Title: Last Exit to Montauk
Author: Phillip Vega
When he approaches her at the market, he has no idea the next three weeks of his life would change him forever.
It’s the late 1980s, summertime, on the North Shore of Long Island. The air stirs with possibilities as it often does during this time of year.
And so, begins the romance between one Hispanic seventeen-year-old male, on the verge of manhood and ready to conquer the world, and one beautiful and intelligent young blonde woman named B.
It is much more than romance, though. B will forever become a part of this young man’s soul. He will never forget her.
This is a coming-of-age story, a love story, replete with milestones, tangled emotions, and adventures that are the embodiments of first love. Not just for the young, but for the young at heart.
The bowling alley was located at a strip mall near my house. We checked in with the guy behind the counter, who assigned us a lane, then gave us each a score sheet and a pair of really fashionable bowling shoes. You know the ones. Red and black separated with a white stripe down the middle, white soles, shoe size emblazoned on the back. To this day, they still remind me of clown shoes.
We found a couple of black bowling balls and put them in the ball return area. I placed the score sheet on our bowling desk and wrote our names down.
Back then we didn’t have electronic scoreboards, so you had to know how to keep score. You had to know the difference between a strike and a spare, how to score it properly, and what happened in the last frame if you threw one. Of course, each table had the rules written down, so if you didn’t know how to keep score, you could read the directions and learn the rules. It was bowling, not rocket science.
We were playing the best of three. Like tennis, the loser would buy pizza. “And don’t take it easy on me. I plan on winning again,” she warned me, grinning.
I laughed. “Oh don’t worry; I don’t plan on losing two days in a row. I hope you brought your wallet.”
I wasn’t much of a bowler and only played now and again. I was lucky if I broke a hundred, but don’t judge. How many famous Hispanic bowlers do you know? I bet you could rattle off a few hundred Hispanic baseball or soccer players though, right?
Besides, most kids in the neighborhood didn’t come to the bowling alley to bowl. We came to play video games. I remember when they got Ms. Pac- Man. Adults and kids would put their quarters down on the lip of the machine and patiently wait their turn. While you waited, you could play another video game, like Asteroids, or play pinball.
They had the classic pinball games like Kiss and Pinball Wizard. Today, it’s all about X-Box, iPads, Sony PlayStation, and online computer games. Man, times have changed. But that day, we were there to bowl.
She bowled first. She did a quick stretch, blew into her right hand, and picked up her ball. Before making her approach, she bent over and stared down the bowling pins as if to say, “You’re mine.”
What a view.
She inhaled, held it, and exhaled. Then in a very fluid motion, she took a few steps and released the ball, knocking down nine pins. She twirled around, smiling, and looked over at me, raising her eyebrows. “I hope you brought your A game!”
I just smiled back. Her ball returned, and she picked it up. She went right back to her previous spot and picked up her spare. She yelped and did a fist pump. She then turned around and bounced back to the bowling table as if it were no big deal. So, she can bowl. Who knew?
Maybe she got lucky. Yeah, that’s what it was—luck. Just like tennis yesterday. Luck.
“Do you know how to keep score?” she asked.
“Yeah, I know how to keep score. This isn’t my first time bowling,” I replied. It’ll only look like it.
We spent the rest of the afternoon bowling without a care in the world. Strike! Spare! Gutter ball! Seven/ ten split! Spare! We laughed. We high-fived. Most importantly, we had fun. We only played two of our best of three games. Yes, Charlie Brown lost again . . . sigh!
I just laughed it off. Besides, she had distracted me with her awesomeness.
“So where do you want to go for pizza?” she asked.
“I know a joint,” I joked.
Like most Long Island strip malls, this one had a grocery store, liquor store, card store, record store, Carvel ice cream parlor, drugstore, dry cleaner, Chinese food, and, of course, a neighborhood pizza joint.
