Getting to the Heart of New York
Today, on my fortieth anniversary in Canada, I completed the manuscript for my second book ‘Heart Of New York’ ( ” HONY”).
It was tough going.
Chasing Aphrodite , my first book, took place in sunny Cyprus with exotic locales ranging from Dubai to Zanzibar. HONY takes place in freezing New York at Christmas, a place I was dragged to by my two teenage sons, against my wish of enjoying the Caribbean warmth in the Bahamas.
” Why are you writing about miserable New York and comparing it to Calgary , also in winter?” Thus spake my dozen volunteer reviewers of each completed chapter. ” What happened to your travelogue? ” they asked.
Once again, it was all Wes’s (my future famous illustrator) fault .
” Don’t become formulaic by following Aphrodite with another romp across Europe. Write about a place that moved you. ”
So, stupidly, I chose somewhere I never intended to visit at Christmas. A place so cold in winter I couldn’t raise my head and take in the sights for fear of catching chilblain.
The writing was the most difficult .
Firstly, having completed your first book, receiving accolades all along the way, you doubt you can write as well the second time, let alone surpass it. Secondly, HONY remained in one locale- Manhattan. Thirdly, who would be interested in comparisons with Calgary, some “cowtown” nestled at the foot of the Canadian Rockies?
It was all heading towards disaster.
My writing is all about comparisons and contrasts, having local vistas jerk me into reminiscence of anecdotes in my past. In Aphrodite, I wrote about my life up to the time of emigrating to Canada. Writing about Calgary was the next step in my progression.
I’m convinced that New York’s cruel winter weather brought out the morbid in me.
After complaining incessantly for the first four chapters, my audience of a dozen began to change its mind about the quality of my writing.
The turning point came when I wrote about an ex-boss in Calgary who took advantage of everyone around him. My readers began to phone me about the character and went into depth asking questions about him, whether he was right or wrong in the actions he took.
” Did you like the character? ” I asked. ” No,” was the universal reply. ” Then why are you spending so much of your time discussing him?”
The book had taken its own life and stance. The stories began to gravitate to questions of right and wrong, rather than mere travelogue. Each subsequent story delved into more and more extreme examples of what should be right intertwined with what was wrong.
What of New York ? Despite the weather, the hospitality my family received in many surprising ways , taught me (and I hope, my readers) a renewed appreciation of its citizens and my gratitude to them.
Eventually, my critics began to enjoy the book for its own sake rather than comparing it to Aphrodite.
Each chapter holds a story within itself. Having furloughed for more than two years, I believed my first chapter was weak. However, I sent it to Lowestoft Chronicle , a literary magazine based in New York. Lo and behold, Lowestoft accepted the story for publication within three days.
A feat unheard of.
The magic of my writing had survived.