Thursday, April 9, 2009

Updating a Classic (2)

-Everyone always says San Francisco is so romantic . . the Paris of America . . they only say that because they don't hear the song this city really sings. It's the sound of something beautiful dying . . the last breath of an angel before the ocean swallows her . . before an earthquake breaks it off from the rest of the world and drowns it. Really it's the romance of saying good-bye forever- page 197-98 The Heights

The setting of a novel often acts like another character. It influences the action in subtle ways, helping to guide and shape the story. I've written before about how the main character is always the first thing I think about as I start gathering ideas for a book. There's a voice that I want to explore. Well, setting works in a similar way for me. There's places that I've been that I want to incorporate into a story. Choosing which depends on what the setting needs to be, but in the end, my books are usually just as much about the place as the characters.

Pure Sunshine is about Philadelphia. 
Tomorrow, Maybe and Thief are about New York.
Perfect World is about the town I grew up in.
Zombie Blondes is about the kind of small New England town in which I now live.

For The Heights, the setting is San Francisco. It really needed to be. Fog and mist play such an important role in the original, which was set in the lakes region of England. I visited that area the month before writing The Heights. It's the place where Wordsworth wandered on his long walks and became the father of Romanticism movement in British poetry (my favorite period). There was a mysterious charm to the area that made it feel like you weren't there even when you were. San Francisco had a similar feeling for me.

I spent a long weekend in San Francisco in 2001. I was living in NYC at the time, and it was one month after September 11th. The plan out there left from Newark and was the same flight as one of the hijacked ones. There were four people on the plane, so already it was a strange trip. I was visiting a good friend out there. I arrived on a Thursday night and he had to work on Friday. So Friday, I woke up, got stoned, and wandered the city for the whole day. 

I got on a bus and got off a mile or so from the Golden Gate Bridge. I spent most of my time walking that area. There was a strange feeling about the place. It felt almost like part of me was becoming a ghost. I didn't know it at the time, but six years later, that day would serves as the basis for The Heights.  San Francisco captures that tragically romantic feel for me that story needs. 

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