Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Ted Gross's Unofficial Bio - The Real Version

Ted Gross was born and raised in New York City and in 1978, moved to Israel, and currently resides in Jerusalem.

He began his writing career in University as the op-ed editor of the University paper and wrote a series of 8 editorials during that year. While in Israel, he wrote two children’s books. “The Letter & The Crown”; was published in Israel, while the second, and more successful, was published in the United States by United Synagogue entitled, “Of Rabbit’s Wool & Camel’s Hair”. While teaching comparative religion, he also had articles on polemics and religion published in Midstream Magazine, one of which was re-printed in an anthology “Smashing the Idols” published by Jason Aaronson Publishers.

However, by the time the children’s books were published his family was growing, and he began work and was active in high tech from 1985 until 2001. There he functioned as a CTO – Chief Technological Officer - in three different companies, managing to take two companies from start-up phase to a buyout and a successful IPO respectively.

After having taken the last company to a successful IPO, six children and a peaceful divorce, it was time to leave high-tech and try and develop some of ideas in writing. At that point, Israel embarked on "Operation Defensive Shield", and since Ted is a reserve battlefield medic, he ended up in Jenin, and the battles that took place there became front-page news all over the world. "Three Weeks In Jenin" was written soon after, though unfortunately the contract was cancelled once the United States entered into its current war with Iraq.

He currently is working on the “Chronicles of the Children of Heaven” (a fantasy work), on another non-fiction book entitled “Last Times” and on a cooking book entitled "Help! I Have A Fire In My Kitchen", (as well as a short story from time to time). To make ends meet, Ted owns a real-estate investment firm in Jerusalem.

Usually one can find Ted either putting out fires in his kitchen, drinking coffee in a cafe musing about the great "what-ifs" of life, assistant coaching little league baseball, dealing with one of his six children, having a fight with his sister, or walking the byways of Jerusalem with Rainbow, his golden retriever, pondering the silence of the heavens.

The Unofficial Biography of Ted Gross

Long, Detailed & A Lot More Fun

Musings, Ramblings, Dashed Hopes & Life Goes On

Before beginning this long, probably fruitless essay, I will put here what is on my home page. The reason why I write. If you do manage to wade through most or all of what is written below you will be able to discern the different phases in my writing career, (if I even have the audacity to call it a career). But if you don't the one paragraph below, may help some fellow writer arrive a bit more quicker at what really counts when you write. You and your world.

In my younger days I wrote because I thought I had something to say and wanted to be rich and famous, (I kid you not.)
Then I wanted to touch people, move them, see them cry or smile or argue over my words.
When my second children's book was published, oh so many years ago, and I was walking down a street and saw it in the window of a bookstore in Jerusalem (imported all the way from the USA), I decided I wrote because of the feeling it gave me at that moment.
As the years went by, I abandoned the rich and famous desire, and I realized that to touch people you had to be real - first and foremost to yourself - and I understood that the feeling of seeing your book in the window of a bookstore or listed at Amazon, while incredible, does not last.
I realized that all the above were excuses. Simply put, I write for me. To bring out the raw, the untouched, the hidden emotion and the passion. To let that voice express itself, first and foremost to my own conscious mind. I write to let the story out so I can read it for myself.
And when I do that, I know I will touch others. I know the book will always be in the window of my mind and that too is an exhilarating experience. And though I have no clue if I will ever be famous or rich, I do know I have made my own world richer, and I know myself that much better.

Okay, I was born...nope, forget that beginning. We have no need to go there.
Lets see, where should we start? Decisions, decisions, decisions.
Actually you will have to read "Last Times - A Chronicle of Divine Humor" for the complete story.
Especially the connection between myself and the greatest baseball player to have ever lived - Ted Williams!
But for now we will stick to writing and those little details that seem to always mess things up.

My first foray into the serious world of writing, began in University, where I was chosen as contributing editor to the Yeshiva University Newspaper. During my year as contributing editor, I wrote a series of seven editorials on University Life. I made a startling discovery that year. You can actually have an effect on people with words, and affect things that go on in your life with the right mix of humor and seriousness.

