Kitty Burns Florey

The Sleep Specialist

My new novel, THE SLEEP SPECIALIST, is loosely based on stories my mother told me. She and my father eloped in 1933, at the height of the Depression, driving to Los Angeles in the rumble seat of a friend's car. They were married somewhere along the way, and when they got to L.A. -- dirt poor -- my father charmed his way into a job as the superintendent of an apartment building, which provided them with a place to live. (He also sold soap door to door, and played bridge to make extra money.) In their building was a playwright, a young woman who was desperately trying to make it as an actress, and several very exotic characters, including one highly unusual woman on whom I've based the sleep specialist herself.

For the novel, I've changed the setting to New York City in 1934. Robert and May Sinclair arrive in town with two suitcases, Robert’s portable typewriter, and May’s three-way mirror. He’s an aspiring playwright, she’s an actress, and they’re desperately poor. But Robert is hired as the superintendent of a building – twelve dollars a week and a free apartment – and it looks as if the two of them just might survive.

Robert is an insomniac: by day he works frantically on his first play, by night he walks the dark and dangerous streets of the city. He finds himself drawn into the life of a mysterious man named Orson Price – and into an unlikely friendship with Mrs. Amalfi, the Sleep Specialist, who attempts to help Robert overcome his insomnia. Robert’s encounter with the city takes him from an exotic apartment house in Gramercy Park to a seedy hotel in Hell’s Kitchen, from the wards at Bellevue to the literary world of Greenwich Village. As he struggles with emotions that terrify him, Robert is plunged into depths that nearly do him in. But he finishes his play. And, many years later, when he looks back on what happened to him during that desperate time, Robert sees how crucial it was to his development as an artist – and to his pursuit of the life he was meant to live.