The Heart and Soul of Shepherd Avenue by Charlie Carillo
My novel “Shepherd Avenue” is populated with vivid, passionate people, and they’re all spokes of a wheel whose hub is the grandmother, Connie Ambrosio.
I could lie to you and say the Connie character is loosely based on my real-life Italian-American grandmother, the late Millie Carillo. The truth is that Connie is my grandmother – who was as reliable as the tides, and as fierce as she was fair.
Somehow Millie and my grandfather, Charlie Carillo – I was named after him – managed to raise five strong children through the worst of the Great Depression. They would have laughed over what Americans today consider hard times.
Over the years their house at 207 Shepherd Avenue in Brooklyn was always open to their children and their grandchildren. I don’t think Millie’s stove ever cooled down all the way. Day and night, there’d be a meal in the making for whoever might show up.
There’s nothing more fun than sitting around a long table with family members who really, really know each other. That was always the best part of going to Grandma’s house. We could kid around with each other. We couldn’t fool each other. Everything was real.
That’s the spirit I wanted to capture when I began writing “Shepherd Avenue.” I didn’t even know where I was going when I started typing. I started writing a series of stories about these people I loved, and eventually I came up with the plot that made it into a novel.
Whenever I got stuck, Connie/Millie came to the rescue with a word or a deed to jump-start the story.
I never told Grandma what I was up to at my typewriter, and meanwhile her life was changing rapidly. My grandfather had died, and she was alone for the first time in her life in a rapidly changing neighborhood.
The local authorities installed extra locks on her doors. It was clear she wouldn’t be able to stay on Shepherd Avenue much longer.
Then one day, after months of suspense, my agent called with two simple words: “Go celebrate.” My book was going to be published!
The first call was to my grandmother. “Guess what, Grandma,” I said. “I just sold a novel called ‘Shepherd Avenue.’
“Guess what,” she replied. “I just sold my house on Shepherd Avenue.”
It was true. The house she’d lived in for more than sixty years was sold on the same day as my book.
All I could do was laugh, and wonder what made me think I could find a way to get ahead of Millie Carillo.
She wasn’t much of a reader, but she did like the book, except for what she called the “curse words.”
I’m only sorry she isn’t around to read the sequel, “Return To Shepherd Avenue,” which comes out in June. I think she would have liked it, except for the curse words.
Shepherd Ave —
From acclaimed author Charlie Carillo comes a poignant, darkly funny, coming-of-age story set in the heart of Italian-American Brooklyn, New York, and the heat of one eventful 1960s summer . . .
Ten-year-old Joey Ambrosio has barely begun to grieve his mother’s death when his father abruptly uproots him from his sedate suburban Long Island home, and deposits him at his estranged grandparents’ house in boisterous East New York. While his dad takes off on an indefinite road trip, Joey is left to navigate unfamiliar terrain. Besides his gruff Italian grandparents, there’s his teenage Uncle Vic, a baseball star obsessed with the music of Frank Sinatra; a steady diet of soulful, hearty foods he’s never tasted, and a community teeming with life, from endless gossip and arguments to curse-laden stickball games under the elevated train. It’s a world where privacy doesn’t exist and there’s no time to feel sorry for yourself. Most of all, it’s where Joey learns not only how to fight, and how to heal, but how to love—and ultimately, how to forgive.
“An excellent writer and a marvelous storyteller. . . . He creates a special world on Shepherd Avenue that I loved to enter and hated to leave.” –Ferrol Sams
“A superb comic novelist…hilarious and truthful.” – Sally Jenkins
You can purchase SHEPHERD AVENUE at:
About The Author:
Charlie Carillo is a novelist and a TV producer. He was a reporter and columnist at the New York Post before working as a producer for the TV shows “American Journal” and “Inside Edition.” He writes for the Huffington Post and divides his time between New York City and London.