A 30-Year Writing Journey Finds Publishing Partner at Writer’s Digest Conference

 

(reprinted from WritersDigest.com, Brian A. Klems’ Writer’s Dig blog)

This guest post is by Steve Villano. Villano worked in the Administration of Governor Mario M. Cuomo from 1985-1993, serving as Director of the Governor’s NYC Press Office during two presidential boomlets concerning Cuomo. Villano’s first-book, We, Haiku, is an interactive digital e-book of Haiku and received a QED (Quality, Excellence & Design Award) from the Digital Book Publishers of America in 2014. It is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and via Pronoun. His narrative non-fiction book, Tightrope: Balancing a Life Between Mario Cuomo and My Brother, has been published in 2017 by Heliotrope Books (NY), and is available in both e-book and paperback format.

 

I was nervous when I arrived at the 2015 Writer’s Digest Conference at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York. This professional gathering could clinch thirty years of work on one manuscript.

Over decades, I nurtured and rewrote my account of working for former New York State Governor Mario M. Cuomo, while my oldest brother was associated with John Gotti. I had a unique story and was capable of telling it, but I was unskilled at bringing my work into the publishing market.

Gotti was dead, and my brother, who had served prison time, was no longer involved with the Gambino crime family. On his 70th birthday in 2011, over lunch, I told him that I was the only one who could tell this story. He was, to my surprise, supportive.

“Just don’t rat anybody out,” my brother said.

“That would be kind of hard, Michael, since everyone is dead, “ I said, smiling.

It was time to get serious. From late spring, 2015, my brother battled pancreatic cancer, which would claim his life in the first week of November and compel me to finish writing Tightrope. My manuscript had given new life to my brother and our relationship.

A long-time Writer’s Digest subscriber, I knew the Annual Conferences were a place to “pitch” work, and connect with prospective literary agents and publishers. Still, I dreaded the Beat-the-Clock set up of the one-hour-long “Pitch Slams,” where each writer is given three minutes to summarize his book to as many agents/publishers as possible. The large, rectangular shaped conference room was bordered with tables, each one hosting two agents or publishers. As soon as the doors to the session open, writers ran in, like horses bolting out of the gate at the Kentucky Derby, clutching tightly their manuscripts and maps of the “Pitch Slam” session. Lines formed quickly behind the tables of the biggest publishers; I stuck to my game plan and sought out those I thought were perfect for my book.

My pitch for Tightrope, perfected over 30 years, included a clear strategy to target genre-appropriate agents. I soared through my “Pitch Slam” session, securing interest from five agents. I was stunned by the positive reception I received, even though I knew I had a good story, and was preparing this pitch for a lifetime. Still, I was looking for more than a stack of literary agent business cards in my wallet, representing who I had to contact, once I returned home.

I wanted to connect with an agent/publisher who intuitively “got” my work, and my compulsion to not rest, until I told my story. After my “Pitch Slam” session, I signed up for a workshop which addressed the decades-long genre-hopping phases my work went through: “How, When & Why to Switch Writing Genres.” Tightrope started as a stage play, morphed into a screenplay, and then moved into novel form—to protect the living—until the author Gay Talese advised me years earlier: “You’ve got a great non-fiction story here.” I walked into the Writer’s Digest workshop, moderated by Susan Shapiro and featuring, among others, Naomi Rosenblatt, Publisher of Heliotrope Books, and sat in the front row.

Shapiro and Rosenblatt were clear, concise and encouraging, and when Naomi said to the packed room: “A long-pitch is symptomatic of not being on top of your material. Know where you are going,” I liked her directness and clear vision of how to approach a publisher. When the panel discussion ended and the seminar room began to clear out, I went up to the front table, where Rosenblatt was fielding questions, and not limiting her time to 3-minute morsels. Still, I succinctly pitched her my story—in 15 seconds—and we connected immediately.

“I love New York stories,” Rosenblatt said. I knew I found a home for my book.

Mine was the quintessential New York story, complete with mobsters, politicians, New York media and family tension. When I returned to California in late August, I quickly sent Heliotrope Books three sample chapters, an outline and a cover letter, and our creative collaboration was underway.

Within 60 days of my brother’s death, Mario Cuomo died. I had run out of excuses for not finishing my book, and getting it to market. All of the principal characters were dead, but me. An agent/publisher loved and understood the story, and was ready to be its champion, and my publishing partner.

