When I told my mom I was writing a historical love story set in the 60s, she said, "The 1960s isn't historical." Meaning: "I was alive then, so it wasn't that long ago." No, Mom. It wasn't that long ago. And unlike some of the novels I've written, there was no comfortable distance from the setting or the time.
I wasn’t alive in the sixties. I don’t have any firsthand knowledge of the decade this story was set in—not the music scene, the Mafia life, the political climate, or the civil rights movement. I was not there. But when the idea for this story took root in me, it flowered quickly. Benny and Esther started talking, and I wasn't about to ignore them. I wrote their story, and I poured my whole self into it.
Esther Mine and Benny Lament are not Amy Harmon. They are my creations, but they are not me. And though my characters are born in my heart and raised with my research, the hope is that they will become real to my readers, and that they will be authentic to the actual people who have lived similar experiences. That is the test and the responsibility.
As I told Sher, I may not be the same color as Esther. I may not be Sicilian like Benny. I definitely don't play the piano like he does. But we are the same more than we are different. We may not share an entire identity--no two people do--but we share a world. I share Benny's love of music and his passion for creation. I share Esther's hopes and her fears as a woman, a daughter, and a sister. I share Benny's complicated feelings about family, and Esther's desire to be part of something bigger and something better. In truth, I had no trouble "being" Esther or Benny at all.
That is the magic of books. Of stories. We become someone else. We walk inside them. We go where they've been and where they're going. And the walls between us and them disappear. Every reader can attest to this.
Finally, this book isn't a story about trauma. It's a story about triumph. About love. About family. It's a story about music, and how it heals and holds and helps us along when everything else fails. I hope you feel every note in The Songbook of Benny Lament. I know I did.