“So much of who we are is where we have been.” – William Langewiesche
On Tuesdays, I post a guest blog by a writer about a special setting, real or imaginary, they chose for their work.
Today’s guest blog is by Nicole Wolverton, author of Feast Of All Fools
“No more than five minutes after she’d retrieved her car, Varda spotted Anthony Carluccio’s ludicrous monstrosity of a vehicle – a hint of mint green paint swimming among the rusted body of a Buick Centurion – in her rearview mirror. The high-pitched humming of I-95 under tires grew louder as she passed over the double-decker bridge. She maneuvered toward the agreed-upon meeting place — a quiet enclave amid the gray, industrial buildings off the Broad Street exit perfect for clandestine business meetings and body drops — not appreciating the likely armed guard.”
Think of South Philadelphia, and chances are you picture Rocky Balboa running through the streets. Or if you’re from Southeastern Pennsylvania, the Mummer’s* might come to mind. For me, I think of food and the mob, which is why South Philly is the setting for a novel I wrote this year titled Feast of All Fools, which plays off the world of underground dinner clubs.
However, it’s more than just eating and the mafia – as you can see from the excerpt, there are very industrial, lonely parts to South Philly, but there are also parks and trees as well as concrete enclaves of brick row homes. You might see an entire container garden of flowers and vegetables butted up against an apartment building shoved in next to a home that grows generations-old grape vines or fig trees.
I lived in South Philly for many years – the possibility of running into a Varda Adler (my main character) or an Anthony Carluccio (the villain) in the neighborhood is, well, large. Yes, South Philly is a great area for food — home to the great cheesesteak wars (I’m a Pat’s Steaks girl myself); the fantastic Italian Market, where you can buy nearly any vegetable, spice, meat, seafood, cooking utensil, or ingredient you want; and a sizable collection of Italian restaurants as well as newer additions of nearly any ethnic cuisine you can think of. It fits the novel. But so do the people.
All the characters in Feast of All Fools are partially inspired, either by looks, mannerisms, or accent, by old neighbors or acquaintances of mine. Anthony – oh, sorry: Ant’ney – is a combination of an old landlord and a guy who lived next door to me for a while. Flora Morelli (Varda’s boyfriend’s mother) is the woman who ran the corner store. Nana, Flora’s mother, is the frail old lady who sat on a chair in her front window and watched the small street I lived on like a hawk. Renee, Varda’s best friend, is a good friend of mine who lives in the cutest row house in the city.
South Philly is traditionally very Irish/Italian and Catholic, but over the last few decades or so it’s really developed a rich cultural and ethnic history. Because of this, the neighborhood (which is really a large area made up of at least three or four – or more— smaller neighborhoods) is an ideal option when you need a setting with flavor. There’s a very stereotypical patois to the local language, which also happens to be true – youse instead of you, warter instead of water. And yet you can easily find Cambodian accents, accentless yuppies, and emo artists.
Feast of All Fools isn’t published as of yet. I’m exploring my options and hoping to come up with a great home for the novel. I have to say that knowing South Philly so well and have a real passion for the neighborhood – in all its diversity – makes it easier to speak about the novel with enthusiasm. I have a real fondness for all the characters, in part because of their South Philly-ness.
*The Mummer’s Parade is a uniquely Philadelphia experience that takes place on New Year’s Day and features plumbers, construction workers, and plenty of other blue collar workers fancied up in sequins and feathers to march down Broad Street. There are different divisions: string bands, fancy brigades, comics, and fancies. Many of the clubs are headquartered in South Philly.
A big thank you to Nicole Wolverton from Philadelphia, author of Feast Of All Fools for sharing this guest blog about the use of setting. To find out more about Nicole and her writing, visit her website www.nicolewolverton.com.