawrence Block, proved essential in those early days of my floundering on the page, trying to organize my imagination, navigating the business, etc.
Tom adored Block, considered him not only America's greatest crime fiction novelist, but America's greatest novelist. Personally, I think he viewed Block in the same fashion that most horror novelists perceive Stephen King—the best at the craft. Period. Case closed. He was honored to have a story in Dark City Lights, and I think he considered it his greatest achievement in fiction, which gave him the confidence to pursue an agent for "Bronx Rhapsody". After all, he was writing both the screenplay and novel at the same time. Readying the story for whoever came knocking at his door first: A Big Five publisher or Hollywood. Either way, that story was his ticket in.
A few years went by. I changed careers, my wife had our second child, and we moved out to the country. Engagement on social media and email went to the wayside with what little time the day provided for me to write.
But every now and then I would wonder about that soldier and dancer of Tom's so I reached out to him a few days ago only to learn about his passing in 2018.
You can learn about Tom's influence as a journalist and college professor here, and what he meant to his students and the faculty at Manhattan College.
It saddens me that I hadn't reached out to him sooner. Tom had no business engaging with me, encouraging my dreams. But he did. He wanted to learn about me, who I was, where I was from, get a sense of the person, you know? Some folks only wish to engage with those who have several notches in their belt, have some clout in the industry. Not Tom. His agenda was not for personal gain.
And what of "Bronx Rhapsody"? Well, it's a true shame we'll never have the chance to know, but at least some of us got to know the man who penned it.
May the truth always shine, and may his soul glitter into the Great Beyond.
Rest in peace, my friend.