Monday, August 31, 2009

Neil Armstrong Is His Uncle. Really.

I am thrilled and delighted to interview Mike Trude. Mike's mom's sister, Janet Shearon, was Neil Armstrong's wife at the time of the Apollo mission. That makes Mike Neil Armstrong's nephew.

Mike is an accomplished guy. For the past twenty years, he's worked as a marketing specialist at a large university in the midwest. Prior to that, he spent twelve years as a television sports anchor. Mike is happily married and has three children ranging in ages from 8 to 22.

Welcome to Ramble Street, Mike. Glad you could stop by for an interview. Let's start.

Where were you and who were you with on July 20th 1969?

I grew up in Barrington, Illinois, a northwestern suburb of Chicago, and was at home during the Apollo mission. My sister's Sherry and Patty and my brother Jack were all at home. My mom and dad were in Houston and then Florida for the launch. I was 12 years old at the time, enjoying the summer and getting ready to go into eighth grade.

Did you know how dangerous the mission was? What about the rest of your family? Were they excited? Nervous?

We all knew the dangers of the mission and that while the crew might land on the moon, there was no guarantee they would get back to earth. We were all extremely excited about the mission, but also really anxious for Neil and the rest of the crew. No one truly knew if the mission would be successful, and I remember my sisters and me talking the entire week about the dangers.

Were there a lot of reporters at your house that day? Can you tell the story about your brother telling the reporters about his home run?

There is a saying that everyone gets their 15 minutes of fame and the week of the Apollo 11 mission was probably the Trude kids' time. There were Chicago newspaper reporters and photographers at our house every day and television crews and it was really kind of special. After all, we didn't do anything; it was our uncle that was doing the hard work while we were basking in the glory. My brother told one of the reporters that while Neil was landing on the moon, he was playing a little league baseball game and hit a home run to celebrate the landing. While the story makes for good copy, my brother could not hit a home run if you moved the fences in 50 feet. He just wanted to get the attention of the reporters and it worked. To this day, he denies ever saying that to the reporters, but we remember reading it.

So your brother bragged about something that might not have happened. I heard there was a lot of that going around that summer.

Did you ever want to be an astronaut?

I did at one time want to be an astronaut, but when I got into high school and the Apollo Space Mission was dwindling, it did not appear that being an astronaut was going to get you into space any time soon. So that quickly went away to another interest.

Those cuts they made to the space program are frequent topics of conversation here at the Marino house.

Did Neil Armstrong ever talk about the mission?

Neil did talk about the mission when asked questions. It was fascinating to talk to him about it. I remember asking him about the dangers and he said he was prepared for any type of emergency and never felt like things would go wrong at all.

What was Uncle Neil like when you were a kid?

Neil has two boys, Rick and Mark. Rick is my age and Mark is probably three or four years younger so when we got together, it was all baseball and football and anything having to do with sports. Neil would play anything and everything with us. He was a lot of fun and would take the time to play. We did not see him often, probably once or twice a year, but he always managed to take time to do things with the kids.

Playing sports with Neil Armstrong. That is so very cool.

How did you handle having a famous uncle? Did you tell the world or did you keep it quiet?

Having Neil as my uncle was neat. I did not go out of my way to tell people, but if it happened to come up in a conversation, I would mention it. When I married my first wife, I was working at a radio station and getting ready to move into television. My co-workers all knew that Neil was my uncle, and they all wanted to know if he was coming to the wedding. I made the fatal mistake of saying that he was indeed coming, but I didn't want there to be any fuss because it was supposed to be my wedding day. They all said they would behave and foolishly I believed them. At the wedding itself things were fine. There was definite buzz when Neil and his family walked into the church, but everyone behaved.
The reception was a different story. I arrived a little late because of pictures and when I got there, Neil was cornered by one of the DJ's at the radio station. He had a life-sized poster of Neil that he wanted an autograph on. And there were four or five more people behind him with cameras or something for Neil to sign. Neil was very polite and as I walked by I gave an evil glance at the people, but they acted like I did not exist... NEIL ARMSTRONG was right in front of them. Neil was very polite about signing and posing and anything people asked of him. He then came by our head table and whispered to me that he was going to go back to the hotel because he did not want to detract anymore from the reception and our day. I was able to catch up with him later and we had a nice talk.

Please tell us something about your uncle that only his nephew would know.

Neil did not smoke...but he enjoyed an occasional cigar, especially when he was fishing in Eagle River Wisconsin. And there was a time when my mom and Neil went to the grocery store at Barrington. Neil did not go into the store, but he went off on his own. When we finished we met him back at the car and he said he helped a woman with her car. It didn't start and he went under the hood and helped her get her car started.
After they were done, the woman thanked him and said, "You know you look a lot like Neil Armstrong." Neil said to the lady, "I have been told that a lot!" That's the kind of guy he is, very humble and never seeking out attention.

If that woman only knew...

Thanks Mike for taking the time to answer my questions and for giving us the inside scoop on what it's really like to be Neil Armstrong's nephew. Hope you'll stop by Ramble Street again soon.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

An Existential Crisis

Existential crisis number 857 happened a few days ago when I picked up a book in our living room and found this quote from the 14th century poet Hafiz.

