Only cicadas have waited longer to emerge than the book that gestated in this blog, and, if you’re getting this via a newsfeed or email, you’ve been around through that period. But you’re more than a witness. You’ve had a hand in bringing RUST BELT BOY: Stories of an American Childhood into bookstores today.
Ten freakin years ago, almost to the day, as I prepared to leave for a week at a cheap hotel on a beach south of Boston and begin work on the only book I ever felt compelled to write, I fell out of my woodshed and broke my right wrist. It may have been a sign. This might be a long, rutted, monster-infested road.
I refused to give in. Patched up with a cast that allowed my fingers to wiggle, I bought magic markers and flip charts, an ergonomic keyboard, and set out to wrestle the essays, stories, memories, and characters cluttering my files and dreams onto paper.
I faced two tasks: historical research and personal memories. I love research, and I could have lolled as I might have with beautiful, insatiable bedmate who made me never want to leave. But I had to push on to memories, peeling away the onion of repeated stories that, upon reflection didn’t ring true until I hit the core. I’ve learned since that science says we change our memories every time we recall them.
Ultimately, the truth is a hole in the ground around which the dogs bark, and I was barking alone. I started this blog to see if other dogs would join me. And you have.
Ambridge, Pittsburgh, and most of the places around and between them are tough towns. I worried about straying too much into my own memories and too far away from the common experience of those places. I was afraid of being called out on my version of the truth. So, I offered my drafty stories to readers of this blog, and you have been remarkably generous.
All of you have kept me going. You’ve offered me your own stories. You’ve surfaced out of my past to enlighten and encourage me. I’ve never known most of you, yet you’ve taken the time to know me, my Ambridge, my Pittsburgh, my little journey.
Others, I’ve known well at one time or another. My best pal, Rege Ryan, is here, and brought in his family. Lots of Bridgers, and Burghers, or as we’re now called – Yinzers. Kevin Joyce, a bright, intense, fun college friend, logged in years ago and promised to host a publication party at his famous restaurant (see Carlton Dinner – you’re invited – at www.paulhertneky.com, under events). Far be it from me to decline such an offer. It’s going to be a blast.
In the end, after struggling to explain this book to dozens of snotty agents, Bauhan Publishing, a venerable New England firm, recognized something special, and placed their faith in me, you, and our stories. Recently we’ve been rewarded by good reviews. Soon, I hope to have a chance to meet all of you at reading or signing and thank you personally.
As I head out on the road, on and off for the next few months – first to NYC, Charlotte, Atlanta, Orlando, the new homes of many Rust Belt runaways, then many days around Pittsburgh – I’ll try to keep you up on the antics, places, and characters I meet. I hope you will be among them. Look for me later this month in Ambridge, Sewickley, the North Side, and, away from home at your favorite Steeler bar. While remembering that I have two wrists but only one (slightly abused) liver, the shots and beers will be raised to you, with gratitude.