Baldwinsville native Peter Berry almost failed English class but fell in love with printing while attending C.W. Baker High School in the ‘70s. At one point, he considered working for the Messenger, but instead took a job running a printing press at a Syracuse-based accounting firm.
Though his interests laid in ink, he followed a different course, developing a long-term career in computers. His first move was to Washington, D.C. where he lived for seven years; also where, Berry said, he learned to hate traffic.
In 1990, Berry picked up and moved again, this time further south to Raleigh, N.C. The former Seneca Knolls resident now resides on a quiet lake, a distance from the state’s capital, and pursues his passion for writing.
Messenger editor Tami Scott caught up with Berry to talk about his novel based in Baldwinsville. Here’s what he had to say:
Is “Change of Hearts” your first published novel?“Change of Hearts” is my first novel. I guess you can say it is set in present day, however, I applied writer’s privilege to suit my memories of my hometown. For example, there is no Dunkin Donuts in Baldwinsville! Instead, the Corner Cakery is alive and well.
The story opens with a local boy, now a man, returning home from a family vacation in the Carolinas. His wife is actively involved in the local political scene and their boys are ready to head off to college. Faced with an impending empty nest, the main character anticipates some quality time with the love of his life.
When was it released?“Change of Hearts” was released in February 2013 after two and a half years of work and contemplation. The first draft was finished rather quickly, a little less than five months. Not bad for someone that nearly failed high school English. Writing the manuscript was easy, the words just flowed. On the other hand, editing a piece of work this size is daunting. But even that turned out to be exciting; every time I worked on “Change of Hearts,” I got to spend time with my favorite characters.
Please give a brief summary of your story.
The main character in “Change of Hearts” has worked hard to build a business that provides for his family. Now with their kids heading off to college he’s looking forward to rekindling a love affair with his wife. But she has other goals, political goals. Yes this is a typical situation with spouses growing apart, however the outcome is anything but typical.
What inspired this novel?
The first words of “Change of Hearts” were actually penned while on vacation at the very spot where I introduce my readers to the main character. Sitting alone with my thoughts, surrounded by the morning sea breeze with a fresh cup of coffee in hand, who wouldn’t find inspiration?
Reflecting on relationships, romantic and otherwise, I marvel at their fluid nature. Changes are usually subtle, not noticed from day to day. Then all at once we get smacked upside the head. That’s when the fight to maintain status quo begins. But by then it’s too late, change is inevitable, that relationship will never be the same.
We all go through it. I’ve seen it a thousand times, all too often playing out poorly. With “Change of Hearts,” as I do with all of my stories, I bring it to a happy ending.
Why did you choose Baldwinsville as the setting for your book?
I heard somewhere that you should “write what you know.” I grew up in Baldwinsville, graduating from Baker High in 1979 with 490-plus other kids. At the time I couldn’t wait to get out. Now I dream of home nearly every day. More importantly, I dream of the people that still make it my home. Okay, that’s stretching the truth a little. There are three months out of the year that I would love to still live in the village. But then there is the snow, cold, taxes … Enough of why I left.
Way, way back in sixth grade, Mrs. Dwyer had us do a little exercise that stuck with me ever since. She asked us to write on a piece of paper where we thought we would live in 10 years. One by one she pulled the scraps out of a hat, read them out loud and asked why. When she came to mine she smiled bright and asked, “Florida?” My response was quick, enthusiastic and without hesitation, “I hate being cold!”
Nowadays, I do spend time in Florida but North Carolina is my home. It still gets cold here, but nothing like up home. The people are nice here, but nothing like up home.
What are some of your fondest memories of Baldwinsville?
I grew up in Seneca Knolls, a neighborhood generally not mistaken for Seneca Estates found on the opposite side of the village. Our houses may not have been signs of affluence, but we were certainly rich with friends. There was never a problem collecting enough kids for a game of hide and seek or touch football. But my favorite was playing softball in Paul Lane nearly every day during summer vacation.
