Monday, November 5, 2012

Hometown Glory: the borough of Queens

Queens. Courtesy of Antipastarasta.

It's been a few days since Sandy left New York and New Jersey in tatters and I am finally getting back into the groove of editing my WIP on hard copy. I printed out 20 pages to mark up while I was stuck inside during the storm. I couldn't concentrate. I'm not doing NaNoWriMo this year, so I should be done with the marking up by the time NaNo participants are crossing the 50,000 word mark. Good luck!

This week made me think a lot about hometowns and as I'm once again back in novel-mode, settings in novels. My story takes place in 1800, before photography, and though it's doubtful that an agricultural village would have changed much back then, it's still important to make up a plausible history for the place. The reader doesn't have to know, but I do.
Queens Blvd. at 80th Road, Kew Gardens, 1943.
From the Queens Library.

And as this is sort-of a history-ish blog, alongside the writing and the ranting, I hunted for old pictures of Queens. 

If you'd like to donate to the Red Cross to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy, please text "Red Cross" to 90999 to give $10. If you want to look up opportunities to volunteer or places to donate to or places to send your donations to, keep an eye on this Facebook group, where people have been posting constantly about every devastated part of the tri-state area, including Westchester, Connecticut, Long Island, and New Jersey. A lot of places are accepting donations, so check out the postings. You'll find one in your neighborhood, if you live in the area.



New York City, as I'm often telling people, is not just Manhattan. Truth is, having been born and raised in Queens,   I have an inbred resentment of Manhattan, while at the same time enjoying its attractions. It took me a while to answer the question, "Where are you from?" in college with "New York City" instead of "Queens."
Building the subway underneath Queens Blvd. 1930s.
Photo from ebay, via Images of Forest Hills


In college, for a memoir writing class, I was assigned a memoir to read and report back to the class on. For the life of me, I can't remember the author or the title, but it was about growing up in Queens--I think in Elmhurst--in the 1960s and 1970s. I later wrote a 10-page memoir about growing up in Queens--things about hanging out near a large cemetery or the Orthodox Jews in my childhood neighborhood or the day I was finally allowed by my parents to take the subway into the city with my friends on our own.

No one else at college was from Queens and I found it hard to explain what it was like. I wrote a short fiction piece describing Queens as "Manhattan's inferior cousin" or something and a Staten Islander in my class took offense. She later wrote a story about the large dump that existed on Staten Island.
From Life magazine & gothamist. The old Elmhurst gas tanks, circa 1950.
I remember seeing these from the LIE.


One day, I might be able to distance myself enough to set an actual, viable story in Queens that is not about me. Maybe a historical? The famous spy Nathan Hale supposedly landed in Flushing. I found that intriguing. I read The Tory Widow when it was released and glommed through it, bypassing the romance purely for the history, because it was the Revolutionary War in New York City (!). And it had maps! (Here's an interactive map comparing modern-day Manhattan to the proposed street grid map from 1811.)

Looking at the pictures scattered through this post, you can see that Queens changes rapidly--and yet it doesn't, sometimes. It would be an interesting endeavor to write about, someday, if the right story comes along.

Have you written about your hometown? Why or why not? What kind of old pictures of your hometown have you found?

For other old pictures:
The Rockaways, 1929.
14 Photos of Queens Before You Were Born 
Queens Tribune

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