Can I tell you a secret?
If I never read another love story set in New York City, I’ll be fine.
If I never see another movie where the lovers meet at the top of the Empire State Building or go walking in Central Park or skating at Rockefeller Center, I won’t shed a tear.
And it’s not that I hate New York.
I get that “New York City” is cultural shorthand and stands for X, Y, and Z when it comes to setting and backdrop and mood. That’s why it’s been used so much.
And that’s why I’ll probably never write a story that takes place in New York.
Because although I’ve never lived there, I feel like I have lived there too long and it’s time to move.
Seriously, New York does not have a lock on romantic places. Yes, they have Central Park but D.C. has Rock Creek Park, Los Angeles has Griffith Park, San Francisco has Golden Gate Park. Even Richmond, Virginia has the beautiful Maymont Park. In the Pacific Northwest they have city parks with waterfalls. Does New York City have a waterfall? I think not. (But wait, you say, there are at least five waterfalls in Central Park. That’s true but they’re all man-made and the water that flows through them is piped in. That doesn’t count.)
Nor is New York the only place in the U.S. where you can get that authentically Gothic creepy feeling. Leaving out New Orleans, which is a city in a league of its own, there are lots of places where a writer might set a ghost story or a story of demonic possession or a tale of supernatural horror. Many, many, many places. And yet, somehow, we always end up back in New York City.
And I’m bored with that.
One of the interesting things about the House of Night books is that mother/daughter writing duo P.C. and Kristin Cast have set it in Tulsa, Oklahoma. They make good use of the location and also of Native American legends, including the “Raven Mocker,” which is part of one of the most dramatic subplots in the series. House of Night would have been just another series about young vampires if it hadn’t been for those elements, which set the books apart.
And that, I think is the lesson.
I don’t think writers should be afraid to use their own settings for their stories, even if they don’t live in one of the big cities. Every place has its secrets, every place has its charms.
And you will never know a place as well as you know your own home, no matter how many YouTube videos you watch or how many websites you research.
I think writing “where you know” is as important as writing “what you know.”
I spent most of my adult life in Los Angeles, and most of my fiction is set there, even the paranormal/urban fantasy stories I write.
I lived there so long I felt like a native, and I lived in so many of its different neighborhoods, that I feel like I can capture the authentic voice of the place, whether it’s multicultural slang or show biz jargon.
So my love stories take place in Los Angeles.
And my urban fantasies take place there.
And so does most of the horror I write.
I’m not a New Yorker and I never will be, so why should I set my stories there?
And why should you?