This year, July brings more than the warmth of summer. It brings a touching yet witty story to the bookshelves. Neil Armstrong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGlinty Told Me is here and you are in for a treat.
Nan Marino tells the story about Tamara Ann Simpson, the Ramble Street girl who tugs at your heart so much you wish you could enter the pages and help her out. At the same time you ache for her archenemy, Muscle Man McGlinty. He’s a kid you want to take home and make safe.
The core issue may seem to be about wining a kickball game and exposing “a squirrelly runt” for the liar he is, but really it’s about trying to grow up when the adults in your life aren’t helping. What makes this story truly special is the way Nan juxtaposes the history-making summer of 1969 with the everyman lives of Tamara and Muscle Man McGlinty. While Neil Armstrong takes “one small step for mankind,” the Ramble Street kids slog through childhood the best they can.
I was very fortunate to bump into Nan and her brilliant storytelling talent out there in the cyber-world of writers. We’ve shared writing for several years now and I am always amazed at how she reaches subtly, yet deeply into her characters. She has the ability to give us those “ah ha” moments when we recognize ourselves in the people she creates. Her settings are as vivid as if you were looking at a picture.
In My Uncle is Neil Armstrong, you “see” that muddy kickball field and the 1969 street with the flicker of TV light from the windows on American USA. You “feel” the excitement of the moonwalk and the sadness of the war with the loss it brings to the people on Ramble Street.
Here’s some of Nan’s answers to this interviewer’s questions:
We all draw on our lives when we write fiction, can you share what you tapped into to create Neil Armstrong is My Uncle?
The story takes place in Massapequa Park, New York, which is where I grew up. I hope I captured that close-knit neighborhood feeling. We had barbeques where everyone was invited, my brother played the accordion and one of our neighbors always sang. I borrowed the
neighborhood barbeques and the accordion playing for my story. I even borrowed my neighbor’s favorite song. The names of my friends and family are scattered throughout the book in one form or another.
Of course, the first moon walk was a major inspiration. In 1969, everyone watched while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took those first steps. On that day, all of humanity was filled with hope and promise.
Tamara Ann Simpson, has been discussed in reviews as “the bully you have to love.” First, did you see her as a bully? And second where did she come from?
It wasn’t until I saw the review from Booklist that I ever thought of her as that. It was a wonderful review, but that word threw me. I knew Tamara had some issues. There might be a few times where she crosses the line. But a bully? Hmm. I guess you could make an argument
Once I heard a television personality describe his Long Island childhood town as a “hardscrabble environment.” I never thought that about Massapequa, but wondered what would happen if my main character felt that way. It helped me find her tough-girl voice.
IMHO Tamara’s tough act was a cover-up for a girl who had to compete with the Mary Beths in her world and had to do it without her best friend who has moved away.
So what about Muscle Man did you know him when you were growing up?
When I was around nine or ten, there was a boy who challenged a group of us to a kickball game-all of us against him. In real life that game probably lasted around ten minutes. I remember thinking that he was either very dumb or very gutsy.
If there could be a perfect writing day, what would that be for you?
The house would be quiet, the sun would be shining, and there would be chocolate involved.
A perfect writing day is all about discovery. It’s when the characters take over, say amusing things and act in totally surprising way (of course, their new surprising actions are so completely in tune with their inner essence that I wonder why I didn’t see it coming from the very
beginning). There are no plot holes on perfect days. It’s a day filled with ‘ah ha’ moments.
I’m drooling here.
Your background is in librarianship, so obviously you’re a lover of books. Have you always written stories or wanted to?
I’ve always been a reader, but it took me a long time to figure out what kind of story I wanted to write. After I wrote my first children’s story, everything clicked.
I’m sure glad it “clicked” and I know everyone who reads your books will be too.
Tell us about Chi. I keep thinking I’ll see a Chi dog in one of your stories. Will I?
Lee, you are too kind. Over the years, I suspect that you’ve heard way too many Chi stories. She’s a very quirky dog.
One day, I told my husband I was going shopping and instead ended up at the local animal shelter. I’m not sure why I went there that day, but Chi was the first dog I saw. She was a scrappy oversized underweight adolescent and she needed a home as much as we needed a dog.
She’s a great writing companion. She sleeps at my feet and can chew up a rejection letter in record time.
Chi is all over my webpage and mentioned in my blog. I suspect she’ll find her way into a story one of these days.
Nan’s book is here and it’s beautiful. Buy some copies and get a jump start on birthdays and Christmas. This isn’t just a book for the young reader either, any of us who grew up in those Neil Armstrong days will love to revist that time of great anticipation.