The Gospel According to Pinkwater | Books & Authors | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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The Gospel According to Pinkwater 

Last Updated: 08/07/2013 6:03 pm

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The family surname was minted on Ellis Island, probably an amalgam of Pinchus and Wasser. Philip Pinkwater was a rag man by trade, with a thick Yiddish accent. “My father took me to his office when I was little,” Pinkwater recalls. “I’d sit at his desk and play with the things in his desk drawer. He had two blackjacks. I asked why there were two. ‘Deh black vun is vit deh gray suit, deh brown vun vit deh blue suit.’”

Born in Memphis, Daniel grew up in Chicago, with several sojourns in Hollywood, where he attended a military school filled with children of movie stars and studio executives. His best friend was Sean Flynn, son of Errol; another classmate’s father worked for the Clyde Beatty circus, and invited him to dinner with the Faceless Man and the Fat Lady.

All this found its way into The Neddiad, perhaps the most widely accessible novel on Earth. Pinkwater made a groundbreaking decision to serialize it online, one chapter each week, starting nearly a year before publication. Unhappy with the marketing of his last two books, Looking for Bobowicz and The Artsy-Smartsy Club, he took matters into his own hands with The Neddiad. “I didn’t want to wait two years to have nobody read it. I wanted to have nobody read it now.”

Pinkwater was the first prominent author to serialize free of charge. (Some, including Stephen King, have released chapters on a pay-per-download basis, and aspiring authors may serialize to build buzz, but this was the first time a book already in the publication pipeline was previewed this way.) It seems an especially appropriate strategy for a novel that celebrates the golden age of movie serials and radio drama.

Long before Pinkwater started airing commentaries on “All Things Considered” (in 1987) and hosting “Chinwag Theatre” (1998-2002), he had a yen for broadcasting. At 17, he and some friends talked a Chicago TV station into letting them produce a variety show, “The Magic Toyshop with Uncle Otto.” “I was Uncle Otto, of course—the advantage to being Orson Welles is you get to give yourself the lead.”

Pinkwater attended Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, where he spent most of his time acting, smoking, and joking. One day, his father appeared in his dorm room. Channeling his dad, Pinkwater’s voice turns to gravel: “So I looked around, deh kids here is crazy. I talked to deh dean, I said, ‘Gimme two veeks, I’ll get dis place in shape for you.’” (The shell-shocked dean apparently reported, “He would’ve, too.”) Threatened with expulsion unless he stuck to something, Pinkwater majored in art.

After three years apprenticing with a Chicago sculptor, he decided to crash New York’s art world. His mentor’s parting words? “You’re not going to be a sculptor, you know.” Even worse, he told Pinkwater what he would be: a writer.

“Since I’m nine, everyone’s telling me I’ll be a writer,” he complains. “I didn’t want to be a writer. It’s a sissy occupation. I wanted to do things where you attack big stones.”

Artistic success eluded him. He taught art at a school for troubled teens and traveled to Tanzania. Back in New York, he met an editor at a party who needed artwork for a book of African folktales for children. She also needed a writer; Pinkwater wore both hats. Even after this first publication, “I didn’t think I was a writer. I thought I was a beatnik working a scam.”

In 1969, he married a fellow artist and teacher, Jill Schutz. They moved to Hoboken, where they lived for 12 years, eventually buying a loft building with an indescribably filthy restaurant downstairs. After its demise, the Pinkwaters, who’d joined the obedience-training circuit with an incorrigible Malamute, used the space for a dog-training program.

After years of dealing with canine and human eccentrics, they wrote Superpuppy: How to Choose, Raise and Train the Best Possible Dog For You. Its success paved the move to Hyde Park, where the animal population swelled to include an Icelandic horse and 11 cats. They’re currently planning a cat book—”There isn’t as much to know, but we know it”–and often collaborate as author and illustrator. “I basically do my thing and then hand it over to Jill,” says Daniel. “I get to make suggestions and she gets to top them.”

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