Thursday, May 21, 2015

Me and New York Jack

by Stu Strumwasser

In the mid-eighties I was studying creative writing at Cornell and I was lambasted by one of my professors for having the audacity to write a story about a kid in Vietnam. I had apparently violated one of the cardinal rules of writing: “Write what you know” (I think that one is 72 dash B). The rule is valid of course, but I also know this: there is no fiction without imagination—or risk—and I’d rather fall off the edge of the world than never leave port. So perhaps, like so many things in life, what is necessary is balance.

My new novel, THE ORGAN BROKER, will be released on May 5, 2015. Somehow the fact that someone else—a legitimate publisher—deemed it good enough to print and share with others feels redemptive. In March of 2008 I had the idea for a unique, epistolary format within which to write this story. At the time, there were over 90,000 Americans on waiting lists for organs. I was trying not to attempt another novel which might never be published, when I decided that I needed to research the subject—not in an effort to somehow become a scientific expert but, rather, to simply become able to write about it in an informed and believable way—to eventually know something, so I could then write about it. I wanted to know something new. Something fantastic and gritty and provocative.

I began by interviewing organ transplant recipients, one after another, and networking my way to academic experts on bioethics and journalists who have covered the black market. The first stage of my research culminated at a lunch in Los Angeles with a transplant tourism director who shocked me both with the details of his career, and the incredible openness and candor with which he shared them. I left California with a bit of knowledge. I wrote the manuscript, re-wrote it, got a new agent, sold the book, edited, promoted… and now, two weeks prior to publication, it is about seven years since I began.

A lot’s changed for me during that time, and I’ve learned that a lot more has changed for those in renal failure. The waiting list for organs has ballooned, during just these last seven years, by around thirty-five percent, to over 124,000 names. Approximately eighty percent of them need kidneys and the average wait now exceeds seven years. Around twenty-one people will die today because an organ wasn’t donated in time.

In the acknowledgments of my book the first sentence reads: “It took me several years to write this book, but several decades to truly become a writer.” It did, after all. Perhaps it took that long to learn something that mattered. Please go to and register to be a donor.

Stu Strumwasser studied creative writing at Cornell University and went on to pursue dual careers on Wall Street and as a musician. In 2006 Stu left Wall Street and founded Snow Beverages to make natural soda. A passionate entrepreneur, Stu then co-founded Tengrade in 2011. is the social rating tool for the internet, mobile devices and social networks, providing users with “Real Ratings” from their friends and people like them, on anything. Stu was born in Queens, raised in Lynbrook, and now resides in Brooklyn, New York with his two school-age, identical twin sons. The Organ Broker is his first published novel. You can contact Stu at

Every day twenty-one Americans die while waiting for an organ transplant. A small portion take “transplant tourism” trips to third-world countries where they buy life-saving replacement body parts from organ brokers like New York Jack. This book is the incredible story of how he meets the son he never knew he had and then finds himself caught between a $2 million commission and his desire to avoid participating in a string of murders. He races to South Africa and Brazil, staying just a step ahead of his adversary and the FBI, while he searches for one small act of redemption. 

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