SONGS TO NEW YORK - MYRTLE BROOKS
SONGS TO NEW YORK:A benevolent woman of quiet mystery who smiles in welcome greeting each time one visits her; whose distinct perfume is remembered long after one’s departure:
Author Myrtle Brooks’ love affair with the Big Apple served in ten allegorical slices depicting everyday people experiencing miraculous events throughout the five boroughs. “The Sanctity of the Mails:” observed in Heaven via the Brooklyn Post Office. A Staten Island-raised engineer who escapes city living, only to find the city within himself. A mysterious floor in a Queens apartment building reachable through attainment alone.
Songs to New York crossesthe threshold between impossible and occurrence: “Only in New York.”
Myrtle Brooks, author of the novel: The Geyser Girl of Yellowstone Park, was born in Manhattan and lives in Brooklyn. She spent her first two years in Jackson Heights, Queens, before moving upstate. The year 2017 marks the 26thanniversary of her return home to New York City. Many of the stories herein are derived from her life experiences in “the city of miracles.”
MM: It's that time again, folks! A new week, a new book, a new interview. This time I'd like to introduce Myrtle Brooks.
Myrtle likes to sing -- apparently -- because she's singingSongs To New York! Myrtle, welcome and thank you for coming on Martin Matthews Writes!
MB: Thank you so much, Martin, for having me: the honor and privilege are mine.
MM: Well, Myrtle, you have a book that launched not too long ago. Songs To New York. It sounds like the Big Apple has left an indelible mark on you. Tell us a little bit about the book.
MB: LOL, I think you have me figured out already. When you are in love, to serenade the object of your affections makes for some of the best romance, true? Thus, my book of literary fiction short stories is my love affair with the Big Apple served in ten slices. The stories are uplifting miraculous events which occur to everyday people of different backgrounds, races and cultures in the five boroughs.
MM: I think we can all do with a little uplifting from time-to-time, Myrtle. I know that's what I enjoy giving people with my own books. What are you hoping specifically people take away from Songs To New York?
MB: Comfort, hope, feeling good about oneself through understanding that one doesn’t have to have social status or a certain position or background or be perfect to be a recipient of miracles.
MM: You were born in Manhattan and live in Brooklyn. Tell us a little bit about yourself and what life is like there, especially for us 'flyover country' folks!
MB:No place, kind Sir, is flyover when its people hold it in their hearts. I am a roadie: I have driven cross-country several times and found great joy and serenity in beholding the prairies and heartland of America, and her mountains. One evening, I stopped off in Iowa to eat, and met three teenage girls who had never been to New York. It was overlooking a train yard at sunset. I took in the beauty of a life they were part of, as they checked out this very human New Yorker with fresh wonder.
My family moved upstate when I was young. Much of my views, then, are in the story: “The Bar.” I did not appreciate the big city… at least, I didn’t think I did. Until, I started having recurring dreams about New York: some of them are incorporated into the same story. I woke up miles away and crying. The dream about the bar itself I had after I returned to New York (which I expanded into the realm of fiction, but yes, that dream). To this day, I do not know why I dreamed it. Like Timothy, the story’s lead character, I searched Broadway on the Upper West Side and found no bar fitting its description.
I am a retired clerk with the U.S. Postal Service in Brooklyn. I began the stories when I started there, working overnights on the letter-sorting machine, writing on my lunch breaks. The story, “The Addressee,” is derived from that time. Many of the stories are based upon my real-life experiences in the city of miracles.
How is my life here?
As bustling as it is (over 8 million residents alone), there is a gentle peace akin to the mountains and hills upon beholding the skyscrapers, high-rises and the people’s faces. I dreamt of the wind which gusts through the subway tunnel and hitting my face just before the train arrives. Now I am awake.
MM:As a New Yorker, you must have been massively impacted by the events of 9.11 and the changes that have happened to the city since those attacks. How did those events shape your life and writing post 9.11?
MB:I finished the draft of this book before 9/11 and put it away until I knew I was mature enough as a writer to do it justice. The Twin Towers are in it. The Twin Towers are now on the front and back cover. This is the real New York.
The terrorists not only murdered people by the droves.
The terrorists murdered the Twin Towers.
And those in power put up every barrier to building them back.
In poll after poll, shortly after 9/11, the majority of New Yorkers wanted the Twins rebuilt. The original mission statement of their architect, Minuro Yamasaki is: “World Peace through Economic Cooperation.” “World Trade Center” and “Twin Towers” have always been synonymous. But politics, avarice and animosity marred the processes. Announcements of public hearings were placed in tiny articles in the papers where everyday people would not see them. I am among the grassroots rebuilding groups who stood up and were demeaned like mentally deficient bugs on the wall. And what they “built” there is a grotesque, surreal tribute to death and depression.
