Tuesday, November 24, 2015

U Is For Upper East Side (and Upper West Side)

Jennifer loves New York locales...

One of the things writers are told early in their careers is to “write what you know.” I’m honestly not sure about the validity of that advice, but I do think it’s important for one’s writing to be backed by research and knowledge, especially when it comes to settings.

I love to set stories in New York City. I’m familiar with the place, having worked their for several years and visiting it more times than I can count. New York City has so many different neighborhoods, that no two stories will be exactly the same, even if they are both set in the same place.

In my first book, A Heart of Little Faith, my heroine is raising her six-year-old daughter, Claire. They frequent the Upper West Side of the city, which is filled with cultural things to do, like museums and parks.

According to Wikipedia, “The Upper West Side is a neighborhood in the borough of Manhattan, New York City, that lies between Central Park and the Hudson River and between West 59th Street and West 110th Street. It is an affluent, primarily residential area with many of its residents working in more commercial areas in Midtown and Lower Manhattan. It has the reputation of being home to New York City's cultural, intellectual hub (with Columbia University located at the north end of the neighborhood), and artistic workers (with Lincoln Center located at the south end).”

There are plenty of things to do with kids in a city, and one of the spots Lily and Claire visit is a playground on the Upper West Side.

On Saturday, Lily and Claire met Kim, Emily and Adam at a playground on the Upper West Side. After an initial period during which the kids stared at each other, they played together all afternoon, which left the two women time to talk.
“I’m glad you called and suggested this,” Lily said to Kim as she munched on some grapes she’d brought for the kids to have as a snack.
“Me too. I figured since Mark is working today, it would be a good chance for us to get together.” Kim looked out over the playground. The girls were at the swing set, pushing Adam on the swing. “The kids are having fun together. It’s always so awkward when the parents like each other and the kids can’t stand to be in the same room together.”
Lily laughed. “Yeah, play dates can be tough. They’re almost as bad as dating. It’s embarrassing when you have to ask some strange mom if their kid wants to play with yours.” She watched as Claire paused in her running to wait for Adam to catch up. “Claire loves having a little boy to take care of. She’s in love with babies and little kids.”
“I noticed.” Kim looked at Lily. “So, you mentioned dating. Are you?”
Lily looked up at her. “No. It’s hard with a child. I want to give Claire as much attention as I can, and frankly I just don’t have the energy to spend on finding someone who not only wants to date me, but be with her as well.”
“So what about you and Gideon?”
Lily blushed.
“I’m sorry; I don’t mean to get too personal.”
“No, you’re not; I’m just not used to talking about this. I feel like I’m back in high school. Honestly, I don’t know what we’re doing. We see each other often, although most times it’s with Claire and Samantha in tow. We’ve kissed a couple of times, but that’s it. I enjoy being with him, but I’m just not sure where we are right now.”
“Well, I hope it works out for the two of you. From what I know of him, Gideon is a great guy, and it’s obvious to me he adores you.”

In Miriam’s Surrender, the story also takes place in New York City, but this time, it’s on the Upper East Side.

According to Wikipedia, “The Upper East Side is a neighborhood in the borough of Manhattan in New York City, between Central Park/Fifth Avenue, 59th Street, the East River, and 96th Street. The area incorporates several smaller neighborhoods, including Lenox Hill, Carnegie Hill, and Yorkville. Once known as the Silk Stocking District, it is now one of the most affluent neighborhoods in New York City. It is traditionally perceived to be home to commercial and business types.”

This type of neighborhood fits Miriam perfectly. As a single, business professional, she’s comfortable economically and likes the order and upkeep associated with the area.

Forty minutes later, she was dressed and ready for work. She stepped outside her Upper East Side apartment, waved to the doorman, and inhaled. The rain from the previous day had cleared and the pale March sun shone between the buildings. Although cold, it would be a beautiful spring day. The daffodils the condo board planted in front were about ready to bloom. Around the yellow flowers, purple crocuses poked through the dirt between the iron bars of the miniature fence surrounding the bed. The rooftop gardens would be in full bloom in a couple of weeks, and the minute it was warm enough, Miriam would be out there too.
She walked down the street and headed to her favorite coffee bar. Inside, the dark aroma filled her nostrils. Multicolored mugs lined the walls—everything from touristy “I Love NY” to extra-large sized French mugs—there was always a new one to look at while she waited in line to place her order. People on their way to work took small tables and chairs by the windows. In the back, upholstered chairs and free WiFi provided a break for people later in the day.

What settings do you prefer?


  1. I much prefer using settings with which I'm familiar, but I'm also aware these settings aren't familiar to all my readers! Therefore I try to include sufficient information/description to give readers a feel for the setting.

    1. Yes, I like to do that too (and I'm aware it's not given here, but I was at a loss for "U").

  2. Like you, I love writing about New York City and the fascinating variety here. I only describe places I've known intimately in my novels and stories, and that's essential for the story to feel real to me as I write!

    1. Hi J.J. I love taking trips to NYC for research as well.

  3. There are so many different neighborhoods in NYC. My daughter lives in Brooklyn, and each time I visit she's moved to a new apt in a section with a completely different feel.
    Interestingly (to me) my western historical is set in eastern SD, not far from where I live in MN. A contest judge recently berated me for not "knowing my setting." I didn't describe the Black Hills and BLM land --which are at the opposite end of the state.
    So knowing your setting will not always win the respect of a reader.

    1. That's an intriguing comment, Ana. I guess the only thing you can do is make the point somewhere that the setting is ? miles away from the Black Hills and BLM land (whatever the latter is!)

    2. That's interesting, Ana. Sometimes you can't please readers.

  4. I've only been to New York once. We did a whirlwind 36 hour tour with my cousin. It was interesting to see a lot of the sights, but I don't think I'd ever go back...although I'd like to see the September 11 Memorial and do the Statue of Liberty. So, maybe...

    In one of my books the heroine mentions New York (She's trying to break onto Broadway), but I know I won't actually set any of the action there. I am not familiar with it at all, and would definitely make lots of mistakes.

    Using a setting you know makes things a heck of a lot easier on an author, that's for sure.

    1. And here's me, a Brit, who has been to NYC about 10 times, Debra! But only as a tourist, so if I read about Upper East or Upper West sides, I have no idea of the differences between them!