Monday Pep Rally is a weekly feature where the Misfits post a question
for you, the reader, to answer. You can answer on your own blog and link
in the comments, or just answer here!
I never set books in the same place twice. I usually don't set them in real places at all. I've set books in a fictional town in New Hampshire, a fictional town in South Carolina, a fictional town in... well, I didn't say in that one, but in my head it's somewhere in the Midwest. But sometimes, mixed in with the fiction, you've got to include real places, and when you do, you've got to get 'em right!
I live in New York City, and reading a book that's set here but feels as if it's written by someone who's never even been drives me crazy. When you have someone who's not incredibly wealthy living on her own in a decent neighborhood, you're getting it wrong. When you have someone talk in full addresses or street names instead of intersections like "42nd and Lex," you're getting it wrong. If your character has ever said "Avenue of the Americas," you're getting it wrong. If your character commutes via cab, you're getting it wrong. So help me God, I loved the show Gossip Girl, but if your characters are going from above 14th Street to Brooklyn with even a tenth of that frequency (commuters excluded), you are getting it wrong.
The best NYC books, to me, are the ones that make me feel at home. The ones that know that doormen are likely important characters in a middle-class city kid's life. The ones that say "the city" instead of overusing the word "Manhattan." The ones where people take the subway, because of course they take the subway. The ones that use Central Park like the backyard the kids don't have. Those are the ones that remind me of high school, and those are the ones that, for me, get it right.
Right now, I'm working on a manuscript that spans the fictional West Kansas town I've created and the very real East Kansas town of Lawrence, KS. Unfortunately, I've never been to Kansas - either side. So I take guesses and do research and look at Google Earth and Google Maps and college websites and sites about the racial makeup of the area and all that, and I do my best. But, no amount of research compares to the little details I got from talking to my (kind and patient) Kansan friend Sarah, who taught me that if I really want to show Kansas, I'll make sure everyone hates Mizzou.
Try getting that gem from Google Maps.
And so, dear readers, I ask you:
What would a writer need to know to get your hometown right? And what books have gotten yours - or a town like yours - spot-on?