Welcome to Scott Simon, a multi-talented musician who has dared to write books. I hope you enjoy his account of growing up in New York as much as I have.
Thank you for inviting me to discuss setting in the writing process, Jane. Your blog is a treasure chest of ideas and experiences. I hope my small contribution adds to the discussion.
The Simons settled in Five-Points during the 1830s. My love affair with New York City began in 1963. The school year had ended and autumn sat somewhere in the distant future. My father, a fourth generation Manhattanite, hustled me into a cab for the short ride to The Museum of Natural History. Back then most vehicles spewed black smoke, which caused a gray veil to drape the skyline from The Battery to The Bronx. It was a time when women wore day dresses to do the laundry and garbage collectors suffered neckties. Mad Men controlled lives in American living rooms.
My father and I headed north on Sixth Avenue. He pointed to a building on Thirty-Fourth Street and a sign that read FRANKLIN SIMON. It was my grandfather’s name painted in bold letters running up the side of a ten-story fashion retail outlet. I had seen the ads in the New York Times and magazines, but this was a face-to-face. My heart soared and pride swelled for our family.
Twenty years later, the seventy-five year old business fell prey to “the mall” phenomenon. Shoppers no longer made the trek from the suburbs to an increasingly dangerous inner city. The company failed along with the other “gems” of Thirty-Fourth Street.
I was a pop musician then, signed to Capitol Records, living in five-star hotels and performing on stages around the world. But whenever I passed the brick building bearing my surname I knew my roots were in the bedrock of New York.
Not long after, though my group had sold a few millions records and was celebrated, I found myself without a label, without a band, and no creative outlet. I had fallen victim to younger audiences who were in search of younger music. The city became a predator that devoured what financial resources I had. If not for fear, I would have laughed. This was a grand joke. I was born into money, but had none. My father had lost what was meant to be a sizeable inheritance. Now, on the Lower East Side, around the corner from my grandfather’s 1865 birthplace, I scrounged for meals.
My degree in foreign language and writing had sat dormant since the early seventies. I earned whatever a bodega worker earned. One day as I sat on the stoop of the walk-up I shared with my wife-to-be, among crack heads and their spent vials, I jotted my experiences into a spiral notebook. It was then that I began to appreciate stratification. I wrote of New York riches, of poverty, the educated, the ignorant, the disabled, the able, the drug addicted, and the sober. The city was a tree that yielded many fruits.
Whenever I came upon an arrest in progress I’d stand and listen to the exchanges between cops and perpetrators, noting the jargon, radio-call lingo, the facial expressions. The subway offered a smorgasbord of humanity. Underground drummers beat on anything the mind could conjure: soapboxes, water buckets, tortoise shells, professional drum sets, or the head of the kid standing next to them. Rhythms ranged from the heaving pace of Soweto Township to a Memphis-style shuffle.
In the parks, I observed well-dressed women escorting pocket-size dogs past kids who juggled broken bottles. There were lovers on blankets; men on dope and women pursuing tricks under the watchful eye of poorly concealed pimps. People with varying degrees of physical disability languished in wheelchairs while nurses chatted and chain smoked. As all this took place I became aware that there were other stories waiting to be discovered, to be dug up and polished. I saw New York as a king-size terrarium. It was all there. It had always been there. I just needed to peel back the layers.
Executive Thief, my latest novel, is set in present-day New York City. It explores the adventures of Jedidiah Alcatraz, the son of a deceased nun, a young man in the throes of autism spectrum disorder. With an uncanny ability to see what most people ignore and a compulsion all his own, he sets out to find the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Crown, which has been secretly shipped to New York, where it is stolen.
The theft occurs in view of video cameras and a trusted guard, who is missing and presumed dead. If the crown isn’t found and returned to London, where it is soon scheduled for public display, the crime will become fodder for a scandal-hungry media, and Her Majesty will be humiliated.
The prime suspect is rich, beautiful Piper Sutton, a young jewelry executive in charge of special clients. Despite her vast wealth, she is haunted by a compulsion to steal.
At Jedidiah’s side is a childhood friend whose skills might be just this side of legal and a Russian cabby with a sense for adventure. The trail leads them from Chinatown to the elite environs of York Avenue; from Fifth Avenue penthouses to a down-at-the-heels Coney Island strip club. And as evidence against Piper mounts, Jedidiah wonders whether she’s the key to his obsession.
Scott’s FACEBOOK link.