So, in an odd way, I owe my creative collaboration with Naomi Rosenblatt and Heliotrope Books to Writer’s Digest’s Annual Conference, but not in the usual way, although the preparation for my presentation was useful in sharpening the shorthand for my story. Among a hotel full of writers, editors, agents and publishers, I found just the right moment at the Conference where I could catch my breath, listen more carefully, and take the time I needed to discuss my work. That, and finding the right creative partner to work with, has made all the difference.

(Steve Villano, pictured above)

 

Memorial Day & The Murder of NATO

 

 

My father curses you from his grave,

You avaricious garbage-pail, depraved

Beyond redemption, not to mention how

Deprived you are of any shards of soul.

 

My father didn’t want to leave three kids

But yet he did, to fight the Fascists and keep

Us safe from crazy, kleptocratic autocrats, intent

On pillaging our villages and killing our freedom.

 

My wife’s uncle, at 20, had reasons plenty to stay home

And not run off to Rome, to spend his youth fighting Nazis

So uncouth they pissed on Jewish graves, including his own,

Dug deep into Europe’s hills, before The War was won.

 

And now, you come, you avaricious garbage pail,

Face so callow and puffy, skin so pale, voice a callous peale,

To tear down the democratic fortress their blood sealed,

Defeating & containing dictators for 70 years–your lifetime–

You chin-thrusting shill for Russian mobsters, you pig squeal.

 

My father and his fellow GI’s curse you from their graves,

You avaricious garbage-pail, depraved more than the jackals

Who feasted on the entrails of dead soldiers and civilians,

Growing fat, insatiably feasting on the flesh of humans.

 

The soldiers of democracy’s fortune, from here and abroad,

Curse you from their graves, you fraud, knowing the courage of their brave

Allies who, from different lands, came together for a cause,

Not simply for applause, nor profit, but to save the world,

From avaricious, kleptocratic, autocratic, garbage pails like you.

 

 

 

 

 

This Mother’s Day, My Mother isn’t here to call Trump a “miserable-son-of-a-bitch” for mocking the disabled. So, I’ll do it…

 

My mother was a beautiful Italian woman of great dignity, faith and courage. She was born during the Polio Epidemic of 1915–16, and paralyzed on one side of her body. She considered herself fortunate that it wasn’t worse. When she saw other “Polio children” in the Crippled Children’s Home where she spent several months–living their lives in Iron Lungs because they could not breathe–my mother was grateful that she only lost the use of one arm.

 
From her earliest days, my mother faced hateful discrimination because of her disability. Her father, an ignorant, arrogant, bull-headed Italian macho-man, told her she’d never get a job or get married because of her “limp” arm. As a “polio” child born in the Italian neighborhood of Greenwich Village, NYC public health restrictions kept her out of public swimming pools. When she was sent upstate New York to a New York Times “Fresh Air Fund” camp for disabled children, she noticed signs in front of private camps throughout the Catskills which read: “NO POLIO CHILDREN ALLOWED.”

 
My mother taught herself to swim in the waters off Coney Island, using her “one good arm”, and raised and diapered four children in the days when diapers were made of cloth, and all washing was done by hand. She never complained, nor cursed her disability, even when my father went off to World War II to fight Fascism and she was left alone, to care for three children, with her youngest still in diapers.

 
My mother never lived in a mansion, never was driven to school in a rose-colored Rolls Royce, and never received millions from her father, as Donald Trump did, nor did she ever delight in calling people names or insulting them. She was a devout Catholic until the moment of her death in 2007, and believed in the kind of all loving God that Pope Francis has preached about over the last few years. Money never mattered much to my mother; human dignity, kindness, caring and love were the sources of her wealth. Her life-long disability made her even more sensitive to all kinds of human frailties.

 
I thought of my mother a great deal when the shrivel-souled beast who mocked disabled reporter Serge Kovaleski was elected President. My mother, loving and forgiving as she was, would have been outraged.

 
“You miserable son-of-a-bitch,” I imagined her yelling at the television each time she watched the video replay of Donald Trump mocking Kovaleski. “You should be forced to spend time in a Crippled Children’s Home to see people struggling to live each day with a disability.”

 
My mother’s political hero was FDR because he showed the world how a person with a disability — Polio, specifically — could accomplish great things for others. When FDR helped launch the “March of Dimes” to raise vast sums of money for Polio research, my mother sent off her annual contribution of dimes with a religious fervor for decades. With FDR fighting for a cure, surely one would be found, she told us. She was proven right in 1954, when Dr. Jonas Salk discovered the Polio Vaccine.

 

 

My mother isn’t alive today to call Donald Trump a miserable son-of-bitch, for making fun of the disabled, dehumanizing women and for his blatant bigotry. So, I will. This son of a courageous Polio survivor thinks you’re a miserable son-of-a-bitch, Trump, and a shrivel-souled creature of the lowest order.

