Bringing the fantastical back into books.
Bay Ridge author Shelly Reuben is no stranger to publishing. The Edgar Award-nominated author and columnist has written in several genres, including mysteries like Dabbling in Crime and The Boys of Sabbath Street, and the fable The Man with the Glass Heart.
Now, J.K. Rowling’s impact on children struck a chord for Reuben, who is releasing her own fantasy, My Mostly Happy Life: Autobiography of a Climbing Tree.
A self-professed lover of “fantasy, fables and whimsical stories,” Reuben told this paper, “I feel that Rowling is a genius. She got young people reading in a world where they had completely attached themselves to the internet screen. Then, she came along and all of a sudden there are people standing in line miles deep waiting for a new book to come out.”
She explained that since Rowling, writers have been coming along with stories about wizards, but have created little that is innovative. “She came up with this marvelous idea and they’re doing essentially riffs on it instead of coming up with a brand new concept,” Reuben said.
“For the longest time, I have wanted to reinvent the fairy tale,” she went on. “I thought it would be very possible to bring a kind of adorable, happy whimsy into our era without taking out the old creatures. Everything doesn’t have to be Dumbledore or witches or wizards.”
Her new book is essentially a story narrated by a tree.
“The tree doesn’t talk or interact with people or anything supernatural,” Reuben said. “It’s like the old concept of a fly on the wall, what would we see going on. The tree is a fly in the wall in this wonderful park.”
The book tells the story of what happens when a bureaucrat who hates one of the characters, Samuel Swerling, a World War II veteran and inventor, decides to build a park.
The tree thrives on human contact, and in its long and happy life, has had few disappointments. Lately, however, it is being subjected to life-threatening injuries by Jarvis Larchmont, a power-hungry politician who was thrown out of the park for bullying when he was 12.
“The beginning of the story is what happens to the trees when they start to grieve, because if they can’t be around children, they begin to die of loneliness. So that’s the lynchpin to the story,” Reuben said. “It’s my way of creating my own mythology where you have this very observant, intelligent and sensitive tree watching the world go by and telling us all as he narrates the book — what is happening among the good people in the park that want to save him, the man that want to destroy him, the wonderful relationship that should exist between human beings and nature. Then there are all these crazy groups that think that man should not interfere at all with nature. But, these trees were not only strong and healthy, they were trained and grown to be climbing trees. It’s a light story with a light touch, but it’s a lot of fun.”
The story is illustrated by Ruth McGraw, which will impress readers according to Reuben.
“I would find her exactly what I wanted and then give it to her to draw,” she said. “One of the trees that were used as the prototypes or inspiration was upstate New York in a little town, Unadilla. I had never seen trees like that before or since in my life.”
The book also grabs inspirations from Reuben’s life.
“I took tiny little bits and pieces from my life and New York,” Reuben said. “Superstorm Sandy is huge part of the book. I took pictures all over parks like Owl’s Head Park and Cannonball Park.”
And, she added, “All of the characters in the book are in some way based on my own family. Sam Swerling is an inventor. My father Sam Reuben was an inventor. He went overseas during World War II. In World War II, my father never went overseas but his invention was used by the U.S. Army, which was how to learn Morse code quickly. The mother in the book wishes she had married a man that had a real job with health insurance and a pension, and my mom was like that.”
One of the goals for Reuben with this new book is to bring happiness and motivate readers. “I want them to end the book with a huge smile on their face and believe they can fight City Hall,” she said. “I love the book and I would love this book to become an epidemic of joy.”
The publication date for My Mostly Happy Life: Autobiography of a Climbing Tree is Tuesday, April 27. For more information, visit shellyreuben.com/wordpress.