Part 2 of an interview with Mike H. Mizrahi,
Author of The Great Chattanooga Bicycle Race
Mike Mizrahi’s The Great Chattanooga Bicycle Race (Redemption Press) introduces readers to Anna Gaines, an insecure and introverted 19-year-old, who discovers she’s a natural on the “wheel” after a visit with her aunt in Brooklyn. Upon returning home to Chattanooga, she insists on the same rights men have to cycle in public. She becomes the first woman to ride the streets of Chattanooga, clad in the bloomers, the risqué apparel many New York women are wearing in 1895.
A firestorm ignites, pitting a few progressive thinkers against a city full of moralists intent on clinging to their post-Antebellum way of life. Anna finds herself in the middle of an explosive controversy she never envisioned. She is pitted against Peter Sawyer, the Cycle Club president who silently harbors a crush for her, in a five-mile bicycle race that will decide if women have the same capabilities as men to ride.
In addition to an entertaining story and a glimpse into history, Mizrahi hopes readers will see growing into the person he or she longs to become requires patience and courage in the shadows of adversity.
Q: Your leading lady, Anna, is described as an introvert, but she did something seemingly out of her nature. What exactly did she do, and what inspired her to break out of her shell and try something new?
Anna declares war on the childhood insecurities she is carrying into young adulthood. At 13, a fall from her horse resulted in a broken leg, a permanent limp and a shattered self-image. Now 19, Anna starts her emotional rehabilitation by moving from the family farm into a women’s boardinghouse in the city. An expert seamstress from years of self-imposed social confinement, she lands a job at Loveman’s Department Store and gets her first taste of freedom. It’s really the accomplishment of Annie Londonderry, a mother of three in her mid-20s, that breaks the chains binding Anna. On a visit with her aunt in Brooklyn, Anna learns that this adventurer is finishing a bicycle ride around the world . . . clad in bloomers. Anna’s aunt, a college professor, takes Anna to a riding school, where she takes to “the wheel.” A second taste of freedom on the bicycle leads her to stand against an entire community determined to keep such inappropriate behavior from their streets.
I will be donating 50% of the proceeds from the sale of each book to iCan Shine, Inc., an international 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit organization that teaches children, teens and young adults with disabilities to ride a conventional two-wheel bicycle. iCan Shine conducts more than 100 five-day programs in 35 US states and four provinces in Canada, serving approximately 3,000 people with disabilities each year.
I hope to help provide those with disabilities the chance to discover they’re a natural on the “wheel,” much like Anna from the book. Imagine the smiles on the faces of kids and young adults with disabilities as they experience a newfound freedom on the seat of a two-wheeler, just like Anna found the same independence on the seat of a bicycle. The tie-in is perfect.
You can learn more about iCan Shine at www.iCanShine.org.
Q: As a writer, you plan to write in the historical genre, at least for now. What drew you to write about life at the turn of the 20th century?
I had an idea for a different book, which I still intend to write, about the era of Yellow Journalism (circa 1900-03). So much change was in the air, much like today. Industrialization created a massive shift in America from an agrarian to a more urban society; this brought about increased opportunities for men and women to attend school and take jobs outside the home. The nation experienced a massive wave of immigration, people from every nation seeking the ideals of liberty and opportunity. Sensational news coverage, particularly from New York, distorted the information Americans were reading, much like today. However we were still a country of strong faith, and family was the backbone of our culture, all of which attracts me as a writer of historical fiction.
Q: You didn’t write your first novel until after you retired. Have you always had the bug to write? If so, why did you wait so long to get started?
Yes, the bug burrowed deep inside me long ago. I’ve been writing since high school, in one form or another. Take songwriting, one of my favorite pastimes. It’s a puzzle, crafting words that tuck neatly into the melody of the song. At the same time, the lyrics must tell a story or express an idea that moves the listener. Anyway, having pursued a career in journalism and corporate public relations, I thought writing a book would be the next frontier. I guess the busyness of life got in the way; then I noticed one morning the kids are grown and gone, and I’m about to retire. However, it wasn’t until Karen and I returned from a mission trip to Africa in 2013 that I got the idea for my first manuscript. Looking back, I wish I had taken the plunge long before, but God willing there’s much more ahead.
Q: The Great Chattanooga Bicycle Race is the first book you have published but was not the first book you ever wrote. Tell us about the experience that inspired you to write your first novel.
We went with a handful of members from our church to the Democratic Republic of Congo to teach business and education principles. One day while taking a break outside the church where we taught, a woman asked about the large gathering inside. She wore western clothing and appeared to be in her late 20s. As it turned out, she was born in Bunia, the city we were in, but she left to attend college in San Francisco, became a social worker and never came back. I asked if she ever would. She said she was thinking about it, and I told her Bunia needed her. Just then a man on a motorbike pulled up, and she got on and waved goodbye. Three months later I had a 90,000-word manuscript about an African-American social worker who returns to her city of birth to see her dying father and is caught up in a rebel attack. The story involves a great chase through Virunga Nation Park, the gorilla mountains.
Q: What piece of inspirational wisdom do you hope readers ride away with after reading The Great Chattanooga Bicycle Race?
True and lasting joy comes not from things or experiences, but from what we hold in our hearts as excellent, praiseworthy, just and pure. To grow into the person we long to become requires patience and courage in the shadows of adversity. Having the courage to conquer our inner doubts and pursue our dreams can transform us and those around us — even change history.
To keep up with Mike H. Mizrahi, visit www.mikehmizrahi.com. You can also follow him on Facebook (AuthorMikeMizrahi) and Twitter (@MikeHMiz).