Saturday, November 20, 2021

What We're Writing: Julia Dances Architecture

 JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Like Debs in yesterday's blog, I'm on the search for something from AT MIDNIGHT COMES THE CRY that I can share without giving away any plot points. And since there is a LOT of plot in this work-in-progress, it's a bit of a chore. 

One of the things I've been doing is going back to previously written sections and adding more holiday details, since the book takes place between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Sometime, writing on a muggy day in July, it's hard to conjure up those small details, but now we're actually getting back into the season, I'm finding more and more little touches I want to add. I take pride in getting my settings right, and when I write winter scenes, I want Lucy's neighbors in Key West to shiver.

With that in mind, here's a scene of Russ and Hadley at the Empire State Plaza in Albany, NY. Those of you who went to Bouchercon there in 2013 will never forget it, although thank heavens we didn't have freezing weather to add to our woes.

 

 

The Office of the Attorney General was in Albany's Empire Plaza, a bleak concrete monstrosity Hadley had toured once as a parent volunteer for Hudson's fifth grade field trip. The guide had assured them the architecture was very distinguished, but to her, it looked like a series of Soviet-designed rectangular rockets had set down in the 1950s and were now waiting for a liftoff signal from the gigantic concrete Egg – which resembled a football or a birdbath more than an egg, but no one had asked Hadley for a name suggestion. Her negative impression was reinforced now by the scant handful of government flunkies crossing the plaza, heads down, coats clutched tight against the buffeting wind.

Inside, the reception area reminded her of a mid-range hotel lobby; overlarge, cold and decked with blandly inoffensive Winter Holiday décor whose primary virtue was the ability to maintain its plastic perfection year after tear after year. Wide rectangular mats, still pristine since Albany hadn't had a snowfall yet, swallowed her footsteps, making it more surprising when her boot heels suddenly clacked on the highly polished terrazzo flooring.

Holy crap. This must be like a skating rink when it's snowing or raining.”

Van Alstyne grunted. “That's modernist architecture for you. Never let actual human beings get in the way of a grand vision.”

 

What do you think, dear readers? And can anyone identify the quote I referenced in the title of this post?

69 comments:

  1. I love Russ’s grumble at the end of this piece . . . never doubt the ability of the designers to forget that real people tend to wander through the place.
    [I can’t wait to read this book!]

    I don’t know about the quote, but your “dances architecture” brings to mind the towers in New York that are designed to “dance” with each other . . . . .

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Joan, I always think that the designers of women's shoes are the most guilty of missing the human connection.

      Delete
    2. The architect of the Empire Plaza was Nelson Rockefeller's favorite, and he also designed the UN building and Lincoln Center. Unfortunately, his modernist/Brutalist ideas were already in the cultural rear-view mirror by the time he got to the Empire Plaza - mostly because people had already discovered those schools of architecture looked grand but were miserable for the people living or working in them.

      Delete
  2. I don't know the quote, but you sure captured the architecture. That place was bleak any time of year! That was my first Bouchercon, and where I first met you and chatted with Ross in the bar! I met Triss Stein over breakfast at that con, too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Edith: I met you and Barbara Ross at the Kensington book giveaway, and got my signed copy of A Tine to Live, A Tine to Die.

      Delete
    2. Irwin grew up in Albany. His father was an electrician who worked on the towers. He recognized the photo that Julia shared. I wish that I had known you all then because Albany Boucheron would have been easy for me to attend. Sigh.

      Delete
    3. Cool, Grace! I'm sorry I forgot that part.

      Delete
    4. No worries, Edith. Finding new authors like you and Barb was one of the few highlights of the dreadful Albany Bouchercon.

      Delete
    5. I had a great time at the Albany B'con, when I wasn't trekking across the barren concrete wastelands and getting lost in the Egg!

      Delete
    6. Albany was my 12th Bouchercon. I'm comparing my Albany experience to (then) recent BCons held in Cleveland, Saint Louis, San Francisco and Baltimore. Even now, Albany is ranked in my bottom 3 Bouchercons (out of 20 attended in-person and virtually).

