Oct 11, 2012

Why New York?

If you asked an alien to look at the sum of western movies and guess what our most important city was, I'm confident New York would be in the running, if not the outright winner. Few American cities feature so prominently in fiction, to the point where you can almost consider New York a character itself.

I fell in love with New York when I was a kid. Superman was filmed there. So was Ghostbusters. New York was so ingrained into my psyche than unless a show or movie specified another location, I assumed it was set there. It was like New York was the spirit of America.

Of course as I grew up I learned just how incredibly huge America is, and how wonderfully varied are the cultures there.

But New York has retained a special place in my heart. To this day it's one of my favourite places in the world. My wife and I went there on our honeymoon, and we spent a week there earlier this year. We still haven't seen or done all the things we want to.

When I started writing Locked Within, I knew I wanted to set it in America. I was telling a story about a clash between past-life memories and a man's current life, taking the knowledge of the past and combining it with the present to create something more powerful than the mere sum of its parts. I needed a place that felt distanced from ancient myth on the surface, but with roots in ancient lore. I needed a place with almost mythic status. New York was my town.

So I started my research. I learned everything I could about the city. When I reached a point in the book that featured a new location, I stopped to learn I was describing and had determine whether its history could play a role in the story.

Much like the supernatural society which Nathan Shepherd uncovers, New York is a melting pot, a fantastic mixture of ancient cultures, popular trends and long-standing tradition smashed together and thrust into the modern world. The city and its people adapted and evolved over time. New Yorkers are a breed to themselves, protective of their own, welcoming to others. My favourite scenes in the recent Spider-Man movies are the ones where New York stands up and helps Spider-Man. "You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us!"

In the past, Ellis Island was the gateway to the New World. When other ports closed up and refused immigrants, New York still welcomed them. Sure it wasn't always a pleasant journey, and life wasn't always the dream people expected when they arrived, but that wasn't the point. I can only imagine how it must have felt to leave your home behind, spend weeks or months on a cramped ship, then see the gleaming torch of the Statue of Liberty in the distance. New York meant something to those people.


My wife, Jen, commented about New York as a home for the supernatural. She said "when the Old World wanted to hide from itself, where else was it going to go?"

I think the idea of a place can have power. New York is as much a character in Locked Within as Nathan or his father, Mike, or his best friends, Cynthia and Ben.

I hope to tell a story that's about the city, one that will continue with the rest of the series. New York was once a city of hope. It's still a city of strength. In Nathan Shepherd's world, it's also a city of cruelty, controlled by supernatural predators who view the mundane citizens as chattel. In Nathan's story, we'll see whether he has the power to turn back those masters, and make New York a city of hope again.

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