I just returned from a trip to New York City. So, I was really excited to share this post by Jane George about a city I love. It’s my pleasure to welcome Jane George to my blog to celebrate Book Clubs, her novel, X-It and the City of New York.
A Love Letter to a Snapshot in Time by Jane George
My novel, X-It, takes place in New York City circa 1980-81, which doesn’t make it quite a historical novel, but we can at least call it a ‘vintage’ setting.
The Big Apple is as famous for how fast it changes as much as for Lady Liberty or Times Square. Screenwriter Nora Ephron referenced New York’s changeability in You’ve Got Mail, when children’s bookstore owner Kathleen Kelly writes to her secret email pal bemoaning the closing of her business:
“In fact, someone, some foolish person, will probably think it’s a tribute to this city, the way it keeps changing on you, the way you can never count on it, or something. I know because that’s the sort of thing I’m always saying. But the truth is…I’m heartbroken.”
The tragic events of 9/11, and more recently Hurricane Sandy, remind us that New York City is vulnerable to change from external forces as well as internal ones. This only serves to make the magic of any moment in The Big Apple more precious.
In X-It I made mention of more than one NYC characteristic from 1980 that no longer exists or has been fundamentally changed. One of the most profound is the condition and general ambience, shall we say, of the subway system. I returned to New York in 2009, not having been there since 1984. I felt safer on the New York subways than I do riding San Francisco municipal transit. But what the subways have gained in safety, cleanliness and air-conditioning they have lost in visual interest. The photography of John Conn captured the visceral truth of New York’s subways in the Eighties. The main character in X-It, J.J. Buckingham, takes the F Train from 14th Street to her job in Williamsburg every weekday to paint mannequins. She’s a sensitive soul, and the subway and its environs take its effect.
Several scenes in X-It take place on the rotting remains of the Chelsea Piers. Today, the Hudson River waterfront has been remade into a series of parks and playground on jetties. It’s beautiful, and barely recognizable from its condition in 1980. I took this shot that juxtaposes the old and new piers when I was there in 2009. The old pier is even more deteriorated in the photo than it was when the story takes place. And I’m sure Hurricane Sandy did even more damage. The water level rose above the cement shoreline in lower Manhattan.
J.J. and X-It sit on the rotting pier—it’s their special place— in the evening and watch another long-gone river landmark, The Maxwell House Coffee neon sign of a dripping coffee cup that was mounted atop the Maxwell House building in Hoboken. Here is a photo from the Hoboken Historical Museum of what J.J. and X-It saw. The bright drops have a special poignancy for J.J.
Change does not always necessarily engender some kind of loss. Once in a while we humans can remake something old and decayed into something new but keep, or even enhance, its visual interest and its heart. For instance, see how New Yorkers turned the old Highline elevated track into a community garden, art space, and walkway. This is J.J.’s task in X-It as well, how can she reclaim herself and yet remain true to who she is?
LOVE IS A DRUG.
In 1980 NYC, eighteen-year-old J.J. Buckingham is an uptight trendoid. Working as a mannequin painter and a counter girl, she moonlights as a creature of the nightclubs. J.J. falls for aloof, crazy-talented artist and bicycle messenger X-It. In order to win his love, she succumbs to the dark machinations of drug dealer Marko Voodoo. X-It will love her if she’s the queen of underground Manhattan, right? Her plan backfires with horrendous consequences. J.J. must scrap her way out of a maze of drugs, clubs, and danger before she realizes she’s worthy of a better life. And true love might just come in the form of a clean-cut geek in Buddy Holly glasses.
The Reviews are in!
This book completely captivated me from start to finish. In fact, the first night I read about a quarter of it before bedtime. Then I tossed and turned for an hour thinking about the book, until finally I turned the lights back on, and read until a few hours before I needed to wake up. ~ William Hertling
X-It is a coming-of-age novel that is easily identifiable with for anyone who ever felt less-than-cool enough, or alone, or as though they weren’t living up to personal expectations, which, I believe, encompasses most of us. Reminiscent of Maggie Estep’s “Diary of an Emotional Idiot,” X-It contains some perfect moments of quiet truth. ~ Wendy Whiplash
From the very first pages I was drawn to J.J. – From her dripping purple hair dye through her slow, dark, and painful decent into the 80’s punk/club scene. Jane George truly created a dynamic character with incredible depth. To me this book read like a memoir, making it even more powerful and at times bittersweet. ~ Karen Toz
Kindle Edition: http://www.amazon.com/X-It-ebook/dp/B007PSY7X6/
Paperback Edition: http://www.amazon.com/X-It-Jane-George/dp/0985130717
About the Author
Author and illustrator Jane George lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She holds a BFA in illustration from the California College of the Arts and has won awards for her art.
A dedicated writer for over a decade, she produces and publishes her YA fantasy and literary titles under her personal imprint, Paper Grove Publishing. Find out more at: www.Jane-George.com
We’re early for the show. The lobby contains very few patrons and a huge expanse of lurid purple and blue carpeting. X-It pays, takes my hand, and leads me to the center of the lobby. All I think about is the touch of his fingers on mine.
“Stand here. Close your eyes, and hold out your hands,” he says.
I do as he asks. I am being showered with paper. No, not paper, I realize as I open my eyes.
Dazzling golden leaves rain out of his messenger’s bag. Feather-light, fresh and spicy, the leaves keep coming down. Upon my head. Into my palms. Onto the purple-blue carpet, where they stick in perfect chromic contrast.
X-It’s eyes glitter. “Happy Fall, J.J.!”
He’s magical. He is everything I ever wanted to be. I move to throw my arms about him, but he holds out his bag and shakes it, making sure all the leaves are out.
I take a step back.
We walk home after the film. X-It veers away from me, drawn to a newsstand by the image of Karisma smiling from several magazine covers at once.
“She’s so perfect,” he says.
I grit my teeth, yet straighten my spine in an effort to measure up.
“And here’s Brooke Shields in her Calvins. Incredible. Who do you think is more beautiful?”
I think Brooke looks like a gilded giraffe-child, but that doesn’t prevent me from envying every inch of Miss Shields. I want to scream at X-It, “Look at me! I’m beautiful! And I’m just your size!”
But I say, “I don’t know. We don’t have a mannequin head of Brooke, just Karisma. So it’s hard to say.”
“I think Brooke is perfect,” he says. “But if she was a mannequin, just think of all the Prismacolor pencils you’d go through doing her eyebrows.”
So he was listening when I told him how a mannequin’s eyebrows are drawn.
“Thousands,” I say.
I collapse against the brick wall in a fit of giggles. He joins me. Our heads arc close together. X-It’s face swims before me, isolated by the electric and bracing October night. His breath brushes my cheek. Our lips circle each other more than once.
And never manage to connect.
The first time I visited New York was in 1980 as a young kid and I have been back several times since. I can relate to the changes in the City Jane talked about in her post. Very few can capture the pulse of the city in the written word and Jane does it perfectly.
Thanks for stopping by and make sure to visit other stops on the Book Club Bash Tour.