Even when writing a story that mostly takes place on another planet, I knew I had to find a way to incorporate the place that has always felt like home, my beloved city of Philadelphia.
Philly has a bit of a bad reputation, with unkind nicknames like Killadelphia, and folks thinking that this city is nothing but crazed Eagles fans who climb traffic lights when our team wins. And sure, there is a lot wrong with this city. We have embraced the fuck out of when T*ump said “Bad Things Happen in Philadelphia”, because we know it suits us. Currently, we’re known for being one of the poorest major cities in America.
But what I have always loved about us is our resilience. We are a city that birthed a nation, a city produced some of the greatest minds and artists to have ever lived. This city, while gritty, is full of kind people with hearts that are still ever so soft at their core, even if they be rough around the edges.
So when I was writing STILL THE STARS, I knew that I wanted the portal to Alteria to be somewhere in Philly. I spent weeks deliberating as I was working on planning the first draft of the book back in 2015, when I was working a minimum wage job that made me miserable, and that left me in a very dark place overall. I was always worrying about how I was going to afford to eat, even though I was working full time hours.
Alteria was my haven during that time, which is why there’s even a location in the story called that same thing. This book was both haven and harbor for me when everything else looked pretty bleak.
After considerable internal debate, I settled on the basement of the Divine Lorraine, an iconic landmark on Philadelphia’s Broad St. For most of my life, it remained empty and had fallen into disrepair, even though it had once been an opulent hotel and a storied place of worship. But the same week in which I decided, yes, this is the place! I saw an article that apparently, like most beautiful buildings left to stand alone for too long, it was going to be turned into luxury apartments thanks to rampant gentrification. So obviously, it was a no go now.
But as I sat there in that crummy little apartment (which literally had a ceiling in which pieces sometimes just fell out impromptu) I forced myself to think hard about it. I need somewhere to serve as a portal, somewhere that’s a barrier, a bridge between worlds…
and I kid you not, as I had that thought, I looked out my window, and there it was. A sign from the universe too on the nose to ignore. The Ben Franklin Bridge, in all its glory. Twinkling against the night sky, I knew there was no other possible option. It was right there, all along, in my line of sight, just waiting for me to notice it.
Not too long after that decision, on a night when I happened to be in Old City for a NaNoWriMo TGIO party (my first one I attended in person, and in which I met the friends that I still co-ML with to this day) I took a little walk to the bridge’s underbelly, to try and decide where I could locate this magical portal to a world that had been in my heart since I was a child.
And there they were… those beautiful blue doors that have come to mean so much to me. Through them, I decided there would be a means to venture to another planet across the stars.
Since then, that bridge has become a place of sacred grounding for me. When I’m doubtful of myself, or of my story, I go there. I sit on the wooden planks of Race St Pier so that I can stare up at the bridge’s grandeur, reminding myself that there is so much more beyond what we can see. I go there when I need to quiet my mind, and remember that life is so much more than a trip from point A to point B — it is a journey. One meant to be savored, treasured, and fully lived.
YOUR PROMPT FOR THE DAY
Free write a bit (or share a photo or piece of art) about what bridges mean to you. What connections do they conjure? What memories of them stand out in your life? If you decide to share something for this prompt, be sure to tag it on social media with #CountdownToTheStars.
Featured photos by Elayna Mae Darcy © 2022