If you think that the Truth can be known
from words.
If you think that the Sun and the Ocean
can pass through the tiny opening called the mouth.
O someone should start laughing!
Someone should start wildly laughing --

My first thought was "No words? Where does that put writers?"
Later that day while we were staring out at the Barnegat Bay, I told my husband about the poem. He told me about a book he was reading by Eckert Tolle and how he talked about something similar. By putting labels on things, you're creating an artificial barrier between the experience of the moment and your inner being. He gestured toward the Barnegat Bay. "Just be. Try taking it in."
I watched my husband stare out at the bay, presumably enjoying the sun, sea and sky in a non-definable way. I decided to give it a shot.
After about three seconds, I found myself searching for a word to describe the deep purple color that only happened with the light of the sun and the darkness of a cloud hit a wave at the exact same time. Suddenly I was flooded with words as I wrestled to define the sea before me. "I can't do it," I confessed. "I'm a writer."
That's what writers do. We define and describe. Until now, I never thought of that as a bad thing. But is it detrimental when it comes to finding your higher self? Is enlightenment wordless?
If it is, I'll pass. I like words too much for that. And I like reading books that define a feeling/thought/place so precisely and so perfectly that it hits you on a gut level. Those are the ones that bring us together by reminding us of the universality of our feelings. Okay, maybe it's not Truth (with a capital T) but stories that find those little truths are the ones that sink deep into our souls.
I've pondered this for a few days now. This morning I had a small epiphany.
The thing that started all of this was a book and the written words of Hafiz. Oh and I did mention that he was, among other things, a poet.
I've started reading more of his poems. They're beautiful, filled with poignant truths.
My favorite line so far. "Good poetry makes the universe reveal a secret."
I have no answers to any of this. And I've decided not to think about it this morning. Instead, I'm going outside to see if I can find that color purple on the bay and if I can give it a name, I'll let you know.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Neil Armstrong is My Uncle Sees the Sights Of Massapequa Park and Massapequa

I was on Long Island this weekend and thought I'd take my book on a tour. Since the story takes place in the town of Massapequa Park, it's high time that NAIMU sees the sights. Here are pics of NAIMU's visit to the towns of Massapequa and Massapequa Park, New York.

We started by relaxing on a nice patch of grass. Dandelions are hard to find in this town.

This is Park Blvd, the main street in Masssapequa Park on a Sunday afternoon. The local residents call this area "town". It's about a block long with the rail road tracks on one end and the funeral parlor at the other.

On weekends, this bakery is packed. That's because the pastries are incredible. DiMonda's bakery has been in Massapequa Park for decades.

Across the street from the railroad tracks is Gannon's Station Cafe, the inspiration for Canyons, the pub in the story. Gannon's doesn't seemed to have changed much since 1969. Can you see NAIMU on the bench there?
Here's the inside of Gannon's. I asked the customers there if any of them wanted to be in the picture but they all declined.

Yep, that's homemade candy in the counter. Krish's of Massapequa also has homemade ice cream. While it wasn't mentioned in the book, Tamara and the gang on Ramble Street would have saved up their pennies to buy ice cream and candy from this store.

Ending the tour, by chilling out on a Massapequa garage roof. Oh who am I kidding? It's high noon on a 90 degree day. That roof was hot!

This isn't NAIMU's first tour. A few months ago, C. Lee McKenzie, author of the terrific YA novel Sliding on the Edge, took my book on a tour of a California garden. Lee posted the pics on her blog. So if you want to see NAIMU hanging out in a fancy California garden, head over to her blog.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Rock Collections and Writing Superstitions.

When I was 12, I was on a swim team. Actually I was on a few of them. It was my big extracurricular activity. One November afternoon, after my mom dropped me off at the high school where we practiced, I decided it was time to take a break. Not exactly one of my better ideas. It was a chilly gray day, and there was no place to go to get away from the icy drizzle.
I stayed outside and watched through the chlorine-stained window while my team did their laps. At some point, I picked up a round stone and began scraping it against a cement wall. I was surprised that it was the rock that got marked up, not the building.
I never went inside. I never told anyone what I did. (so it's true confession time here on my sorry Mom). There was something important to me about that day. Before I got picked up from 'practice', I shoved the rock in my pocket. It was the first in my collection.
Here's my rock collection now. It's filled with memories. The ones with carved words on them ("Create." "Imagine" "Laugh" etc) are gifts from friends and family. The others I found on special days.
And that big sparkly "hope".. that came from my friend, Ann.
I call them my writing rocks. They stay near my desk. Before I send a manuscript out into the world, I print out the first page, and place it on top of the rocks and underneath the word 'hope'. It spends the night there. Yeah I know. It's a silly superstition. But I feel like all those memories and all those people have been my rocks throughout the years (I'm sorry. I couldn't resist the bad pun) and provide a foundation for all my stories. And it never hurts to have a little hope.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Sometimes it takes a while

When I first started writing, I was looking for a middle grader to read my work- in- progress. My brother volunteered his friend's 12-year-old son, Mark. Perfect. I sent Mark my story and in no time, I got a response. It was a thoughtful, smart, insightful, detailed letter -- I learned a lot from it.
Here he is, my first middle grade reader, standing near my debut novel in an upstate New York bookstore. You might notice he's not exactly a kid anymore. He's a young man who recently graduated from college. (Congrats Mark!) That wip that he read way back when is locked in a drawer someplace, but Mark read the new one and sent me another letter. (Thanks Mark!)
Getting published took a while. A lot of years. A lot of stories.
BTW, while Mark's appearance has changed significantly over the past decade, I can assure you that I look exactly the same as I did ten years ago. Exactly.