Joe Traum, ‘waking up to a new career, replaces real estate with writing

Joe Traum, ‘waking up to a new career, replaces real estate with writing

Secaucus resident Joe Traum finds special meaning in the lyrics of Billy Joel’s song “Piano Man” – especially the line, “Paul is a real estate novelist.”

Traum, retired real estate investment broker and author of the newly published suspense thriller “Waking Up,” says he always dreamed of being a writer.

In 2005, after concluding his final business deal, “the time had come. I finished work in March 2005 and in April joined the Gotham Writers Workshop.”

Joe Traum says research is crucial to his writing success. Courtesy Joe Traum

Before that, Traum hadn’t done much writing, although, he said, he wrote a chapter on property analysis in the nonfiction book “Shopping Centers and Other Retail Properties.”

“I had to come up with 10,000 words. It was fun, but difficult,” he said, adding that when he had a few minutes, he “pounded out a few words.”

As it happened, he wrote 5,000 of those words during a plane ride home from Portugal, although he doesn’t remember doing it.

“I drank Grand Marniers like orange juice” to calm down after a harrowing trip to the airport, he said. Thinking he had slept through the flight, he was surprised to hear from his wife that he had spent the time “writing furiously.”

Generally, though, his work style is less dramatic, although, he said, the research part is critical.

For example, he visited the Minnesota drug rehabilitation clinic mentioned in his book and did significant research on the Japanese mafia, which also figures in the novel.

“If you want your work to be honest, you have to go,” he said, adding that he chose to locate a section of the book in Japan because he knows the country well.

His last 13 years in business were at Nomura Real Estate, a large Japanese development company. His work took him to Japan often, enabling him, he said, “to gain an insider’s understanding of ‘the Japanese way.'”


Traum, a member of the Clifton Jewish Center, said that at least one major source of inspiration for his book came from a long-ago sermon by Rabbi Aryeh Gotlieb, then religious leader, now rabbi emeritus, of the Jewish Community Center of Paramus.

“He had one sermon I considered extraordinarily powerful; I hadn’t heard that take on Judaism before,” said Traum.

According to the author, Gotlieb spoke about the saying “forgive and forget,” noting that while the two words are always linked, they shouldn’t be.

“Forgiving is relatively easy,” he said, explaining that even though Moses was not permitted to enter the promised land after striking a rock in anger, “God forgave Moses his temper tantrum.”

But he never forgot, said Traum, recalling Gotlieb’s words.

The sermon stayed in his mind, said Traum, finding expression in the pages of his book, which he began writing in June 2006.

“Some authors will write and daven over every word until they have it perfect,” he said. “Some write and just keep going. Basically, for each chapter I knew what I would do because I had a detailed daily outline.”

In addition, he said, he had written a short story with a similar theme, “so I knew where I was going. On July 21, 2007, at 3:21, I shouted, ‘I’m done.'”

At a Clifton Jewish Center program last month, Traum joked that he didn’t make his protagonist, Michael Hayes, Jewish because “he’s not a nice guy.” He is, however, “someone we all knew growing up who we loved to play punch ball with; but then he began to separate himself,” ultimately looking down on former friends.

The book begins as Hayes receives a phone call telling him that his son has been kidnapped. When the boy is subsequently killed, Hayes sets out to track down the killer.

A former member of the JCCP – and a former resident of Paramus, Carlstadt, Teaneck, and Tenafly – Traum said he attends synagogue every Shabbat, where more than one congregant has asked, “‘When are you going on Oprah?’ A lot of them have read the book,” he said, “and their comments are meaningful.”

“When I found a publisher that wanted to buy my book, it was a wonderful moment,” he said, adding that he’s well into his second novel, based on an actual incident involving a suspicious death.

“Having a dream is a great thing,” said Traum. “But living it is so much better. If you think this is something you want to do, don’t just hope – go for it.”

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