Where people needed uplifting, they instead were crucified. I have spoken with and befriended some of the victims’ family members. The landfill containing unidentified remains removed from the World Trade Center site is to this day in what was formerly the city garbage dump. The authorities sifted through them and recovered fragments. It is highly likely the debris that’s left still has remains. The families sued in court to recover the landfill and bury it in a respectful place: in vain.
Because of this vinegar and gall, many family members feel as badly today as they did on 9/11. I am one. New York is my family. Therefore, she and I have suffered a great loss.
Early on, I made the decision to fight the enemy by seeking to better myself and be kind to others. In other words, do exactly the opposite of what they stand for (and against). This is an indomitable spirit in all times, and now in these times of turbulent insanity and extremism. Songs to New Yorkand my decision to leave it stand as it was is a reflection of this.
MM: That's an incredible testimony, Myrtle. I was 16 and starting my first day of college in the UK when those attacks occurred. I'll never forget coming home in time to see the second plane hit on TV. In light of those life-shaping events, tell us a little bit about your creative influences, your favorite books, and your passions.
MB:The Bibleis my first Book and influence. And instrumental is the greatness I have found in people who have lovingly mentored me: my parents and other kindred spirits. Those I have, in turn, befriended and helped along the way have also enriched and inspired me: “Iron sharpens iron.”
Not long ago, I read Rebeccaby Daphne Du Maurier: astonishing in its showing rather than telling and its lush intricacy: you can smellthat old gothic mansion and its grounds as the book takes you under the skin of its characters.
I recently read (and recommend) What the Valley Knowsby Heather Christie, The Scorchingby Libbi Duncan and Deadly Homecoming at Rosemontby Connie Chappell. Before that: When I Was Seven, a poignant tale of family relationships by Mary Ellen Bramwell.
My passions? Classical and Broadway music composition and screenwriting. I am also an ardent defender of people and animals who need it, channeling my pen and my temper to fire off a 5-alarm chili pepper letter or two here and there, and to sign scores of petitions. “Activist?” Hmm… I like to say that instead of labeling people who are actively trying to better things as “activists,” what about all those “passivists” out there? (smile)
MM: I'm glad you mentioned some of those books, Myrtle. I just did an interview with Heather Christiefor her book. Both hers and my YA novel (SHAMELESS PLUG!) The Graveyard Girl and the Boneyard Boydeal with such similar themes! What books are you reading right now?
MB:Currently, I’m in the middle of Gerry Sammon’s The Royle Deception, a novel set during the Vietnam War era at its onset: from a British viewpoint. As an American 1960s antiwar protestor (“The Lost Balloon” story in my book), this is a learning experience.
MM:If you could meet one of your literary heroes, who would it be and why? What kind of things would you ask them?
MB:From childhood until now, the fairytale the movie Frozenis based upon has always struck a chord: Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen. Its theme of redemption and peril encapsulated in the mysterious title character alone drew me to it. As a child I traveled to that realm vicariously. I suppose, were I to ask questions, I would want to know whether the Snow Queen would also find redemption someday. In the original story, she is deep and dangerous. Unlike Elsa in Disney’s version, her complexities and dark powers are her own prison from which it is uncertain she will ever escape: Hans Christian Andersen does not say.
MM: I admit, I'm more familiar with the HCA version than the Disney version! But I enjoy writing and reading about complex, deep females with dark powers. Is there anything else you'd like the good folks reading this to know about your latest book?
MB:Songs to New Yorkis good in a quiet place with a cup of tea: with or without a cat curled up in your lap. Of course (smile), it also is fitting on a subway commute.
Martin, thank you again for this time in your living room. It has been a pleasure.
MM:No problem, Myrtle, it's been a pleasure and a privilege talking with you. Do stop by again sometime!
As written beneath her yearbook photo, Class of 1970, the expressed lifetime goal of the author herein known as Myrtle Brooks, is: “to realize the love present in everything.”
When not at home in her beloved Brooklyn, N.Y., she may be found dancing with the big rigs on the interstate as she heads for national parks and places of quiet beauty.
Knowing her place, she enters such sanctuaries as a respectful visitor and humble observer;
Whereupon she is lovingly greeted and made welcome as family.
You can get more of Myrtle Brooks over at her ownwebsite.