On Long Island, every neighborhood has a locally-owned Italian pizzeria in every shopping center. You had Tony’s, Vinnie’s, Mario’s, Johnny’s, and an assortment of other places that were names ending in a vowel. The very best pizza on the planet, in my opinion, was our neighborhood’s local pizzeria—Giuseppe’s.
If you want to get into a pissing contest, make the mistake of saying your pizza place was better than someone else’s. You know the expression about never discussing religion and politics? Well, when you’re on Long Island, add pizzerias to the list. You will argue for hours.
When the pizza chains started to open up, people would order from them only if they didn’t feel like driving, or were in a jam; otherwise, people looked down their noses at those places. You never admitted to ordering from Domino’s, or being seen in Pizza Hut.
It wasn’t raining very hard, so we walked a few stores down to Giuseppe’s Pizzeria. We ordered a couple of slices each and Cokes and found a booth toward the back. And that was how you ordered it: “Let me get a couple of slices and a Coke.”
Back then, you didn’t have a great selection. You couldn’t order a Hawaiian slice or a Meat Lovers slice. Gourmet slices like goat cheese and truffles or escargot pizza were not yet in vogue.
For those of you wondering, yes, I was the one who once had eaten escargot pizza. Yes, it was awful, and yes, there was a girl involved. Fortunately, the girl I was trying to impress that day, still agreed to marry me the in the mid-’90s. The lesson I learned that day? Don’t be a shmuck! When in doubt, go with pepperoni.
Okay, back to the story . . .
“Did you let me win again?” B teased.
“You were there. Did it look like I let you beat me? Besides, you only beat me the last game by two pins. And I do recall someone coughing real loud as I threw my last ball. I’m not making any accusations or excuses, mind you, I’m just saying.”
She tried to hide her smirk.
1. If you could tell your younger self anything about writing, what would it be?
Start sooner! Don’t wait for a rainy August afternoon, where there’s nothing on television and you’re a bored 49-year-old to start writing. Start in your twenties. You had a voice back then, you should have used it. And enjoy the process!!
2. How did publishing your first book change your writing process?
Two-fold really. First, I’ve become cognizant of allowing the process to happen, and second, I’ve learned to analyze the quality of my work much earlier in the writing process, before the professional editing begins.
Regarding the latter, that’s one area my editor and now publisher, Janet Fix, at thewordverve, taught me as we edited my debut novel, Last Exit to Montauk. She would tell me, “If what you’re writing isn’t moving the story forward, then kill it. Trim the fat.” Together we reduced my original 800-page manuscript to 388 pages. Yes, that’s a lot of fat to trim
Regarding the former, I am still learning to manage my writing process. Ever since I sat down and started writing Last Exit to Montauk in August 2015, ideas have been flooding my mind’s eye. And it happens randomly. I’ll be walking around the grocery store with my wife, or driving to a client meeting, or waiting in line at the airport or Starbucks, and images will start playing like a video or movie in my head, including the audio.
It’s very surreal. With Last Exit to Montauk, it took me six weeks to write the book, and the story just played out in my head, like I was in a movie theater or watching Netflix or YouTube. I had to get the story from my head to “paper” or Microsoft Word, at almost a furious pace. Now, I’m taking my time. The images still flood my senses, but now I am learning to relax and enjoy them as they play.
3. What is your favorite underappreciated book?
There’s a novel called Joshua. It has nothing to do with my story, or even genre that I write in. It’s a novel I picked up in my church library while I was waiting to meet with someone there. It sat in the return bin, had a pretty cover, and I scanned the back-cover blurb to see what it was about.
Before I knew it, I was two chapters in . . . and I’m a slow reader. I checked it out that evening, and have since purchased my own copy, and have re-read it multiple times. It’s a beautiful tale about the impact the title character has on a small town. He seems to have come from nowhere and quickly becomes part of the community. His impact is immediate and simply awesome. I highly recommend it.