 

 

First you picked on Mexican immigrants and called them criminals and rapists — some of the same slurs that were thrown at the Chinese 135 years ago, Italians 100 years ago, and Cuban immigrants, 35 years ago. Next you attacked political refugees, escaping certain death and oppression, and advocated the anti-American and unconstitutional action of registering people on the basis of their faith–an action taken by Fascist regimes against the Jews during World War II. Then you cheer on your White Nationalist supporters to beat up a black man for having the courage to stand up to your pernicious political views, and you hire the Mercer Family’s Merchant of Hate as your chief advisor. And, finally, you mocked a man— a national treasure of a journalist — simply because he told the truth about one of your unending stream of lies.

 

 

 

My father fought Facists like you in World War II, Trump. My wife’s Uncle, a Jew, died fighting them in Italy. My mother fought bigots and brutes everyday of her life. It’s in the spirit of these battlers against bullies like you, that I’ll continue their fight, Donald, you miserable son-of-a-bitch. You couldn’t polish the chrome on my mother’s wheelchair.

 

You want respect? You give respect, as my mother used to say.

When John Gotti Was Under Investigation by the FBI & the US Justice Dept., Would You Have Put Him in Control of Both Agencies?

(Orginally published in The National Memo, May 30, 2016)
As an Italian-American and a former staff member for Mario Cuomo, I have been wrestling with how best to express my outrage over the fact that if Donald Trump’s name contained six vowels — like say, Mario Cuomo’s — his Presidential candidacy would be swimming with the fishes because Trump has been in bed with mobsters for his entire professional life.
The list of the Trump family’s — both Fred Trump, who left his son $200 million dollars and a legacy of lying about his wealth and businesses, and Donald’s — ties to organized crime, or “Mob-Nobbing” as Wayne Barrett aptly named it in his book Trump: The Deals & the Downfall, reads like a Who’s Who of Mafioso in the New York/New Jersey/Philadelphia Metropolitan Areas over the past five decades.

 

 

Just a few of the law-breaking luminaries or their mob-fronted companies, which can be found in Barrett’s book, who either did business with the Trumps, served as their partners (secret or otherwise), or made labor or building problems go away in exchange for cash, included:
· Manny Ciminello; construction contractor, racketeer, tied to S & A Concrete;
· Paul Castellano; head of Gambino Mob; secret owner of S & A Concrete;
· Fat Tony Salerno; head of Genovese Mob; secret owner of S & A Concrete;
· S & A Concrete; Mob-front concrete company, run by Nick Auletta; built Trump Tower and Trump Plaza;
· Willie Tomasello; Fred Trump’s partner on Beach Haven; Genovese associate;
· Nicky Scarfo; Atlantic City/Philadelphia Crime Boss; Cleveland Wrecking Co;
· Cleveland Wrecking Company; mob-front demolition co., hired by Trump;
· Wachtel Plumbing; mob-front co.; hired by Trump in Atlantic City & NYC;
· Teddy Maritas; mobbed-up head of Carpenters Union; NYC Trump contract;
· Circle Industries; Maritas’ mobbed up Drywall Co; Trump hired, NYC;
· John Cody; mobbed-up head of Teamsters Local 282; jailed for racketeering; bragged that “Donald liked to deal with me through Roy Cohn.”
· Nick Auletta: President of S & A Concrete, mob-controlled cement company;
· Joe DePaolo; President of Dic Underhill Co; company with alleged mob connections; helped build Trump Village with Fred Trump;
· Danny Sullivan; partner in SSG, Inc; deal-making arm of Scarfo Mob, negotiated with Trump on land in Atlantic City;
· Kenny Shapiro; scrap-metal dealer, partner SSG; principle financier for Scarfo’s Philadelphia Crime Organization.
Writing in Politico just last year (May 22, 2016) David Cay Johnston, a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter whose book Temples of Chance: How America Inc. Bought Out Murder Inc. to Win Control of the Casino Business carefully details Trump’s ties with organized crime, stated:

“No other candidate for the White House this year has anything close to Trump’s record of repeated social and business dealings with mobsters, swindlers, and other crooks. Professor Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian, said the closest historical example would be President Warren G. Harding and Teapot Dome, a bribery and bid-rigging scandal in which the interior secretary went to prison. But even that has a key difference: Harding’s associates were corrupt but otherwise legitimate businessmen, not mobsters and drug dealers.”

The torrent of thugs, terrible people and mob-front businesses Trump and his father were involved with going back more than 50 years permeates every present-day action Donald Trump takes.

