When I placed the manuscript of Hooperman: A Bookstore Mystery in the hands of Billie Johnson, publisher of Oak Tree Press, I told her, in the spirit of full disclosure, that the novel was as much about love as it was about crime. But if it doesn’t fit the mystery genre entirely (for example, there’s no dead body), it certainly doesn’t fit the romance genre either. Or maybe it does, but I doubt it; I’m no expert when it comes to romance novels.
I do have strong opinions, though, when it comes to writing about love and relationship, love and sex, and the thrilling experience of falling in love. No matter how a person experiences relationship, sex, or falling in love in “real life,” when a fiction writer takes on these subjects, it’s all about change. That’s how the magic of fiction works: something happens to somebody, and that something is change.
In subsequent posts I will write about relationship fiction, and sex in fiction. (Stay tuned for coming attractions!) For this week’s post I want to focus on that overwhelming, surprising, beautiful (usually), changing experience of falling.
As if we needed some instruction or a road map for falling in love, I’m guessing at least a third of the standards in the Great American Songbook deal with the magic moment. Steve Allen wrote, “This Could Be the Start of Something Big,” and Johnny Burke warned us “It Could Happen to You.” For my money Nat King Cole put it best when he sang, “Flash! Bam! Alakazam! Wonderful you walked by…”
In fiction this experience changes a person from dull to alive, from self-centered to embracing, from sleepwalking to tap-dancing. Be warned, however, that falling in love can bring a lot of disruption and trouble; but let’s be carefree lovers and forget the consequences…until some later chapter.
In Hooperman, my protagonist falls in love twice. The first time is with a girl in his second-grade class. That relationship begins without a flash or a bam, but it lasts for twenty years, and is still haunting him when he falls in love for the second time at the age of thirty. Plenty of flash and plenty of bam the second time around.
Here’s a brief excerpt from the novel, showing the scene where Hoop loses his heart at the age of seven.
HOW HOOPERMAN MET THE LOVE OF HIS LIFE
The kids at Fernway School didn’t call him Frankie or Frank. They called him Hoop when they were kind, or Hooperman when they wanted a good laugh. Mostly they ignored him, unless they wanted a good laugh.
“Call him Hooperman!” shouted Jimmy O’Brien at recess the first day of first grade. “That’s what he wants to be called!”
All the time Hooperman.
Second grade, Hooperman again. The new kids needed to be taught: “Call him Hooperman!”
One of the new kids didn’t join in. Janie Gillis, the silent girl with scarlet hair, who hid her mouth behind her hand, so Frankie could never know if she was smirking at him or laughing at him. All he knew was she was the most beautiful girl in the universe.
He was by her side for the first time, on the asphalt pavement when Jimmy O’Brien stuck it to him again in the usual way: “Tag—not it!”
And so on till the only ones left were Janie, who never said anything, and Hoop, who was always the last to say “Nah,nah,nah,nnnnn…”
Always it. They did it on purpose.
“His face is red! Look, he’s crying!”
“It’s a bird!”
“It’s a plane!”
All together: “It’s Hoooooperman!”
Frankie walked slowly back to the classroom, closed the door behind him, and sat at his desk. He picked up a book but was unable to read.
The door opened and Janie walked in. She came across the room, reached out, and touched his hot cheek, then put her finger into her mouth. Then her hand went over her mouth and she hurried back across the room to her desk, where she pulled out a sheet of paper and a pencil.
Kids drifted in, the bell rang, school lasted all afternoon, and after the last bell rang, kids ran out. The teacher left, and Janie and Frankie were the only ones left in the classroom.
Janie crossed the room and handed Frankie a sheet of paper, folded and folded and folded. She bit her lower lip. She blushed, shook her head, scurried to her desk, gathered her things, and left the room, without looking again at the boy.
He unfolded the paper and read:
“Your eyes are the color of sky,
Your tear has a taste of the sea,
And I keep on wondering why
You make such a difference to me.”
Hooperman: A Bookstore Mystery, will be published in November by Oak Tree Press.