Born in Jackson Heights and raised in Woodside, Gillen grew up in Boulevard Gardens. The former Long Island Star newspaper delivery boy remembers his route from 20th Avenue and 50 th Street in Woodside but when asked if there is one memory that particularly stands out in his head about Queens, there wasn’t one he could point to.
“I always had friends, if I had to single out anything about the rewards of life growing up in Queens it would be the friends I had; we became friends for life,” he said. “We had some rich, crazy sometimes irresponsible moments together and we were always together.”
Gillen grew up exposed to people of different cultures, something he says helped to inspire his work later on. “I had the opportunity to meet a lot of people growing up. I went to St. Joseph’s Grammar School in Astoria and had a collective group of friends well outside the normal sphere than if I had remained in the neighborhood,” he said.
Playing basketball and baseball also enabled him to tour the borough a lot and meet new faces.
His experience being part of a diverse group is a premonition to what his home borough would soon become – a little microcosm of the larger world.
“When I grew up in my area it was Irish, Italian, German and Polish. Now there are over 100 languages and the dialogues of Spanish vary from street to street,” he said.
Gillen, who writes crime thrillers, finds Queens replete with what he calls, “characters with characters.”
“It’s a city unto itself and it’s a place that has a lot of color,” he said.
On Jan. 9, Gillen will join the Queens Historical Society for a special lecture where attendees will get to ask him questions and where he will discuss his influences as an author growing up in Queens. Many of his books are set in Queens and based on various real-life events such as the infamous Kitty Genovese murder, the local mob hangout by Cypress Hills. His characters are at times troubled, and live in Astoria, end up in Brooklyn Heights, hide out by JFK or take refuge in Flushing.
His books have explored topics like religion, morals and the psychological mind.
Gillen is the first author in the QHS’s installment of their “Interview with the Author” series, giving a never before seen window into authors’ processes and inspirations and allowing members of the public to interact on a more informal level with authors.
A former Navy man and a graduate of Georgetown University Law School, which prepped him to become an attorney in the international trade sector, Gillen has penned “Altar Boy,” “Sugar Time,” and “Kitty’s Rules” among others.
Now semi-retired, Gillen revealed his interesting way of working – he needs to be busy to remain inspired.
“The busier I am, the better my writing process is,” he said. “I have to be busy and scheduled. Now I’m working out of home and I had to shift my routine.”
He used to get up at 6:30 in the morning to write, he would write on planes and in hotel rooms when he had to travel for his job.
“Now it’s a different process,” he said.
For more information on the QHS lecture and to learn more about Gillen, email Danielle Hilkin at DhilkinQHS@gmail.com.