If you’ve read Imposter Syndrome and Other Confessions of Alejandra Kim, it will probably come as no surprise to you that author Patricia Park is a native New Yorker. We asked her to share a little bit about the sense of place in her book and how she made this iconic city come alive on the page. Read on for her advice on writing about New York.
How Do You Write About New York?
Imposter Syndrome and the Sense of Place
by Patricia Park
As a born-and-bred New Yorker, I write about the real New York—real neighborhoods and real people going about their day. You won’t get the touristy version of the Big Apple in my novels (sorry/not sorry). Here are my tips on writing about New York!
You do such a great job of bringing a sense of place—whether it’s Queens, Brooklyn, or a subway car—to your writing? Do you have any advice for writers trying to do the same?
Immerse yourself in the place you want to write about. Spend a day on the subways with a notebook. Feel the rhythms of the train cars. People-watch. Eavesdrop on their conversations—people are surprisingly unfiltered in public!—and listen for their diction (word choice) and syntax (word order). What’s their body language like? Subway surf. (That’s when you try to keep your balance on a moving train car without holding onto the handrails! It’s a good core workout.)
When I was a teen, I commuted four hours a day from home in Queens to high school in the Bronx. I overheard a thousand different Englishes a day, and that experience helped shaped my writing. Also, my subway surfing game is 🔥.
What is your iconic Imposter Syndrome itinerary for NYC?
Let’s pretend Alejandra’s taking you on a tour of her NYC. You’ll start in Chinatown, where she goes to Quaker Oats Prep. Dumplings at Vanessa’s on Eldridge St (8 for under $6!). Take the train uptown to where Papi first taught Ale how to play the piano on the giant toy keyboard*. Dodge tourists along the way. Head to Toasties for the Downtown sandwich: turkey, roast beef, Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, and horseradish & herb mayo.
Because Ale’s a good host, she will suffer Rockefeller Center and Times Square with you, but only if you promise not to gawk like an amateur and hold up traffic! Board the 7 train toward Queens, crossing the river. Jump out at Queensboro Plaza station and listen to the subway music: the sounds of the 7 and N rushing to and fro the station. Stare across the river to the midtown Manhattan skyline from the platform. Then home to Jackson Heights: 74th Street–Roosevelt station. There are way too many good spots to name—like Bhanchha Ghar’s for momo (Nepali dumplings)—but Ale will take you to Chivito De Oro for a Rioplatense parrilla (BBQ feast from the Río de la Plata region). The restaurant is technically Uruguayan, but there’s an old joke that Uruguay is basically the twenty-fourth province of Argentina. Argentines find that joke hilarious; Uruguayans, not so much.
*The keyboard is no longer there, but it’s still worth a visit.
Have any of your favorite places made their way into Imposter Syndrome?
I love the beach in the off-season: it’s bleak and beautiful. Ale takes her BFF Laurel to the Rockaways in winter, and they have a heart-to-heart.
Is there a scene in Imposter Syndrome you think captures a sense of place particularly well?
Not a scene, but the 7 train coursing through Queens. I spent so much of my life on that subway. Queensboro Plaza station especially.
Where and how do you strive for authenticity of place in your writing?
Place shapes people, just as people shape the place they live in. You have to know the communities you’re writing about. Sometimes I read hyper-glamorized, Yelpified versions of New York, and I can tell the writer only lived here for a short time. Push past the stereotypes of a place. Write about your place—wherever that place may be—with your unique insider’s POV. Don’t be afraid of showing its rough and not-so-ready edges, warts and all!
In Imposter Syndrome, Alejandra and her friends do go to places like Times Square, Bryant Park, Coney Island, etc. But they’re giving us the native’s version of that experience—while dodging the gawking tourists who are seeing New York for the first time. It’s funny how you can see the same New York, and people will come away with completely different experiences of it.
What’s your perfect Saturday in NYC?
Taking my dog to off-leash hours at Prospect Park so she can play with all her fur-friends. Egg-n-cheese on a toasted whole wheat everything from Bagel Pub. I have to eat it quickly, because @sallybrownhound is an infamous egg-n-cheese klepto. An afternoon of writing and revising my next novel, then meeting with friends in the evening.
Last but not least: hot dog, pretzel, or falafel?