Highlights » Lifestyle » Vol. 52

Author brings Worcester to life

By Sloane M. Perron

When Mark Fins was 8, little did he know that a chance encounter with a legendary Worcester resident would later form the basis for his debut novel, Imagine That.

The year was 1957. Fins and his parents had recently moved from New York to the small city of Worcester. One day, 8-year-old Fins was playing Spy near Roxbury and Williams streets. He climbed a high wall before dropping down into a garden. As he continued playing, a butler came out to Fins and asked him if he wanted to have breakfast with the master of the house. Young Fins went into the home, whereupon he saw an elaborate collection of armor. John Woodman Higgins, founder of Higgins Armory whose collection is now housed at the Worcester Art Museum, invited Fins to have a bowl of Cheerios with him. The interaction left a deep impression on Fins, leading Higgins to become the inspiration for one of the main characters in Imagine That.

Imagine That is Fins’ first published novel. He described his lifelong passion for storytelling, “I don’t really have any particular training in writing, but I have always dabbled in it.” Throughout the years, Fins wrote another novel, a screenplay and many short stories.

In one short story, Fins described his entrepreneurial adventures as an 8-year-old. “I had all these ventures when I was a kid like selling Kool-Aid to construction workers.” Those that read the short story liked young child’s narrative point of view. Inspired by that idea, Fins began writing more stories about 8-year-old Mark Leonard and added the character of the eccentric, child-at-heart, elderly Mr. Hawkins. Five-and-a-half years after Fins started writing, Imagine That was finally complete.

Fins lived in Worcester from 8 to 20 and was part of the last class to graduate from Classical High School in 1966. Today, Fins is an entrepreneur who runs a laboratory for life science researchers in Dedham, as well as New England Country Pies in Lynn.

For Fins, the process of writing and self-publishing his first book was a learning experience filled with trial and error. “I learned it on the run, on the fly, like I do most things.” The writer in Fins knew that readers would gravitate to the heartfelt story of a young boy trying to reconcile with his father. However, as a businessman, he sought to create buzz for the novel.

“I’m finding that the strength of the book, the story, is creating interest,” Fins said. After his experiences, Fins’ advice to budding authors is to “make the book as absolutely good as you can.” He added, “I set a standard for myself. Maybe this is the real answer. I said to myself, ‘I will not stop until I and the editors are satisfied.’”

The city of Worcester provides a rich setting for the novel, with notable landmarks such as Higgins Armory and the Worcester Art Museum mentioned in the chapters. By using real-life locales from his past, Fins was able to focus on creating multi-dimensional characters.

“I always had fond memories of Worcester, and it’s where I grew up,” Fins said. “I saw some of the past events in my life to be very novel-worthy.”

According to Fins, readers enjoyed the childhood perspective of Mark Leonard in Imagine That. Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of the New York Times best-seller When Bad Things Happen to Good People, described Imagine That as an “eminently readable debut” and added that Fins “has a clear gift for writing.”

Fins joked, “Moses knew how to part the Red Sea. As far as dealing with literary agents, you go through Rabbi Kushner.”

Imagine That has many secondary themes and aspects for readers to ponder, but at its heart, it is a story about a young boy searching for his father’s love.

“I want the readers to love this book, to feel like they’ve been on an 18-hour adventure,” Fins said. “I want people to feel joy.”

Fins will read from Imagine That and answer questions at the Worcester Art Museum on Sept. 13 at 12:30 p.m. Imagine That is available at amazon.com.

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