Alife-altering injury inspired a Hallmark screenwriter to take his experiences and turn them into a novel about how a person can turn his life around after multiple calamities are thrown his way. Gary Goldstein spoke with Heavy about his experiences writing his new novel, “The Last Birthday Party,” and advice he has for those who are interested in pursuing their own writing endeavors.
Goldstein has written a number of screenplays for Hallmark, including “Summer in the City,” “For Love & Honor,” “Hitched for the Holidays,” “and “Royally Ever After.” He also wrote the screenplay for Lifetime’s “Forever Christmas,” which aired on the network in 2020. He’s a contributing film reviewer and feature writer for the Los Angeles Times.
W. Bruce Cameron, author of “A Dog’s Purpose,” reviewed Goldstein’s new book and said it will leave you thinking long after you finish the last page. He described the book as “a novel so real I kept expecting one of the characters to text me.”
The authenticity of the novel, Goldstein told Heavy, comes in part because it was inspired by an injury he suffered in the past.
A Rotator Cuff Injury Inspired His Character’s Dramatic Journey
“The book is not autobiographical, per se, but there are many autobiographical elements to it inspired by real life,” Goldstein told Heavy.
The novel’s official synopsis reads, in part:
There’s nothing fabulous about 50 for L.A. film critic Jeremy Lerner, who loses his marriage, his job, and the use of his right arm just days after the birthday party he begged his now ex-wife not to throw him. But fate is a sly devil.
Jeremy’s string of calamities leads to a game-changing emotional and creative rebirth after he meets the intoxicating Annabelle, a beguiling widow who comes to his rescue-and Jeremy to hers. If only their baggage didn’t match quite so well.
The main characters’ injury was inspired by Goldstein’s own surgery and long recovery.
“He ends up in a brace that’s called an abduction…” Goldstein said. “I was in one of those about four years ago. I had a very bad rotator cuff tear. And my doctor said it was the worst tear he’s ever repaired arthroscopically… I woke up from the surgery in this giant abduction pillow… It was the size of a little house! I don’t know how else to describe it. … I had to live with this thing for six weeks and I could not take it off because I couldn’t move my arm. So it was just a nightmare of contortionism, basically, to live my life.”
He said it was really difficult and painful, but he had to be in the giant brace in order to heal. His novel ended up being the perfect opportunity to share his unique experience.
“It’s really the thing that catapults the main character into this fantastic life change,” Goldstein said. “He has these three calamities that happen to him within a 24-hour period the day after his 50th birthday party. And one of these calamities is the accident that ends up leading to the shoulder surgery, which leads him to meet this occupational therapist named Annabelle, who is this just wonderful person who comes into his life, and they kind of re-energize each other.”
Both characters are haunted by their pasts, he shared, and they have similar baggage. A big question ends up being whether this baggage will bring them together or keep them apart.
“I’m able to really get into the weeds in the book and make it vivid about what it’s like … to be living your life with this giant brace over your shoulder and under your arm,” he shared. “I mean, just showering with that thing was a nightmare. And so painful. That was one of those moments that are recounted in the book and I think are pretty fun and vivid…”
Goldstein Tried to Surround His Characters with People We’d Like in Real Life
People who reviewed Goldstein’s novel commented that the characters came across quite authentically.
Andrea Cagan, author of “Diana Ross: Secrets of a Sparrow,” wrote: “In this delightful book, we really care about his characters as we try to anticipate what’s coming next. It’s a page turner with surprises around every corner.”
Susan Walter, author of “Good as Dead,” had similar praise, writing: “His characters are wonderfully drawn; by the end they feel like old friends.”
Goldstein said that he purposefully tried to put characters in the story that readers would want to spend time with.
“I just tried to populate my main character’s life with people that we wanted to be around,” he said. “And I’m really heartened by the fact that people love my main character so much because he’s really a flawed guy and learns a lot on his journey. But the way he gets it together … turns out to be very believable. And we do see a big change in this guy going … at age 50, where it’s harder to do. But it’s a result of all the people in his life and this strange confluence of things that happen.”
The book, he said, is about rolling with the changes and turning the next page. That theme is why he opened his book with a quote from an REO Speedwagon song. But the story connects with people of all ages. The main character is 50, while he has a son in his 20s and a mother who’s 84.
Goldstein Says He Started His Novel-Writing Journey By Committing to One Page a Day
Goldstein shared with Heavy that despite having a very busy schedule, he carved out time to write his book based on advice that a friend gave him, which he believes will benefit other writers too.
Somebody said: ‘If you’ve always wanted to write a novel and you haven’t felt that you’ve had the time, look at it this way. If you wrote a page a day, by the end of the year you’d have your first draft. … And I said, ‘I’m going to do it.’
…Around the first of the year last year, I started writing a page a day. It turned out to be more than a page a day. … If you can break things into their most manageable, smallest, pieces, it really makes it less daunting. And by July of last year, I had the first draft done and then I worked a couple of months on editing it.
He worked on this book during the pandemic in 2020, he added, which helped keep him focused on the future during a trying time.
“It was really helpful to have this book to go back to every day, especially in the beginning parts of the pandemic where we thought this will just be a few weeks, a month…” he said. “It turned out to be a year … and it’s not really even still over right now. … Having this project to work on and then being so involved in not only writing it and editing it, but then trying to sell it… That really carried me through.”
Goldstein signed with his publisher, Hadleigh House, around Thanksgiving of last year, and his book will be available for purchase on August 17, with pre-orders available now.
Goldstein said that it felt like everything in his life seemed to lead up to this point.
“I felt like this was what I was supposed to write at this point in my life, just as a result of everything else that I had written and everything else that I had learned,” he shared. “And it just felt really organic and very joyful.”
He’s Already Finishing His Next Novel
Goldstein’s been hard at work since finding the publisher for his first novel. In fact, even though his first novel is just now being released this month, he’s already finishing his second novel.
“I’m almost done with my second novel,” he said. “I’ve been working on it since the beginning of this year, doing the same page-a-day concept. … It’s been a pretty busy year, but I’m going to finish it. It’s very different than this first book. It’s much more serious.”
Goldstein is hosting a number of virtual book signings in August. You can see the schedule here.
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