The year was 1977 and one of my contributions was actually a poem, "Gather The Harvest", in memory of those who fell during the Yom Kippur war in Israel. I have included it on the web site here, though it is long and one of my first and only shots at poetry. Another poem which you can also find on this web site, "In A Military Cemetery", also deals with the wanton death of war. (And I thank my fellow writers at the AW Forum Board for their incredible help on this one.)

The reason I mention my editorial freedom with the Yeshiva University paper, is an incident that took place in regard to the original poem of "In A Military Cemetery". It marked my career as a writer and made a lasting impression upon me. When that edition of that paper came out (I didn't even know it had been published) I was interrupted during the middle of class and told that I must report to the assistant deans office immediately. Of course I went there trying to figure out just what trouble I had managed to get myself into now. The secretary told me to go straight in, though her face was impossible to read. The woman who was the assistant dean at the time immediately asked me to close the door behind me, a strange request, but which I was not going to argue. Only then, after closing the door did I realize that she had been crying. She took a few moments to gain some composure then explained that while at lunch she picked up a copy of the University paper and made the mistake of reading my poem while eating. Since then, she said, she had been crying and she had called me to her office to let me know just what an effect it had on her.

I spent years with that story hidden deep inside of me. It was one of those times in life when something so mundane happens which is also so incredibly spectacular that only a long time later do you realize just how it changed you. Until that point in time I was writing just to show that I could do it, and better than most people. I never suffered, then at least, from doubts in my ability (now I suffer them almost every minute). I knew my articles were read and made people laugh and even snicker at the absurdity of University life. But I never imagined, never entertained the thought that with words I can make people FEEL. And once one has held that magic elixir in their hands, the moment that key has been used - only once - to open someone's' heart, it is addictive. The rest of one's life no matter how successful or how many times one fails in other endeavors, becomes a quest to use that key yet again.

Once bitten with the writing bug, that was that. Everything I did in life, on every roller-coaster that fate has taken me, I have always sought a way to write about and share those experiences. In non-fiction and in fiction. For children and for adults. I have rarely been successful. Most other times I have failed, sometimes dismally.

I married in 1978, and we moved to Israel a few months after the wedding. I began a career of teaching polemics, mostly in regard to Judaism and Christianity, and doing research into cults. This is not the place for the what led me into this field. However, I did manage to do some translations of various books from Hebrew to English for publication, and won a short story competition for Anglo-Saxon writers in Israel with a story entitled "Reflections In The Mirror of Eternity". Then Midstream, which was at the time a "prestigious" intellectual/community magazine (and still is), purchased an article of mine on Cult Behavior. That article was subsequently published in an anthology, called "Smashing The Idols" which you can view information about in the non-fiction page.

Around 1980, I was approached by a group of people, who knew of my educational work with children, (surprised you there cause I keep that a secret), asking me to write and publish my children's stories. The Jewish Agency who maintained a full publishing house at the time, offered me a contract based on a quick outline I had prepared, and I was off and running. I should have known it was too easy to believe, but back then I was still living a charmed life. The original plan was for a series of 36 children's books released on the average of one or two a year. And thus "The Letter & The Crown" was born. A full color children's book, with full color drawings on each page. This was not a cheap process back in 1981, I must remind you, and it was a laborious one as well. Computers in the industry were huge affairs and digital printing was not even being dreamt about. But the book finally did hit the market, and that was when I leaned my first and important lesson in the process of having a book published. The publisher did nothing! The book sat in their warehouse, and they were very content selling a few here and there at shows, to stores and the like. Not one advertisement as their attitude was, we published it, and if people want it they will find a way to buy it.

When I look back upon it, I realize I should have put my tushy into gear and done the marketing myself. But I was a babe in Toyland, with a book just published, and all I wanted to do was sign the damn thing after people bought it. I never forgot that hard lesson. So when the publishing arm of the Agency asked me for the next book, I was smart enough to say "thanks but no thanks" and went on my merry way trying to find another publisher for the second book "Of Rabbit's Wool & Camel's Hair", which by the way, was already written and the illustrations were completed.

