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Story Behind the Story #45: The Mayor of Central Park

The Mayor of Central ParkFew writers have names that become synonymous with a style of writing; Damon Runyon is one of them. As my dictionary has it, “Runyonesque: language or imagery characterized by plot or language suggestive of gangsters or the New York underworld.”

Think of the musical Guys and Dolls, which is based on his short stories. Never mind that Runyon was born in Kansas and spent most of his youth in Colorado.  But it is relevant that I, a New Yorker, while living in Colorado, wrote The Mayor of Central Park.

It is quite common for writers who have written a lot—such as me—to have a favorite book, a book which is not necessarily a favorite of his readers.  The Mayor of Central Park (illustrated by Brian Floca) fits that description for me.  While it is all it about New York, baseball, and gangsters (in this case, rats) it’s mostly about language, and having fun with it.

“To look at Oscar Westerwit you might think, hey, just another New York City squirrel. Only thing is, if you said that, you’d be dead wrong. ‘Cause the simple scoop is that this here Oscar Westerwit was a full-sized uptown romantic. And when you get an uptown squirrel who’s romantic, let me you tell you something: you got yourself a story busting to trot up Broadway like a tap-dancing centipede.”

The book had another major source of inspiration, the extraordinary 19th century illustrations by French artist known as J. J. Grandville. These satirical works depicted animals in human dress. Just to look at them is to invent stories—as I did.

The Duchess and the Duke singing a nocturne. J. Grandville, from Vie privée et publique des animaux (Public and Private Life of Animals), under the direction of P. J. Stahl, Paris, 1867. (Source: archive.org)

When I wrote The Mayor of Central Park I envisioned a series of stories in the same mode. Alas, I was one of the few readers who enjoyed the book. The series was never written.

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