As soon as our parents would let us out of their sight, we would head down to the river. I can remember my mom telling us that the river was polluted so we wouldn’t go near it, we never did buy that. Maybe we did a little because we were petrified to eat any of the fish we caught. Paddling a canoe to Long Branch Park or in the other direction all the way to the village was another of my favorite pastimes. Of course we had to stop off at the railroad bridge near the second entrance of Village Green to jump off. If my mother has not had a stroke reading this yet then I’m sure she will when she hears that we would regularly play on the rope swing just up the river a ways.
They say your sense of smell is the most powerful memory trigger. I’m sure that’s true, for every time I smell fresh donuts I’m transported back to the days when I would ride my bike the four miles from my house to the four corners of the village to pig out on fresh donuts from the Corner Cakery.
You mentioned the Finger Lakes — which lake(s) specifically are mentioned and how are they incorporated in the story?
The characters in “Change of Hearts” spend time on Cross Lake, which is just west of Baldwinsville. They also travel along the New York State Barge Canal to Lake Ontario then up into the St. Lawrence River into the Thousand Islands for the Fourth of July holiday weekend. Two of the characters’ homes are situated on the shore of the Seneca River right in the village. I even give a brief history lesson of the Erie Canal and its significance to the village.
How many books have you written altogether?“Mrs. So AndSo” is my second novel. It takes place in Central New York, just a little south and west of Baldwinsville in the heart of the Finger Lakes.
I’ve got 10 more in the works. Each connects to one or more of my stories. Sometimes the connection is subtle, other times obvious. For example, the main characters in “Mrs. SoAndSo” spend some time in Baldwinsville. Then there is “The Bell House,” so many of my readers fell in love with the characters in “Change of Hearts” that I decided to start work on a prequel.
I hate to label my stories as romance, more accurately they are adult relationships. In my upcoming novels you’ll read about a high performance sports car driving across country, a mystery, mystical Indian relics and possibly even political intrigue. All with the common thread of adult relationship and the promise of a happy ending.
You mentioned that you fell in love with printing in high school — who or what inspired you to grow your passion for writing?
High school is a time for you to figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life. I didn’t have a clue and college was certainly not in my future. Heck, I was failing English; no way could I hack any more time in a classroom.
Every time I walked past Mr. Decker’s room the printing presses were humming, spitting out sheet after sheet of paper. For the next two years, I spent every possible moment in print shop. Some kids had grease under their nails from auto shop, I had ink. Mr. Decker must have seen some talent in me because he kept me busy with all sorts of printing for the school. He even helped me get a job running a press for an accounting firm in downtown Syracuse.
My passion for printing was never going to make me rich. With the encouragement of my girlfriend, I turned my focus to computers. To this day I am thankful that hometown girl pushed me in to college. And surprisingly, I got pretty good grades in English.
Computers never did make me rich, but my career as a creator of software has made my writing possible. Looking ahead to retirement, I will have my truest of passions to keep me happy!
What led you down the path of becoming a published author?
It was on the morning of my 49th birthday, eyes wide open and still hours before the sun would come up. The realization that other than my family and work I had never really created anything was really bothering me.
I love a good story; books, movies, tales my grandfather would tell. They’re all made up of life experiences and relationships. “I’ve had those,” I thought, “lots of those. Why not put it on paper?”
My family and friends thought I was nuts at first. They were still skeptical when I handed over the first draft of the “Change of Hearts” manuscript. I’ll never forget the first comment, “You wrote this?” Then more and more positive feedback with the best being, “What are you going to write next?” Who wouldn’t be inspired by that!
How can people purchase a copy of “Change of Hearts”?
My books are currently available electronically from Amazon for the Kindle and Kindle App. Anyone with an Android, iPhone, iPad tablet or telephone, PC or Mac computer can download and enjoy.
Later this year, I expect to have printed copies available. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure that the Baldwinsville Public Library gets a copy!
In the meantime, check out the following websites: amazon.com/dp/B00BH51VMS, facebook.com/changeofhearts.book, amazon.com/author/peterberry and facebook.com/happyendingspublications.
You can also email Berry at email@example.com.