I found the publisher immediately, but as fate would have it, the process of accepting the book to publication took almost 3 years, if I remember correctly. United Synagogue in the end did publish "Of Rabbit's Wool & Camel's Hair", and actually still does, and they did do a wonderful job. During that time the War In Lebanon began, Israel entered the war, which started out as a small operation and became our own Vietnam, and I became a battlefield medic in the reserves. It was during this critical time in my life that a few things happened. I began and finished a novel about the War in Lebanon, entitled "Shadows of a Dream" and my children's book was moving towards a signed contract and publication at a snail's pace, but nevertheless it was moving. I was positive that when I had finished "Shadows of a Dream" I had written the next best seller. I really was. I kid you not. I knew, I just knew, I had written gold. So let me use just one colloquialism now, a cliché if you don't mind to sum it all up: "Yeah, right!"

Now comes my foray into the writing/publishing world, and possibly it will help any new writer who is beginning to make such an entry into this world as well. Lessons learned are critical for the future. Well there I was, with the greatest novel of the 20th Century in my hands, and my second Children's Book about to be published, so what could go wrong?

Now let us get a few "facts" straight. There was not as of yet, any internet mail system. The term "email" still did not exist. Cell phones were things Captain Kirk used in re-runs of Star Trek. And the publishing industry, including agents, was as difficult then as it is today to break into. I read the books, and researched the agents as best as I could from Israel. Then I made a list, and began the incredibly tedious process of sending out query letters.

That process took yuck...months and months. I am not a patient person, but I learned patience. Air-Mail in those days took around 2 weeks if you were lucky. So I continued on my happy-go-lucky way and soon the rejections started coming in from the agents. Reject me? How dare they? But then I got lucky. Two agents requested "Shadows of a Dream". And yes, believe it or not, those two letters arrived on the same day!

Well I am going to admit something here that I do NOT suggest anyone who reads this does. I was young, in a rush, positive I had gold on my hands and sick and tired of waiting months for mail to go back and forth, and then someone to get to my ms. and decide what to do with it. So yes, I mailed the ms. to both of them at the same time. I didn't lie. I didn't tell them in the letter that it was a Simultaneous Submission I just did not tell them it wasn't.

So with a shrug and a prayer, I sent out the ms. (dot-matrix printer folks) after waiting a few days for the dot matrix to finish up 500 double spaced pages - two times. (Oh for the days of Wordstar and my old printer!) We will call these agents, Agent1 and Agent2.

I also wanted to visit Mom in NYC. So after sending these ms. out, I took a 3 month leap into the future, and started planning a trip back to the old hunting ground, telling myself all the time it was to see Mom, but knowing that I was going to start beating down every door I knew to get an agent. The timing actually worked out great. Two weeks before I left for the US, Agent1 rejected the ms. but was incredibly nice, Agent2 agreed to take it on for representation but was incredibly not nice (that is a good way of putting it, no?)

So when I got to the US I had an appointment with Agent1 who rejected my ms. and a contract from Agent2 who said there was no need for an appt. yet. I went to visit Agent1, who to this day I remember with incredible fondness. He was the agent for quite a few famous authors at the time, and boy did he know what he was talking about. And he sat with me for 2 hours, explaining first what was wrong with my ms. and why I should continue writing. (Three years ago, some 18 years after this, I was in touch with him, though he has since retired from the business.

Agent2 did represent "Shadows Of A Dream" and did try to make a go of it. She worked hard on it. Alas, when a rejection came back from Macmillan that was that. Though during this time she did negotiate my children's book contract for me as well. The funny thing is, the publisher of my children's book met her a few times, I to this day have no clue what she looks like, (though she too has since disappeared from the scene).

So the years go by. I had started "The Chronicles of the Children of Heaven" which is a story in and of itself, and I was still trying to do something with my short stories. (Naive.. go ahead and say it.) During that time my family was growing, and writing was obviously not going to put food on the table. So I stopped teaching and kind of fell into high-tech where I was to spend the next 15 or so years, some good some bad. And writing had to take a back burner.

I don't really know today, if that was a good or bad decision. I just know it had to be made. During that time I wrote little, on stolen time away from everything, though the bug was deep within me, and it hurt that I could not find the time to write.

