I started writing songs when I was seventeen. This was in the Sixties when life seemed like one opportunity after another, waiting to be fulfilled. I played in a band, and we did original songs, inspired by Dylan, The Beatles, etc. I wanted to record, found a studio through an ad at the back of the Village Voice. I had $600 saved from caddying that bought me twelve hours of studio time. I was off to the races.
Demo complete, I read the credits on album jackets of the bands I liked, then went to the telephone directory and got the names and addresses of their publishers. At first I sent them tapes but the responses, when there were any, were generally highly impersonal and non-specific, so I decided I’d be better off taking them into the city, which I did, and started knocking on doors. Showing up in person got me in. Then the hard part began.
Publisher after publisher told me, “Kid I don’t hear it,” which means “Don’t waste my time. It sucks.” I persisted. I asked them to play something that they thought sounded like a hit, which they were happy to do. I listened very carefully. Six months later I was back. This time only two minutes of my two minute fifteen second song sucked. I was making progress.
I persisted. It was made easier because I was returning to people who already knew me and were willing to listen to simple piano/guitar demos that I made at home. Within a year I was up to thirty seconds of “non-sucky” music. Highly encouraged by my level of progress, I continued. By then, a couple of these hardcore music men began liking the music enough to refer me to record producers who needed songs. These guys were very demanding and downright rude. Crude with attitude. Being around them I learned how to depersonalize criticism and focus on the task at hand. By the time I was twenty-five, or eight years after I had begun, my skills were up to a place where there was general agreement that I had “something going on.”
That same year I got a big break. I was at a party and met Larry Gottlieb, a young writer who recently had one of his songs recorded by a group on a major label. We hyped each other to the point where we agreed to try writing together. It was magical. We continued writing together daily and the more we wrote the better the songs sounded. The collaboration made us both better. We scraped some money together from gigging in an airport lounge band, hired a singer and drummer, and recorded a few songs with us filling in as the rhythm section.
Mission accomplished, we took our demos around for a year two. Finally a producer for Arista Records, named Rick Chertoff, (“Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”, “What if God Were One of Us”, among other hits), liked our stuff enough to play it for his boss Clive Davis, who wasted no time, and, much to our disbelief, offered to publish a few of our songs. We were exhilarated!
While those songs never became hits, this affirmation really lit a fire under us and kept our confidence level very high as we continued to write and promote ourselves.
After a while a song plugger, to whom we had pitched songs when he was at a small publisher, landed a big job at MCA Music and offered us a staff writing gig. (I always keep in mind that this business is unpredictable, and the person who might not have been able to do anything for you last week can be in a position to help you out a week later).
The gig was great. MCA paid us a living wage and covered studio expenses. They also provided us with lists of artists looking for songs and we would write for them in the hopes of getting them “covered”.
Two years into our three-year contract “When She Was My Girl” was presented to the producer of The Four Tops. He liked the song but felt it needed work. Happy to be of service, we changed the bridge into a chorus, played it on the phone to him and he recorded it with them. Within six months it became a number one record here and a worldwide hit. We got a Grammy Nomination for Best R+B Song. From there we kept plugging away, our songs were recorded by Celine Dion, Kenny Rogers, The Manhattans, Marie Osmond, Laura Branigan to name a few. We also wrote “Hands Across America”.
After 9/11 I wrote my last song called “Hole in the Sky”. The song has been featured in television specials and was included on a compilation album of songs written mostly by police and firemen. It was a great honor for me to have my work included with theirs.
The emotional enormity of 9/11, combined with the intensity of having written the song, just depleted me. For the first time in my adult life I lost interest in songwriting, and it has never returned. However my interest in writing prose began abut a year later.
I began with travelogues from remote places where my wife and I were traveling, like Tasmania, Uruguay, China and other exotic locales. They were meant to be stupidly funny and sadly philosophical. The more of them I wrote the more I felt a writing style was emerging and I began wanting to do something in longer form.
I recalled once when Evan Hunter (aka EdMcBain) and I got to talking about his highly successful career, he remarked: “The difference between myself and many really good writers that remain unpublished is that I finish what I start.”
“Finish what you start” became my mantra as I began writing a novel.
I wrote, then I rewrote for two years until I had a completed manuscript. Then I hired an editor, who I found on Craigslist, to critique it and eventually edit it. She did it brilliantly. At that point I felt the manuscript was not nearly as good as it could be so I wrote and rewrote for another two years enlisting additional help. In all I consulted four different editors.
When the manuscript was completed I knew I needed an agent. I had prepared lists of them and had sent about thirty queries out to test the waters.
Shortly after that I was at a party in honor of my former writing partner Larry, who was up for a short visit from Nashville. Also present at the party was, JB Moore, one of the pioneer producers of Hip Hop and a writer for Billboard Magazine. He and I began talking, and I told him about the book I had literally just completed. He asked for a copy. I emailed him one that night. Two days later he told me he knew the perfect agent for me. The next day I sent her the manuscript. The day after that she and I met for coffee and she agreed to become my agent. Two days later, my wife and I left for a long planned for two-month tour of Greece, Turkey, The Middle East and North Africa.
While I was away, my agent negotiated a deal with Schaffner Press, with the understanding that I would rewrite the manuscript under the auspices of the publisher. He and I worked together on it for another year.
On March 4, nearly six years after I had begun and revised the novel at least six times, Humpty Dumpty Was Pushed was released. Praise for the book has been extensive for which I am very grateful. The journey has been one step at a time as every journey is. I hesitate to say one small step at a time because to me any step is a big one. My advice to anyone who aspires to be a published writer is: Enjoy the journey and remember: rejection is just an invitation to resubmit. Always RSVP.
Copyright ©2009 Marc Blatte author of Humpty Dumpty Was Pushed: A Novel
Marc Blatte, author of Humpty Dumpty Was Pushed: A Novel, a native and longtime resident of New York City, grew up in the Bronx, played baseball in the Roy Campanella Little League and was a protege of the bestselling author Ed McBain.
After a brief stint west of the Hudson at Kenyon College, Marc returned to the city that never sleeps to become a wunderkind of the songwriting industry, dubbed by legendary record producer Clive Davis as one of the “fortunate ones.” He has composed material for major stars, and was nominated for a Grammy Award for best R&B Song.
He has shaken Joe Frazier’s hand at Small’s Paradise, danced with Sherry Lansing, fixed Debbie Harry’s sink, met Henry Kissinger, and had an unexpected visit from the Wu Tang Clan. He has worked as a golf caddy, Rotor Rooter man, tenement superintendent, keyboard player in a lounge band, was a hip-hop white boy pioneer record producer . . . and lived to tell.
The father of three daughters, Marc and his wife Jeanne divide their time between New York and Nicaragua. He is currently at work on his next mystery featuring Black Sallie Blue Eyes.