      Delete
  3. JULIA: Yup, I was also at that Albany Bouchercon. Your bleak modernist architecture description is so accurate. And I remember spending so much time walking back and forth from the hotel, crossing that plaza to get to the EGG since the shuttle buses were few and far between!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And then once you finally reach the plaza, and realize you have what feels like another mile to go to reach the con site...

      Delete
  4. Julia, your description makes me glad not to have attended that Bouchercon.
    I wonder what Russ and Hadley did there.
    No idea about the quote.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was a good Bouchercon, in the sense that lots of people were there, there were great parties and dinner, the hotel bars were lively... it's just it took FOREVER to get from any one place you were to any one place you wanted to be!

      Delete
    2. But it did suck that on the weekend, the cafeteria/food options were closed in the EGG. Remember they brought in some food trucks to the Plaza to provide us with some lunch options? And most of downtown Albany also shut down on the weekend...

      Delete
    3. Oh, Grace, I had forgotten that part. Ugh. I do remember the streets being almost completely empty on Saturday and Sunday. Con-goers were jaywalking all over the place.

      Delete
  5. WE're shivering Julia! I loved seeing all my pals at that conference, but yikes the setting was harsh! Can't wait for this book...

    ReplyDelete
  6. I *DO* remember that plaza in Albany. Desolate. We have Governement Center here in Boston which also gives off concrete vibes. Love you description, Julia.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Constitution Plaza in Hartford is equally bleak.

      Delete
    2. It was a rough couple of decades after architects fell in love with concrete, that's for sure.

      Delete
  7. I remember that Bouchercon and the plaza.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's unforgettable, Dru, but probably not in the way Nelson Rockefeller hoped.

      Delete
  8. Did not make it to B'con Albany. sounds like a bleak environment but I'm sure the fellowship more than made up for it. Dancing architecture? I cheated and looked it up online - didn't find a quote, but did see examples of dancing buildings. My thought? Better than the sterile plaza in Albany (and other places) but WHAT ARE THEY THINKING!

    Looking forward to the book, Julia. Let us know when preorders are up.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Kait. And yes, what were they thinking? Wallace Harrison, the architect, had already designed the UN Headquarters in the fifties and the Lincoln Center Opera House in the 60s. Unfortunately, his style was already getting old by the time the Plaza went up in the 70s; the NY Times said it was "outdated the day it opened."

      Delete
  9. All that Albany plaza talk brought back all of the controversy when it was built, and from what I remember it was because Gov Rockefeller was embarrassed by a comment made by Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands. Not very aesthetically appealing, if you ask me. The wind certainly does blow across that plaza so maybe there are breezes in the summer.

    Cannot wait to read the book and find out what everyone has been up to. If they are going to the AG's office I wonder if it has something to do with the missing Kevin.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It does, and I'm delighted the excerpt made someone wonder! After I posted it, I thought, "Not exactly leaving them panting for more, are you?"

      Delete
    2. Julia, please believe me - we are always panting for more!

      Delete
    3. It did, though, it did!! I thought it must be about Kevin, too, and am so worried about him!

      Delete
    4. I think we need to start a Kevin Fan Club here at JRW.

      Delete
  10. I know the quote is from a hymn and I think there is a bridegroom in there too but that's all I can come up with.
    Love the snippet you gave us and I too, wonder if it has to do with the missing Kevin.
    Waiting impatiently to find out!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It very well might, Atlanta!

      Delete
    2. Atlanta, are you thinking of Sydney Carter's "Lord of the Dance?"

      Delete
  11. I have a question for all of you that I probably should have put in the blog itself - does it seem odd Hadley would know what terrazzo is? Russ would, because he's interested in buildings and because the material was used constantly for floors when he was a kid - how many of you remember those speckled floors in your elementary school or junior high? But I'm not sure Hadley wouldn't just log it as slick and shiny.

    These are the weird questions that come up when you write multiple third person POVs...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hadley has been there on a school trip with Hudson, so she may have asked or been told what material was used to make the floor.