 

 

If Mario Cuomo was in the same room for five minutes with just one of the mobsters that Donald Trump or his father did business with daily, his political career would have been finished.

 

 

Instead, Trump shrugs it all off; an amoral actor playing among amoral peers. And the press, which apparently only looks for mob connections among Italian-American politicians, allows him to do it.

 
Imagine, for a moment, if Cuomo — anytime between 1985–1991, when the presidential boomlets for him reached their peaks — had gone to a private meeting in a posh New York townhouse with the boss of one of New York’s biggest crime families under investigation by the FBI. Wayne Barrett’s book — backed by an eyewitnesses’ account — documents such a meeting between Trump and Genovese Crime Boss “Fat Tony” Salerno, who controlled the cement industry in New York, and attorney Roy Cohn — later disbarred — who represented many gangsters, and Trump. Would the media be silent about such a meeting if it occurred between the head of a Mafia crime family and an Italian-American candidate for President?

 
Even a Mob/Trump meeting broker as unsavory as Roy Cohn, whose long list of Organized Crime clients were clearly of financial value to Trump, would have been cited as proof that there were Mafia “skeletons” in Cuomo’s closet.

 

The vowel at the end of his name would have been Cuomo’s indictment, plain and simple. Yet, Trump and his shills get away with the absurd and inaccurate defense that “everybody was doing business that way,” when other major NYC real estate developers such as Sam LeFrak and the Resnick family clearly refused to, and were, instead, pleading with the FBI, and filing civil actions, to free them of mob control of the concrete business.

 

 

Trump, no friend of law enforcement authorities, just kept quiet and paid his tithe. Such silence would have sentenced Mario Cuomo to political death by insinuation.

 

Far more dangerous than the double-standard at work here, evidenced by the way the media has failed to pursue Trump’s history of “Mob-Nobbing,” is the practical matter of putting Donald Trump in charge of Federal law enforcement agencies. Does any American who believes in the rule of law and justice really want someone so cozy with Mobsters to have power over the U.S. Justice Department, the FBI, the CIA, the IRS, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms, the NSA and Homeland Security? Does anyone seriously believe a President Trump would not try to bend those agencies to his will, steering investigations away from his friends and associates, quietly killing administrative inquiries or condemning federal judges conducting criminal fraud cases as “biased?”

Stick a vowel at the end of Trump’s name, and see if his family’s decades-long “incestuous intertwining with organized crime,” as Barrett described the many Trump/Mafia marriages of convenience, would still be ignored.

Celebrating Poetry Month, with “We, Haiku.”

In honor of National Poetry Month (April) and National Haiku Poetry Day (April 17) , Amazon.com is still offering our awarding winning digital, interactive Haiku Poetry book, “We, Haiku,” for the special price of $4.49! Not only can you enter your own Haiku into the book, but you can read original Haiku Poetry by Steve Villano, and see the beautiful, original line-drawings of Alysha Lang throughout the 40 page book.

Here are a few samples of the Haiku you’ll find:

Time stops, when with them.

Nothing else matters. Even the

Hummingbirds stop by.

——————–

I am my own strife.

Resistance to me, is me.

I am my own life.

——————–

If everybody

Were my child, my love their shield,

Then, mourning would end.

——————-

The Demon Beggar

Of Drumm Street. Gone. Death by cold.

One story; not told.

———————

I think in Haiku.

Awakened at night, I write.

Hai-jacked, I am.

CNN’s Jeff Zucker: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. TWICE.


(The New York Times Magazine, April 9, 2017, ran a cover story about how CNN’s head honcho Jeff Zucker, who headed NBC Entertainment when he greenlighted Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice,” has served as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, by foisting Trump upon the nation…TWICE. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/04/magazine/cnn-had-a-problem-donald-trump-solved-it.html?smid=fb-share.)

 
Fifteen months ago, before any of the GOP Presidential Primaries began, my analysis of the Frankenstein Trump monster created by Zucker, NBC’s Mark Burnett, and NBC/Comcast bosses Brian Roberts and Steve Burke was among the first to take Zucker & Company to task for creating that Reality-TV creature, for fun and profit. Now, Zucker is still laughing all the way to the bank, as CNN’s profits soar, and the last laugh is on us. Here’s my piece, updated once before for my “Radical Correspondence” Blog &  Medium:

 

 

(Thirteen months ago, almost to the day, I posted this blog criticizing NBC for creating the television career of the Vulgarian Trump, and paying him more than $200 million for aggrandizing his piggish, demeaning, sexist ways on a national TV network. In the immediate aftermath of the revelations of the Trump Sex Abuse Tapes, done in conjunction with another NBC employee, Billy Bush, I reposted my essay. That was two months ago. Now, NBC has decided to reclaim their evil spawn, by re-hiring him as Executive Producer of “The Apprentice.” Mark Burnett is not yet revealing how much they’ll be paying the Kleptocrat-in-Chief. Emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution anyone? Impeachment?)

