Novel backdrop: Family Social Clubs

theatlanticcities.comThe other day a new acquaintance in my life asked me if I knew about social clubs. Did I? I sure did and was proud of it! This woman is a couple of years older than I am. I imagined looking up to her as the idealized “teenager” when I was still an achingly shy kid. She went on to reminisce and share how she missed going in for a beer or two and for the camaraderie only obtained with family and close friends. She said she can’t find any in Park Slope anymore. What had been easy to come by went out when high priced rents rolled in. A community, my community, was changed.

Social clubs, especially family owned, were popular in the fifties, sixties and seventies. Club membership could include athletics and games. In my family’s case the sport was softball played in Prospect Park and domino tournaments. Winning teams were sent on a trip to Puerto Rico by sponsoring beer companies such as Miller and they also received shiny trophies. We lined the mantel over the fireplace with proof of where my Pop was most evenings.

Julia Acevedo, the star of my novel, Covering the Sun with My Hand, goes to pick up her “Papi” at “the club.” She goes there to alert him that her mother is ill but sometimes she goes because he needs a reminder that he has “a home to go to.” Some of my earliest memories and pictures are of the family social clubs where I spent many of my childhood years. The club was usually a barren storefront filled with a billiard table, jukebox, and tables and chairs. A corner was usually emptied for the band that played on the weekends for dances, Valentine’s Day or a wedding. A bar took up the expanse of a wall and housed bottles of all types of liquor. There was refrigerator filled with beer. Budweiser, Miller High Life, Schafer and Rolling Rock.

Sounds of music blaring and Dominoes slammed against tables signaling ‘un chivo’ still ring in my ears. The smell of beer coagulated in dark walls of the establishment that promised anonymity. Occasionally the overhead lights would be turned on for a children’s celebration.  A horde of neighborhood kids would storm the club with parents along for a Halloween party. The children’s cheeks were red as the apples they bobbed for in metal buckets. One year my uncle made a scarecrow for another children’s gathering. He also made stilts for me that were somehow ‘lost’ in the club because of my own Mami’s fear that I’d break my neck.

 

The inclusion of the ‘social club’ scene takes up about half a chapter in the beginning of my novel. But in actuality it takes up a lot more. This is where husbands, brothers, uncles and male cousins spent their evenings after long hours of work. Occasionally wives, mothers, and daughters were invited for dancing, partying and the like. I will never forget the importance the family social club took up in my family. And that’s me, the angel, in the upper left corner with my sister, the nurse, and my cousins and friends!

Writing: Novel Backdrop

Writing “where” you know is an important detail that brings the reader to a story with ease.

When I read a book that takes me to Paris or “the hood” I want to feel as though I’m there. I’m not interested in wondering if the backdrop is true. It takes away from my reading experience when my mind wonders whether the writer has ever been there.

When one agent read my manuscript she was disappointed it wasn’t about more Park Slope. There are interesting details of its ghetto-like appeal in the late sixties and seventies but my novel is not a historical one. It doesn’t have lengthy paragraphs detailing cobblestone streets, filthy gutters or finely etched engravings or even of stark grafitti on limestone walls. So far my writing has not entailed that type of environmental description.

Being true to Park Slope in the seventies brings the croons of Hector Lavoe, Salsa sensation extraordinaire. The visuals include the sights of flowing white curtains escaped from old brownstone apartment windows. The ever present Tony, a marginal character, who sells loosies at the front door as he leers at Julia, the protagonist, allows a native of the area to take a breath and smile knowing I’ve been true to the neighborhood.

Sometimes the embedded details within the details go a much longer way than a treatise on an area. Write what you know in your heart and it will take you far. If you choose to write about a place you’ve never been, do yourself and your readers a favor and spend some time at the place you’ve chosen to write about. But remember describing a place that you’ve researched on the Internet will be far different than a place that flows through your veins.

How have you treated the ” where” in your writing?”