My novel published yesterday. Here’s why I wrote it

My novel debuted yesterday. Here’s a post I wrote for SheReads:

If you’d told me five years ago I’d publish a novel and shoot a TV pilot in the same month, I would have laughed.

If you’d told me they’d both be about faith, I’d have laughed so hard I’d have the hiccups for hours.

No one I know would describe me as religious. I was raised Catholic and practiced into my 30s, but Catholics—we’re private about our faith. Forget the yells and bells of more expressive denominations; we barely manage to mumble the liturgy in Mass. We don’t thumb the Bible on the subway. We don’t praise Jesus in polite conversation. We’re outed once a year by that smudge of ash on our foreheads.

And yet.

In 2008, my mother died. She died after a long and valiant battle with cancer, each step of which my siblings and I witnessed in ever heightening despair. Nine months later, our father died of a broken heart.

My parents were the root of my faith. My father was a former Catholic priest who removed the collar to marry my mother, who had in turn converted from Buddhism. They taught me all I knew of faith and love. They remained devout till their last. As I sat weeping by her bedside at the hospital, my mother said to me: “Remember this. You are not alone. You always have Him.”

When they died, I felt forsaken.

I quit my job as a staff writer at Time magazine, and my career in journalism. Inspired by an article I had written for Time, I began Pastors’ Wives, a novel about three women whose lives were defined and dictated by faith, married as they were to pastors at a Southern evangelical megachurch. I imagined their dreams and frustrations, their trials and triumphs.

After the novel sold to Penguin/Plume, I wrote a TV pilot inspired by my father called “The Ordained.” It’s about a priest who becomes a lawyer in order to protect his family, a New York political dynasty. It was bought by CBS last fall, and we just wrapped shooting in April. We’ll find out in mid-May if it will be picked up for series.

We writers have the great privilege of writing through our issues. My crisis of faith led me to write stories that, in their recording, led me to a kind of peace.

But I’d gladly trade that for just one more sunset at the Jersey shore, joking and laughing with my family, holding my parents’ hands.

Mom and Dad

This is my mom and dad. I miss them every day.

Our CBS pilot is finished. Now we wait.

The pilot for “The Ordained” is edited. It’s been cut and tightened, sound-mixed and color-corrected, tested and noted. It’s possible I’m slightly biased, but it. Looks. Great.

Now, we wait. Some images from the past couple of weeks:

The editing happened in Studio City, on the CBS lot. We didn’t get out much. One time I took a walk here, near my hotel. But mostly we spent a lot of time in the dark.

Universal City Walk

The mixing happened on the Paramount lot, in the Technicolor building. People get around on these golf cars because the lots are freaking huge. Also, in L.A., it’s against the law to walk. That’s a joke.

Technicolor

The lots have a bunch of sets and equipment from other shows.

Glee set

How cool are these control boards? The veteran sound engineer showed me how each column controls a different sound: every actor’s audio, including background; street sounds; music. With one punch of a button or tweak of a dial, he can emphasize a word of dialogue or the bark of a faraway dog.

Mixing room

One important part of post-production was obtaining ADRs, or automated dialogue replacement. In the editing process, you might realize a word sounds garbled, or maybe you need a new line to clarify a scene. The actor then goes to an ADR station where he or she records that line again. There are tricks to keep it from looking like a badly dubbed kung fu movie—like cutting to another actor during the line, or maybe to the back of the speaking actor’s head.

So now we wait. We hear nothing, nothing at all, until the upfronts in mid-May. That’s when the networks hold big parties in New York to announce their line-up for the coming fall. If we get picked up, you’ll hear me hooting and hollering from wherever you are in the world. If we don’t, you’ll hear nothing, nothing at all, until I emerge from my deep, blue funk.

(If you like, please follow me on Twitter at @lisacullen or friend me on Facebook for more frequent updates. And please check out my novel, “Pastors’ Wives,” debuting from Plume/Penguin on April 30!)

What it’s like to shoot a TV pilot in New York City in March

Cold, is what it’s like. Cold. It’s cold.

We just wrapped three weeks of shooting our pilot, “The Ordained,” for CBS. We’re about to tunnel into post-production, or editing. Here are some images from the shoot.

Emma Lazarus house

Someone actually lives here.

Our first day of shooting was at this breathtakingly beautiful brownstone on West 10th Street. As gorgeous as it is outside, it’s even more so inside. Our crew stepped gingerly around priceless art and period furniture while the rest of us stamped our feet outside. The temp never quite hit 30. We were cold.

