Why doesn't anyone set stories in Houston? - Jay Maynard

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Sunday, 18 February 2007


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1308 - Why doesn't anyone set stories in Houston?

Reading nonethewiser's latest book review, in which she comments on a book set in Halifax, reminded me of an irritation: Why doesn't anyone set stories in Houston? American big city stories are universally set in LA or New York, or maybe Chicago. Other stuff is set lots of other places. Authors do a good job of evoking their settings, and generally get them right. Even so, I never seem to read anything that's set in Houston, and it's annoying me a bit.

current mood: [mood icon] curious
current music: Mason Williams - Classical Gas

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From:michaelmink
Date: - 0000
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I suspect there are a few reasons for this.

One is where the media is. New York, Los Angeles, and to a certain extent Chicago have been the home, since the Civil War (NY, Chi) or the 1920s (LA) of large parts of the media that shape popular culture. Thus, those cities would get a large bulk of attention.

Combine this with the fact that Washington is the capital, and that's a further distraction.

Spindletop be damned, I think most folks associate Dallas with a Texas oil city, and not Houston. Even in Tex Avery's cartoon "The First Bad Man," it's set in a pre-historic Dallas, Texas, not Houston. I'm of the impression Dallas has much more aggressive PR than Houston.

Also: what would be the "hook" for Houston? A story set in Pittsburgh would likely revolve around Steel, and Detroit, cars. Chemicals? Not really as glam as big, shiny cars with lots of chrome, or the iconic image of molten steel.

I'm also of the impression that Galveston was a much more important city than Houston, at least up until the time of the Great Hurricane and, perhaps, Spindletop.

In short, Houston may be the product of getting squeezed out because it lacks a catchy hook for its settings, and competition from cities that have a hook, or lots of media.
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From:kazriko
Date: - 0000
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The Tinker stories are set in Pittsburgh, and have little to do with steel. In fact, it seems they have more to do with magic, motorcycles, elves, and japanese demons.
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From:michaelmink
Date: - 0000
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Footnote: Of course, Avery was from the Dallas area, not Houston, so that's an explanation there.
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From:korgmeister
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I must admit I get rather vexed by the whole "LA + New York + Chicago = America" thing that goes on in the media. One of the reasons I really like My Name Is Earl is because it's set in some hick town in flyover country.

It allows a glimpse at a side of America that most foreigners don't get to see. As an Australian with a lot of American friends, I tend to know America is much more culturally diverse than the TV tends to show. It can be annoying when my fellow Aussies who only know about America from the TV tend to say "Americans are this, Americans are that" and I know they're talking about just Americans in a couple of states.
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From:masem
Date: - 0000
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There usually is always some local authors writing fictional books in real cities, though finding these can be hard if you're not in that city proper. However, at least the Borders that I've been in, will sometimes try to include these along with local non-fiction books.

But mainstream media seems to be fascinated with DC, NYC, and LA.
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From:ddelony
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Does Apollo 13 count?
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From:jmaynard
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Sort of. That one couldn't have been set anywhere else. OTOH, lots of stores can be set just about anyhere, and none of them are set in Houston.
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From:cathyr19355
Date: - 0000
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Search me. Houston can hardly be more gritty and unromantic a place to set a story than Philadelphia is, and authors certainly set stories there. Lisa Scottoline's renowned murder mystery series, for example, is set there, and I can think of at least three movies ("Philadelphia," the one where the Tom Hanks character is a lawyer who learns about discrimination first hand when he comes down with AIDS; "Rocky," as well as its sequels, and "Money for Nothing," an early John Cusack movie).
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From:jmaynard
Date: - 0000
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WEB Griffith's Badge of Honor series is set in Philadelphia, as well, and he often uses it in his other series. in fact, he was who I was thinking of when I said that authors do a good job of evoking the environment they write about.
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From:cathyr19355
Date: - 0000
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I'm not familiar with Griffith's books, but you get the idea; Philadelphia is far from unheard of as a story venue. Still don't know why Houston doesn't get some attention as a story venue as well.
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From:jmaynard
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I guess part of it is that I've been to Philadelphia a lot, and like the place, so reading stories set there has an extra bit of enjoyment to it. I've been to NYC, and just don't like it very much; I've been to LA, but not enough of it to get the same feeling from the parts people write about. Same for DC.
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From:cathyr19355
Date: - 0000
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To me, NYC is a great place to visit, but I don't want to live there.

In contrast, most of the parts of LA that I've seen, I don't like at all. And DC has "attractions," but doesn't really have the feel of a community, to me.
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From:nationofsheep
Date: - 0000
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This has bugged me as well having lived here for so long. I have been to other cities too. Not even really from Houston, but this is the 4th largest city in the country. You would expect it had some stories.
From:buddabing2
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David L. Lindsey's novels are set in Houston.

Occasionally you'll see a movie set there as well.

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From:jmaynard
Date: - 0000
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I'll have to look up Lindsey's books. Thanks for the tip.

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