There are probably enough “Seven Wonders” lists out there to satisfy even the most provincial zealots. The Seven Wonders of Wichita? Really? A far cry from the Great Pyramids, but I suppose we all have places that are special to us.
Anyone who has written a novel and used real places in a fictitious manner, surely has done so for reasons other than sheer happenstance. Such is the case in my new novel, Fresh Heir, which uses the analogy of a journey to help communicate its central theme - the struggles of parenting in the modern world. Fresh Heir takes the reader across most of the country, through many places that either hold some significance in my life or best served as an apt metaphor based on my knowledge of that particular place. I would like to share my thoughts on what I believe are the seven most significant places in my story, and I hope at least one of them might resonate with you too. Most of these places could not objectively qualify as as a Seven Wonder of anywhere, but I do believe one indeed deserves the standing it has earned on many lists of notoriety. Here they are:
Long Island: The only list this place qualifies for is the What-In-The-Wonder-Am-I-Doing-Here list. Lots of locals ask that when they’re stuck in bumpa-da-bumpa traffic on the Long Island Expressway, or trapped in a hot, crowded train car on the Long Island Railroad in July. But it’s really not so bad. It’s special to me because it’s where I was born and raised. And it’s where I introduce the four main characters in my novel. Jamie Shoop is a 12-year genius. Or at least his father, Doug, thinks so. Doug is a bit down-and-out when it comes to his own life. A failed marriage, a tedious career, and a general lack of any self-respect have him searching for any modicum of salvation. His son is the jackpot he needed, the ticket to happiness. Jamie does have a remarkably photographic memory, and a grown-up’s sarcastic view towards life, but otherwise he seems to be a normal teenager, texting with friends and harassing his little sister. Frizzy is her name. She’s five and serves as a fly in the ointment for the perfect summer trip Doug has concocted.
He’s planned a cross-country voyage to California, where Jamie will attend a special program for gifted youth. To boost his son’s chances for success, Doug has hired one of these college consultants he’s heard about to “train” his son so he can keep up with all the rich kids. Ashely is the consultant’s name, and the Shoop family vacation is barely underway before we realize that Ashley might just be a bit of a quack.
Long Island served a purpose for the opening scene for a symbolic reason more than anything. Fresh Heir’s theme explores the extreme pressure parents are under these days to get their kids to succeed. This pressure swells to obsession if a child demonstrates any promise in a certain discipline... school, sports, the arts. Perhaps no place personifies the pressure-cooker than the New York Metropolitan area.
Philadelphia: The City of Brotherly Love serves as the back-drop for one of the most satirical scenes in the book. The scene pokes fun at over-zealous parents who lose control at youth sporting events. This of course can be a serious issue, as we all know that the result of this over-zealousness can sometimes lead to catastrophic consequences. But mostly they just result in parents looking like buffoons, which is what I tried to spotlight in my book. These types of scenes can and do happen anywhere and everywhere, but I chose Philly because, well, I’m a New Yorker at heart, and when it comes down to anything having to do with sports, New Yorkers love to hate Philly.
Central Virginia: It’s where I currently live... and I love it like no place else. Charlottesville in particular is my home, surrounded by some of the most bucolic countryside you’ll ever see. And it’s inhabited by an incredibly diverse, friendly, down-to-earth community of people. But there is no doubt that there’s a slice of status-symbolism around here. It’s been going on for hundreds of years... people make a lot of money elsewhere, usually in finance, and then buy a huge, gleaming estate in the Virginia countryside to show off their wealth. With this backdrop, Fresh Heir focuses in on the theme of trying to be someone you are not, and the frustrations that often result from that. The reader might begin to realize that this perhaps is one of Doug Shoop’s biggest problems in life, and one he risks passing on to his son.
Southwest Florida: I lived there for 15 years. I got married there, and it’s where my four children were born. So it holds a special place. Ooooh, but let’s be honest, Florida’s so easy to poke fun at...hanging chads aside. And ultimately, when I wrote Fresh Heir, I decided I wanted to have fun with it, and communicate that sensation to the reader. Florida is a critical turning point in the story because it is where the reader meets Dale, Jamie’s and Frizzy’s grandfather. Dale will play an instrumental role in the outcome of the journey and in the transformation of Jamie’s personality. Florida is also the place where the reader begins to sense Doug is feeling the futility of his “forced” efforts with Jamie.
Aspen: One of the most spectacular places in the country. The scenery is breathtaking, the pulse of outdoor activity is intoxicating...and the display of wealth mind-boggling. For an outsider this last characteristic can be intimidating... to throw in one more adjective! As if Doug Shoop were not already feeling enough angst in his life, he has to spend two days in this milieu with his ex-wife and her new rich husband. What I tried to accomplish in this chapter was a feeling that you just want to shake Doug by the shoulders and tell him to “chill” but he won’t. He just can’t seem to give up his quest to “stick it” to those whom he feels have screwed him in life, using his son as the means to do so. Ouch. I think I had the most fun writing the scenes in Aspen.
Rapid City, South Dakota: OK, who’s been there? If you have, you’ll surely “get” the motorcycles. This city perched among an endless array of western sites of historic and natural significance, serves as the backdrop for the climax of the story. It’s when Doug’s efforts to boost his son’s chances in life, cross over into a world of delusion. Rapid City serves as an apt metaphor in a few respects. For one, it sits on the slopes of the Black Hills. And at this moment in Doug’s life, things couldn’t get any darker. But there is also a hint of a new beginning. And in our country, of course, the West has always symbolized new beginnings (and a great place to ride motorcycles, I suppose). Rapid City is that gateway to a fresh path ahead.
Grand Tetons: The story ends here. And this is a place that deserves to be on many lists that extol beauty and wonder. The view up at the Tetons is inspirational, but is it enough to inspire Doug to let go? I hope you’ll find out.
And I hope you will share your thoughts about any of the places above that might have special significance for you.
Michael Reilly is a writer and entrepreneur. He earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Yale University and a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University. His first published novel, Fresh Heir, was released in May 2011. He is also founder and chief executive officer of FitDivs Inc, a company that promotes and rewards healthy living. Michael resides with his wife and four children in Charlottesville, VA.
You can visit his website at www.freshheirnovel.com or connect with him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pages/Fresh-Heir/168240473246308.