LINDEN, NJ — Poet and writer Gary Turchin, a former longtime resident of Linden who graduated from Linden High School in 1970, now lives in California, but Linden still figures in his life, as it is the location where his novel, “Through a Broken Window,” is set. The novel brought home a first-place 2020 Best Indie Book Award in the literary/mainstream category.
“My passion for writing began back in high school,” Turchin said in a telephone interview on Saturday, March 13. “I remember my high school newspaper, and I’ve been writing since then. Even in middle school, I was writing poetry. I’ve been writing my whole life now. I’ve written a whole series of poetry books and picture books. I’m 68 years old, and I’ve been writing since I was a teenager. It’s been a lifetime.
“Linden was a lower-middle-class community. It had General Motors and Exxon refinery at that point. it was a tough little town, actually,” he added.
Turchin hit it out of the park with his first published novel, “Through a Broken Window,” which centers on the sandlot softball fields of Linden’s elementary schools. The novel is a coming-of-age saga about Jerry Epstein, the 12-year-old protagonist.
“At the center of the novel, it’s about a softball tournament between the schools in Linden, which I was actually part of and grew up within. We won the championships when I was in School 9. That’s the center of it all,” Turchin said. “The thing is, it’s this story about a boy who’s brought up in a luncheonette in East Orange, where my father did have a small luncheonette business, and I grew up there. So the entirety of my whole story is real, but the story itself is made up. It takes place in a luncheonette in East Orange and on the playground fields of Linden, New Jersey.
“When the protagonist throws a rock and breaks a window, it turns out to be sort of a dangerous character whose window he broke. This started a series of events that led to things that affect his family and well-being. It’s sort of similar to a ‘boy against mob’ story,” he added.
Turchin’s inspiration for the novel wasn’t complex. He said he had a strong desire to write about his childhood and his father’s business. The story unfolded, and Turchin said he surprised even himself.
“What inspired me was, I wanted to write about my youth, my father’s business where I worked in that business from the age of 9 until I was 23 years old,” Turchin said. “I wanted to write about that. I didn’t have a story in mind. It unfolded for me, the way that it unfolds for readers. That’s why it has a suspenseful feel to it. Even I didn’t know it was going to become that. So, I surprised myself.
“As a writer, if you surprise yourself with where your story goes, you’re going to surprise the audience as well,” he continued. “That’s turning out to be true, because people are describing the book as a page-turner. Once you get ahold of the story, you can’t stop reading it.”
The novel won first prize in the Best Indie Book Awards competition, widely known as BIBA, in the mainstream novel category. Turchin described the process and the moment he discovered he won.
“I submitted it myself. It’s an independently published book, so it was competing against other independently published books,” Turchin said. “The funny thing is, I found out (I had won) not from the organization, but from another friend of mine who must’ve applied for the same award. I didn’t know they announced the winners. She sent me an email and asked if I knew I had won. But It felt great. It’s recognition for something that I’ve written. It feels great that people are really responding to it.
“There were a lot of different awards and categories, where I was the biggest category, because I was a mainstream novelist,” he added.
As he discussed his determination to finish the novel, Turchin revealed that he suffered from his own obstacles — a recent brain procedure and Parkinson’s disease.
“I just had brain surgery about six months ago,” Turchin said. “I have electronic equipment permanently implanted within my brain. It gives me more functionality. Fortunately, I finished the book before I had the surgery.
“When I started, I was already deep into Parkinson’s disease,” he continued. “Parkinson’s is a slow, steady decline, and I was 10 years into the returning of Parkinson’s when I started this book. I had to decide if I was really trying to do this and finish it. Part of it was proving to myself that I can finish this under these circumstances. I couldn’t decide for a couple years, because I wasn’t going to finish it. Then I went back to it, where I was in this writing group and I needed something to read to them every week. They loved it, and I kept reading, and it continued to develop. I was determined to finish this novel, because I wanted to prove to myself that I can do this.”
Turchin’s accomplishments have not blinded him to how difficult it will be to continue writing, but he says he’s steadfast in his desire to.
“Considering that I’m not in any shape to write another novel — I’ve declined quite a bit since I’ve published that — it’s a satisfaction that I’ve accomplished one of my missions in life,” Turchin said. “It felt like I was missing an element in my career. I’ve written a number of poetry books, story books and picture books, but I hadn’t published any novels. Now I have. So, it’s very satisfying, and I’m very happy. Whether I have Parkinson’s or not, it’s an accomplishment. The fact that I have Parkinson’s just made this even more of an accomplishment. It’s proof that the creative journey doesn’t end when you’re diagnosed with this disease.
“A book of poetry will come out in a couple of months. That’s what’s next for me. Staying healthy and staying active is important right now,” he added.
Deborah Green, a close friend of Turchin for 20 years, is a fan of his work and called his novel a tour de force.
“I met Gary 20 years ago at his performance ‘Catch a Comet by the Tale,’” Green said on Saturday, March 13. “We became friends and have remained friends ever since. I have been a fan of his work all this time, and he has had many accomplishments as a writer, performer and visual artist. I think I read the first draft of the first chapter of ‘Through a Broken Window,’ and, even at that stage, it was a compelling read.
“Gary is a force of nature,” she continued. “He does a deep dive into a creative project and brings it to a rich fruition. He has taught me to persevere, not give in to the inner critic and never stop creating. I feel fortunate for our friendship, because he has also been a great supporter to me as a visual artist.”
Gary’s brother, David Turchin, also spoke of his brother’s talents and his need to overcome.
“My brother Gary’s talents have always resided at the corner of art and magic,” David Turchin said on Saturday, March 13. “He sees things and puts them into words that make you ponder its significance. Poets and writers have always been the windows into our souls, and Gary has excelled in this field. Winning this book award only justifies what he has been doing his whole life.
“Gary has never let his health obstacles get in his way,” he continued. “Though his ability to multitask has been limited, he still is emotionally creative and has shown me that nothing is impossible.”