How I Stalked Frank McCourt

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By Jeff Nichols

In 1995, my goal was simple: to become the toast of the New York literary town. So I began to scribble down my autobiography. I thought I had an interesting story about being confined to special education, the obligatory drug  and alcohol abuse and then going on to live a life full of “fish out of water” situations.

I rushed the first draft and sent it off to some literary agents. One guy told a friend of mine that the book was so bad it should be renamed “My life as an Idoit.” I loved it, and immediately added it as a subtitle to my book.

Oblivious, I felt that if I could get a forward or blurb from a famous writer or media personality, it would help me get in the door with some publishers. I had met Molly Jong-Fast at a party in Manhattan. Molly was/is a writer and a Manhattan socialite who was friends with many writers. More importantly, Molly’s mother, Erica Jong, was one of the pioneers of women’s literature in America.

When Molly said she would be glad to “look at it,” I started dumping heaps of typo-ridden manuscripts off with her doorman. Then I would call to see if she had read it; I always got the answering machine: “Hi, Molly, Jeff Nichols here. Look, I don’t know if you picked up my manuscript yet with your doorman, but if you have read up to page 130, don’t read anymore. I changed pages 135 to 155, beefed it up a little. Anyway, I have dropped those revised chapters off with your doorman, hope I caught you in time.” Eventually I realized Molly was not going to read my horrific book.
But my ace in the hole was a Pulitzer Prize-winner and author of one of the bestselling books of all time: Angela’s Ashes. This would be tricky because my connection to Frank McCourt—my stepfather—could also be my obstacle. I sank my stepfather’s large fishing boat and accidently burnt his house down to the ground, among other injustices. A decent guy with a big heart, he handled it better than anyone would.

My mother, always the insufferable cheerleader, must have wrestled Frank’s number from my stepfather, and I got the old “I’ll have a look at it” from Frank.

I began to stalk Frank the same way some creep would stalk Pamela Anderson. I did everything but rifle through Frank’s garbage. Time passed. I found out that a golf club in the Hamptons was having a tournament in Frank’s honor. I caught him right before he teed off. Throwing caution to the wind, I walked up and said, “Frank, I am Jeff Nichols, Cynthia Nichols’ son.”

In his wonderful brogue, he looked up at me and said, “Oh, I know who you are, and let me tell ya, I am not writing any (expletive) forward for you book!”

Horrified that I had upset this wonderful man, I stepped back in genuine concern and horror.

“Oh no, you don’t have to. I am a big fan, no problem,” I said.

Then Frank, possibly picking up on my earnestness and latent empathy added, “But I might give you a burb.”

Two years later, Jeff’s book was made into a major movie. His book, Trainwreck: My Life as an Idoit, was published by Simon and Schuster with Frank’s blurb on the front cover. For more information, visit www.jeff-nichols.com.

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