Rolls the movie forward to 2000-2001. Divorce, burn-out at work, sick to my stomach of high tech. I take a ride on "Reading Railroad" and decide if I don't do something soon I will be spending the rest of my life bitching about something I wanted to do, rather than trying and even failing at it. So I bite the bullet one day, and off I go into the wild blue yonder of writing.

Now, it is not an easy thing to do to just start writing, or writing again. I knew that, and I took my time. I started off with a ms. I knew I would never sell, just to get back into gear. That ms. turned out to be "Last Times" which you can read some here in the non-fiction section. And then one day I pull out my old The Chronicles of the Children of Heaven and get my tushy back into gear and begin work on it all over again. I had written over the years some 450+ pages of it, so it was not all the unfamiliar to me. But I was older now (ugh!) and a bit more understanding of what had to go and not go into a book.

Then in March of 2002, Israel goes into a mini-war of sorts, called Operation Defensive Shield, and I get a reserve call up order. I am a battlefield medic in the reserves, and I ended up in Jenin. The result of that little trip to hell and back was "Three Weeks In Jenin" with some chapters available in the non-fiction section on the web site. Upon my return from Jenin, I rewrote query letters and broke all the rules. I mass submitted to a long list of agents, simply because I knew I was involved in something that was on the front pages of every newspaper. This time I did have many agents answer in the affirmative, and they wanted to see as much of the book as I had done, plus bio, plus synopsis...well, if you are a writer you know the scenario.

Interestingly enough the agent that I did pick in the end, was someone who was recommended by another agent who received my query. So take heart writers. Sometimes if your query is cool and good, or even if it is mediocre but you have a hot topic, your query will get passed around among legitimate agents. Anyways we were on our way, and suddenly I am told that a Major Publishing house is interested with a senior editor behind the project. Well, I thought I had already gone to heaven. But of course, since Three Weeks In Jenin is not in your bookstore, you already know it was never published. Cannot go into the story here, cause I have no desire to say the wrong thing. All I will say is that the book was nipped by the Chief Editor. After that well it was impossible to say, and my agent did try. The US invaded Iraq and the whole Jenin-Operation Defensive Shield in Israel became old old old news. My hope is that it will be published as a military history/military watershed book. Who knows? Jenin is still hell, and the terrorists still do their dirty work. One never knows in this lifetime.

So there I was, now with real hopes dashed, and back to the drawing board. Which with skipping a lot, brings us to the present. After the Jenin book thing, my agent mentioned in an email that the only thing she sees Publishers buying are celebrity books and the old coffee table books and she happened to say, "like cooking books". That afternoon, and I truthfully have no clue how this idea crystallized in my head, I started "Help! I Have A Fire In My Kitchen" which is geared towards people who do not know the first thing about cooking, like single parents, divorced couples or just plain couples who think eating out every night is the only way to eat. I took a look at the genre, realized there was little good cooking stuff that had any humor or personal experience, so I combined the two in "Help! I Have A Fire In My Kitchen". Yes ladies, I do cook. I just don't do dishes.

So I am one of those authors/not-authors. I live words and breathe them. I want to write, and yes, I also want to sell and get paid for what I write. Though I am not 30 anymore, I do have with a little luck and a lot of talent, a career in writing ahead of me. I know it is a difficult haul. I know I might not succeed. But at least today I can't sit back and complain that I never tried.

Today I continue working during free time on "The Chronicles of the Children of Heaven", rewriting "Shadows Of A Dream" (no I never give up - especially cause essentially it is a great novel), some Short Stories (I am a glutton for self-punishment) and think that I write a damn good short story (of course!), and every now and then add a few notations to the 150+ pages already written of the cook book, "Help! I Have A Fire In My Kitchen". When I want to get really wasted and torture myself I return to "Last Times", and am now considering editing it into one of the novels which are really autobiographical "fiction" but keeping it in first person. There are some other works as well, but they are in their infancy, and thus I am not yet willing to discuss them in public.

Thats it folks. My next post will contain links to my published works of course!
Self-promotion is a good thing!

Technorati Tags:

No comments: