Steve Brezenoff and I go way back, so I'm thrilled to give you a preview of his upcoming novel, Brooklyn, Burning, which comes out in September.
When you’re sixteen and no one understands who you are, sometimes the only choice left is to run. If you’re lucky, you find a place that accepts you, no questions asked. And if you’re really lucky, that place has a drum set, a place to practice, and a place to sleep. For Kid, the streets of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, are that place. Over the course of two scorching summers, Kid falls hopelessly in love and then loses nearly everything and everyone worth caring about. But as summer draws to a close, Kid finally finds someone who can last beyond the sunset.
As the title suggests, Brooklyn itself is practically a character in Steve's novel, so he's with us today to tell us more about the setting he chose for his novel.
The lovely and talented Micol Ostow asked me host a Brooklyn photo tour, in light of my upcoming novel Brooklyn, Burning. However, before we start a little photo tour, I should admit: I’m no Brooklyn native.
Strictly speaking, I’m a Queens native. I was born in Queens and lived in the Laurelton neighborhood until I was about two. Then the Brezenoffs moved out to Nassau County—better schools, crappier pizza. But there you have it. It was the thing to do among middle-class whites in the mid 1970s, after all. But, living out here in the Midwest, when I think about New York and how much I miss it, it’s Brooklyn that sits heavily and wistfully on my mind. I lived in Gowanus, Windsor Terrace, and Greenpoint, and rehearsed with various bands in Williamsburg on and off for about ten years. Each of those neighborhoods is drastically different from the others, and even within one, there are often great divides just a few blocks apart. Williamsburg, for example, when I last visited, was an ever-shifting combination of a Hassidic enclave, a Latino working class neighborhood, and an insurgent hipster scene.
North Brooklyn—specifically Greenpoint and Williamsburg—is as crucial to Brooklyn, Burning as any of the characters, probably more crucial than some. Obviously, Brooklyn is right there in the title. But since the story itself is based on an actual fire—the Greenpoint Terminal Warehouse burned for days in May of 2006—it really couldn’t take place anywhere else.
That’s all well and good, but if I’d decided to write about a similar fire, and set the book here in St. Paul, Minnesota, for example, no one would have cared, or probably even known, except for one thing: the characters were clearly not from around here. They were Brooklynites.
Like a lot of writers (I think), I start with a character, maybe two. Hopefully, as they develop, they’ll tell me what I want to know about plot and setting. It usually works, at least partially. In this case, I got lucky.
During the first scene I wrote (it’s now somewhere past the middle of the book, I think), the two main characters were out walking, and I knew at once they were on Driggs Avenue in Williamsburg, and walking toward McGuinness Boulevard in Greenpoint. So that was settled. What I didn’t know is, in my hunt for photos of my old neighborhood, I’d stumble upon a story in the news (that big fire in 2006, natch) that would help me fill out the plot.
Well, without further ado, here are some photos of Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
That’s me, walking past one entrance of the Greenpoint Terminal Warehouse. From this angle, you can’t tell how huge the warehouse is, and how the fire gutted it.
Another angle of the warehouse, and it’s a little clearer how wasted the warehouse really is.
I didn’t take this one; it’s from the online magazine Gothamist. From this angle, the devastation is breathtaking.
This one is a pizzeria! Much nicer than a burnt-out warehouse, isn’t it? This is the most classic-looking pizza joint in Greenpoint, and inspired the pizzeria patronized by main character Kid.
If you want to see more (even hundreds) of photos of the warehouse fire, check out this Flickr collection: http://www.flickr.com/search/q=greenpoint+warehouse+fire&w=all&s=int&referer_searched=1
Thanks so much, Steve! I love seeing real-life images that inspire a story.
What do you think, readers -- has Steve piqued your curiosity about Greenpoint? What are some other of your favorite settings in contemporary novels?