Sunday, May 26, 2013

There's No Place Like It Anywhere

My new novel, Searching for Superman (inserting shameless plug here—coming June 3rd to Champagne Books. Buy it! Read it! Love it! Don’t eat it for lunch!—and now back to our regularly scheduled sentence) is set in Schenectady, New York.  When I began writing the first draft, I had set it in Manchester, NH, a city about 30 minutes up the road from where I live. I changed the location. I’m not sure why, exactly. Maybe because it’s a romantic comedy and the name "Schenectady" is inherently funnier than "Manchester". Maybe because after I got to know the story and the characters a bit better, they simply felt more like upstate New York than New England. Maybe it’s because I grew up near Schenectady and lived in the area for most of my twenties and I liked the familiarity.
The Interior of Proctor's Theater. Image courtesy of Proctor's
      In any case, the Schenectady in Searching for Superman isn’t an exact replica of Schenectady, New York. It’s a mash up of real Schenectady and a place that exists only in my imagination. The Rialto Theater doesn’t exist. The real Schenectady boasts a wonderful regional theater called Proctors.  Proctors is what the Rialto aspires to become. The Rialto’s address on Hill Street is also a fabrication. There is indeed a Hill Street, but it’s out in the nearby suburb of East Glenville. I moved it downtown because it suited the story.
            The Schenectady Historical Society Museum where Leona volunteers is another figment of my imagination. There is a Schenectady County Historical Society and they do have a museum, the Schenectady History Museum, but the only thing it has in common with Leona's museum is its location in the Stockade. The Stockade, oldest part of the city, does indeed exist.
The Schenectady History Museum at Jackson House. Image courtesy of the The Schenectady County Historical Society
            The real Mohawk Mall, like the one in the book, has been gone for a decade. If you go to Mohawk Commons to get your chakras realigned at Dina Latero’s Beautiful Day Spa, you’ll be out of luck. Although there is a Starbucks in Schenectady and several in the area, none are on the imaginary corner of Hill and State.
            And so it goes-- the real and imagined combine to make a new world, one that only exists in the pages of Searching for Superman. Do you use real settings? And, if so, do you blend them with your imagination? 

Until Next Time


Jude Johnson said...

Lovely, Ute. Enjoyed the photos. That's the great thing about writing fiction, you can tweak reality a bit. Though you have to be careful not to go too far, such as having a giant oak tree in the center of a town in the Nevada desert. People take their fiction seriously, especially in historical fiction and especially if they're from the locale you've chosen. A good trick is to either change the name of a particular place or tweak the spelling, like making Hill Street Hille Street so one one will contact you to point out the error or your ways. I have a friend who got so fed up with one book's manipulation of the local area, she tossed the book down and refused to read anything the man wrote from that point on. People are funny about things like that. But I think Your Superman will be safe! I look forward to reading it!

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

I've changed the names of the towns and the small towns surrounding it in books, but not the city nearby.

I do like to recognize the towns I've lived in around the country, 19 in all,but I had a reason for changing towns' names in FL. I still live here.

Nikki said...


Nikki said...

I wanted to make my novel regional, so I kept the names of geographical features--Temple Pass, Merrimack River, Wa-Pack Trail--but changed the names of the towns and businesses. I might move a gazebo to a different town, or rehabbed mill building to the other side of the river. I kept the feel of small-town NH but I can say "It's like X, but it's not X." Seems to work pretty well.

Ute Carbone said...

Thanks for the comments! @Jude--I know what you mean about pushing too far. I guess the question is what's too far. Another book of mine uses Albany, NY as a setting. In it, I mistakenly (and it was a mistake in this instance) called Pine Hills Pine Hill. A reviewer from the area called me on it, so you never know. @Julie-- I think if I could have set this in a small town, I would have used an imaginary name. But it had to be a place large enough to support a regional theater. @ Nikki--That's kind of exactly what I did. Place that do exist are where they really are, but I've made up and changed some things. I tried to keep the "feel' of the city and the area real.

Liz Fountain said...

I've done both: in An Alien's Guide to World Domination, some locations are "real" (Seattle, Prague); and some are anonymous to protect the innocent. (Ha!)

In the MS I'm working on now, the characters take a road trip to a place I've never been (yet). Someone just suggested I get a TripTik from AAA for the route they take. Using Google maps, I've already found some cool place names - like Dog Ear!

If the humor in your book is as entertaining as the post, it'll be another smash success, Ute!