Most of my books are what they are--a fictional story. But A Falling Star is a story borne out of a dream that's very personal and close to my heart. I grew up in the small town of Brownsville, Pennsylvania. I think it was the perfect place to enjoy childhood in the fifties and sixties. We lived in a house heated by coal. So did most of our neighbors. Most of the businesses lined the main street called ‘the neck’, with the exception of those scattered around the square. The heart of the square was the Plaza--originally constructed as a vaudeville house. In my childhood, the Plaza was the place to be on Saturday for cartoons, a movie feature, intermission with prizes and a second run feature. It’s where every kid in town spent the day with Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Hara, Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse and, more importantly, with each other.
Most of us left our homes, picked up friends along the way, and walked to the theater. And when the movies were over, we walked home. No one got snatched. No one got shot. No gangs battled for turf, except possibly the imaginary ones playing out some scene from one of the movies.
It was definitely a simpler time. Think Mayberry without southern accents and a more integrated population. Brownsville was founded in 1785, a town built on possibilities and dreams. A town rich in our history from the American Revolution through the Civil War as part of the underground railroad.
Fast forward. The coal mining industry is on a decline. One by one, abandoned storefronts are covered by plywood. Buildings are bought up by a businessman who then lets them fall to ruin. And, in 2004, the once-majestic Plaza falls to the wrecking ball after years of neglect and crumbling.
I used to imagine someone coming back to Brownsville, a hero or heroine with a vision and the money to put behind it, and to give the town the boost it needed to come back to the once-vibrant community it had been.
A Falling Star is the story of a small-town boy who’s made it big in Hollywood but, to escape a scandal, retreats to the hometown he left eleven years earlier. He discovers his hometown in disrepair. Shoot, it’s a virtual ghost town. But as Spence begins to discover new possibilities in himself and with the girl he left behind, he sees possibilities for his town.
So, I used Brownsville (under the name of Clarkston) as the setting for A Falling Star. I highlighted places that were important to me growing up and that most people in Brownsville or who grew up there will easily recognize. I kept the name of the Plaza and let Spence breathe life back into the town by breathing life back into the old theater. Well, it is fiction, after all. I made Spence the hometown boy who left in the middle of the night and never looked back and now returns as the hometown hero.
Although A Falling Star is a contemporary romance novel about Spence and Val, the girl he left behind, it’s also about coming home, rediscovering what’s truly important, and reclaiming values from a simpler time. It’s a story of hope on many different levels.
I’m happy to say that, even though writing a hero to swoop in and save the town won’t make it happen, there are heroes in Brownsville. Not only do residents work for revitalization, a group of high school students designed a park to replace a building recently torn down because it was crumbling. They’re working now to raise the funds to make this park a reality https://www.sites.google.com/site/ofrstudentsinaction/. Rather than leaving town, some residents have opted to open new businesses. They are heroes. The people of Brownsville continue to gather for holiday parades and community events, to celebrate home.
Would a couple million dollars help save Brownsville? It would be a start toward repair. But what will ultimately save Brownsville and other small towns like it is the hope that rests in the spirit of the people. That’s why A Falling Star is dedicated as follows:
To my home town of Brownsville, Pennsylvania and to the
indomitable spirit of the people who live there.
If you read A Falling Star, I hope you enjoy the romance. If you’re from Brownsville or have fond memories of your own small hometown, I hope the story touches you to dream of possibilities instead of seeing the ghosts of the past. When I started the story, I thought of Brownsville as being much like Spence--A Falling Star. But maybe she’s a star on the rise once again.
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And, now, here is an excerpt from A Falling Star.
Spence drove into downtown Clarkston and parked in the open lot that used to house a grocery store. Boarded up buildings and parking lots—the irony made him grimace. He glanced around. The public library still stood on the corner. Across the street sat the Post Office and the Devil’s Den bar. Beyond that loomed the Plaza Theater, its alabaster façade smudged and faded. His gaze traveled up to the second floor where, sure enough, a tree sprouted out between two broken windows.
He ambled across the parking lot and stood in front of the boarded-up theater. He felt as though he were standing before the grave of his buried childhood. A lump formed in his throat. He sensed someone watching him and turned his head. The woman looked vaguely familiar.
“Oh, my God.” She took quick, deliberate steps toward him. “Spence? Or should I say ‘the sexiest man alive’?”
“Val? Wow, you’ve grown up.” He was glad his sunglasses kept her from seeing the way his eyes mapped her curves. His gaze settled briefly on her chest before sliding back up to her face.
“Yes, but I’m betting you haven’t.” She gave him a full once-over. “You look good, quite the Hollywood movie star. Taking a break from the fast life?”
“Don’t believe everything you read in the tabloids. I’m actually boring off-screen.”
“You’re assuming you’re not boring on-screen,” she teased.
“Ouch. Aunt Lou tells me you’ve done okay, running the newspaper now.”
She grinned. “I couldn’t let Grampa sell it out of the family. Besides, that’s why I got a journalism degree.”
He hesitated, then said, “I also hear you have a daughter.”
“Yes. I a…”
“Mom!” A young girl raced down the sidewalk from the direction of the library. “They’re having a summer reading contest. Look.” The girl held up a stack of books.
Val swept long tawny brown hair out of the girl’s face. “I guess I don’t have to ask what you want to do the rest of the day. Ali, this is an old friend of mine from high school, Spence.”
Ali knitted her brows together. “You look a lot like that actor. Mom wouldn’t let me go to his movies ’cause she says I’m too young.”
Spence nodded. “You are too young for those movies.”
Her blue eyes widened, and he noticed how much they resembled Val’s—like ice blue diamonds. “Are you that guy?”
Bending down, he whispered, “I am, but don’t tell anyone. I’m trying to take a vacation.”
Ali smiled, and he saw other hints of Val in the girl’s face. What he didn’t see was any hint of himself. Until he studied her features more closely. Maybe that little bump in her nose? The dimple in one cheek?
Val handed a set of keys to her daughter. “Want to put your books in the car?”
When the girl was gone, Spence said, “She’s cute. Looks like you.”
“She bears a family resemblance.”
“So, does she look like your husband too?”
“Oh, I’m not married. I don’t know how much of her father…” Her cell phone played the William Tell Overture and she dug it out of her purse. “Excuse me, I have to take this.” She turned around to answer the call.
Ali returned and stared up at him. “Is it true you used to be my mom’s boyfriend?”
Spence held up a hand. “Guilty.”
“How come you broke up?”
“Uh…well…I went away to pursue my career in acting, and your mom stayed here.”
“Did you ask her to go with you?”
Val turned around just as the question was asked.
Spence looked over Ali’s head to meet Val’s steady gaze. “No. No, I didn’t. We all make mistakes.”