When I began writing Taking Flight, I knew I wanted my two main characters to capture the essence of place and how different life growing up in the U.S. can be, based solely on location. And I wanted to incorporate my experiences growing up in the suburbs of the South as well as what I was experiencing living in New York. In that vein, all of the places Willa (and Dan!) go to in the book are actually real.
This is partially because I love being able to visit places I read about in books and wanted other people to maybe have that experience, and largely because I’m TERRIBLE at making up business names.
And now, as I’m preparing to leave New York, I thought it might be nice to give all of you a virtual guide to the very real New York that the very fictional Willa lives in in Taking Flight. So, in the map below, I’ve tagged all the places mentioned in the book that Willa, Willa’s mom, Ana, Dan, and Samuel visit. Feel free to zoom, move the map around, and take a look!
New York has been a lot of things for me.
It’s been a fantasy. A magical city of bustle and noise and opportunity and tall shiny buildings and crowds that I would see on TV and in movies and think, “Gosh that looks exciting. I want it.”
It’s been a goal. Whether I was fully conscious of the fact that New York was a goal for me, looking back now, I think it was from pretty early on. As much as I loved growing up in Arkansas, I knew that I wanted to go elsewhere. Explore. See and experience and taste and touch other things. And when you’re from Arkansas, New York City is about as “other things” as you can get without leaving the country.
It’s been the place I live. I moved here in 2010 and had no idea what I was doing with myself. I knew I had enough student loan money leftover to last me maybe three months, if I lived skinny, and was frantically looking for any job that would take me. Luckily, someone finally hired me in the eleventh hour and I was able to stay. But, New York is strange because even though you live here, it can be a place that seems transitional. Foreign. As if you’re a long-term house guest and your host is very patient. It takes a while for it to finally become familiar and personal and yours.
It’s been an inspiration. The energy. The loneliness. The soul-sucking job search. The inflated price of everything. The sound of the subway. The heat. The cold. The feeling of solidarity when you finally make a real connection with someone. The elation when you get your first job and then your first paycheck and blowing it on brunch/drinks/a bag you’ve been coveting. The harrowing, exhilirating experience of online dating. The way the city is the best rebound from a break-up. The feeling when you look around and realize that you know the subway map and can give tourists directions and that you have restaurant and entertainment recommendations for friends who come to town.
It’s been a home. At some point, I realized that New York is my home. Sure, I still refer to Arkansas as home, but when I’m there, I call New York home. I’m not exactly sure when it happened, but there was a day when suddenly I was an adopted New Yorker and that a little bit of this city is mine. It’s weird to think that I’m leaving, but also, I think that New York is the kind of place that buries itself under your skin and lives inside of you. There’s something about the city that becomes part of who you are.
So I’m choosing to believe that no matter where I go, there will be a little bit of New York with me.
It’s possible this little bit is the purposeful power-walking bit that allows me to weave in and out of crowds like a boss. I’M NOT SORRY.