Real Memories, Fake Setting

I’ve spent the past several days in my old hometown, the place where my Style & Error series is kind of set. Kind of, because the town has changed so much since I lived here: highways have been moved, businesses have come and go, restaurants have closed permanently, and my parents have moved to an unfamiliar part.

The memories I have about Reading, Pennsylvania, mostly Exeter Township, are faint and attached to memories of high school, of dating, driving, hanging out with friends. I think about shopping at the Reading Station (no longer there), miniature golfing at Schell’s on Perkiomen Avenue (no longer called Schell’s), turning onto 47th street at Fegley’s (nope) and having dinner at the Seafood Shanty by Boscov’s east (nix).

That’s not to say that everything has changed. V&S sandwich shop is still there, as is Brother Bruno’s Pizza. Two of my favorite pretzel outlets, Tom Sturgis and Unique Splitz, both maintain substantial pretzel meccas for peeps like me. Boscov’s is still Boscov’s. (Did you Boscov today? I did!).

When I grew up in Reading, I was discovering who I was. My friends and I went from kids who hung out together at the pool to teenagers who borrowed our parent’s cars and went to movies. My first dates were in Reading. My first kisses were in Reading. I went out of state for college but moved back, an adult version of myself. Even though I found a FT  job, at the end of each day, I drove back to my parent’s house, where I lived until finding my own place. I was caught between being an adult and being a kid.

That’s where Samantha Kidd was born, and it’s why she lives where she lives.

Because so much of my own town had changed, I decided to go with my own version of Reading. I renamed it Ribbon, Pennsylvania. In the Style & Error books I nod and wink at locations that I remember fondly and occasionally reverse time and reopen a business that has long since been gone. And since I’ve made it a town where a fashionista relocates after her career as buyer in New York, I’ve glammified things a bit. (Hey, it’s my party and I’ll glam if I want to).

I’m curious about other peoples’ processes: have you set your stories in a place where you live/d? Have you stayed true to the town as it is? Or have you falsified the town enough that you made it fictional?

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Author: Diane Vallere

Diane is the author of four mystery series. Like her character Samantha Kidd, she is a former fashion buyer; like her character Madison Night, she loves Doris Day movies, like her character Polyester Monroe, she lives in California; and like her character Margo Tamblyn, she has a thing for costumes. Find out more at http://dianevallere.com/.

6 thoughts on “Real Memories, Fake Setting”

  1. Diane–Oh how I remember this feeling. I went back to my hometown and joked about how nobody had asked me if they could make certain changes. It was quite different.
    I set my last novel, The Star Family, in my hometown. I loved walking the streets of my memory and claiming the house I’d always loved as my very own.

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  2. I set the very first novel I ever completed (now in a drawer somewhere) in my hometown – Buffalo – and my MC lived near where I grew up. I used real streets and businesses, but also made things up. My Laurel Highlands series is set in Fayette County, which is real. When describing major locations (like the county courthouse) I use real street names, but I have also made up several locations (like restaurants) and made up road names. I think it’s really about “selling” the fictional stuff – the old “it could totally be a place in this town” idea.

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  3. I have a drawer novel that’s set in my early childhood neighborhood of San Rafael, CA. Writing that novel was strange and surreal for me because I had/have negative feelings about that time in my life … However, when I actually visited the old neighborhood, I surprised myself by feeling nostalgic too. The many ways that the neighborhood had come up in the world only served to increase my nostalgia. I should go back and check out that novel …

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  4. So it seems what I feel is quite common!

    Lisa, That’s how I feel about the time I spent in Texas. Negative feelings toward that time in my life, but when I left, I discovered a pocket of nostalgia for the specific area where I spent my last year. I set my Mad for Mod series there and didn’t even change the town names, largely because I wanted to capture how special that location was at the tail end of the time I spent in Texas. Yes, revisit that novel by all means! I bet you’ll find parts you absolutely love!

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  5. What an interesting post. I wondered if Ribbon was real when I read the books because you did such a great job of making it come to life.

    My current WIP began in a town I made up completely but is geographically near where I live now, so it feels real to me in terms of description. But someone suggested that I set it elsewhere, so I moved it to a fictionalized version of my hometown in upstate New York. Logically, it made sense, but something wasn’t working. I don’t know why, but I grew increasingly frustrated and ended up moving it back. Not sure what that means. Maybe that it’s set where it should be?

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  6. Oh, how interesting! My parents still live in the town where I grew up, and its hard to visit sometimes because so much has changed. However, it’s also fun to show my child the things that haven’t. My WIP is set in a fictionalized version of where I live now, and I’ve been struggling with it–after reading this post, I wonder if it’s because I don’t have any sense of nostalgia or history with it. Hmm. . .great post, and thanks for the food for thought!

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