I wrote a scene taking place in the New York Public Library, where it’s prohibitive to shoot. So our genius of a location manager found this place, the Surrogates Court downtown near City Hall. Heard of it? Me neither. Take a look at that marble. You see where it’s peeling up top? That’s because the builder skimped by painting the walls instead of using real marble. I love learning that kind of stuff. We found records upstairs going back to the 1700s.

Yonkers courthouse

The Yonkers courthouse. You heard me.

We shot our court scenes in the ceremonial courtroom in Yonkers. There’s a stained-glass skylight and mahogany walls and it looks crazy good on film. Also, it was warm.

Judge's chambers

We needed a judge’s chambers, and the real one was too small. So our brilliant art director designed a new one, and the crew built it in the corner of the courtroom.

Lisa in video village

Oh, that’s me.

Every day, our hard-working crew built what’s called Video Village—the area where the producers lurk and watch what’s being filmed and occasionally squawk loudly. Those earphones on my head are called cans.

Movie camper

This is what happens when you write a small role and you neglect to give the character a real name.

Crew saves cat

Our crew: heroes.

A stray cat adopted us on the day we shot on Gerard Avenue in the Bronx. Then the cat proceeded to get stuck in a tree. Our props folks rescued it. Yet another reason to root for “The Ordained”! P.S. It was cold.

Federal courthouse NYC

We shot here on another cold, cold day. That was the day I leaned too close to the portable heater and my down jacket caught fire. I’m not kidding. But you know who had it worse? The poor extras, who were dressed, as my script dictated, for early fall.

Feingold, Ping & Nunez

We shot our law-firm scenes in the offices of an investment bank on Wall Street.

Fake elevator

We needed to shoot an elevator, so you know what? Our crew built one. This elevator is fake.

The Ordained cast

Our very tired and very talented cast taking a hard-earned e-mail break.

Set

This is our main character’s apartment building. IT’S TOTALLY FAKE. But it’s so real.

Capitale fundraiser

We shot our political fundraiser scene in this old bank on the Bowery. The 200 extras were tired, but at least they weren’t outside.

Father Santo

We shot a baptism scene in the jaw-droppingly beautiful St. Ignatius Loyola on Park Avenue, suggested by my husband (thanks, honey!) because he’d played concerts there. That’s me with the lovely Friar Santo, our on-set consultant.

Dead crew

And it’s a wrap for “The Ordained.” Sadly, some of our crew did not make it.

Please follow me on Twitter @lisacullen or friend me on Facebook for more updates. And please buy my novel—it debuts April 30! xoxo

We’ve prepped. We’ve cast. Now we shoot the pilot.

We just wrapped six weeks of prep for our pilot. We’ve cast the actors, scouted the locations, built the sets, selected the wardrobes. I watched our stars sit around a table and read my script aloud for the network. I’m exhausted, I’m nervous, in all truth I’m a wreck. But I’m ready. We start shooting THE ORDAINED on Monday.

Following are some scenes from prep:

Audition room

Casting is hard. Auditioning is harder.

Balls. Of. Steel. After sitting through round after round of auditions, I’m now convinced that’s what you need to be a working actor. You come in, say hi to the people who may or may not hire you, you pretend to be someone else for a few minutes, then you leave. And wait. Yep. Balls of steel.

Bus

Tech scout bus.

Last week, our staff and crew traveled around in this bus on the tech scout. That’s when we visit every single location plus our stages in a sort of dry run to make sure we’re maximally prepared. Electricians checked wiring. Prop masters discussed where pencil stands would go. Art directors measured door openings. Cameramen blocked shots.

Sign THE ORDAINED

Follow the arrow to our offices.

Maybe the most mind-blowing moment of this process was walking into a brick building in Brooklyn and discovering an expansive set of offices dedicated to our pilot. It’s a teeming hub of production coordinators and assistant directors and art directors and location managers. There’s even an accounting department (I don’t know why, but that impressed me most). It’s an operation. And big, humming operation that rose up out of a story I wrote.

As a writer, I’ve never thought of myself as a job creator, though I suppose you could argue content is what keeps the magazine and book industries alive. Still, I always felt like a skinny spoke in a massive wheel. Now I’m something more like the engine. It’s a wee bit terrifying.

