What Inspired “Sunnyside Blues”
"Sunnyside Blues" to me, at heart, is a book about belonging, and the yearning to find a place you can call home. I know I still have this longing in me. I've moved a lot in my life, and I've never settled down (for long) with a husband and kids. Sometimes I have a yearning for the “life I didn’t live” and I try to imagine what it would be like. Other times I think I’d be terrified to be tied down like that. So I can always see both sides of the fence, and at any given time I think I’d prefer one over the other—always wanting to experience everything at once—I think that’s what drives me to write. But I think even people who do settle down still feel restless and lonely at times. There's a lot of pressure in life to answer the big questions: Where will I live? Who will I marry? What's my dream job? I also liked the idea of bringing together two characters who didn't really want to be with each other, but for one reason or other needed to be together, and in the end, their lives would truly be better for having met, that something in them, no matter how small, has been healed by being together, and that even though their time together was brief, they would remember each other forever.
I knew I wanted the settings of Seattle (where I lived for six years-- a year of it on a houseboat on Lake Union that poor Andes never gets to experience) and Sunnyside Queens, where I had just moved from Manhattan. The characters started out as a collage of people I've known in my life—but by the time the book was finished they’d grown into their own people, and no longer resembled the person or persons I used to jump-start them.
Then came Andes' religious background-- which for the life of me I can't remember where that came from-- all I know is that I now have half a dozen books on snake handling lying about the place. I found the religious practice fascinating, and I wanted to be able to write about it without casting judgment. I grew up in Ohio and spent time in West Virginia, I think it’s an absolutely beautiful state, and I just knew that’s where Andes had to grow up.
I loved the title "Sunnyside Blues" and it just so happened that the first day I moved to Sunnyside Queens, I went into a coffee shop and there was a local jazz musician selling his CD, "Sunnyside Blues". And I had just offered up that title to the publisher for the book, so it was kismet!
Inspiration often starts with a tiny spark of an idea, a person you knew, a place you’ve been, or as often is the case with me, a scenario you can see in your mind’s eye. A famous writing adage for beginners is: “Write what you know.” I prefer: “Write what you can imagine.”
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