The death of an author; the birth of a book

In May, my friend Stephen Menick left the world.

Five months later, his last novel came into it.

Here’s the story, as I know it.

Stephen — never Steve — had serious storytelling chops. He was three-time Emmy-nominated writer and producer of documentaries for television. His young adult novel, THE MUFFIN CHILD was published in 1998 by Philomel, a Penguin Putnam imprint). It won a starred review in Publishers Weekly and was nominated for a National Book Award. His short story, “Dr. Rapallo,” twice received a Pushcart Prize Special Mention.

He was published in the Iowa Review, Yale Review, Village Voice and Alan Ross’ London Magazine. He taught marketing at Johns Hopkins and film online through West Virginia University.

An Italian and an Irishman walk into an office

Stephen and I were friends for 25 years. We met in Northern Virginia while working for a Beltway bandit, one of those firms that sold federal programs to the public. We worked on promoting Job Corps, that Department of Labor training program for at-risk youth.

stephen in hat
Stephen Menick, author of the romantic thriller, RUBY HIGHLAND

Whenever work got boring or the bosses got on our nerves, one of us would instigate a sit-down, as they called them in Scorcese’s Godfather movies. Over coffee and lunches and occasionally a beer with friends, I learned about Stephen’s upbringing in New York. His studies in France and at Columbia. His teaching days. His fascination with the Middle East.

None of this exactly a mirror image of my upbringing as the son of a cop and a nurse in suburban Boston, you understand. Maybe that’s why we enjoyed each other’s company so much.

Well, that and a love of stories. Books and movies in general, novels and classic films in particular. Stephen loved DeLillo (“Sometimes I open up UNDERWORLD or WHITE NOISE …  just to read the lines.”) and Scorsese (“Leave the gun, take the cannoli.”) Or to David Lean’s LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, his favorite film of all time.

You can order the eBook edition of RUBY HIGHLAND here.

Though he was 17 years older than me, for a while we were on parallel tracks. We were married at about the same time, and became fathers within a few weeks of each other.

I moved to Maine and Stephen moved on in DC. He worked for the Red Cross, PBS television, and, ultimately, for himself as a producer and director. He once got James Earl Jones to record a voicemail message for him “Stephen’s NOT HOME right now… Please, leave a message… AFTER THE BEEP.”  and he worked with George Takei before he was an internet sensation.

You can order the eBook edition of RUBY HIGHLAND here.

We stayed in touch, before Facebook made that so much easier. By phone and by email, mostly. Every We caught up for lunch in Maryland once, in the mid-2000s. We each worked on our books and stories, lamenting our luck with the publishing world. Comparing notes on our brushes with literary agent Nat Sobel, among others.

I still have an old copy of the manuscript for DOCTOR RAPALLO, an epic novel with scenes as vivid as memorable to me as anything I’ve read by, say, John Irving or Richard Russo.

A girl named Ruby

Some time ago he put RAPALLO away and started a new project. RUBY HIGHLAND. Set in New York. Mixing his love of history and stories, g-men and rubes, gangsters and dames. He sent over the pages and he asked me to read it.

I had no idea he was sick until he told me. And I had no idea how sick he was until I asked. He much preferred talking about how his wife Tanya was doing, or how amazingly talented young Alex turned out to be on the guitar. (“A mix of heavy metal and rap. Loud. Ear muffs are an absolute must.”)

When the conversation turned grim, he was realistic but never morbid. He told me about his friend, Craig Sechler, and plans to publish as an eBook. “I just want people to read the book. That’s all.”

We spent some time together a few days before he died. Colon cancer. He was too sick to speak. Those visits are among the most difficult and most precious memories I have.

And now we have RUBY HIGHLAND…

It’s a romantic suspense novel set during World War II, as the Jewish underworld battles Axis spies in a city on edge. A young woman barters her soul for the heart of a charismatic gangster in wartime New York.

She’s been warned about this silver-tongued murderer in a Savile Row suit. But when his enemies target both of them, she’s all in—a soldier in a secret war, awake and alive in a world full of sleepwalkers.  Violence is contagious. If she gets in any deeper, she’ll never get out.

And now, the ask(s)

If you knew Stephen, you’ll hear his voice on every page. You’ll see a hint of him in each of his characters, or at least hear him in what they say. If you didn’t know him, you’re in for a treat. The guy spent his life telling stories. Luckily for us, he’s brought it all together in RUBY HIGHLAND.

1. Consider buying the eBook, for yourself or a friend. See Amazon for how to send an eBook as a gift.

2, Consider sharing this post. I just want the world to read this book, and, in a small way, know my old friend. The least I can do is help get “people to read the book. That’s all.”

You can order the eBook edition of RUBY HIGHLAND here.

Thanks for reading.

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