How Being Homeless Inspired a Beautiful Novel

Please welcome, Michael J. Sullivan  as he shares his personal journey that inspired his novel, Necessary Heartbreak: A Novel of Faith and Forgiveness.

At the end of Michael’s post, I have written my review of Necessary Heartbreak: A Novel of Faith and Forgiveness.

It’s a poignant, memorable and inspirational read.

I highly recommend this book for all ages. This book would make a great family read as it opens the lines of communication for a good discussion, especially for book clubs.

By Michael J. Sullivan

I remember vividly when I came close to my breaking point. My unwashed hair was grimy and my clothes smelled from having been worn for three straight weeks. I buried my unshaven face into my jacket as I stepped onto the E train, clinging to my green garbage bag of belongings. It was holiday time and the train was packed but it was my home at night during the winter of 1983-84. I was exhausted from walking so much, searching for a job. A seat opened up between two passengers and I sat down. A well-dressed woman gave me “the look.”

And I wrote.

Humiliated, I left the seat and stood by a pole near the end of the car, cringing in fear of another “look.”

I was desperate. I begged and applied for any part-time or temporary job, even washing my hair in a toilet at a nearby university after some friends spotted me attempting to use a sink. I was embarrassed and didn’t want anyone to find out my plight. I had graduated with honors, wrote for the school paper and many believed I would have a bright writing future. For some reason, I stayed in denial.

One night, exhausted from a day of walking from one end of Manhattan Island to the other, I rested at an eatery, letting my body finally relax. It had been a few days since I had actually slept. Within minutes I fell into a slumber, only to be woken up by a whack on the side of my chair by an angry lady and her umbrella. Once again, I got “the look.”

And I wrote.

No longer able to bear the freezing temperatures, I hid beneath a pew in a Queens church on New Year’s Eve and intentionally got locked in for the night. While others were toasting the arrival of 1984, I celebrated out of the cold with God.

And I wrote.

A few months later I was rescued from the train by my aunt and uncle. It was some 27 years later, Simon & Schuster’s VP Anthony Ziccardi felt strongly enough about my story that he agreed to publish the semi-biographical Necessary Heartbreak: A Novel of Faith and Forgiveness, which I had based in part on my homeless experience.

Since the publication of the book, I have been stunned and shocked to hear from so many people who have suffered the degrading experience of being homeless. I remember one particularly heartbreaking account from a woman who was living in a car with her daughter. Many in this country are only a paycheck lost from starting the cycle toward homelessness.

Today, I sit here in front of my laptop, warm with a roof over my head, one-half of a couple financially and emotionally responsible for a family of four. But we’re like many in this country today, a job loss away from finding ourselves on a slippery slope. I know there are others. I hear their cries and worries through emails and letters.

I hope there’s a better understanding of the problem, nearly three decades after I endured it. But I wonder. During a recent radio tour to promote my novel, one talk show host insisted I chose to be homeless.

No. I did not.

Despite great efforts, like many others, I was no longer able to afford to pay rent. Uncontrollable circumstances led me to the shelter of the E-train those winter nights: the loss of my mother from cancer just before I graduated from college the year before; a falling-out with my father with whom I’d always had a difficult relationship. What I learned from my winter of pain was that I wasn’t alone.

I worry today that because of the terrible economy that my story will become more common. I pray and hope it won’t be so.

So I write.

Michael J. Sullivan is an author living in New York. His first novel, Necessary Heartbreak: A Novel of Faith and Forgiveness was published by Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon and Schuster. He is currently working on the sequel.

Review by Selena Robins:

NECESSARY HEARTBREAK is an emotional, thought-provoking, entertaining story. Mr. Sullivan is a master storyteller who utilizes his creativity to reach out to his readers, draw them into a world that will move them with smiles and tears, pull at their heart-strings and send them back in time in a realistic manner—-a unique combination for a book in this genre.

For anyone who has suffered loss, endured loneliness, struggled with fear and anxiety, and anyone who has questioned the importance of their life, or the decisions they’ve made, they will relate to all the characters plight and motivation. This is the book’s strongest element, the way the author is able to tap into all these significant emotions in a realistic and compassionate manner.

Anyone who has lost a loved one will be able to relate to the challenges, and questions of the after-life this family has faced and continue to face on their journey of self-discovery, forgiveness, renewed faith and hope for the future.

Especially touching are the flashbacks–the love and devotion between a man and his wife, even after death, the deep seeded unconditional love and protectiveness a parent has for his child, a man struggling with his faith and his past, the conflict of new friendships, a sweet love story, enemies with challenges that seem insurmountable, and the tragedy of witnessing one of the most tragic betrayal in history. All these are well thought out, plotted and scripted, and for this reason the book is hard to put down.
Paperback Edition is On Sale at Amazon


5 responses to “How Being Homeless Inspired a Beautiful Novel”

  1. Thanks Selena for writing the review and allowing me a forum to discuss a very important issue, one that deepens as the economy still is in deep trouble in the US.


    1. You’re more than welcome, Mike. I hope the economy makes a turnaround, especially for those struggling to keep a roof over their heads.


  2. I must have missed something in reading “Necessary Heartbreak” I did not read about a man who was homeless. I read about a man who went back in time to Jesus’ time. The beginning speaks of riding the train, but I got the empression it was only for a short period of time, two weeks, maybe.
    I have walked in Homeless Shoes, or torn sneakers, and ‘do’ know what it like. In the end it taught me more about my fellow human beings I thought I could ever know. From Country Club living to Homeless Shelter living, was quite and eye opener for me. I wanted the plate passed from me, Some how some way, but I had no choice and had to live it. Sometimes when we go through the hardest parts of our lives, we learn what the best is in us. For instance: Things are just things, and nothing more. Living with black/hispanic/islanders, taught me people are really all the same, when it comes down to it. What’s important is we learn from it.
    I’ll read your book again, Mike. I’m sorry I didn’t see Homelessness in the story. I did like the story line, but found it very hard to follow.
    Only my own opinion.


  3. Rose,
    Many of the flashbacks were written when I rode a subway train for three weeks.While it was a short time compared to some, it was an eye-opening experience in which I’ve learned that everyone has different challenges and we are all human. The amount of time being homeless doesn’t diminish the emotional stress associated with it. And yes, one never knows until you walk in their shoes.. And you haven’t walked in mine nor have I walked in your shoes. I wish you the best of luck Rose on your book journey.


  4. I do want to add being homeless helped inspire the novel. Therefore, the accurate title of the headline. 🙂 Thanks again Selena for allowing me to discuss the issue.


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