Tell us about growing up in NYC. Were you familiar with the kinds of characters you write about? Is that fair to say?
I grew up in New York City’s Lower East Side in the Little Italy/Chinatown area, where it’s been said there are more Mafia members per square inch than anywhere in the world, including Sicily. Some were friends, some were family, but the overwhelming majority was neither. I tried to stay away from any undue contact with the so-called gangsters, but since I owned Bruno’s Parking Lot in the heart of the Lower East Side from 1969-1996, and since most mobsters have cars, that was hardly possible. But whenever possible, I let them start their own cars.
In the 1820’s through the first decade of the 20th Century, the area I grew up in was known as the “Five Points.” It consisted primarily of poor Irish immigrants, but the neighborhood gradually transformed into Italian/Chinese. Now it’s 95 % Chinese – even Little Italy. Have you ever tried Egg Foo Yung Parmigiana?
My book “The Five Points – The Most Dangerous and Decadent Neighborhood Ever!” fills in the details.
In this book, I also write about my uncle (through marriage – he married my mother’s elder sister, my Aunt Mary) Johnny Keyes, who was a boxer, boxing manager and promoter, restaurant owner, degenerate drinker and gambler, and the elected Mayor of Chinatown in the early-mid 1920’s. It was rumored he slightly stuffed the ballot boxes, but that rumor had never been confirmed. His close friend was writer/screenwriter Damon Runyon, and when Runyon wrote the screenplay for “Guys and Dolls,” he said he based the character “Harry the Horse” on Johnny Keyes.
In 1927, Johnny Keyes bet $10,000 (twice) on his friend, the heavyweight champion, Jack Dempsey, when Dempsey fought and lost to (twice) heavyweight champion Gene Tunney. Dempsey made millions for the two fights, and as a consolation prize, he bought Johnny Keyes a new Cadillac, which Keyes promptly sold to pay his gambling debts. He took a lot of cabs after that.
When I was born in 1947, Johnny Keyes was long gone, having divorced my Aunt Mary, and he moved to several cities in California (he owed tons of money to New York City Mafia bookies), where he opened several mob-controlled restaurants including “Spaghetti Joe’s,” Damon Runyon’s nickname for Keyes. Keyes also promoted boxing matches (also for the mob) and for a time he was actress Mae West’s bodyguard, which is slightly ridiculous since Keyes was maybe 5 feet 2 inches, and at the time he had ballooned to 230 pounds.
Keyes’s gambling problem continued, and he died in 1967 owing money to everyone including the undertaker. He had remarried at least three times, and whenever he lost a bundle at the track or at the fights, his motto was “It’s not your life, it’s not your wife; it’s only money.”
Yeah, mostly other people’s money
You spent some time working as a journalist, can you tell us about that?
I started out in the mid-1970’s as a sports columnist for the East Villager, an Alphabet City weekly newspaper owned by the Village Voice. In 1980, I was offered a full-time job as a sports columnist at the News World (later the New York Tribune, and then transformed into the Washington Times, which is presently the second largest newspaper in Washington D.C.) The News World was an NY City daily newspaper owned by the Unification Church headed by Reverend Sun Yun Moon. Half the staff were Moonies, and the other half were legitimate newspapermen like me.
One day a Moonie could be washing floors, and the next day he could be the editor. For six years, I stood out of the Moonies’ way, did my job, and collected my salary (including a padded expense account) In 1986, I moved to the Middletown Record in Middletown, New York until 1988. I was also an associate editor of Boxing Illustrated from 1980-87, and a frequent contributor to Ring Magazine, which were both owned by the legendary boxing historian and my close friend, Bert Randolph Sugar.
I was elected Vice President of the Boxing Writers of America from 1982-86, and the Vice President of the International Boxing Writers from 1981-88. I won several Best Boxing Writer Awards from several entities, most of which no longer exist, not even in my memory. One was Ring 8 (still around), and another was the National Association for the Improvement of Boxing (long gone).
I also wrote several boxing articles for Penthouse Magazine, and when I visited their offices on the West Side of Manhattan, all the women I met were over 50, and thankfully, they all kept their clothes on. The pay was crazy good – $1.50 a word in the early 1990’s. But written filibusters were not tolerated.
Your knowledge of your subject, American mobsters, is impressive. Tell us more.
This I cannot do. They all know where I live.
You have had amazing success on Amazon, do you have any writing/marketing tips for other writers?
The hardest part of writing is sitting down, or standing up, and performing your writing routine. You have to get into a daily routine, and you have to be disciplined. Talent is not all that’s necessary. Persistence is. You don’t have to be published to call yourself a writer. If you write, you’re a writer – period.
Amazon makes it easy for anyone, with even a rudimentary understanding of the written word, to become a published writer. But that doesn’t mean you can cut corners. Always hire a proofreader, and if you can afford it, hire a professional editor. Multiple typos are the kiss of death for a writer.
I used to pay for my covers, but now with Amazon Cover Creator, I create all my own covers. Of course, I need photos to do so. Some are public domain photos I get for free on the Internet, and others I purchased cheaply from several Internet photo sites.