By Tammy Scileppi
Looking for a great summer read? Check out Tennessean author Neil Newton’s first riveting novel, “The Railroad.” In a New York minute, the Bayside native’s life was forever impacted by his 9/11 ordeal. Skillfully combining this experience with a tale of murder and an unexpected twist, Newton even tackles hot-button issues like domestic violence and sexual abuse.
So, what’s a computer-programmer-turned-writer from Bayside doing in Inskip, Tennessee? Well, about a month after 9/11 Newton moved to the small, sleepy town and got hitched to Elizabeth, a former New Yorker. “We met on a writer’s critique mailing list, and I inherited four children and three grandchildren when I married my wife,” said the 52-year-old author.
When he was young, Newton and his friends dubbed Bayside “The Shire,” after Frodo Baggins’s home in J.R.R. Tolkein’s “The Lord of the Rings” books. “There was no humor intended. Bayside was always a haven — a quiet town within the borders of the most iconic city in the world,” he said.
“For my parents, as it was for a lot of immigrants and their children, Queens was their first taste of the American dream.” They lived on 208th Street off 48th Avenue.
Looking back, Newton recalled images and sounds that were still clear in his mind, like the ever-present, distant hum of traffic on the Clearview Expressway on a hot night: “So familiar and constant, it became part of the fabric of my life; sometimes barely heard, but always there. Those images and sounds haunt me to this day.”
On Sept. 11, 2001, Newton was trapped in a subway car filled with gray dust when the second World Trade Center tower fell after terrorists flew airplanes into the city’s two tallest structures. He came out into a “false night” as that blinding dust blocked out the sun.
Then he started writing. It was therapeutic, cathartic. “I put it all into the story, perhaps as a way of exorcising the demons of helplessness and anger. It describes how life can be transformed in a moment, and that finding your way back to the light is possible at any age.”
Stay tuned. The author is working on a sci-fi novel — a post-apocalyptic story that takes place only miles east of Bayside. Another book is in the works, featuring a community similar to his hometown.
According to Newton, life in Knox County, Tenn. is great, but every now and then he gets kind of homesick. “The thing I miss most is the food. The variety in New York is hard to beat — I’d kill for a half-sour pickle.”
“The Railroad” (Martin Sisters Publishing) is available at amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.