I’ve been noodling around with story ideas in the past week, including finally getting some actual word count words down on my Broadway romance idea, the first of four stories. It’s…not going to be done any time soon, guys.
But thinking of that story world again is bringing me back around to one of the core components of the stories–the setting, my hometown, New York City.
Today we are having our first snow of this autumn/winter. It was supposed to be slushy sleet but no, it’s definitely sticking-to-the-ground snow. Also, you may have heard that Stan Lee of Marvel Comics died a few day ago. Stan Lee was born in Manhattan and grew up in the Bronx. He set many of the Marvel comics in New York. You can read about some of them here.
Peter Parker aka Spiderman is supposed to be from Queens!
Of the eight main characters in my stories, two are Queens natives, one was born in Brooklyn and raised in the suburbs on Long Island, and one was born and raised in New Jersey, the state New Yorkers make fun of. Some of the characters have recent immigrant roots while others have more distant migration in their backgrounds–and because it’s contemporary and theater and based in New York, these characters are diverse (to the point where my best friend was like, “He’s half what and half what? Did you pick those two ethnicities out of a hat?”)
The other four characters are a mix of visitors and transplanted residents.
I’ve read very little fiction set in New York–but I’ve seen New York portrayed on TV and in movies.
And it either makes me cringe (ugh, the accents; I swear, not all of us sound like that) or just shake my head in New Yorker fact checking (“That is not anywhere near that. How’d they get there so fast? How come the subway isn’t delayed? Where’s the cat in this bodega? How can she afford this apartment in that neighborhood? Why is everyone on this show white?”)
I feel like people who move here–excluding immigrants for a second, although immigration is a huge part of New York’s past, present, and future–tend to come with “ooh, this place is bright and shiny!” or with “Ugh, this place is overcrowded, dirty, unfriendly, loud, and too expensive” attitudes. Both points of view are valid. Then there are the rich people who stick to their rich people enclaves, but I don’t know any, so we won’t talk about them.
Broadway is part of the bright and shiny of New York City, but Broadway actors experience the graft that artists anywhere experience–with the added pressure that New York City is expensive and theater is, like all creative careers, hard to get into.
You may have heard that Amazon is splitting its second headquarters between northern Virginia and Long Island City, which is a Queens neighborhood right on the East River. When I was a kid, Long Island City was pretty industrial–a lot of warehouses–though it always had its residential areas. In the last five, ten years, Long Island City has really boomed as people are priced out of Manhattan and even parts of Brooklyn. Now that Amazon looks like it’s coming to Queens, there’s real anxiety that the prices and rents in Long Island City and Astoria will become ridiculous and that that’ll ripple on down the subway line further into Queens.
Gentrification is real in New York and just like in RENT, the first gentrifiers of a neighborhood are often artsy types. And then the tech and finance bros follow. And then new buildings start going up. Then prices go up. Then small stores start closing or turning over, unable to afford jacked up rent.
This is why New Yorkers do a lot of, “Oh, wait. Didn’t that used to be…?” when pointing at stores or buildings.