Today I have a guest post from Arnine Weiss, author of She Ain’t Heavy, as part of her blog tour. Her topic today is the idea behind her book.
In the aftermath of 9/11, among the stories of devastation and heroism, there was another theme that was often discussed. There were many individuals who were supposed to be in the towers that morning, but for one reason or another were not. Some were delayed while dropping their kids at school, or got stuck in traffic, or just overslept on that fateful day. Whatever the excuse, I was fascinated by the tales of being in the wrong place at the right time. And I wondered if these lucky souls not only recognized that they were given a second chance, but also what they did with them.
The original setting for my new novel, She Ain’t Heavy (Academy Chicago Press) was supposed to be in New York City immediately before 9/11 and then in the aftermath. The protagonist, Teddy, had just moved there from a small town in northeastern Pennsylvania to be with her childhood friend, Rachel. Rachel was in the towers when they fell and Teddy was left in the big city with no money, no friends and no place to live.
As I started to write the novel, I realized that I couldn’t talk about 9/11 without getting political, and that was not the story I wanted to tell. As I tried to figure out where to go next, I remembered a story that was told casually during an office Christmas party. My husband’s colleague recounted that his son was living in graduate housing at a university in New England when there was a carbon monoxide accident that involved casualties. For some reason, on that Sunday morning, this young man awoke early, which was not his habit, and went to the store. He returned to find his apartment building surrounded by yellow police tape and his neighbors being carried out.
That story became the backdrop for my novel. Since I had lived in Philadelphia for ten years and knew my way around the Chestnut Hill section, I moved the story there. Rachel arranges for a job interview for Teddy at the university she attends. But the night before the interview, the two women argue, Teddy storms out and has a one-night stand with a guy she meets in a bar. She comes back to the apartment in the early morning only to find yellow police tape surrounding the building and an unconscious Rachel being carried out by a fireman. Teddy is homeless, friendless and broke. The story progresses from there. Teddy became so real to me, that I sometimes think I see her on the street.
The title She Ain’t Heavy is a take off of a 1930s poster for Boys’ Town where a young boy is carrying his little brother on his back. When asked if his burden is too hard to bear, the young boy responds, “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.” The Hollies also wrote a song in the 1960s with the same title and gist, He Ain’t Heavy.
In spite of the change in setting, She Ain’t Heavy carries the theme of second chances and how a character can grow and flourish when given the opportunity. A real tragedy provided the background for this heroic journey that enabled the heroine to find the best part of herself in spite of all the obstacles she faced.
She Ain’t Heavy by Arnine Weiss
Published by Academy Chicago Publishers on Jun 15, 2013
Genres: Adult, Contemporary
Find the book: Amazon, Goodreads
Just when counter clerk Teddy Warner is about to be evicted from her Scranton apartment, she bumps into beautiful, brilliant, blond Rachel – her estranged childhood friend whose mother forbid their friendship thinking Teddy was beneath them.
Teddy and Rachel reconnect over hot chocolate and under New Year’s Eve fireworks. Their discussion leads to an invitation. Soon, Teddy’s on her way to Philadelphia, where Rachel is a student, to share an apartment and begin an exciting new life in the City.
Teddy views Rachel as perfect. Rachel can’t bring herself to shatter the image by letting on that she is having an affair with a married man. Just when Teddy is starting to feel at home, Rachel insists on some privacy. Acting out her anger at being asked to stay away, Teddy indulges in a one-night stand.
When Teddy returns to their apartment the next morning, Rachel is being carried out on a stretcher – the victim of carbon monoxide poisoning. This unforeseen tragedy leaves Teddy alone in a strange city, with no money, no friends, and no connections.
As Teddy struggles to find her way, she meets a mentor at the same university Rachel previously attended who takes an interest in her, but with strings attached. She also develops a unique bond with the firefighter who rescued Rachel. And yet, Teddy remains committed to helping Rachel get back on her feet, at a time when no one else who supposedly loves her can accept her in this diminished way. Along the way, Teddy discovers her own strength in the roles of caretaker, lover, and friend.