Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Home turf

I've gotten together my 50-page excerpt to send as my pre-query for "Wingspan" and I have to write a small commentary on the 'home-court advantage.'

With "The Deserter," I had a lot of fun discovering the ins and outs of a new world. Yes, that mostly meant inventing my own magical underground, but I raised a character in a semi-familiar setting of Philadelphia. I researched demographics. I found her favorite restaurants. I even calculated what kind of mortgage her math-teacher father and PR specialist mother could reasonably afford. I found that, yes, I could have a mentor from El Salvador because Philadelphia hs a famously high percentage of Latino immigrants.

When I started formulating the 'world' of "Wingspan," however, it was a completely different matter. One person asked me why I didn't set "The Deserter" in Boston and I said it felt like cheating. It also felt like the wrong setting for that story. Boston is home of the swan boats. It's the setting of "Make Way For Ducklings." Both of those things made me feel that I should set my book closer to my hometown.

More importantly, the idea first came about when I imagined a swan-maiden with nocturnal acquaintances. I pictured her wandering the CVS near the BU Central T stop where I used to wait for the train. I had mental images of conversations held at the base of the artist statue by the Boston Public Library. Every inspiration that struck me was in a very familiar place.

That also meant that I could cut myself a break in terms of research. This time, I didn't have to do much investigation into demographics because they could mirror my own. Because I grew up around Armenians, Greeks, Irish-Americans, Jews and African-Americans, I could patch together the ethnicities. My Armenian-American friend Vana became her Armenian-American friend Sosi. My various Irish Catholic friends were combined into the character Avril. I even cheated and wrote a character named after my friend Ethan.

Sometimes, it feels wonderful to cheat a little.