      Delete
    2. I'd also add that who knows what individuals know? I have knowledge acquired in strange ways, and surely Hadley does, as well. You could reference a family member who sold flooring, or a high school/college job Hadley may have had.

      Delete
  12. The blog title? I don't recognize it. At Midnight Comes The Cry - yes. Trim the wicks and have lamps prepared to light when the bridegroom approaches. All these snippets are driving me nuts, or is it nuttier? The pictures are of another world, is that a covered sports center? Anyway, nice to this little bit. Impatiently waiting for publication.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, you know me, Deana. Constantly speeding to the prompt publication of my next book. (I would insert a crying-laugh emoji here if I could...)

      Delete
  13. Okay, so I was playing on a quote that's widely used but never properly attributed:
    "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture."

    No, I'm not writing about music, but the idea of dancing about architecture has always tickled me.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Bleak. Soviet-inspired. Must be at its worst in winter! The vibes from the place seem to echo the mood of Hadley and Russ--whatever has brought t hem there can't be pleasant.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nope, but stay tuned. More shall be revealed eventually!

      Delete
  15. Ah, yes, the old form versus function debate. Phoenix has grown a lot and there have been several new city buildings added where you scratch your head and ask, "They know people are using this facility, right?" Ugh. Wonderful to see Hadley and Russ again! Yay!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jenn, I'd think architects had gotten that out of their system in the 50s and 60s!

      Delete
  16. I am a New Yorker but I think I only visited Albany once when I was a teenager. I can't offhand remember what the purpose of the visit was. I would have taken a bus from New York City. Despite his mixed record, I remember Nelson Rockefeller with some fondness.

    The quote is from the parable of the ten virgins. Five were prepared with oil and five had neglected to procure oil. They were all awaiting the bridegroom and at midnight came the cry "The bridegroom is here." The parable is too instruct us to be prepared at all times for the return of Messiah. I worry a lot about being prepared. When in the grips of self-doubt, I sometimes remember the words "My grace is sufficient."

    I've only read two books in the series, but I intend to catch up.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Interesting excerpt that makes me excited to read this book. The architecture, however, leaves me cold, but I love the blog title and your explanation, Julia. Please keep writing!!

    ReplyDelete
  18. Reading the description of the slippery floor made me feel that sickening wave that comes when you lose your footing in icy conditions. So well done on the vivid writing, Julia.

    That plaza IS bleak. Sacramento has a much more successful concrete canyon-like plaza, largely because of all the public art and the interspersed garden areas. Much more aesthetically pleasing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Empire Plaza could really have used garden spaces, Karen, but I suppose that would have softened the aesthetic. There is ice skating on the reflecting pools in winter, but it's not the most comfortable spot because unlike, say, Rockefeller Center, the ice is utterly open to the winds sweeping down the Hudson River.

      Delete
  19. I’m in Harrisburg PA which is the state capital. Fortunately there are some lovely trees and gardens along with many granite buildings vs. concrete. I may have a jaded eye but it seems rather lovely to me. The Albany Con event sounds horrid!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was definitely one of the more challenging venues, Emily. I'm from upstate New York, and even I said, "They're having it where?" when I hear the news of the bid award.

      Delete
  20. Years ago, when I spent some time hanging out with architects, I ran across a guy they all revered who designed buildings that were not intended for people at all. Or dogs, or cats, or any other sort of living being. They were "Pure Designs," where he only played with shape and form and theory to push the boundaries of architecture as an art form. Not practical in any way. I was left to wonder why our tax dollars supported his tenure at a state university.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Contrast this with the architecture professor in Georgia (can't find the link now), who, years ago, led his students in designing homes for the poorest of the rural poor. He believed there was no reason a home of any size couldn't be beautiful. Auburn's Rural Studio students design homes under $20,000 that are beautiful, functional, and suit the landscape in which they are sited.

