Streets of Philadelphia

My mother used to say, What you don’t know would fill a book. I think later she expanded that to a library. Perhaps this was some foreshadowing of my life as a writer. Certainly I feel I am filling books with things I don’t know. Things I just make up or half make up. At the very least, things I am definitely uncertain of.

Take my novel. Please. (Hmmm, that joke doesn’t work as well typed out.)

Seriously, take my novel. The main character grows up in Philadelphia. But here’s everything I know about Philadelphia: Rocky ran up the art museum steps, there’s a Liberty Bell, they invented the cheese steak and eat them constantly, Patti LaBelle lives there and she hates to fly, there are sports teams, Bill Cosby went to Temple University, which is somewhere downtown, and got a degree in education, there are lots of beautiful old houses in lots of beautiful old neighborhoods, it’s big.

But in my novel I talk about neighborhoods and schools and even streets that may or may not exist. I stuck William Penn on top of the State House which I don’t think is quite right. I may be confusing him with Roger Williams in Providence, who I’m pretty sure sits on top of the State House here. She will go to Temple as an undergraduate because that’s something I know about Philadelphia (see list above). She will also be afraid to fly but so far Patti LaBelle has nothing to do with that.

Eventually, this is going to become a problem. Yes, I’m writing fiction. I’m supposed to be making stuff up. But it can’t all be fictional, can it? I need to get my facts straight. And that takes research. Which stops the writing. So my strategy at the moment is to recognize I’m a nitwit about all things Philadelphia, plow ahead, and go back and fix it later.

Now, years ago I took a writing workshop with Jill McCorkle and she said that Madison Smartt Bell (who she went to school with) wouldn’t start writing his novel until he got a street map of NYC that was being mailed to him. Imagine waiting for information to be mailed to you! It’s so quaint! But I digress from my name dropping. His approach was (is?) to wait until you have all the accurate information at hand, but for the most part, that isn’t how I operate. Afterall, I started blogging without having a clue about it. Although I am starting to think I should read up on it because I’m worried that I should be doing something more, like answering all the wonderful comments people leave. Or is that strange? Should people just be able to comment with whatever they want like they are anonymous? Or should I let you know when you’re cracking me up or making me cry or getting me to stand on my chair and shout, Now that’s what I’m talking about! And what about links? Should I be hooking you up with some of my favorite blogs or websites or novels or hand lotion? Maybe its time to actually learn something about blogging.

I know I will get to that point with the novel. I will think, stop making this crap up. And I will Google Where would a working class Jew live in Philadelphia in the seventies? followed by Where would they move to if they started making money? Or maybe by the time I get enough of the novel written to actually do some research I’ll be talking into my wristwatch and the answer will pop onto the computer screen. Hell, at this rate I’ll be sharing Jell-O with Madison Smartt Bell at snack time in the nursing home. Maybe he’ll have a map.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Streets of Philadelphia

  1. smerk

    A few tips on Philly:

    Billy Penn is on top of city hall – the state house is in Harrisburg, the capital of PA. There’s a story behind how tall buildings in Philly could be relative to Billy, but then there’s a story behind everything, right?

    Philly has cheese steaks and hoagies – don’t mention subs or grinders.

    Temple is actually in North Philly – kinda like South Boston, but different.

    Perhaps your main character (depending on when she was born) could have a crush on Wilt Chamberlain (he played basketball for the Sixers, but mostly in the 60’s).

    Or related to Irv Kosloff (he’s in the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame) and once owned the Sixers.

    Or ate scrapple on the sly…clearly Jewish people would never eat scrapple in the open.

    And I have an OLD PTC (Philadelphia Transit Company) map I can loan you.

    And yes, if in response to any response to your blog you are standing on a chair and shouting, then I think we all want to know.

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