Not That Stockbridge: Setting in the Latest Sydney Brennan Installment

Cover of Alice's Restaurant (The Massacree Revisited) on AmazonThe title of my latest novella, Secrets in Stockbridge, refers to the small town in Upstate New York where the bulk of the story takes place. But is it a real place? It feels real enough in my mind, for whatever that’s worth. You may find it on a map. Since it’s the holiday season, perhaps you’ve even heard it immortalized in song. Yesterday my husband returned from a morning drive bursting with the realization that Alice’s Restaurant, of Arlo Guthrie Thanksgiving fame, is in Stockbridge. (Apologies if I just planted an ear worm; if I didn’t, you’ve obviously never heard the song before and should scroll down to check it out when you have a spare 18+ minutes.) But the song takes place in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, not New York. Sydney’s Stockbridge is actually a fictional town.

Map of New York State from National Atlas, public domainI knew what the town that hosts the Woodford estate looked like, the type of people who lived there and why, far before I had a name for it. When I finally decided its state of namelessness had gone on long enough, I pulled up several maps of New York. I knew approximately where I wanted the town to be, in terms of the climate and landscape and culture. I’d also written it with geographic clues (Sydney flies into Albany airport, she is X hours from Boston, etc.), so I used my maps to narrow that approximate area location down even further and ensure all the geographic details I’d already written were consistent. Then I looked up some of the towns in the vicinity to make sure what I envisioned wasn’t wildly at odds with what actually existed, and to make sure I didn’t accidentally use the name of a real town. I have vivid memories of scary winter flights in and out of Albany, followed by icy shuttle rides to college in western Massachusetts. I could supplement my (unfortunately) meager Boston experiences with research to sufficiently cover Sydney’s brief trip to that city. But I can’t imagine writing about a real place I’ve never been, even if it is a small town that only a couple hundred people in the world would recognize.

But why call it Stockbridge? If other parts of the setting are very research-oriented for me, actually choosing a name is just as intuitive. The biggest factor: what feels right and sounds right when I say it out loud? For some reason, I settled on Stock-something early on (maybe the Puritanical hint of a person trapped in the stocks). I played around with Stockdale, Stockwell … but Stockbridge just felt right. And it works in the title. I have a practice of using the names of towns in my Sydney Brennan titles, so that adds another layer of pressure—I mean, consideration. Maybe that’s why I was 100,000 words into the rough draft of the next full-length novel (tentatively titled Pursuit to Panacea) before I stopped typing [INSERT JD’S TOWN]. It’s a good thing Scrivener enables my dysfunction so effectively (comments, find and replace, etc.). Good co-dependent relationships with software are hard to find.