04 December 2006

I Heart Old NYC

Hey, all!

Since we’re all talking about why we love historicals and why we started reading and writing them...

My mom is a huge Eugenia Price fan. She has almost every book in hardcover, and when I was about seven years old, she and I took an extended weekend and toured the settings for the novels. We did St. Simon’s, Jekyll and Sea Islands, and visited the old graveyards, hunting for the names of characters in the books. And we found them. We walked as far as we could onto the marshes, checking out the view, seeing what the characters would’ve seen.

At one of the cemeteries, under the shadow of swaying Spanish Moss and between decaying headstones, my mom apologized for toting me around to all these places. My little kid response? “It’s okay, Mom. I like historical things, too.”

Fast forward to 1993. I was fourteen, and the movie musical Newsies made it to the Disney Channel. My mom and I curled up on the couch with popcorn and watched it for the first time.

My most favoritist film ever.

I blame director Kenny Ortega and his cast and crew for every period piece I’ve ever written. In high school I spent hours at the library, sorting through The New York Times on microfilm, trying to collect all the articles about the Newsboys Strike of 1899. And I did. I read the book, I bought the soundtrack (first on cassette, then later on CD), I bought the movie (first on cassette, then later on DVD). I did history reports on old New York, biography reports on Joe Pulitzer, and government reports on child labor laws, sweatshops, and social reform.

While in college, I found an online writing group devoted to turn of the century New York, started by other fans of the movie.

And that’s how I started writing historicals.

I love reading them, too, and am always on the lookout for someone writing in turn of the century New York. I really enjoy Victoria Thompson, wish to have style like Caleb Carr, and occasionally harass Jennifer Donnelly for Web site updates (she’s a great sport about it).

That’s it for this morn’!


carrie_lofty said...

Ah, fourteen years. Can hormones be responsible for life-long pursuits? That's how old I was when "The Young Riders" premiered. I become the foremost authority on the pony express in my high school -- not too hard, but research and fan fiction kept me out of trouble. I wound up writing my master's thesis on Old West outlaws and myths! How I wound up writing about Salzburg... well, that just proved I needed more variety!

Eliza said...

Oh, they can. My celebrity lust-bunny is still Christian Bale. Seeing him decked out in Victorian garb again for The Prestige, but as a grown up? Swoon!

The Young Riders? Wonderful show, and I wish something akin to it was on right now. Orphans Wanted. And also, that was a great post you linked to.

Between you, Delia and me, we've got a lot to thank Hollywood for, huh?

Delia DeLeest said...

Don't you love how a simple thing like a movie or tv show can lead us down so many rabbit holes? You should read the manuscript I wrote after falling in love with Gerard Butler in Phantom of the Opera!

carrie_lofty said...

Mmmmm. Gerard Butler. I can't wait to have free time enough to see him in Beowulf & Gredel. This photo makes me sweat.

Anonymous said...

What got me started was a Medaeval history book in the 6th grade. I went home and read the whole thing the first day of school. Then I got into archaeology and genealogy and it just sort of progresses from there. My latest wip is set in ancient China and the modern US, sort of a time travel fantasy thing inspired by Takeshi Kaneshiro in House of Flying Daggers and Jet Li in Hero.

And I loved Gerard Butler in Attila woo hoo.

Karen said...

Speaking of Joe Pulitzer. My debut book "The Hinterlands" had Joe Pulitzer as a background character. He had an affair with the heroine, and the hero of course keeps calling him all sorts of old codger names. The heroine I based on Nellie Bly, the "girl stunt reporter" who in the 1890s went undercover to expose abuse at Blackwell's island, child labor, and living conditions of the poor.

I love the 1890s for some reason. I think because it was just before many things became faster and automated. Have you read Caleb Carr? He does great turn-of-the-century New York.

Eliza said...

Karen, that's great! You've just sold me on reading your The Hinterlands, you know. It's that easy! Drop names like Pulitzer's or Pink's (wasn't she an amazing woman?) and you've got my attention. Her investigation into Blackwell's was something I'd love to know more about.

As for Caleb Carr, I love his work very much. Some of the story development could use some work (I really didn't love the end of The Alienist) but his prose and sense of place carries the reader so well into that period. Actually, the second book I ever read to my daughter was The Italian Secretary. I preferred his portrayal of Watson to anyone else's I've read, even Sir Doyle's...Might mean I'm not a true Sherlock fan, hm?

Jacquie said...

Too fun, seeing what brought all of us to love historicals.

Me, well, before I started elementary school, I dreamed about doing battle in Alexander the Great's army. Ah, but was I ever a great warrior. I ended up studying Greek mythology (love Edith Hamilton and Mary Renault) in college before I changed my major to poli sci (don't ask).

But when I started writing xx years later, I penned a futuristic which is safely hidden where no one will ever see it. In there, of course there was a virtual reality wild west theater. So I thought, why not write westerns? So I did. 5 of them, although none sold.

Now I'm writing short stories and have sold a book that starts in 1199 and ends with a contemporary story. Lots of research but I loved every minute!

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.


Karen said...

Eliza, I'm fascinated with how sleuths used psychology (alienists) to come up with all these clues and solutions prior to methods we now use. Right now I'm doing an 1876 Zanzibar murder mystery, and I'm wondering if some of my protagonist's methods or deductions aren't too modern. Nothing like fingerprinting of course :) but methodology, like them figuring out it's more than one murderer because the murders have different MOs, different styles and goals.

I also recently shied away from setting a book in NYC simply because too many people (like Carr) know it so much better than I! They'd be bound to bust me in some sort of mistake. Leave that to the experts, I say!

carrie_lofty said...

Karen, one of the "primary source" documents you might be able to use is Bleak House by Charles Dickens. Written in 1852, the novel is available for free via Project Gutenberg, and many scholars believe that Inspector Bucket represents one of the earliest detectives in literary history. So any methods he uses in BH would be applicable to a novel set in the late 19th c. And, as an aside, I LOVED the PBS adaptation of BH that broadcast last winter. My review here. Great great great movie.

Vicki Gaia said...

Oh I LOVE Victoria Thompson's murder mysteries, but most of all I adore the interactions between Sarah and Malloy! I read my first one a few weeks ago, and then went out a bought the rest of her books, reading them in a week's time...ah, now I have to wait for the new release this summer :(

Eliza said...

Vicki --

I haven't read all Ms. Thompson's mysteries, but my mother-in-law asked which author I liked right now, and I asked for the ones I haven't read.

I really enjoy her books. You should read The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly -- the first part is tense, but the second and third are both very, very enjoyable. I know I really like a book when I slow down and don't rush the last 50 pages!