Wardrobe

Ties and shoes and belts and hats and…

A big part of creating a world is dressing your actors to fit their parts. I had no idea what a gigantic effort this is. Our brilliant wardrobe designer and her assistants began with concepts for each character—is he young? Rich? Casual? Flashy? They gather our stars’ measurements and then they SHOP. Our world is luxurious and powerful; so are our clothes. The selection fills a small warehouse.

Set

Our interior set.

Here’s another moment that blew me away: walking into a drafty building and into our stages. Much of our filming occurs on location, but a few interiors have been built indoors. It’s one thing to find existing spaces that are allowing us to shoot; it’s another to create one from scratch.

Director's chair

The man with the plan.

Now it comes down to this guy. On the Friday before we begin shooting, his documentary, “The World According to Dick Cheney,” debuted on Showtime. He’s a remarkable director and a remarkable man, and we can’t possibly be in better hands.

Casting a TV pilot is no picnic

You’d think this would be the fun part.

My emotions thus far in casting our pilot: bemused > tickled > confused > fascinated > overwhelmed > tired > baffled > frustrated > hopeful > bereft > furious > cynical > surprised > thrilled.

The first time someone asked me who I saw in the roles I wrote, I laughed. Because I didn’t see actors in my roles; I saw characters. Truth is, I don’t really follow actors. It’s hard for me to remember their names. I enjoy flipping through People magazine as much as the next girl, but I can’t rattle off the cast of “The Office.”

The roomful of network execs turned to me, and they didn’t laugh back. I realized I had to get an opinion—and fast.

Star

Stars!

Our two top casting agencies (one in L.A. and the other in New York) put together lists of actors for each of the lead roles, categorizing them by who was “technically” available, and where they were based. We producers were to cherry-pick the ones we liked.

This seemed like a silly exercise. How would we know who would be interested in a particular role in my particular script? Shouldn’t they read it first?

Nope—not how it works. Most Famous Actors, and even some Not That Famous Actors, are “offer only.” That means they won’t even consider the script unless there’s an actual offer on the table.

Even if they read and like the script, lots of other factors come into play. Can the actor commit to a grueling network schedule? Does he or she want to work in New York, where we plan to shoot? Is the role big enough? Will we meet their quote?

Here are the entities who have a say in the decision: a) the network; b) the studio; c) the actors’ reps; d) the casting directors; e) the producers (including me); f) and, finally, of course, the actor him- or herself.

Star on red carpet

This is probably the fun part.

In a number of these situations, it comes down to a meeting or call. And I’m as surprised to tell you as you may be to hear that I am called on to play the closer. While the other producers do the heavy lifting of dealing with agents, negotiating and hammering out the deal, I trot out to talk to the actor to explain the story, the character, my visions of the trajectory.

I leave my soul on the table every time. So when it doesn’t work out, for any of a million reasons, the loss feels awful personal.

But when they say yes? It’s brilliant.

 

Location scouting for my pilot

I spent the last two days in a van driven by a Teamster with eight other people, scouting locations for my pilot. It was raining. The van kind of smelled. It was a total blast.

Times Square

The view from a location we scouted.

We’re shooting in New York City. This is no accident. I threw one after another iconic landmark and character into my script because I hoped this would force the issue. It’s a New York story! You can’t fake Times Square on some Hollywood lot!

Shooting in New York means a New York production staff. Who knew so many accomplished TV and film professionals live and work here? (Oh, you did? I didn’t.) Some have theater backgrounds; all just like it better here than in L.A. They don’t want for work, either. Their lists of credits are looong.

We trooped after our location manager into office buildings and churches and private residences and a courthouse. One law firm we visited would let us shoot while they work; one townhouse owner scooted away her daughter’s toys as we tramped from room to room. It’s not for free; each location demands a fee, and a hefty one at that. I suppose it’s one way to make your mortgage, but can you imagine letting strangers invade your beautiful home?

The best part was the van gossip. They’ve all worked with each other over the years on various projects, and when your colleagues are celebrities, there’s a lot of intel to trade. Even the van driver had stories. These guys know where all the bodies are buried.

Some things I learned during location scouting:

• If you’re shooting in March for a scene set in late summer, you’ll need special effects to color Central Park’s trees green.

• Likewise, if your script would force your poor actors sit outside in March on a fire escape in underwear, you’ll probably have to build that set indoors.

• Even if the scene is set in a small space, like, say, a starter apartment, you still need a ton of room for cameras and crew.