4. If you didn’t write, what would you do with your time?
Writing is a new venture for me. It’s either a fluke or my destiny, that I’m a published author; you be the judge. It just kind of happened on rainy August afternoon. My wife and I came home from grocery shopping. She went in the bedroom for a nap. I sat on the couch with my iPad and turned on the TV. Nothing was on, so I opened my iPad, saw the Notes application, opened it, and started typing a story that was playing in my head, which turned out to be Last Exit to Montauk. As I previously stated, six weeks later, I completed my 800-page manuscript and have been writing ever since.
If I didn’t write, I’d just live my life, no differently than I did in July 2015. A husband, father, friend, and software salesperson, which I still do for a living. Now, I can add “Published Author” to my list.
5. If you had to do something differently to become a better writer, what would it be?
Start younger. Of course, we didn’t have the same technology we have today, so maybe that wouldn’t have worked out as well, but I’ve certainly enjoyed the process since I began a couple of years ago. Aside from that, I wouldn’t change a thing . . . well, maybe get a more comfortable chair. And have a larger supply of gummy bears close by. It’s funny. As I’m reading this and answering your question, I’m reminded of that scene from Steve Martin’s movie, The Jerk.
“All I need is this lamp. That’s all I need. That and this chair . . .” and by the time he leaves his home, he’s dragging along a number of useless random items. That’s how I feel. The life I’ve lived so far has led me to the writer I am today. Will I be a different one this time next year? Probably, but I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m trying to just enjoy the process.
6. When did you first realize you wanted to be an author?
October 2015, when I finished writing my debut novel, Last Exit to Montauk. My wife and I were having dinner with friends, and we were having the “how’s work, how’re the kids, what’s new in your world” conversation. Between the work and kids portion, I mentioned to my friend, Carol, that I just spent the past six weeks writing a story.
She asked about my plans, and frankly I didn’t have any. I had no intentions of publishing it. I looked at it as a personal exercise. I didn’t know a thing about the publishing industry. Long story short, she had a friend, Russ Elliott, a published author, who worked with my now editor and publisher. After some browbeating from Carol, I got in touch with him.
He pointed me in Janet’s direction. Janet told me upfront she wasn’t accepting new clients at the time, but as a courtesy to Russ, would review my manuscript. A week went by, and I received an email back from Janet, telling me she loved my story and wanted to edit and, if it made sense, publish my manuscript. Fast forward to May 2, 2017, and I released my debut novel, Last Exit to Montauk.
So, it was sometime between October 2015 to May 2017 that I first realized I wanted to become an author, which still sounds funny to me.
7. Where do you get your book ideas and information from?
For Last Exit to Montauk, I drew on my hometown experiences. By that I mean, I grew up on Long Island in the 70s and 80s, in and around the areas referenced in the book. So, I used that as the backdrop. From there, the story just came to me, as is the case with other stories I’m writing.
The way my process works so far is sudden. What I mean is, I could be mowing the yard, listened to music or a podcast on my iPhone, or I’ll be driving to meeting a client, at the airport waiting for a flight, or sitting at the beach, and an idea will hit me very suddenly.
At first the idea will come, and then a video or movie will start playing in my mind’s eye, including the background noise and music, flooding my senses. If the idea sticks with me, I’ll either go home and start writing or, if I have my iPhone with me, I’ll open Word, and start typing away, right there and then. It’s a visceral experience, and one I’m still trying to figure out and manage.
8. What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating books?
The whole thing has been a learning experience, but the most surprising is how much fun I’m having. It doesn’t feel like work to me. I’m enjoying the whole process, from writing, to finding an editor and publisher, to going to print, and now marketing my book.
Again, this wasn’t on my personal roadmap. I never imagined having “published author” on my resume. I wasn’t “that guy.” I didn’t receive A-plusses in creative writing. I never really enjoyed reading books growing up, aside from comic books.
