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Add Flavor to Your Writing Or Any Excuse to Travel

19 Jul

Does your writing have authentic flavor of setting? I thought mine did. I’ve lived in lots of places and I should have known better. Before we left for New York, there were horror posts on-line about what to expect. “Don’t wear open-toed shoes because of all the needles on the streets.” “There is so much trash on the streets you can hardly walk.” And so on. I was contemplating returning a pair of killer shoes (this is the pair I plan to be buried in) because they’re open-toed. Then a voice of reason posted, “Guiliani really cleaned up the city. You don’t have to worry.” Still, we were staying right on Times Square. But my latest book is set in New York, so I was going with or without my killer shoes.

You can go on-line, visit Google Earth, or  watch any of the TV shows set in New York, but you can’t feel the city unless you go there.

Living in the northwest, I have a good handle on Seattle, San Francisco, even Los Vegas and L.A., but the east coast…that’s a real road trip. It isn’t like I haven’t traversed the country several times, but it has been a while. And New York…well it’s New York. Big and bad and scary.

Back there in the old world, they have subways, New York taxi drivers (they live up to their reputation) and New York pizza. Out here, we think nothing of hopping in the car and driving across Oregon or Washington to the coast. In New York, a lot of people not only don’t have cars they don’t drive. No, really. That’s amazing. Out here, if you don’t drive you better have a good bike or a horse.

Then, there’s the store configuration. A good many of the stores had a small entrance on the ground floor with most of their products on another level. Out here, if you don’t have enough parking or you’re on the wrong side of the street, you better figure something out or people won’t stop.  After all, we’ve probably driven at least across town and if there’s no parking what will we do with our big old SUV’s?

The differences are vast. The one that surprised me was New Yorker’s themselves. Their reputation of being unfriendly is unwarranted. They’re great. Clarissa and I were standing on a street corner trying to figure out which way to go to St. Patrick’s Cathedral when a very sweet woman stopped. She said, “You look confused. Can I be of assistance?” How nice was that? I’ll remember her for a long time.

While there, we were fortunate enough to experience tiny café’s with wonderful food, the lights of Broadway, an adventure to Sandy Point Coast Guard Station (that’s for another blog) a Broadway play, and street venders. I didn’t eat at one (I can only eat so much food) but I will next time.

The point is, be sure you know the flavor of your location. I’ll never be able to watch another TV show or movie without recalling the true feel of the city. The throngs of people, the smells of the street venders, the wide sidewalks, the ultra-expensive stores of the main areas. The very narrow tree-lined streets, the row houses, the restaurants tucked in old narrow buildings with apartments above and the mood of the city. A festive, hectic way of life suited only to New York.

I’ll admit I was apprehensive about going. It’s a big, big city—I’ve been to bigger, but I was a lot younger and a lot dumber. It didn’t take long before I felt right at home. I’m going to set a few more books in NY so I can go back for more research.

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18 Comments

Posted by on July 19, 2011 in Idaho, writing

 

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18 responses to “Add Flavor to Your Writing Or Any Excuse to Travel

  1. Liz Fredericks

    July 19, 2011 at 6:24 AM

    Wow, Peggy, you took me straight back to the city with your descriptions!

     
    • Peggy Staggs

      July 19, 2011 at 8:10 AM

      Thanks. I did love our time in NY.

       
  2. Janis

    July 19, 2011 at 8:17 AM

    I think a lot of writers struggle with setting and description. I think the best advice is to keep your “senses” open when you’re in any location. Soak in the sights, sounds, and smells so you can put them on the page.

    Thanks for the great points on setting.

     
    • Peggy Staggs

      July 19, 2011 at 5:43 PM

      You’re right. It also makes the trip to a location much more rich and rewarding.

       
  3. Kyrsten

    July 19, 2011 at 8:34 AM

    You are so right, there is nothing like having been there to help keep a crisp edge to your location descriptions. I’m sure “east coast” writers have the same sorts of comments about visiting west of the Mississippi. Thank you for sharing. NY Sounds like so much fun! It is on my “must go someday” list.

     
    • Peggy Staggs

      July 19, 2011 at 5:46 PM

      We had a great time and made a new friend. The trip was rich with experiences that may make it into a book or just remain between friends.

       
  4. robinleehatcher

    July 19, 2011 at 9:10 AM

    Love those excuses to travel, Peggy. And I love to visit NYC. I wouldn’t want to live there, but a week of Broadway musicals and a day at Ellis Island and I’m one happy camper.

    Robin

     
    • Peggy Staggs

      July 19, 2011 at 5:47 PM

      I could live there for a while. But in the end I’d have to return to the wild west.

       
  5. Meredith Conner

    July 19, 2011 at 9:21 AM

    The sights, the sounds, the smells and the atmosphere! You caught it all. What a great city!

     
  6. Steph

    July 19, 2011 at 9:39 AM

    Peggy, you are a lot braver than I. I’m so much more comfortable in small communities. However, after reading your blog, I would like to see New York. What an amazing experience you all had at Nationals, I wish I’d been there.

     
  7. Patricia Yager Delagrange

    July 19, 2011 at 9:50 AM

    A timely post for me! I want to begin my next book, (I think), in a cemetery and I know of a great one nearby and have been meaning to go there. I’m off to see, smell, feel, hear, and touch what’s there. I can’t wait! Thank you!
    Patti

     
    • Peggy Staggs

      July 19, 2011 at 5:49 PM

      Sound interesting. Are you going at night? If so, let us know how it goes.

       
  8. Carley Ash

    July 19, 2011 at 10:21 AM

    Thanks Peggy. It was fun to get a glimpse of your NY experience, but I’m left wondering (and not just a little freaked out) about the needles…Were the closed toed shoes really necessary?

     
    • Peggy Staggs

      July 19, 2011 at 5:51 PM

      Funny thing about the needle thing. There were none. It was one of the cleanest cities I’ve been to and to think all those people are crammed into that small area. The whole week we were there I think we saw maybe three people asking for money. I see that many on the way to work every day.

       
  9. Clarissa Southwick

    July 19, 2011 at 1:14 PM

    Weren’t New Yorkers great? My only regret is that I didn’t schedule more sightseeing days. It’s so hard to see the city when you’re attending a conference. Call me if you do set a book there. We could all go for a “research” trip.

     
    • Peggy Staggs

      July 19, 2011 at 5:53 PM

      I’m up for a trip any time. It would be great fun.

       
  10. Lynn Mapp

    July 19, 2011 at 1:21 PM

    You are so right. Nothing can replace being there. I know when you see the New York skyline showcased, it brings back memories of your week in the city. It makes your perspective sharper.

     
  11. cherylmaudeCheryl

    July 22, 2011 at 10:04 AM

    Great blog, Peggy. You gave me a new perspective about New York. I wish I’d made the trip.

     

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