• New Yorkers get really pissed when you shoot near their homes. I know this from when we lived on the Upper West Side and we’d curse “Law & Order” for hogging all the parking on our street.

• The City has rotating “hot zones” where you’re not allowed to shoot. This is supposed to give residents in popular areas a break, but often a zone might magically sprout up in a VIP’s neighborhood.

See? Fun.

Yet another post in which I promote my novel, this time under the guise of an author Q&A

I hate chain letters. I mean I really hate them. I find them obnoxious and annoying and creepy. Also I resent the threat of eternal damnation for breaking the chain. I may be damned, but it sure as hell isn’t for failing to forward some stupid letter.

But this chain letter is different. Different because it came from someone I respect: Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, author of “A Tiger in the Kitchen,” her memoir of growing up and cooking in Singapore. She was also a fashion reporter for the Wall Street Journal. So she cooks and dresses fancy. Some husbands have all the luck.

Why was this lovely and accomplished person forwarding me a questionnaire about my work habits? Because writers need help. Let’s admit it. We spend day after day shut in from society with our weird ideas and delusions of grandeur, but at the end of the day we need to sell what we produce. And that’s the point of this exercise.

So I will continue this chain without complaint. Without much complaint. It’s called The Next Big Thing. I don’t know who started it, and I’m too lazy to find out. Following is the Q&A, in which I, like many writers before and after me, answer questions nobody asked me about my current work. If you value your time, please skip it and go straight to the part where I tag five other writers I like very much.

What is your working title of your book (or story)? “Pastors’ Wives.” Pre-order on Amazon!

Where did the idea come from for the book? It was inspired by an article in TIME magazine. That I wrote. I am not yet good at lifting other people’s ideas.

What genre does your book fall under? Women’s commercial fiction. In other words, if you only read Hemingway and Vonnegut, keep moving.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? Oooo. As Ruthie, the skeptical outsider new to the Southern evangelical megachurch that hired her husband: Emma Stone! As Candace, the fierce, powerful wife of the senior pastor: Alison Janney! As Ginger, the lonely wife with a hidden past: Jessica Chastain! Wait a minute. That’s the cast of THE HELP. (In truth: any actress with her own production company, the funds to option and with the clout to get a studio to greenlight.)

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? “Pastors’ Wives” follows three women whose lives converge and intertwine at a Southern evangelical megachurch. No, no, that’s boring. Let me try again: “Pastors’ Wives” is a passionate portrayal of the private lives of pastors’ wives, caught between the consuming demands of faith, marriage, duty and love. There.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? My publisher is Penguin/Plume.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? The date on the Word document titled PASTORS’ WIVES FIRST DRAFT is September 2009. Many complications ensued. I turned in a final draft to my agent in December 2011. I would say most of it was hacked out over 2011.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? “The Help,” by Katharine Stockett. “Fly Away Home,” by Jennifer Weiner. “Belong to Me,” by Marisa de los Santos. All of those books alternated the story lines and perspectives of three characters. It is mere coincidence that they also sold like hotcakes.

Who or what inspired you to write this book? While reporting for TIME magazine, I met and interviewed pastors’ wives whose stories stayed with me. What struck me most was their honesty. They shattered my preconceptions about these sweet ladies who supported their minister husbands above all. No—they were lonely, intelligent, wistful, opinionated. Almost all of them wished their husbands weren’t pastors at all. Yet they remained devout. I marveled at their faith, their sense of duty, their love for their husbands and God. The question that became central to my novel popped into my head: What’s it like when the man you married is married to God?

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? It is told entirely in limericks. No! It’s not. It’s set in a world you may know well or not at all, about women you may recognize or not at all. I love my Ruthie, Candace and Ginger with all my heart. It would make me so happy to introduce you. (Pre-order on Amazon!)

Now here’s the part where I tag other writers. Not it!

I met Julie Gray when I fan-mailed her after stumbling upon her website. Julie is a screenwriting guru to students and writers around the world. So I was delighted and surprised when she replied and invited me to lunch on my next trip to L.A. We cemented our friendship over martinis in New York. Her website is called Just Effing Entertain Me, and it’s an awesome resource.

Julie recently introduced me to Margaux Froley. Margaux is a Los Angeles–based television and YA fiction writer. Her first novel, “Escape Theory,” comes out March 12. Margaux says that when she’s not writing, she can be found “hiking in the Hollywood hills and practicing Tae Kwon Do with her nunchucks.” I have no idea what that means, but I like the way it sounds. Check out her work here.

