By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD
News & Journal Editor
If we were to list the titles that follow Clarksburg native Jim Fragale’s name, they would be many: writer, journalist, author, record-producer, songwriter, blogger, and perhaps a few others.
A New York resident since 1964, Jim now concentrates mostly on identifying himself as an “author” and is in the final stages of getting his fourth book ready for print by December of this year.
The progression of his life is an interesting story – one that is perhaps somewhat visible in the trio of books he has already published. He says his books fall into the category of ‘memoir/fiction’; in other words, the story line follows some of the author’s real experiences, but the names and settings may be different with some fiction added to the story as well.
Looking back at the early stages of his life, Jim recalls being a newspaper delivery boy in neighborhoods located near the old Hazel-Atlas plant in Clarksburg years ago. He remembers working at Kinney’s Shoe Store in Clarksburg as a teenager. As a student at WI High School in Clarksburg, he joined the journalism class and became a photographer, then sports editor and a “secret columnist” for the school newspaper, ‘The Hilltopper’. That is what “whet his whistle”, he says, and stimulated his dream to become a writer.
After graduation, Jim proceeded to the University of Miami in Florida to study journalism. His college roommate was Sam Bonasso, an engineering major who grew up in Wyatt. Carrying a full load of classes and working a job to help make ends meet didn’t allow Jim much time to participate in much else. He ultimately returned to his home and transferred to Salem College, graduating with a degree in English because the school didn’t offer journalism at the time.
To say that he took off for the ‘Big Apple’ shortly after graduation would be an understatement! Jim explained, “I took my last college exam one morning and was on a 3 p.m. flight to New York City that afternoon!” He’s been there ever since.
While it might not seem quite so daunting today, back in the early 60’s it must have been a little frightening to take off on your own for a foreign city with millions of people hustling about after growing up in a much quieter West Virginia environment. But it didn’t seem to bother Fragale much, who says he found a lot of temporary jobs to allow him to exist as a newcomer to city life. Among his first jobs was employment at the World’s Fair.
“My quick typing skills came in handy,” he said. “I was hired to type messages that flashed across electronic signage at the fair, telling people what was going on and where to go.”
Describing himself in his early 20’s as being appealing and personable, Jim was found “interesting” by those he met and was soon invited to parties which often included some well-known names and faces.
“Since I was accepting a lot of invitations, one of the first things I did was to go to Brooks Brothers and purchase a suit or two so I would look presentable. That networking may have opened a few doors for me, and instead of being weeded out from that crowd, I stayed and ultimately made it. But I was persistent along the way,” he added.
All of his titles, aforementioned in this article, were earned. Fragale had a by-lined Billboard Magazine column … has written several cover stories for Gentlemen’s Quarterly magazine on such people as Richard Gere, Christopher Reeve and Ryan O’Neal, for example … has written articles for People Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and Newsweek as well as some Huffington Post blogs … has created many commercial jingles … and written and produced music including producing Tony Award Winner (for ‘Purlie”) Melba Moore’s first two record albums. Moore recorded ten of his songs.
However, despite all of this, Jim’s main focus has always been becoming a novelist.
“I wrote my first novel in the 70’s. That was back when there were no computers. I was working at ABC television and thought I had the best day job in the world because I could walk to work and have my nights and weekends free to write. As luck would have it, somehow all those pages got lost and I ended up rewriting it years later – after which, of course, I found my original and decided it truly was ‘luck’ that it hadn’t been published! The rewrite became my first book titled “The Answers To Life”; it was published in 2014 so it essentially took me 40 years to complete,” he added.
That book received five-star reviews on Amazon and was followed by his second novel, “The Answer to Life Revisited”, which also received five-star reviews! In this sequel, the same main character is followed as he goes through struggles and triumphs later in life. The book also includes 50 original recipes of his mother’s.
Then, in 2017, along came the publication of book #3 – “Seventy-Six Trombones: Life After Thirty-Nine Made Easy”. Many readers said they didn’t want to put this novel down because it kept them “amused, entertained and enlightened”. Others said it “encouraged them to get the most out of every day”, and some found it “magically helped them learn new things about themselves and others”. Obviously, there were more five-star reviews!
Why stop now? Jim has his fourth book in the final stages prior to printing. Tentatively, he says, it may be titled “The Country Store” but he’s still tossing ideas around.
“In every book I’ve written, there is always something about West Virginia injected in it. There are also tidbits of my own experiences in my work, but my books are fiction,” he stated.
Jim is now pushing 80 years of age and says that at this point in his life, he feels he has earned the right to write what he wants.
“Articles are typically edited and even songs have restrictions, but now I can write as I choose without limitations. I have a rich background in West Virginia and I think through my novels, readers are given the opportunity to see the state and the many Italians who settled there from a new perspective,” he continued.
Jim Fragale is enjoying himself. He lives in an apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan close to Lincoln Center. It overlooks a park and the Hudson River, and in the distance he can see New Jersey.
“It’s hard to explain how much I love where I am. I have truly embraced this city the way it embraced me when I came here as a much younger man. I’ve had a few struggles and I’ve put up with what I’ve had to in order to stay here. It’s simply a good fit for me,” he concluded.
He pulled up and left home in his early 20’s, arrived in the city and checked into the Y for housing. He was chasing the rainbow of success. Now, the struggles seem to have paid off; there are no more blogs. They have been replaced by 5-star books with his name on them as ‘author’. His quest in his earlier years to look for the answer to life seems to have been realized … and he’s purely enjoying it!
Fragale’s grandfathers – on both his paternal and maternal sides (Fragale and Biafore) – picked up and left their roots in Italy many years ago to conquer the unknown in the U.S. Perhaps Jim followed their lead when he left for New York. However, he continues to be mindful of his heritage in each of his books. And perhaps his newest tentative title for book #4 (The Country Store) will be a reference to his grandfathers’ work in the mining industry. ???
Some long-time residents of Shinnston may remember his father (also named Jim Fragale), who worked as a butcher in the meat department at the A&P Store in Shinnston many, many years ago.
Jim still has family in the local area: two sisters and a brother live in Bridgeport, one brother is in D.C., and another brother (Pete, who owned D&P Restaurant) is deceased. He still speaks with his siblings daily and keeps track of nieces, nephews and cousins. Despite his strong affection for the Big Apple, he is still proud to have come from West Virginia … proud of his heritage … and proud of his family.