8 Questions with Steve Stein about The Sneaker Tree

I grew up with a guy named Steve Stein as a kid in Brooklyn and we have remained close over the years. Recently Steve released a novella, called The Sneaker Tree. It's all about growing up in Brooklyn and like he says below, it's for people hungry for a simpler, more down to earth time and place. It is for people that grew up in NYC or wish they did.

In the next couple of years you may see a screenplay in the works. For now, pick up a copy of The Sneaker Tree on Amazon here.

Brandon Steiner: Who is this book for and why did you write this book?

Steve Stein: This is a hopeful book, set in a colorful and complex time and place. Brooklyn, NYC 1969. I wrote this story as homage to old school Brooklyn and to capture simplicity, complexity and humor growing up during the Summer of Love.

This book is for anyone yearning for the good ole days, in real Brooklyn. I read a statistic that one out of every 3 Americans has a relative born in Brooklyn. So you could say I wrote it for those people with New York or Brooklyn roots. I also wrote if for people that wish they had Brooklyn roots, The Sneaker Tree took place in what was arguably one of the most colorful times in the past century.

The story is for people hungry for a simpler, more down to earth time and place. It is for people that grew up in NYC or wish they did.

My wife was pregnant with my older son when I finished up the first draft 12 years ago. I wanted to write a story that captures the color, simplicity and complexity of  “old school” Brooklyn and New York City. So, I wrote down the story so younger kids (and my kids) could get a taste of the special place that was Brooklyn and New York City back in the day.

BS: What was your favorite part of Brooklyn growing up?

SS: It was a tie between egg creams, bagel specials, great pizza, colorful people, feeling safe to walk around your neighborhood at 9-years-old with no parental guidance, living by the beach and Coney Island.  Long before there were apps and iPads there were balls, we played:3-box baseball, stick ball, paddle ball, hit the penny (with a Spalding), stoop ball, basketball, beach ball, skeeball, baseball, softball, etc.

BS: What did the “Miracle Mets” mean to the city of New York?

SS: Wow - I was 10 years old that summer and I kept score of every inning and every pitch that was televised on WOR channel 9. That ‘69 Mets had everything, a Jew to root for, the manager that lived in Brooklyn…They came from the cellar the previous year to the champs, a true miracle! 1969 was THE year for NYC sports fans, with the Mets, Jets and Knicks getting their Parade down the Canyon of Heroes. A great year to be a NY sports fan! Must have been a good year to make confetti too!

Footnote: That year I also got to shake Mickey Mantle’s hand on the field at Yankee Stadium during Mickey Mantle Banner Day. I have the picture to prove it!

Footnote 2: Years later, when you were moving from your Upper West Side apartment to downtown I got there and there were no movers, just myself and Art Shamsky, from the Miracle Mets!

BS: What’s the biggest difference between Brooklyn in 1969 and Brooklyn today?

SS: There's no seltzer man anymore. Stahl's Knishes is closed and people don't “hang out”. I raised my boys in Brooklyn before we moved to the suburbs. While we lived in Brooklyn, I never felt safe leaving them alone for a second. Back in the day, I was out all summer day, with no supervision and it was safe and fun.

Brooklyn in 1969 was full of open hearted, bigger than life characters. I don't think that is true today.

BS: What are the first two lessons someone should learn from The Sneaker Tree?

SS: 1) Being there for friends and family are paramount.

2) Put away the phone and play some stick ball. Actually be present with people, take time to laugh, cry and be a friend during good times and bad.

My dad owned the neighborhood record shop in Brighton Beach. The store had the largest collection of 45’s in Brooklyn. Our neighbors included Neil Sedaka. Also, Neil Diamond’s dad had a store around the corner from my dad’s store. He would come in to see the billboard charts every week to see if “his boy Neil” had made the charts. Well eventually he did - it was a happy day in the store and for Mr. Diamond.

The story is about dreams coming true and dreams falling short. It is a story about appreciating what you have.

BS: What was the most challenging part of growing up during that time and how can that be applied to today and teach kids a valuable lesson?

SS: In addition to working at my dad’s record store, I shined shoes to make money. I also sold knishes on the beach - we hustled, we worked hard and we lived life. I think today kids could use a stronger work ethic. So much is taken for granted by kids today. So another message in the story is that

“The little things in life are the big things in life.”

We were relatively poor but we felt like kings. Living in Brooklyn by the sea was special. I lived in 2nd Street Park in Brighton Beach and all I did was play sports. I would run through sneakers so fast, my parents could not afford to purchase new ones. So I put cardboard in the holes. It was not uncommon to have blisters after the cardboard on the ball of the foot wore through and my ripped up sock would come out the bottom. When the ketchup bottle got down to the bottom, my mom would add water.

The Lesson - appreciate what you have.

BS: Plans for a screenplay in the future?

SS: Until last year, no one had read the screenplay or novella of The Sneaker Tree in the past 12 years. The screenplay was a finalist in the Sundance Film Festival Screenwriters Lab. Showtime and New Line Cinema expressed interest in the screenplay back then. Jerry Stiller expressed interest in playing the dad in the story. Most recently, thanks to the encouragement from my two friends, Jon Kabat-Zinn and you of course, I self published the novella (adapted from the initial screenplay) and I have current interest from a major New York publisher in the project. So in 2017 I plan to finish the novel, sell the novel and screenplay and make the movie!

BS: Where can someone purchase The Sneaker Tree?

SS: You can purchase the novella version of The Sneaker Tree on Amazon here.


About Steve Stein:

Steve Stein, author of The Sneaker Tree, is the Associate Commissioner of the NY Lawyers and Corporate Basketball league.  Steve is an entrepreneur, playwright and musician.  Steve and his family left Brooklyn a few years ago, he now lives in the burbs (where there is always parking!) with his wife and two kids.

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