As an adult, I enjoy reading, but even now, I’d rather write a story, or watch a movie, video or program, than read a book. That’s horrible, right? I mean, here’s an author, trying to encourage people to go out and spend their hard-earned money to buy his debut novel, and he’s admitting he’s not a fan of reading. But that’s my reality, and, like Howard, I want to keep it real. That said…please buy my book! You’ll love it!
9. What is your favorite story that you’ve written?
That’s like asking me, which of my children is my favorite. I don’t have a favorite. Last Exit to Montauk is my first published story, so this certainly holds a special place in my heart, as does my first-born child. Like him, Last Exit to Montauk, is my “beta child.”
What do I mean by this? It’s a software expression. It means your first release. The one you practice on, make the mistakes with and learn from. As I’ve told my eldest son many times, “I’ve never had a (insert his age at the time of our conversation) before, so I’m kind of making it up as I go along.”
I think it’s why parents with multiple children treat the last born or youngest children with less kid gloves. With my first born, if he dropped his bottle, my wife and I would do everything shy of breaking out the hazmat suits and disinfect the area. By the time our youngest came along, when he dropped his bottle, we’d simply wipe it off on our already stained shirt, what I call a parent’s battle scar, and hand it back to him.
It’s not that I care less for my youngest. It’s just that my wife and I learned to relax, which is the advice, when asked, I give to all new parents. Relax. You’re not going to break them. They’re more resilient than you think. You made it this far. So, will they, with proper guidance and love.
This is how I feel about the sixteen (so far) stories I’m in the process of developing in one way or another, excluding Last Exit to Montauk, which we’ve already birthed. Relax and just write the story. Put on your music, turn on your fan, remove your distractions, get in your zone, and write. So far, this has worked out for me.
10. Do you hear from your readers? What do they say?
Yes, I do, and I love receiving feedback, both positive and negative, if it’s not personal, you know? I don’t want to hear that you didn’t like my glasses or the shirt I was wearing, which means I’ll start receiving mostly that type of feedback soon, due to Murphy’s Law.
I’ve had the good fortune of having a great beta team prior to releasing Last Exit to Montauk. They include my editor, siblings, extended family members, and close friends, as well as people I did not even personally know—other authors who were moved by my story. The feedback they provided me throughout the editing and publishing process was invaluable.
Since my release, the feedback has been tremendous. I couldn’t be happier with the feedback I’ve received so far. Below are a few examples from across social media, Goodreads, Amazon, and even YouTube, my first ever video blog review. Had someone told me in July 2015 that, in 2017, someone would post a glowing video review for my debut novel, Last Exit to Montauk, I’d have thought them crazy or asked them to pour me some of what they were drinking.
•”A romance that begins in the heat of a Long Island summer bares two young souls to new love, intimacy, and tragedy. Highly recommended!”
•Lawrence Kelter, bestselling author of BACK TO BROOKLYN, the sequel to My Cousin Vinny
•”Raw, real, and packed with heartfelt emotion, Last Exit to Montauk is a sentimental love story of a whirlwind romance that stands the test of time, spinning the perfect tale of the challenges and awkwardness of love at first sight. One minute you’ll laugh, the next you’ll reach for a tissue. Full of twists and turns, the unforeseen twist at the end wrenches your heart, leaving you breathless, and reminding us all just how precious life truly is. We all have but one life. The magic is found in living it.”
•Cheryl Bradshaw, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Sloane Monroe mysteries
•Absolutely loved this book! Could not put it down. Living on Long Island and growing up in the 80’s I could totally relate to this story. Highly recommend!
•I just finished reading Last Exit to Montauk by Phillip Vega. It flooded me with memories of coming of age on Long Island in the 80’s. A story of first love and summertime, it is a remarkable book that alternates between inducing fits of laughter, warm remembrances and tears. If you have any connection to Long Island or the 80’s, or if you want to know what it was like to be a teenager there and then, “run” and pick it up!
•Last Exit to Montauk is a story that will delight young adult readers and those who still recall the magic of their first love. Phillip Vega’s characters are memorable and the story is as exciting as it is entertaining.
