In the next few weeks, my new novel “Be Still and Know That I Am” will be released. I had a lot of fun writing this one mainly because it brings the setting back home. Whereas the first two novels (“November Rust” and “Nadería”) were set in Europe, this one is set in Queens, New York in late 1982, quite literally on the very streets I grew up on. It is not autobiographical, however it is pretty close (with some fictional smudges here and there) to how it actually was in the neighborhood I grew up in at the time. Writing it brought me back to that time and place---and sometimes not without a good laugh.
It is the story of a teenage boy, steeped in Punk Rock culture, struggling to find his place in the world amidst growing up in a place where difference isn’t something tolerated much by the majority of his peers. It is also a story about those left behind in the wake of Reagan’s “Morning in America”. It is the 1980s before it became “The 80s”. You won’t find any of the 80s nostalgia here (“Breakfast Club”, Culture Club, Madonna, “Miami Vice”, etc) since none of that had happened yet. It is set in a time between the end of the Carter-era and the very beginning of the Reagan-era, where many people who wanted to believe in the American Dream were having a hard time dealing with that dream not materializing in the way they had hoped. The economy was in shambles, unemployment was rampant and the starry-eyed optimism of the new president had not yet “trickled down” to a great many Americans. This is the climate in which our protagonist is coming of age.
Like “Nadería”, this is a multi-protagonist story, following a cast of characters through these tumultuous times when everything seemed uncertain at best. In this novel you’ll find angst ridden Punk Rockers and other alienated youth, Van Halen T-shirt wearing Camaro driving bullies and their brain dead foot soldiers, Lower East Side squatters, Alphabet City junkies, Hardcore bands and the infamous A7 club, Reagan’s promise of a “Morning in America” and those left behind who still wanted to believe it, a jaded and troubled priest, working class angst, High School Confidential, perverted and psychotic teachers and administrators---all the fun stuff. Ah, to be young again...
At it’s core this is a story about family---particularly the Italian-American family---and there is a touch (but only a very slight touch) of the history of Italian-American radicalism lurking just under the surface. I had written this novel with S.E. Hinton in mind (had she only been born in a different time and raised in a completely different environment) and this was a conscious nod to those wonderful books I read when I was a young teen just beginning to question the nature of just about everything.
The plan is to have this novel out by mid-June. I really enjoyed writing this book and I hope those of you out there who have read my two previous books will read this one as well and find enjoyment in it as well.