Nan Marino author of Neil Armstrong is my Uncle and Other Tales Muscle Man McGinty Told Me has penned a new novel Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace. I thought it might be nice to meet a few of the characters from Nan’s new book. It’s always fascinating to find out the story behind the story and today I learned some rather interesting things. I didn’t know about the Pinelands of New Jersey and I certainly had never heard of amusia. I hope you enjoy reading about these fun characters.
Brief physical description:
Elvis has superstar good looks. He starts out with his trademark long curly locks, but since he’s “hiding out” from the paparazzi, he gets his hair cut (by a librarian!).
Strengths and weaknesses: Elvis oozes charisma and he knows it. (It’s both his best and worst quality). He’s a musical prodigy who along with his musical sister Cher has spent his whole life performing on stage. Music is so much a part of him that he can’t imagine life without it. And yet he’s stopped playing. Now he has to try to make it as a regular kid.
Quirks: This is a story about going incognito so it’s important that Elvis hides his quirks. It’s not easy to do though, especially when your world famous and your every gesture has been studied and imitated by your fans. When he gets nervous, he likes to run his hands through his hair (even though his hair is extremely short now). He has a trademark Elvis Ruby smile. He “naturally radiates”.
Inspiration for your story: It wasn’t hard to find inspiration for this part of the story line. I was watching a girl perform on America’s Got Talent. She was only ten. Everyone had such high expectations, but I wondered what would happen if she froze on stage?
Full Character name: Cecilia Wreel
Brief physical description: Cecilia is the type of kid you might not notice. Nothing about her stands out. She wears oversized glasses that make her eyes look huge. She buys most of her clothes from the local thrift store.
Strengths and weaknesses: Cecilia can’t keep a secret. They well up in her like a fizzy bottle of coca-cola. She blurts out what’s on her mind. She’s the kid who is picked on by the popular mean girls. Her biggest strength is that she is grounded in the place where she lives. She finds solace in the winding pathways, the scraggly trees and the slow-moving streams in the Pinelands of New Jersey.
Quirks: This isn’t exactly a quirk but Cecilia has a condition known as amusia. It’s a rare disorder that affects the way the brain processes music. We all know people who can’t carry a tune, but this is much more that that. It involves an inability to perceive musical notes. People with amusia have described music as “banging pots and pans.”
Inspiration for your story: Around the time I decided to write this book, I was walking in the stacks of the library where I work and found a book on the floor. It was Oliver Sacks book, Musicophilia. I decided to read it to get some insight on my musical prodigy character. That’s when I came across a chapter about a woman who had amusia (she was the woman who made the banging pots and pans comment). I thought it would be interesting for the prodigy to meet someone who was so unmusical. Originally I thought that Cecilia could confess to Elvis that she had amusia. I hoped to have this boy who took his abilities for granted understand that not everyone is gifted in the same way. But when I researched it further I learned that children with this condition are rarely diagnosed.
While the word “amusia” is never mentioned in the book, knowing that Cecilia has this condition helped me to understand her and the decisions that she makes. Even without knowing exactly why, Cecilia would know something about her is different. Music is everywhere. Imagine watching your friends bop up and down to their favorite songs when you think that the noise they’re dancing to sounds exactly like silverware dropping on the floor? What would it be like to have to sing the national anthem when you don’t really know what it sounds like? Think of all those opportunities for embarrassment like music class and dance recitals. This is a condition that would make you feel lonely.
By the way, some famous people who were thought to have amusia are Che Guevera, Ulysses S. Grant, and Theodore Roosevelt
Background for the story: About six years ago I moved from Long Island New York to a small town that borders the Pinelands of New Jersey. The pinelands, also known as the Pine Barrens, covers over a million acres in central and south Jersey. It’s a special place known for it’s pygmy pine trees, slow-moving streams, wild orchids and sandy paths. Because the soil is sandy and acidic, it was hard for settlers to cultivate so it remained untamed and undeveloped. Now the area is designated as a US Biosphere Reserve and much of it is protected.
It’s not in-your-face beautiful like the Grand Canyon or the Rocky Mountains. You can drive by in your car and hardly notice the low grubby pines, but if you get out of your car and go exploring at one of the many parks, you’re in for a treat.
The Pine Barrens is also rich in music and folklore. When I mentioned to a librarian friend that I was writing a story about a musical boy who comes to the Pinelands, she told me the story of Sammy Buck, a fiddler who lived hundreds of years ago, who was known for playing a beautiful tune unlike any other song. He called it the “air tune” and said that he could hear it in the air when he went for walks in the woods. Another well-known Pinelands scholar said that many of the locals believed that “music is there, just beyond hearing”.
I knew I wanted to somehow incorporate the musical myth of Sammy the fiddler into the story. And of course, no Pinelands tale would be complete without a mention of it’s most famous resident, the Jersey Devil. He’s in there too.
Thanks Nan for sharing with us.
Writing on the Sidewalk