 
Tom Brokaw’s two and one-half minute noble tsk-tsking of Donald Trump’s full-blown Fascism — coming at the tail end of a little-watched Tuesday night 6 pm newscast over a year ago — was far too little, way too late from the Broadcast network which made Trump an international TV star and helped launch his political career.

 
Now that Trump’s big, ugly Un-American backside has been bared for all to see, those wonderful folks who gave this monster a global platform to pedal his pernicious views, are beginning to have some second thoughts, but very few have anything to do with soul searching. NBC, for example did pay Donald Trump a total of $213, 606, 575 in salary to host 14 seasons of “The Apprentice” — an average of about $15 million per season, according to documents Trump’s campaign filed with the Federal Elections Commission.

 

 

 

Then, after they handed Trump the bully’s pulpit to pick on everyone from the disabled, to Mexicans, to Syrian Refugees, to wounded war veterans, to Muslims, NBC — no longer seeing profit in Trump’s pugnaciousness — fired the Towering Inferno after he insulted all Mexicans in late June, 2015, during his announcement for President. NBC’s Latino market was just too big for the network to fail. But now, that the NBC/Comcast stellar citizens see a chance to make almost as much money off a Trump presidency than the Kleptocrat-in-Chief himself, they’re inviting the pig back to the trough.

 
Financially, as well as cosmetically, NBC’s announcement to Dump Trump last year was good business. Following its’ first five years, “ The Apprentice” began to rapidly lose market share. NBC meanwhile, had become the NBC/Universal/Comcast monolith after 2009, rolling up big new profits in its cable, movie and amusement park businesses. But now, NBC’s high dudgeon over Trump’s filthy mouth, racist and sexist slurs, has disappeared: they’re clamoring to get back into the pocket of the Kleptocrat they created.

 
NBC and Burnett made Donald Trump — long viewed as another wannabe starlet in New York politics–richer, far more famous, and extraordinarily more powerful than he had ever been before. Trump’s little inheritance of his father’s real estate fortune — built with federal funds for constructing middle-income housing, and keeping Blacks out of that housing — and even a New York Daily News front page headline boasting of the “Best Sex I’ve Ever Had” with Marla Maples, weren’t enough to get him the kind of attention he craved. Before his stint at NBC, Trump looked like a silly little post-card painter without serious recognition of his talent.

 
Then along came Mark Burnett and NBC, and the inner Trump was let loose in the living rooms of millions of Americans through the mindlessness of Reality TV. Burnett, Trump’s co-producer on “Apprentice” and “Celebrity Apprentice”, and a prime mover in bringing Reality TV to American television with his “Survivor” in 2000, and other programming such as “The Voice,” “Shark Tank,” “ Sarah Palin’s Alaska (yes, that too) and, the aptly named “Are you smarter than a fifth-grader?” boasts a net worth estimated at somewhere between $385 million to $450 million — a small fortune built on convincing Americans that eating bugs and spitting bile at people was entertainment. Trump spotted a winning formula for his brand of bragadaccio, and a malleable audience to swallow his hollow values and hateful views.

 
Forbes reported earlier this year that Trump’s entertainment-related income since 2004 — the first, and most successful year of “The Apprentice”– was approximately $500 million, from his books, speeches, beauty pageants and Reality-TV employment, the bulk of which, came from NBC, and was made possible by his ten-year run on the NBC aired reality show–including nearly $100 million in product-placement fees Trump and “Apprentice” co-producer Burnett got from shaking down program sponsors like Pepsi and Crest.

 
NBC can roll out all of the Tom Brokaw mea culpa commentaries it wants; pretend to be righteous by having Joe Scarborough cut off Trump after allowing the Quasimodo of Queens to rant on, or even continue to allow MSNBC to operate. The network conglomerate created this monster, and, with the willing leadership of programming ghouls like Mark Burnett and Jeff Zucker at the time (who went on to greater shame at CNN), NBC disarmed the audience of any analytical ability to recognize that its collective brain was being snatched, and now, it’s pockets being picked as well.

 
Sleep well,  CNN’s Jeff Zucker, and NBC & Comcast’s Brian Roberts and Steve Burke: you’ve enabled the raping and pillaging of the country, but, at least, you and the Kleptocrat-in-Chief are making money.