Why I Have Not Yet Set A Novel Where I Live, by Stephanie Cowell
People used to tell young writers to write what they know but I am certain they should write what they long for, because the most important element in any novel is longing. I have written about places and times where I long to be. And that is why my second address will always be Wood Street, Cripplegate Ward, London, 1593. Turn up from St. Paul’s toward the city gates.
I live in a fabulous place. I was born in New York City and have lived here all my life and I adore its history, especially the years around 1880-1920. At least once a year I read another novel about my city. Writer friends travel from all over America to come here and research their New York historical novels. I have never written one. It would cost me far less than a cup of gourmet coffee to travel anywhere in the city to research and what do I do? Spend a fortune on travelling to England or Europe and endure jet lag for my novels. Why? I don’t know.
I love New York City. I can walk the side streets with their town houses and imagine people going up and down the steps. I can run up the steps and press my nose against the glass door to look inside. Yet… not one novel so far.
Instead I’ve spent thousands of dollars flying across the sea to walk the streets of Paris, Oxford, Canterbury, Vienna, Venice (which has odd streets called calles), Florence, Rome, Salzburg and Ireland. I long for those places.
I don’t long for New York City. I am already here. The famous Dakota, featured in Time and Again, is a short walk away. The streets where Edgar Allen Poe lived are downtown and I walked around them with my friend Lynn Cullen, author of Mrs. Poe. My neighbour, Stephanie Lehmann, has set a novel a few streets away from my old apartment in the East Village and called it Astor Place Vintage.
I have whole bookshelves of travel books and history books about Europe. There is quarter of a shelf devoted to historical New York City. The good news is that I am buying more of those books.
I know what I would have to do. I would have to rent a sort of garret in Paris like the writer in Midnight in Paris and live there for a long time. Then one morning I would wake up with a terrible longing for my own city.
I have to long for it.
Stephanie Cowell’s author website: www.stephaniecowell.com
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