After too many years of sporadic acting jobs and way too many “survival jobs” I decided to leave show business and enter the corporate world. I accepted the first job offer I got, which came from the very first interview I was sent out on. That began my career as a word processor for a law firm. In 2001 the firm I worked for merged with another firm and, once the merge was completed, we moved into new offices; across from the World Trade Center.
Will you share a little bit about your book with us? Why did you feel compelled to write this book?
I didn’t set out to write a book. The morning of September 12th, after a fitful night’s sleep, I listened to the messages on my answering machine from the previous day and read all the emails I had received. Everyone wanted to know how I was; many knowing that I worked downtown. Not having the stamina to answer every call or email, I sat down to write a general email to everyone; basically just to tell them that I was okay. When I started typing I found myself telling, for the first time, what had happened to me the morning of the 11th. The words just poured onto the computer screen. That email became the first of three emails that I wrote to people, detailing the events of the 11th and what it was like to be in New York in the aftermath. Friends started forwarding my emails to other people, and I began to receive emails from people I didn’t know… each encouraging me to keep writing. So I did.
The writing became a way for me to tell my story… for my own healing. It was a way for me to deal with having seen so many people die. I felt compelled to honor those lives in some way, and with my writing felt that I was.
Is there an underlying message in your book?
It almost sounds like a cliché, but the simple message of living our lives fully. I had worked for 13 years at a job I had never planned on becoming a career. During those years I always wished for something different, but never took the steps, or risks, to change my situation. That morning of 9/11 changed all that for me.
Also, as a side note, I guess there is also the message that one can move on after experiencing a trauma, of whatever magnitude.
I understand your writings about your experience became the basis for one-man shows in LA and Off-Broadway. Please tell us about these shows and how receptive was the audience to your shows?
At the beginning of 2002 I looked at all that I had written and started to know that I wanted to do something with those words. My first thought was a book. It seemed the logical choice. But I found myself thinking about putting it on stage. Mind you now, I hadn’t acted in probably close to 15 years, and never thought I’d be back on a stage. But somehow this seemed like the next right thing to do.
I had recently met, and was becoming friends with, Richard Masur, an actor some would recognize from all his character work in film and TV. Richard had been very involved with the relief effort after 9/11, being the liaison between the theater and film community and the relief workers. I asked Richard if he’d read what I had written, telling him of my desire to put the words into a script. He called me that same night after reading what I had given him, saying he thought it needed to be done and that he would like to come aboard as director. That is how that collaboration between Richard and I came about.
“That Day In September” was written as a one man show… me simply telling my story in a series of monologues. It premiered on the West Coast, where it opened in Los Angeles to a very favorable review from the LA Times. I was performing it in a small, out of the way theater, which, unfortunately meant we didn’t get big audiences. But of those people who did come to see the show, I saw that they had been touched by my story. After every performance there would be people waiting for me to thank me for what I was doing, telling me it gave them more of a sense of what really happened that day.
A year later, in August of 2003, “That Day In September” opened Off Broadway. I think, even after two years, it was too soon for something about 9/11 to be playing in New York. None of the major papers would cover it. Most people did not yet want to revisit that day. But, like in LA, the people that did come see it would wait for me afterwards. Aside from thanking me, many would tell me their stories of where they were that day. I vividly remember holding one woman as she sobbed, saying that it wasn’t until seeing “That Day In September” that she dealt with her own emotions about what had happened.
As much as it would have been nice to be “successful” in the conventional sense, I don’t regret for one minute the work and time that was put into doing the shows in LA and New York. It touched lives. That is what was ultimately important.
As a follow up, have the stage performances helped you in any way in writing your book? If so, how?
I was able to include a little more in the book, because I wasn’t under a time constraint of being on stage for 90 minutes.
What has your experience been like with self publishing? Do you recommend it over traditional publishers?
I knew early on it would be difficult getting to a well know publishing house. Here’s an interesting story of how this book business works. Before “That Day In September” opened in New York I met with an agent from the William Morris Agency. He was interested in representing me. He said he believed it would make a fine book.
“That Day…..” ended up closing earlier than we wanted, being chalked up as not being a success. The day after the show closed the agent (who so believed in me) wouldn’t return my calls or emails. I think I knew than that if “That Day…” were ever to become a book, it would be something I’d have to do.
I researched for at least a year various vanity presses and PODs. To be honest, I didn’t feel comfortable about any of them. Especially the ones that involved a large sum of money upfront. I was browsing MySpace.com one day and came across a profile of a teacher in California who had self published his book. I emailed him, asking the particulars of how he did it. It was his response that turned me to Lulu.com, a print on demand company. I spent weeks looking over the Lulu website. There was a lot to take in; it’s a very complete and thorough site. I liked what I was reading. It was all very upfront… no hidden agendas. I don’t want to sound like a commercial for them… and I’m certainly not getting anything from them for saying this but it has been a great experience publishing my book through them.
You asked if I’d recommend this over traditional publishing. Not having experienced publishing through a traditional venue, I really can’t say. But I will say I have been very happy with my self publishing experience thus far.
What are your hopes for this book? Where can we buy your book?
My hope would be that it move those who read it. That it help some people in their own processing of 9/11.
Right now the book is available on Lulu.com. I have just taken advantage of a global distribution service available through Lulu, so my book will soon be showing up on Amazon.com and other such book sites.
What challenges or obstacles did you encounter while writing your book? How did you overcome these challenges?
You know, I’d have to say the biggest obstacle was my impatience. I became increasingly excited about this as I took each small step. There were days I just wanted everything to be done and have the book in my hand. But I try to live my life “one day at a time” so I had to incorporate that into the publishing of this book.
How do you cope today with your feelings pertaining to your experience of 9/11?
I still think of 9/11 every day. I’m seeing a therapist for post traumatic stress and that is helpful. But also working on getting this book published has been very, very good for me. It’s giving me a sense of “doing something.”
Will you be using the Internet to market your book? Will there be any unique ways you will be marketing your book?
I will definitely be using the Internet to market my book, and I am just beginning to learn about all the options that are available, such as sites like yours.
Is there anything else you wish to add that we have not covered? What is next for Artie Van Why?
We’ve covered a lot haven’t we? People can contact me through email (firstname.lastname@example.org) if they have any questions they’d which I’d answer. And as for what is next… I just want to see how much I can do with “That Day In September” before even beginning to contemplate anything else!
Thanks once again and good luck with your book.
Thank you, Norm. Very much.