Born and bred Bay Ridgeite and author Catherine Gigante-Brown has written and published her first novel, The El, a love letter to Brooklyn which takes readers back to the past to relive the trials and tribulations of a family living in the borough in 1936, during the Great Depression.
“It was inspired by lots of stories that I heard growing up,” said Gigante-Brown. “My father would tell me about his life, my grandfather and working in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and how life was during that time. It’s a fictional story, but it takes into account growing up in Brooklyn and what the borough was like in those days. It stems what I heard growing up.”
Because this was a project of passion, the writing process went rather seamlessly. “It took about six months to write,” she explained. “It did take a bit of research, but the internet was really helpful. Writing was easy because I was channeling someone in my family. And because of that, the story unraveled beautifully.”
Although the creative process went well, finding a publisher to take a chance on the unique novel was difficult. “People would say it’s great, but people aren’t interested in what happened in the past. One was interested but he couldn’t convince his colleagues to take it on,” she said. “It was very frustrating.” After six years, a deal was made with Volossal Publishing, where she had been an editor in the past.
The novel was released as an E-Book in 2012. Her readership then expanded thanks to the release of the trade paperback version this past October. “It’s really taken on legs,” Gigante-Brown noted. “People like electronics, but they like to have book in their hands.”
Since the paperback release, Gigante-Brown has enjoyed several memorable moments that have made the entire experience gratifying. “People really seem to relate to it, even people I wouldn’t have thought. Even people from Australia and Europe have taken to the book,” she said. “One of the highlights was reading chapters set at the Brooklyn Navy Yard for Brooklyn Book Fest.” She will also be doing a reading at the Italian American Museum at Mulberry Street on January 15.
Gigante-Brown has a deep fondness for her Brooklyn roots. “I had a very solid education in Bay Ridge,” she recalled. “I went to Saint Patrick’s and Fort Hamilton. One of the teachers at Saint Pat’s gave me a love of reading and writing.” With portions of the book relating to Bay Ridge, “Brooklyn is a character in the book,” said Gigante-Brown, stressing that her upbringing in the neighborhood “had lots to do with it.”
If there is anything that readers take out of the novel, Gigante-Brown hopes it’s perseverance. “I just hope people find strength in it going through difficult times,” she said. “Victims of abuse relate to themes in it. It prompted people to start their own memoirs and personal history to find beauty in family and how you can get through anything if you have a strong basis.”
The El is available as an E-Book on Amazon, while the paperback version can be found at your local bookstore and Amazon as well.