Roger Karshner is a sentimental kind of guy.

He must be. As the author of the novel Getting Sentimental Over You, a nostalgic journey back in time to a half-century ago and Coney Island’s Moonlite Gardens, he weaves a weepy tale of true love lost and found.

“The genesis of this book was a request from a record producer to supply liner notes for a big band CD he was putting together,” says Karshner. “Rather than write the standard liners — Joe Blow on tenor sax, Jimmy Doe on drums — I chose to write a vignette capturing the atmosphere of  ballroom dancers circa 1940s.

“I highly romanticized it, drawing upon my experience as a musician and my childhood, which included trips to Cincinnati, the old Island Queen, and Coney Island during its heyday.”

“The ‘You’ in the title refers to Amy Fox, Noble Johnson’s long-lost, one-and-only love,” observes Karshner. Johnson, the narrator, tells the tale of a memorable day during the summer of 1942 where, on the top deck of the Island Queen — a vintage paddle-wheeler traversing the Ohio River — he and Fox meet. That day, they fall deeply in love while dancing to the music of Tommy Dorsey at Moonlite Gardens.

“During the writing, my recollections of Cincinnati, the Queen, Coney, the people, the city’s sights and sounds came pouring in like a Technicolor dream,” he observes. “I’ve been to Moonlite Gardens many times, both as a child and adult. This, obviously, is embedded in the matrix of my memory. What a wonderful hunk of musical history that old ballroom is.”

So where does biographical memoir end and romantic fiction begin?
 
“Some events are factual,” the author concedes. “I attempted to be true to the locale, landmarks, etc. The people are based upon characters I’ve been involved with over the years.”

The novel follows Johnson’s love of ballroom dancing (“We had some nice ballrooms: Lakeside Park in Dayton, Moonlite Terrace at Indian Lake, and Moonlite Gardens at Coney Island”), and the elegant trips from Cincinnati’s Public Landing aboard the Island Queen to Coney. “You’d leave Cincinnati in the afternoon — the boat would be packed; it held up to 4,000 people.” (The riverboat burned and sank in the mid 1940s, essentially ending the steamboat era in Cincinnati.)

The protagonist Noble — who’s a factory worker at the Chevy plant in Norwood, now converted to producing munitions for the war effort — interweaves with a variety of characters.

Betty and Rosie Clooney, WLW news broadcaster Peter Grant, Hughes High School, and, finally, the 1988 reunion of Noble’s 50th class reunion at the Vernon Manor Hotel, all play a part in the novel.

At the heart of the story is big band music. “They all came to Coney, one time or another,” the book relates. “All of ‘em: Dorsey, Miller, Shaw, Sammy Kaye, Benny Goodman, Les Brown — you name ‘em.”

Karshner grew up in Dayton and Springfield before moving to Cincinnati in the 1960s, where he was branch manager for Capitol Records before moving on to become Capitol’s district manager in the Pittsburgh-Cleveland markets. He discovered and managed The Outsiders, whose record “Time Won’t Let Me” soared to No. 5 on the national charts and sold nearly a million copies.

Karshner also managed Chuck Mangione and produced Mangione’s first commercial recording. His record business success took him to Hollywood, where his career culminated as a vice president at Capitol Records. After leaving Capitol Records, he became head of the music publishing division at Hanna-Barbera.

He’s also a playwright, the creator of nearly two dozen plays, most notably “The Dream Crust,” a three-act work which won the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award and was selected by the Burns-Mantle Yearbook as one of America’s best plays of the year.

A half-dozen of Karshner’s plays are published by Samuel French and enjoy productions throughout the United States and Canada, and — as an editor of two dozen scene-study books — he is the first authorized editor of monologues and scenes from the works of Neil Simon.
So, a natural question is, is Getting Sentimental Over You destined for the stage?

“No. I don’t think I’ll adapt this as a play,” says Karshner. “Screenplay, yes. I feel it’s more for the eye than the ear.”

BOOK EXCERPT

“Coming into Cincy at night was a real sight. The town would be all lit up like a Christmas tree with its reflection shimmering in the water. The Island Queen burned up back in late ‘42. Oil tanks exploded. Maybe kinda fitting in a way. The era — the dancing, the big bands — was going to come to an end anyhow. Maybe the boat knew what was coming, was way ahead of the curve. If it hadn’t burned, it would have wound up being a sad, floating reminder of another time, an old wreck rusting in the Ohio River.”

—From the opening pages of Getting Sentimental Over You