Meet Your Region: Philadelphia

Philadelphia: A Love Story

By Wendy Tyson

America starts here. Or at least that’s what Pennsylvania’s former slogan said. And if America started in Pennsylvania, it really started in Philadelphia—home of the Constitution, Rocky, the Big 5, the Liberty Bell, Tastykakes, the Reading Terminal Market, water ice (pronounced wooder-ice), and of course, that all-four-food-groups-in-one staple, the cheesesteak (if you add fried onions, that is). And Hollywood loves Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Story, Trading Places, Philadelphia, Witness, Invincible, Silver Linings Playbook, Creed, and not one but two soap operas (One Life to Live and All My Children) are set in Philadelphia, or in fictional suburbs of the city.

Philadelphia gave us Grace Kelly, Margaret Mead, Will Chamberlain, The Dead Milkmen, Jack Klugman, Kevin Bacon, W.C. Fields, Joan Jett, Will Smith, Andrew Wyeth, Bradley Cooper, Tina Fey, and The Hooters (you’re welcome, America). Some might say Philly plays middle child to New York City and Washington DC. I beg to differ. Philadelphia is a city steeped in history and rooted by a diverse population. It’s the only World Heritage City in the United States, and has bragging rights to many firsts: first hospital, first library, first stock exchange, and first medical school. Sure, Philadelphians can be a little brusque, but that’s because Philly’s a no-bullshit town. Just ask our sports fans—they threw snowballs at Santa. Or Hitchbot the hitchhiking robot, who found out the hard way that brotherly love doesn’t extend to globetrotting robots. But like any great union, to love Philadelphia is to embrace all aspects of the city. After all, there’s a lot to be thankful for in Philadelphia, not the least of which is its booming writing scene.

Philadelphia has a rich tradition when it comes to literature and lays claim to a diverse group of authors, including James Michener, Jennifer Weiner, and thriller writer Lisa Scottoline. Even master of the macabre Edgar Allen Poe lived here for a while, writing two of his most famous works, The Tell-Tale Heart and The Fall of the House of Usher, while in the city. From indie bookstores in and around the city (including Farley’s in New Hope and the Doylestown Bookshop, two of my favorites), to the Barnes & Noble in Center City, to the Free Library of Philadelphia, Philadelphia is a great place for readers and authors.

But don’t just take my word for it. While writing this piece, I caught up with a few well-known Philly thriller writers and asked them to give me one word to describe Philadelphia. Here are the results:

Prodigious. Janice Gable Bashman, a member of International Thriller Writers’ board of directors whose latest novel Predator was released to strong reviews, called Philly “prodigious.” “Many writers of all genres live in Philadelphia and its surrounding areas, including numerous thriller/mystery writers,” Bashman went on to say. “I love that we can learn from, help, and support one another in our endeavors.”

Noircon. This tight sense of community can be felt in the noir scene. “Philadelphia’s strong tradition in crime fiction is highlighted by this amazing noir conference,” said author Jon McGoran. McGoran, whose latest book Dust Up was released by Forge in April, is a founding member of the Philadelphia Liars Club and a frequent noir at the bar organizer. In fact, he was the first to invite me to read at a N@TB—and I loved it. As the oral history goes, the Philly-based critic Peter Rozovsky began N@TB in Philadelphia following the 2008 Noircon and McGoran was one of the original attendees. Pretty cool. Read more about it here.

Ingenious. Author Merry Jones, whose latest thriller, Child’s Play, will be released on January 3, called the Philly thriller writing scene “ingenious,” and I couldn’t agree more. According to dictionary.com, ingenious means “characterized by cleverness or originality.” Philadelphia writers have been known for their willingness to take risks, to do something fresh and original.

Homegrown. Robb Cadigan’s debut novel, Phoenixville Rising, explores the Phoenixville steel industry and has been called a “beautifully written love letter to the American industrial town” by author William Lashner. Cadigan chose a local setting for his novel—Phoenixville is just a few annoyingly-congested highways away from Philadelphia proper—and so his word “homegrown” seems fitting. “I believe the fiction that comes out of Philadelphia (and its surrounding area) is very much a product of the location and culture in which it’s created — and evokes the unique history we have here, rich and diverse, sometimes violent, always independent.”

Well said, Robb

Thanksgiving was just a few days ago. After the emotionally-laden happenings of the last weeks, the holiday seemed as fine a time as ever to reflect on my city and what it has to offer. But I struggled while choosing my own word. Gritty? Spirited? Gutsy? They all apply. Philadelphia isn’t just a city rich with history; it is, as Robb said, fiercely independent. A city built by immigrants, divided by neighborhoods, and united by a shared sense of pride and community. The town isn’t always pretty, its people can be jarringly real. But I’ll take that. In the end, writing in Philadelphia is a privilege.

And for that, I am grateful.

WENDY TYSON has written five published crime novels.  The first in the Campbell series, Killer Image, was named a best mystery for book clubs in 2014 by Examiner.com.  Wendy is also the author of the Greenhouse Mystery Series, the first of which, A Muddied Murder, was released in March 2016. She lives with her family on a micro-farm near Philadelphia. 

To learn more about A Muddied Murder, click on the cover below:

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