Telling a story from another time requires diligent attention to historical details. What was happening in the world? I was driven to get the facts right and to avoid mentioning something that was out of time. While I love to find anachronisms in movies, I was determined there would be none in my book.
What I found much more important was the need to get into the hearts and minds of the people living in it. And that was truly an enjoyable quest. If I wanted authenticity, then I had to be there with my characters.
My journey into my young boy’s life growing up in the Bronx of New York City in the 1920s required so many different sources. I now have a small library of pictorial histories about the Bronx, interspersed with memories of those who lived there. I would stare into some of the photos, willing myself to imagine feelings. I have a laminated map from 1930 NYC on my wall, covered in colored marker notes and stickies. (Woe to the unsuspecting visitor who asks about it! I’m only too happy to tell all.)
I have collected newspaper articles from the days on which big things happened. The front page of the New York Daily News from April 19, 1923, gave me a chapter on the first day the Yankees played in the brand new Yankee Stadium the day before. I had a play-by-play of the game, a who’s who of the dignitaries, a feeling of the weather from photos showing how people were dressed, and a sense of the excitement from the journalist’s account in the language of the day.
My most important source was my father. His stories and answers to my endless questions were the impetus for me to write a story that let me imagine how he might have grown into the man he was. He and I sat with that map for hours. He showed me where things were — homes, schools, parks, the library — and gave his streets life for me.
As a child, I was glued to the TV, watching Walter Chronkite create an audience of historical peeping toms with “You Are There.” I was also fortunate to have a history teacher who made us look at what was happening in art, music, and literature around major events. Two of my English teachers also brought history into the classroom. I learned about context early.
I must give credit to one book that I think does this better than any other: Time and Again by Jack Finney. Finney made me believe I could travel in time.
My hope is that I am creating a story that gives readers a Walter Chronkite/Jack Finney moment or two.