At the age of 19 Lonnie Ostrow was, like many men with sensibilities his age, trying to find his way through, reading poetry and playing guitar. He even strung together a couple of songs, writing both the music and lyrics. Many young men before him had done so as well, it was not uncommon.
What he wrote about, he told Your NewsMag recently, was about situations particular to older rock impresarios, lyricists and folk singers he had read about, not of his generation. “I never pursued songwriting outside my close personal environment,” however, he continued.
But as a senior at Adelphi – while gaining employment at Simon and Shuster writing book cover jackets – he had an opportunity to write a screenplay, and took on the challenge. “I thought about what I could write about,” he said, and found himself going back to his earlier troubadour roots. “I decided to write about poets of the wrong generation,” he continued. “And I incorporated lyrics from two of the songs I had written,” which he turned into a 30-page screenplay.
That seminal experience – a young man’s dream, really – of writing a simple screenplay based on his young musings as a teenager, has transformed decades later into the release of his first novel, Poets of the Wrong Generation, which was released by Harmony River Books of New York this month, with a book launch that took place at Temple Ohav Shalom in Merrick.
Further, the book contains several of his songs, of which two had world premieres at the launch in the form of bands playing them as recorded on video screen.
After writing the screenplay – and with never a thought to how the screenplay might impact his future – he got work as publicist at a stamp company, where he had the fortune to meet with many celebrities who were courted to be on stamps. “I worked closely with luminaries such as Bob Hope, Bob Dylan, The Bee Gees, Barbra Streisand, Michael Jordan, Jackie Chan, Sylvester Stallone, David Copperfield and Elle Macpherson,” he said.
But it was his meeting with renowned novelist Barbara T. Bradford, who was asked to be on a stamp, which would forever change his career path. “She was thrilled to be accorded the recognition to be on a stamp,” he recalled. And, he hit it off quite well with her husband, Bob. Before long, Ostrow was asked by Bradford to become her publicist.
It was during her long summer outings away from New York that Ostrow said he found himself beginning to read her novels, to at least learn more about the woman he was working for. “I then began to devour other novels as well,” he said, and came to a personal revelation – “I can do this, I can write a novel.”
He ruminated over his screenplay, that expose of his earliest musings, and began writing in earnest the novel based on that screenplay. “I worked on this novel extensively while commuting on the Long Island Rail Road. Virtually every morning and afternoon, I sat writing and editing this book during my commute to and from Penn Station.”
He maintained that he found ways in which to edit 10-15 pages in each direction, tuning out loud and chatty commuters, and overcoming overcrowded train cars, among several challenges.
While he worked four months in 2002 to get the main story down – and incorporate 12 of his earlier songs into the body of the novel – it took time to find the right publisher. The story concerns a fictional songwriter, his unlikely rise to fame and his disillusionment with celebrity, but it’s also a star-crossed love story between the songwriter and the woman who inspires his music, Ostrow said.
While the book is set in New York City in the early 1990s, a pivotal scene takes place at the Jones Beach amphitheater in Wantagh.
Before being approached by Harmony River Books to take a look at his manuscript, Ostrow conveyed that he had worked through a few publishers who either liked the book, but not the ending, or suggested more racy elements to fit into the “adult reader” category – only to reject the book anyway. “Harmony River,” he said, works with music-related manuscripts He kept several scenes in, while he reworked the ending.
The book is available as an eBook and in trade paperback at Amazon.com, B&N.com, Books-A-Million, and on all book retail websites.