•Reviewed by Christian Sia for Readers’ Favorite
•Last Exit to Montauk think Less Than Zero minus the drugs and sleaze, but with that same candor, the same “inside your head” walk through another person’s life, meets the Outsiders, with it’s personable characters and the hint of social awkwardness.
•Angie Gallion, Author, Intoxic
•YouTube Video Review: https://youtu.be/iif9Y6RQkOA
•Angie Gallion, Author, Intoxic
What People are Saying
“A romance that begins in the heat of a Long Island summer bares two young souls
to new love, intimacy, and tragedy. Highly recommended!”
– Lawrence Kelter, bestselling author of BACK TO BROOKLYN, the sequel to My Cousin Vinny
“Raw, real, and packed with heartfelt emotion, Last Exit to Montauk is a sentimental love story of a whirlwind romance that stands the test of time, spinning the perfect tale of the challenges and awkwardness of love at first sight. One minute you’ll laugh, the next you’ll reach for a tissue. Full of twists and turns, the unforeseen twist at the end wrenches your heart, leaving you breathless, and reminding us all just how precious life truly is. We all have but one life. The magic is found in living it.”
– Cheryl Bradshaw, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Sloane Monroe mysteries
“I loved the ’80s memories of Friendly’s fribbles, Spencer’s Gifts, the music, movies, etc. I have lots of family in Long Island and grew up going there all my life, and I feel like he nailed the Long Island ’80s vibe of malls and beach days. The book has great nostalgia for me, especially given the world we live in today with constant social media and everyone on their phones. It was a great escape!”
– Danielle Boniauto, early reviewer
“Vega’s account of first love is so authentic it’s hard to believe he wasn’t seventeen when he wrote it. Last Exit to Montauk will have you reminiscing about summers as a teenager and all the foibles and joys of those times. With references to the 1980s that ground you and an ending that doesn’t pull any emotional punches, this books keeps you turning the pages.”
– Elena Stowell, author of Flowing with the Go and co-founder of the Carly Stowell Foundation (www.carlystowellfoundation.countmein.com)
“It brought back some great memories of high school. I felt very ‘seventeen,’ which
was a fun way to feel during the week of my fiftieth birthday. I can’t even guess how many times I literally laughed out loud. I was expecting a great book and was definitely not disappointed.”
– Karen Nelson, early reviewer
“I loved the book and cried at the end. It was a wonderful heartwarming tale of an adolescent boy and his heart. I loved the characters and could relate, as I am a fellow Long Islander. The references to the 1980s are great.”
– Nancy O’Hara, early reviewer
Phillip Vega has always been a storyteller, but he’d never put pen to paper until a few years ago. Suddenly, he had a publishing contract, and amid the vortex of marketing, analytics, refining, and continuing to write, he discovered what he defines as his true calling, his passion. He is now fully and happily immersed in the whirlwind that is the publishing industry, even as he diligently continues his work in software sales.
Phillip is a Long Islander with Hispanic roots, now living Florida, and it is from those memories of summers on Long Island that he crafted his book, Last Exit to Montauk. Now he can’t stop his brain from working through new ideas for future stories.
His hobbies, aside from enjoying his ongoing work as a published author, include many of the other art forms: singing, performing, and reading. The beach is always home to him . . . and laughter, whether his own or someone else’s, is an unsurpassable joy that he embraces whenever possible.
Phillip lives in the Tampa Bay area with his wife, four sons and “two and a half dogs,” which are actually four dogs, but three are Chihuahuas while the fourth is a shepherd mix. So, he calls it at “two and a half.”
Lastly, he is comfortable in a room full of people or one on one, he welcomes opportunities for guest appearances, interviews, and book signings.
Phillip is available for book signings, author talks, and interviews.
Contact him directly through his website: www.phillipvega.com
You will also find him on numerous book and media sites, including:
Contact the publisher directly at:
Attn: Janet Fix