2007-01-19 / Columnists

The Rockaway Irregular

Coming Soon to A National Park Near You!
Commentary by Stuart W. Mirsky

When I retired from the city bureaucracy at the end of 2002, I knew I wanted to do one thing. Having written an historical novel, published in 1998, I figured I was good to go for a second career as the next Ernest Hemingway. Well things haven't quite worked out that way.

My next novel just hasn't flowed as effortlessly from the keyboard as the first, so Hemingway's reputation is safe from me, at least for the moment. In the interim, though, being the restless sort, I've become involved in a few other things including a bit of politics (recently losing a local election by a landslide) and a few ancillary writing projects . . . and oh yes, I managed to survive a heart attack. Some fun, eh? During all this I also stumbled into an effort to build a writing community here in Rockaway. Thanks to the good auspices of the Rockaway Music & Arts Council and the goodwill of two local arts groups, the Rockaway Artists' Alliance and the Rockaway Theatre Company , that effort is about to become a reality. On Sunday April 22, the RMAC will sponsor and host a Literary Arts Festival in the buildings which are home to the Artists Alliance and the Theatre Company , located in Ft. Tilden in the Gateway National Recreation area.

The idea, of course, was to help new writers on the peninsula, both young and old, meet and talk with others who love the written word, including other writers and those who actually publish the stuff. Begun as a writers' confab, the event has blossomed into a full blown festival which could some day rival the RMAC' s other major annual event: the End of Summer Festival and Crafts Fair held every September. So what's so great about a Literary Arts Festival?

Aside from the fun it promises for writers and writer wannabes, it will give the rest of us a chance to hobnob with many established authors and hear them talking about their books and what moved them to write them in the first place. Of course, we don't have any bookstores here in Rockaway, in itself somewhat amazing, so for many of us who just love to browse and buy books, this will remedy that, at least for a day. Some thirty authors have so far answered the call to attend, including novelists, memoirists and screenwriters. Their published works will be on sale at the Festival store and the writers, themselves, will be available to autograph the books if asked.

Activities planned for the day include several authors' panels dealing with suspense fiction, historicals, women's literature, children's literature, coming-of-age themes and, of course, Rockaway itself. One speaker we've lined up is an expert on the unique language of 17th century pirates and on the rumors that the infamous Captain Kidd may have actually buried his treasure right here in Jamaica Bay before being apprehended and hanged by the authorities. Successful local writers will also be highlighted including our own Thomas O'Callaghan, author of the The Bone Thief , a thriller about a serial killer. Thomas tells us he has another due out this spring.

But there's more to writing than just books as those of us who are attune to this modern age will know. And so we also have a panel of screenwriters and filmmakers who plan to show some of their work and discuss the unique demands writing for the big screen places on the creative mind. Three of the promised film clips are from projects focusing on (guess where!) Rockaway.

For those who just want to know more about what it takes to break into this rather difficult business, we also have a panel of editors lined up who will talk about getting published in today's market. Joining them will be the CEO of the largest on-line self-publishing company in the country, iUniverse, to offer her own unique perspective on why new writers no longer have to wait to be "discovered."

As part of this event we're inviting all the local schools, and all young people with an interest in writing, to send in some of their work. The work will be reviewed and the best of it selected for inclusion in a special volume to commemorate our first annual Literary Arts Festival. We're interested in poetry, short fiction and personal or journalistic essays. Top entrants in each category will be recognized at the event. Teachers and school administrators interested in having students submit material should contact me at rockirreg@aol.com.

Along with the writing contest, four of the editors who plan to attend our event, and one agent, have indicated a willingness to meet briefly with prospective writers to give them an opportunity to pitch their work for possible publication. The editors and the agent have a variety of interests so, if you want to participate or know someone who does, you need to let us know in advance so we can match you up with those who are suitable. (The quickest way to do that, again, is just to send me an e-mail at the address provided above. In fact, local authors should feel free to contact us this way, if they want to be included in any aspect of the day's activities, including offering their books for sale through the festival bookstore.)

All in all, this event promises to be a big one and we hope the folks of Rockaway will want to come by and take a look. Since many of the activities will be in the gallery buildings of the Rockaway Artists' Alliance , you get a twofer because the sculptures and paintings on display for the gallery's opening the following week will already be in place for your viewing pleasure. The Big Show will feature "oversized" works of art, six feet or more in dimension, and will run from April 21st to May 20th. So with panel discussions, authors' readings and signings, film previews, the opportunity to meet local and not so local writers, and the chance for new writers to connect with some of those who might be able to make their dreams a reality, we see this as great new opportunity to add a further cultural dimension to the peninsula.

But you don't have to be a Rockawayite to attend. Tell your friends and family, too, no matter where they live (though they'll have to get here under their own steam). And who knows, this might even prompt me to take some time off from these columns to finally finish my next book!

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