      Delete
  21. That plaza does look like post-WW2 buildings slapped up in Europe. It must feel like the tundra in wintertime. One of our theaters in the theater district is a cement monstrosity. It always looks dirty and I always wonder what they were thinking when they built that. And terrazzo! My parents' first brand new house had a terrazzo hallway that Mom had to keep polished. It was great to play jacks on. The house was built in the late 50s. So, what brings my favorite grump and Hadley to Albany? It has to be police, civic, or Kevin related.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The secret shall be revealed in time, Pat!

      Delete
  22. Talk about overcoming your environment to enjoy something, Bouchercon 2013 in Albany was my first Bouchercon. That Egg, taking buses to the hotel and back, only a smattering of food in the hotel from which to eat there. The subsequent Bouchercons have shown me just how atypical that one was. Thank goodness I went to subsequent ones. Of course, back to my first sentence, what a magical experience it was in terms of meeting authors, other readers, and other bloggers. I first met you dear Reds there, and, Julia, seeing your dear Ross in action with the youngest during the Reds game show was worth riding buses and poor food choice at my hotel. I answered a question and snagged a book, too. I met up with my Friends of Laurie (King) and had a lovely dinner meeting Laurie. I met Lyndsay Faye and saw Sue Grafton again. And, I met my darling Elly Griffiths/Dom with whom I would become friends and remain a fan of everything she writes. Meeting Louise Penny and her wonderful Michael was special. Canadian author Jen Danna asked me to be on her street team, and we have such a lovely friendship now, and she is such a talented writer. I met Kristopher Z. there, as he was just beginning to come onto the blogging scene. We had met online before, and he came up and introduced himself. And, look how he's soared. My friend who had accompanied me and I rode the bus with Ovidia Yu quite a bit from hotel and back, and what a treasure that was and still is. I'm sure I've left out someone, but the surroundings were definitely overcome by my joy.

    Oh Julia, I am thrilled to read anything from your new book, and I'm wondering just why Russ and Hadley are visiting the state attorney general. It takes me back to remembering that after 2013 Bouchercon was over, my friend and I went to Niagara Falls, but I first insisted (and she was happy to oblige) that we take a dip into the Adirondacks, where we stopped and had lunch.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kathy it has something to do with Kevin, and that's all I can say.

      I know what you mean by 'glad you went to later B'cons.' My first, in Austin, was utterly unmemorable, as it took place in a bland suburban business park. My second was Las Vegas, which stands as the WORST B'con ever. But the next year was in Toronto, and was great fun, and after that I had a streak of delightful cons.

      Delete
    2. Kathy: Your paragraph about your first Bouchercon experience should be THE promo for every conference. My first (and so far only) Boucheron was similar in nature, though not in detail. What I remember most was the warm welcome and greetings I received from the Reds and other authors. Ditto fellow readers. That's what it's all about, I think.

      Delete
  23. Oh, Albany Bouchercon! I actually had a great time, in spite of the horrible facility and all the trekking. What was the seafood restaurant called? Jack's Oyster House? It was good and it seems like we ate every dinner there. There were so many good friends there, and our wonderful Reds panel and Ross. Such fond memories.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know, right? Once you were IN a place, it was a good time! It was just the transits in between...

      Delete
  24. I worked in the State Capitol building in Albany in the 1960s, and our consensus was that the whole Empire State Plaza project arose from Governor Rockefeller not liking the slum view from the governor's mansion. While the 1890's building was less than optimally functional
    for mid-century offices, it was beautifully designed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, the Capitol Building is gorgeous. And yes, there were a lot of clearances with ALL of Wallace Harrison's projects - he worked alongside Robert Moses, who pursued a policy of "slum clearance" and corralling poor NYers in specific area where the gentry wouldn't have to see them.

      Delete
  25. THE EGG! Oh, that was such a weird place..I spent the weekend thinking I was in Blade Runner.

    ReplyDelete
  26. I've heard similar comments about Frank Lloyd Wright houses, stunning but not comfortable for those living in them, though design elements have been borrowed for use in very lovely and comfortable homes.
    Difficult setting/ wonderful people has me thinking of an NSN conference in Oklahoma, at which we learned to appreciate the advantages of hugging the shade when outdoors. Eagerly awaiting this book. <3

    ReplyDelete