by Lou Mancinelli
“Oh, the blatherers on the TV, yes,” writes Eric Schoeniger, 46, in chapter 19 of his debut novel “The Teahouse by the Tracks,” (Createspace.com, 2011), set in the fictional town of Lower Slaughter, based on the real Ambler, PA.
“But not regular people,” the excerpt continues. “I sometimes hear people making veiled references to race — you know, kind of talking in code. But no one really ‘talks’ about it. I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever had a conversation about race with a black person or an Asian or an Indian, someone from India. Now what about you, Paula? Do people ever talk to you about race?”
“No, not really. I don’t think people are sure what I am anyway.”
The book, written last year at Schoeniger’s Lower Gwynedd home, is the story of five strangers who meet one another after unrelated traumas change their lives.
Janet Charbray, the main character of the novel, is a scatterbrained 62-year-old retired fifth grade history teacher who moves to Southeastern Pennsylvania from Plymouth, MA, after her husband dies. That is where on a whim she opens a teahouse called The Teahouse By The Tracks and meets the characters who come to illuminate the story.
There is Ann Firth, the also 60-something recent widow, Charles Grapnel, Janet’s landlord and neighbor, Ben Shriver, a shy young man who rents Grapnel’s attic, and Paula Pereira, a beautiful young Brazilian who faces deportation. The excerpt above occurs during a dinner party one evening at Grapnel’s home. Janet is speaking to Paula.
As the characters meet one another at Charbray’s teahouse it comes to be a place of refuge from the troubles and sorrow that have plagued the characters’ past and lingers over their uncertain futures. It comes to be the place where they go to talk. A sanctuary for free discussion.
The characters “feel that they can talk more about topics that might not get discussed in the broader community,” Schoeniger explained. After she opens the teahouse, Charbray, for example, begins to come into contact with members of different races she had not been exposed to before.
“I had a fairly rough idea of where I wanted the story to go and where I wanted to end up,” said Schoeniger about the process of writing the novel. “The rest is sort of improvisation.”
After transferring from Bucks County Community College and earning a degree in creative writing from Temple University Ambler in 1987, Schoeniger began to work as a proofreader in Horsham. That is where he met his wife, Jill, also a writer. Schoeniger worked full-time while he studied for his master’s degree from Temple, which he earned in 1991, also in creative writing.
In 1988, with college loans to pay off, he started as a copyeditor for “Digital Age” magazine an information-technology oriented zine, before working his way up to editor-in-chief. He stayed with that publication until 1997. In 1995, he founded “eNT”, a monthly trade journal that covered Microsoft technologies.
“My wife, Jill, and I married while I was in grad school,” he said. “I was already making progress in my career as a magazine editor, so I stuck with that for essentially the next 12 years. But I always sensed that I would return to creative writing, and by about 2005 or so I was spending more and more of my free time writing creatively.
“I had always wanted to be a writer, and always expected that I would write, but for some reason it never occurred to me that you could actually make a living as a poet or a novelist.”
After working for four years as the director of editorial services at Unisys, in 2000 Schoeniger left full-time corporate work to pursue professional freelance writing. During the past decade, he has written more than 100 feature articles, special sections, white papers, case studies and brochures. He has also written scripts for more than 50 marketing videos and more than 100 software demos.
For example, there is his 2004 article, “Transatlantic 100,” written for “UK & USA” magazine, published by the British-American Business Council, that looks at trade between the U.S. and the United Kingdom
“The relationship between the U.S. and the United Kingdom will remain the centerpiece of the transatlantic market,” he concludes the piece with, using a quote from one of his sources.
While today he continues to write articles and perform writing, consulting and custom publishing services, since 2005, Schoeniger has revamped a once dormant desire to write in the creative form.
In grad school, Schoeniger focused on poetry but these days writes more short fiction or novels. In addition to “The Teahouse by the Tracks,” Schoeniger has written two middle-grade children’s novels.
After unsuccessful attempts to publish his children’s novels and “The Teahouse by the Tracks,” Schoeniger opted to self-publish his debut novel through createspace.com, an Amazon.com affiliate. It was released Oct. 26.
“I think most writers and artists of any kind struggle with confidence,” said Schoeniger about believing in one’s abilities as a writer. “On the one hand, you must believe in your talents, or you wouldn’t keep trying to exercise them. On the other hand, it can be very difficult to get published, and that certainly undermines your confidence. I suspect that many of the writers who are successful are simply those who keep plugging away at it.”
“The Teahouse by the Tracks” is available online at Amazon.com (ISBN: 0615529607) as well as for the Kindle. For more information about Eric Schoeniger visit www.ericschoeniger.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 215-641-1949.
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