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Bayside novelist pens holiday tale of crime and magic

Bayside author James J. Rush pulls off a holiday heist with his new novel “A Christmas Gift,” a seasonal crime story with supernatural elements he had originally written as a screenplay and then turned into a book with the aid of writer David Saperstein.

The novel, which was released in early October and is currently in its third printing, follows the tale of a 12-year-old girl with a magic touch who reconnects her family to her long-lost uncle who has been released from prison. But she must then keep her uncle from getting into trouble.

“It’s the story of a jewelry store heist on Christmas Eve that is thwarted by this girl who has magical powers she inherited from her grandmother,” Rush said.

The author, who has written four other novels, co-authored “Gift” with Saperstein, who wrote the novel on which the 1985 film “Cocoon” was based, after a screenplay version of the story never materialized into a movie.

Rush got the idea for the book from a New York Times story he read years ago, which detailed an elaborate, unsolved heist in Manhattan’s Diamond District along 47th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues.

“On Friday night, the merchants went home and someone lowered themselves through the roof,” he said. “The place was cleaned out and in the restroom there was a gaping hole where the medicine cabinet had been. That’s the genesis of my story.”

“A Christmas Gift” can be found at a number of book retailers, such as Barnes & Noble or Borders, as well as at Queens libraries.

Rush, who grew up in Woodside and Flushing before moving to Bayside 16 years ago, has written several novels, including the comedic “Cousin Harry” and the gritty Bayside-based crime story “Naked in the Streets.”

He said he is currently re-imagining his first effort, “Durner’s Spring,” a story about a virile farmer who sires 18 children and has the largest, woolliest sheep, attributing his luck to a spring on his property.

In the 1960s, the author founded his own advertising agency, which he ran for 16 years before leaving the industry to become a full-time author. Rush wrote a play, “Not a Way of Life,” which had a 12-performance run on Broadway in the 1960s and wrote a screenplay for a film called “Dublin Murders” that was released in Ireland in 1985.

But now, the writer is focusing solely on his work as a novelist. Rush, who writes his first drafts by hand and second drafts on a typewriter, said he does not follow the mantra of putting pen to paper every day.

“It’s an arduous task to sit down with a piece of paper,” he said. “You need to have self-discipline. Otherwise, it’s just dreams. Some days it just flows — four to five pages. On other days, I just get up and walk away disgusted.”

Rush said he is always bouncing new ideas around in his head, but only works on one novel at a time and is meticulous, often rewriting a page as many as six times.

“I have to hear it,” he said. “It’s like a melody. I can tell if there’s a wrong note.”

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at nduke@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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