Losing 20 years of work didn’t stop this Hill novelist


Students of classic literature may be aware that many great authors have lost full-length book manuscripts before their publication, long before there were Xerox machines, computers, or even carbon paper. As a result, years of research and writing simply disappeared. 

But perhaps the worst case was that of Thomas Carlyle, a brilliant Scottish historian and philosopher of the Victorian Age whose three-volume draft of  “The History of the French Revolution” was mistakenly thrown into a fireplace. Carlyle later wrote that he momentarily contemplated suicide but eventually got himself together and spent several more years rewriting the entire tome, which is now considered a classic.

This brings me to Ted Fink, of Chestnut Hill, author of six books including the recently released “The Long and Short of It,” a compilation of short stories, screenplays and personal reminiscences that he will discuss at 3 p.m., Sunday, June 9 at Hilltop Books in Chestnut Hill. 

In 1983, Fink stuffed three novel manuscripts, 30 short stories, 20 songs, and dozens of poems into an overnight bag and checked it onto a plane that he and his family were taking to Puerto Rico. The suitcase weighed 55 pounds and contained everything Fink had written over the previous 20 years.

"Back then," he told us last week, "I used a typewriter, but I was a lousy typist. I could never seem to get a clean copy, and I had no backup copies. My plan was to spend my entire three-week vacation sorting out all the work and to start sending out the ones I thought had merit to publishing houses, editors, agents, and literary magazines.

After Fink’s plane landed, the author waited for his luggage to come flying down the carousel. As the minutes passed and he continued to wait, panic set in. The bag containing 20 years of work never arrived, and Fink’s complaints to authorities were fruitless.

"I never did get any of it back," said Fink, who is also a recording artist and former host of  the Chestnut Hill Singer/Songwriter Slam. "GONE were 20 years of blood, sweat, and tears and 55 pounds of paper: the novels, stories, songs, poems, and screenplays. The only thing I got out of it was a great story called 'Where's the Bag,' which I told for years at theaters, clubs, bars." (The story is in Fink's first book, "The Tales I've Told," and an audio version is on his website.)

"At first, the loss of that bag stopped me from writing," Fink said, "but fortunately, I'm a persistent cuss and a storyteller, and that's why I love writing. And my Mac computer has saved me because I now always have a clean copy and can safely save everything I have written."

Fink, a musician and former host of the Chestnut Hill Singer/Songwriter Slam, has also performed at numerous Philadelphia theaters, clubs, private parties, and cafes as a musician and professional storyteller. A few years ago, he stood before an audience at Stagecrafters Theater for a one-man show that drew more than 300 people during its two-night run.

Fink's family moved to West Oak Lane when he was 12. He went to Wagner Junior High School, Germantown High School, Temple University, and Miami University. He earned a bachelor's degree in creative writing and a master's degree in educational administration. In 1981, Fink literally built the Chestnut Hill house he and his wife of 54 years, Ruth, have lived in ever since.

He also has an extensive restaurant background. Every summer starting in 1953, he worked as a busboy at a 20-room hotel in Atlantic City. Starting at age 16, he worked weekends as a banquet waiter in Philadelphia hotels, including the Bellevue, Warwick, and Sheraton.

In 1964, Fink built The Rib Ranch Restaurant on North 22nd Street, three blocks from the old Connie Mack Stadium, where the Phillies played their games before Veterans Stadium was built. He also took over La Terrasse on the University of Pennsylvania's campus in 1972 and opened Crickets, a rock 'n' roll nightclub, in Woodlyn, Delaware County, in 1989.

In addition to his new book, Fink is excited because he was recently contacted by a British radio station, Talking Stories Radio, "The UK's global No. 1 radio program for listeners and tellers of Tales, Myths, and Legends." They’re now broadcasting some of Fink's recorded stories to their global audience. 

 Hilltop Books is at 84 Bethlehem Pike. For more information, visit tedfink.com. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com.