I think I fan-mailed Rebekah Sanderlin too. (For someone who hates chain mail, I appear not to have any compunction about cold-calling other writers with gratuitous gushing.) I admire the blunt and candid style with which Rebekah writes on military and family—and military family—issues. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Self, Maxim, and a whole slew of impressive titles. But I think the medium where she proves her genius is Facebook. This is her website.

I met Lauren Sandler at this kaffeeklatsch of writer moms in New York. Which sounds cozy, but honest to John it’s the most high-powered group of writers, and I’m always thrilled but utterly intimidated to attend. Lauren was warm and high-larious and we hit it off right away. That’s not to say she’s not scarily accomplished. Her new book draws on her experience as an only child and the mother of one. Because it’s Lauren, you know it’s going to be brilliantly reported, beautifully written—and controversial. Her book comes out in June. This is her website.

Bee Ridgway I met through our mutual editor at Penguin. Her time-travel novel (!), “The River of No Return,” will be published by Dutton/Penguin this spring. Lauren Willig, author of “The Pink Carnation” series, describes the novels as “A compelling race through time in a historical world turned upside-down. Take time travel, intrigue, a vast conspiracy and a wicked way with words, shake and serve.” Here’s her site.

 

What I wrote in the farewell letter when I quit my job in 2009

One thing that happens when you have big news is that you hear from people you haven’t heard from in never. For a shut-in, this is a nice change from the usual inbox garbage. It’s pleasant to be thought of, isn’t it?

If it’s someone I once knew, it’s interesting, archeologically speaking, to read the correspondence that preceded this one. That’s how I came across the farewell letter I had e-mailed to colleagues at TIME magazine when I departed in 2009.

Let me set the scene. I had worked on staff at TIME for eight years, and before that at Money for four. Which means I’d called the Time-Life Building my work home for 12 years, minus the two I spent in the Tokyo bureau. I knew everyone in the building, including the guards and the daycare workers. (Time Inc. had emergency daycare. I know!)

Time-Life Building

This is where I worked for 12 years.

I loved my job as a staff writer at TIME. I still believe it was one of the last, great jobs in journalism. (Not to mention the emergency daycare. Come on!) And yet, it was time to go.

For the last few of those years, I’d had my own blog on Time.com, one covering work-life topics called Work In Progress. It’s fair to say it had become the highlight of my job. It’s even fair to say that in writing the blog, along with my first book, I learned how to sound like me.

I had no flipping idea what I was going to do next. The TV drama I had been developing had gotten pitched and sold by my producer—without me. I had a flurry of offers—one of them, inexplicably, an on-air gig at CNBC—each for a whole lot less money, each requiring a whole lot more work.

Meantime, a lot of life stuff was going on. I’d just had my second child. Then my mother died. And my father was on his way.

What could I have been thinking, quitting the cushy job with which I kept my growing family off government cheese? What kind of farewell letter would such a desperate slob have written?

This, it turns out, is what I wrote:

“I want to let you know that I volunteered for a buyout from TIME. I shall now answer your FAQs:

Q: Why are you leaving?

A: A staff writer post at Time Inc. is one of the last, great journalism jobs, and I had a 12-year run. I’ve written about wacky funerals (which led to this book) and fried-chicken empires and how I find environmentally correct behavior a huge pain in the butt. I’ve tried absolutely every item in the cafeteria salad bar. It’s time to venture out of Rock Center.

Q: What will you do next?

A: I have one skill: writing. That’s it. I can’t add. I can’t tap dance. I can’t lift heavy objects. I’m hoping someone somewhere will pay me to write something. Limericks. Eulogies. Subtly poetic menus.

Q: What about your blog?

A: “Work in Progress,” my beloved if under-appreciated Time.com blog, shall not be reincarnated as “Out of Work in Progress.”  If you’ll indulge me, I’ll send another shameless promo when I find my new blog a home.

Q: How should I contact you with congratulatory food stamps or suspiciously lucrative opportunities?

A: Please write me at lisa dot cullen at gmail dot com. If we are not Facebook-linked, please friend me. I need friends.

I’m wishing you a very healthy, happy and rewarding 2009. Your friend, Lisa Takeuchi Cullen”

That was it. Phew.

