Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Hometown Blues

I occasionally get very, very homesick for Boston. No, I wasn't born there, but I moved there early enough that I don't really have much of an identity that doesn't stem somehow from the Bay State. I watch the Red Sox. I have the T maps memorized by experience. I occasionally have a good, strong accent that is mostly the fault of my best friends in high school. I've sung a concert at Faneuil Hall (and know how to spell it). I spent my weekends at New England Conservatory and a lot of my weekdays near Storrow Drive. I still use wicked as a noun, adjective AND adverb. I pronounce properly places like Worcester (Woostah), Gloucester (Glostah), Medford (Mefah) and Leominster (Lehmister).

So, when I decided to write a contemporary urban fantasy, it was a strong temptation to set it in Boston. I could have easily had Ella wander the Park Street district or hang out at my favorite store, Commonwealth Books on Tremont Street. She could have had pizza at Pizzeria Uno at Kenmore Square, picked up a gift for her dad from Sox Appeal and gotten romantic flowers from Fleurtacious. Special occasions could have been at the Rainbow Cafe in Copley Plaza and if she didn't mind the puddles of grease in the middle of the pizza, she could have eaten at The Garage in Harvard Square.

But no, I felt instinctively that I wanted this story to have its roots in Philadelphia, a city that I've visited a few times, but have never lived in. I bought a guidebook that taught me things like what you call a cheesesteak if you're from Philadelphia. I obsessively looked for real estate listings in certain areas of the city and then figured out, based on the mortgage calculator and salary information, if Mr. Mack could afford to live in those houses as a high school math teacher. I discovered that I created a fictional teacher who shares a name and discipline with a real teacher at that high school. I figured out the weather based on newspapers and personal experience. I am indebted to photo galleries on blogs for pictures of places that I wanted to be important to the story. Heck, I even learned how to pronounce Schuykill.

Somewhere after the middle of the book, Ella and Michael find it necessary to create a diversion by going to Boston. I got to write that scene two days ago. It was a tremendous relief to know exactly what she would see in Logan Airport, what types of seats she'd be using on the Blue Line and what the bookstore she goes to in South Station looks like. I restrained myself by having her stop at the Au Bon Pain that I used to frequent or get lunch in the Burger King near Copley that plays opera over the loudspeakers. But it was so nice to spend a whole chapter in familiar territory.

Except now, between that and opening day at Fenway yesterday, I'm homesick again.

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