New York: Big City Inspiration

Whenever I used to think about New York City, before I’d actually visited for the first time, I had a few immediate knee-jerk associations based on a handful of pop-culture references that I’ve never really liked all that much. Let’s be honest: I grew up being a little bit rebellious and a little bit of a tomboy, so shows like Sex and the City and Gossip Girl never really spoke to me. They talked about an idealized life in a big city where it’s all about the glamour and the cosmopolitans and the clothes.

Books were my escape; but music offered me a means to expressivity that I couldn’t always conjure myself.

Louboutin? Please. When I was fifteen, I wore Doc Martens. You can’t kick the crap out of someone in spiked heels. (Not that I ever did; I was more of a nerd than a bully, but in my most pissed off imagination? You betcha: I was a bad ass.)

I find a lot of this filters through to my protagonist today. While she’s not a younger version of myself in any capacity, there are threads of truth that come from my experience that have helped shape her into who she is: she’s angry at the world, for one, and her reliance on loud, angry music to filter her feelings is a definite homage to my first forays into punk rock, industrial, and metal music when I was a teenager.

I can’t even tell you how much I loved it, or how much I annoyed my parents when I’d crank my stereo up to play Rancid and NoFX extra loud. (I still listen to punk these days, but now it’s the neighbours knocking on my door when I forget to turn down my speakers.)

At a time when I didn’t have the vocabulary or the necessary tools to express my frustration at the inability to be something more than I was allowed to be, music was my out. Books were my escape; but music offered me a means to expressivity that I couldn’t always conjure myself. That part took practice and a lot of patience; cultivating the ability to be heard, for me at least, meant believing in something bigger than myself. It meant putting my rebelliousness for the sake of being rebellious to bed, and actually finding something to focus on. Give your sense of frustration a target, and believe me, you can absolutely break down every barrier that’s holding you back because people think you’re “too young.”

I’m in New York on business for a few days — supervising the setup of a gigantic tradeshow booth at The Biggest Show of the Year for our company. It’s the second time that I’ve designed the booth, and my second time seeing it through its installation and teardown at Javits. At thirty by forty feet, it’s a monster: we’ve hired a crew of six dudes to put everything together, and there’s thirty some-odd staff on site for the show. I’m working through the weekend, but during the show itself I will have the opportunity to step back, appreciate the work, and putter off for a little well-deserved downtime in the city.

Here’s where things get interesting:

Wake the Dead‘s protagonist is a born New Yorker, and being in town gives me the opportunity to really figure out what it means to be a very tiny functioning part of something so huge and how a place like this contributes to her backstory, and what magical things lurk under the city streets.[pullquote]Profound moments happen under normal circumstances all the time; you just need to let them happen, and record them when they do.[/pullquote]

Every place I travel to offers secrets: hidden gems for inspiration that crop up in the oddest ways. A Flea market in Brooklyn offers the venue for magical contraband; a trade in forbidden goods and questionably sinister artifacts. The storage lockers below the streets reveal hidden passageways, faces turned up towards the light from the bottom of these stairwells that we pass over on the sidewalks without giving a second thought (they only come out at night, of course.) Various creatures — not including the alleged alligators or the obvious rats — inhabit the subway tunnels, using them to traverse the city unbeknownst to the humans waiting on the platforms.

Every city is a goldmine. A writer only needs to open their eyes wide while exploring: being a creative in the speculative fiction venue means that we deal with the fantastical, and the ideas we handle sometimes feel like they come out of nowhere, but other times, they’ve actually been seeded in reality before they take root in the imagination.

Profound moments happen under normal circumstances all the time; you just need to let them happen, and record them when they do. That’s your job: writer gonna write.

The city’s waiting for me, so in the meantime I thought I’d leave you with one of the anthem’s off the Wake the Dead playlist. It’s an oldie but a goodie, and consistently reminds me of this great big town with all its mysteries and mayhem:

[toggles] [toggle title=”Lyrics: Big City by Operation Ivy” color=”Accent-Color” id=”b1″]

Concrete and chaos rise up
Spiderweb across the land
Like a giant rash
Forests lie down below
Foundations of buildings in a bed of ash
Some people here got it real good
‘Cause the glass towers bring prosperity
And other people starve in the street
Because concrete knows no sympathy

Big city [x6] Big city, it’s a wishing well
Big city, it’s a living hell

This town it’s fucking insane
How one will starve and another will gain
It’s like a giant mechanical brain
And the people are cells and the streets are veins
It thinks only of itself
A thousand limbs crawling as it expands and grows
And still the concrete sits there
Sits there stark grey and cold

Big city [x6] Big city, it’s a wishing well
Big city, it’s a living hell

And I think I wanna be a brick layer
So I can put another brick in the wall
It’s sanitary rational and happy and sane
Growing like a flower to surround us all

Big city [x6] Big city, it’s a wishing well
Big city, it’s a living hell

Big city [x6] Big city, it’s a wishing well
Big city, it’s a living hell

[/toggle] [/toggles]
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