What happens when a network orders your pilot

So I’m sitting on the couch at 8:30 on Friday night, reading. The kids are in bed. My husband is beside me, K.O.’d by the flu.

The phone rings. It’s my manager. I know it’s not going to be about my pilot. The network has only ordered Jerry Bruckheimer’s drama so far, the one starring Toni Collette. It still has four other big-name “commitment” projects to announce before it gets around to deciding on no-name hopefuls like mine.

My manager has assured me we won’t hear until next week, but that the team is still “cautiously optimistic.” I don’t know why. We’re up against 60 other drama pilots. It’s the first pilot I’ve ever sold.

On the phone he says, “Hold on.” Then I hear a lot of beeps and background voices as he conferences in our producers, our studio execs, and then, finally, the network.

That’s how I learned CBS had picked up my pilot.

To be honest, the conversation after that is a blur. There were a lot of congratulations and thank yous. I do remember someone mentioning the name of a legendary star who is being considered for a leading role, after which my brain exploded.

I woke up my husband. He managed a weak, “That’s great, honey—I’m so proud of you,” before he passed out again.

So I went to Facebook, as you do. I told friends that CBS had picked up my pilot. Which is the language my team had used.

As little as I know about the TV business, apparently my friends know even less. I am still getting texts asking what time they need to set their DVRs. So, here, an explanation, courtesy of TVLine.com:

When a network orders (or “picks up”) a pilot, they’re asking its writers/producers/studio to cast and produce a very close facsimile of what their series’ first episode will look like. Each pilot is reviewed by network brass, and then typically put into testing before a decision is made on whether it will land on the schedule (for fall or midseason).

That’s what happens next. We shoot the pilot. And only the pilot. Which will only ever air if the network sends it to series.

Meantime, there’s lots to do. First we cast and hire actors, a director, and many other people whose functions I still have to learn. We started talking lead actors a while ago, and the discussions always made me giggle. It’s weird to think of someone famous playing a role named after my dad.

On my end, I need to cut ten pages from my script. Ten pages! A producer from CBS’s THE GOOD WIFE was kind enough to clock my script for us, and that’s what we need to bring it in on time.

So here I sit in my attic office in freezing-cold New Jersey (19 degrees!), fussing with my script, nipping here, tucking there. Just like I’ve been doing these past few years, writing in cozy obscurity. Hollywood (82 degrees!) seems very far away—and a significant part of me wants to keep it that way. But change, it’s a-coming.

My CBS pilot was inspired by my dad. This is him.

In case you haven’t heard me hollering, CBS ordered my drama pilot, THE ORDAINED. Here’s the write-up in Deadline by Nellie Andreeva (“The back story of Cullen’s project is the kind aspiring writers dream of”—if you dream of ulcerative colitis!) and the one from the Hollywood Reporter.

As Deadline reports,

the essence of the lead character inspired by her late father, a former priest.

This is true. So I thought I’d introduce you to my dad.

His name was Tom Reilly, and he was an ex-priest. My character’s name is Tom Reilly, and he is an ex-priest.

I am not yet so good at making stuff up.

Thomas J. Reilly, priest

This was Father Tom Reilly, before he became MY father.

My dad was born in 1933 in Philadelphia, the second of six children. My grandfather, his father, was an Irish-American lawyer who ran for district attorney but lost. My grandmother, his mother, was of Cuban descent.

In my pilot, Tom’s father is an Irish-American former governor of New York who ran for President but lost. Tom’s mother is of Cuban descent.

Making stuff up is hard.

My dad left the priesthood in his mid-thirties to marry my mom. In my show, Tom leaves the priesthood in his mid-thirties to try to save his sister, the mayor of New York City, from an assassination plot.

So I made THAT up.

After he quit the priesthood, the real Tom Reilly went into advertising. The made-up Tom Reilly goes into the law.

See the difference? I can do this.

Tom Reilly spent the next forty years in Japan, raised four kids, ran his ad agency, made everyone he met laugh, and remained a devout Catholic to his last. That last came in 2009, nine months after my mom died of cancer. Near as any of us can figure, he died of a broken heart.

I don’t know yet what the future holds for my Tom Reilly, the one in my head. I have so many adventures plotted for him, twists and turns, tragedies and triumphs, maybe a broken heart or two. All I know is he’d be damn lucky to live a life as rich as the real-life Tom Reilly’s. We all would.

So here’s to the resurrection of Tom Reilly. May he yet live.