Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Queen of Queens

Today, I interview Claudia Copquin about her newly released book, The Neighborhood of Queens. Even if you're not from New York, this is a great read about one of the most fascinating neighborhoods in the country.

Tell us about yourself.
First and foremost, I'm a single parent of three fantastic daughters, two (twins) in their sophomore year of college and a thirteen year old. My family came to the United States from South America when I was seven, so I've lived the immigrant experience. Career wise, I've been freelance writing for some fifteen years now. While I've been published in The New York Times (humor essays) and a few other national pubs, mostly I've been a regional writer. My concentration has been lifestyle, parenting and bridal, but about two years ago, I became an Op-ed writer for Newsday (I also write features for them). Voicing my opinions on subjects I am passionate about is a real thrill and I'm very proud of this particular writing gig, as there are few female voices nationwide in Op-ed.

Tell us about your book, The Neighborhoods of Queens.
Renown historian Kenneth Jackson wrote the introduction for my book, which is truly an honor. Each chapter covers a neighborhood in Queens, the most diverse borough in the nation. We spared no detail and each chapter includes the neighborhood's beginnings, its architecture, its people, its peculiarities, etc. It also includes maps and detailed facts and figures pertaining to each community.

How did you come up with the idea to write about the 99 neighborhoods in Queens, NY?
Actually, the project came to me! I had been writing historical New York-area name-origin features for Newsday for several years. A friend from 7th grade, believe it or not, who grew up with me in Jackson Heights, Queens, saw my byline and thought I'd be perfect for this book that her organization was working on with Yale University Press. She was able to locate me and we reunited after oh, twenty-five years or so. Part of what made this project so wonderful was being able to work with this old friend who has become an amazing, dynamic grown woman. 4). Was it tough to sell to a publisher, I would think this would be quite a narrow niche.
This book is part of a series on the five boroughs of New York. The Neighborhoods of Brooklyn was written about five years ago. So I came into the project, thankfully, with a publisher already in place. I appreciate how rare and fortunate this is...

How did you conduct the research? Were you afraid you would leave some neighborhood out, or is it commonly known there are 99 neighborhoods?
Yale University Press and Citizens for New York City, the non-profit organization working with them on the book series, already had compiled a researched list of all the neighborhoods and subneighborhoods we'd be including. And actually, during my research I discovered a few obscure areas that aren't even on the Queens map, but still considered neighborhoods by their residents! The research involved visiting the neighborhoods, scouring library books, newspaper and magazine articles, speaking with local retailers, certain residents and civic group leaders and the Internet, of course.

How long did it take you to research and what was the most challenging aspect?
I'd say it took a good two years or so to do all the research, plus more research later on in the editing process. One of the most challenging aspects, because I'm not a historian, was just getting all of the historical facts correct -- dates, names of early settlers, lineage, etc. Another challenge was being able to sift out the most relevant and interesting facts to include in each chapter. Some neighborhoods didn't really have many interesting features at all; others, like Jamaica or Long Island City, for instance, have an abundance of history and are dynamic areas in transition.

When is your best writing time?
To be able to raise my children as a single parent and work from home has been a blessing. My best writing time is during the day when everyone is in school. I write in complete silence (no music); just my thoughts and the clacking of the keyboard, with an occasional bark or two from my companion, Buddy (collie shepherd mix).

If you could be anything other than a writer, what would it be?
That's a tough one. Even as a child, I was an avid reader and secretly wanted to be a writer, although I never dared voice that dream. When I graduated from college as an English major I worked in public relations. I'm bilingual, so my most fun job in that capacity was working at Univision, the Spanish TV network, publicizing their programing and such. I may have thought of being a teacher at some point, and recently, I've thought of teaching writing. But if I had to pinpoint one thing, it would be a carreer in documentary film-making. I love the format and of course, it would involve researching, which is really my forte.

Is there a writing quirk no one knows about you (yet?)
I think over-researching can be considered a quirk. Sometimes I get too involved in the subject I'm writing about and I can't stop myself...Before I know it, I have way too many references for a topic that requires just the basics. Of course, with the Internet, one subject leads to another and before I know it I'm completely off subject and wasting a great deal of time!

Where can people find your book and what's next for you?
Aamazon.com and any other retailer you can think of. As for what's next, certainly continuing with my Newsday Op-ed column. And I have three novel ideas in my head -- it's just a matter of deciding which one to go with and then start writing. I have not tackled the novel format yet, but I have a feeling it will come naturally. Also, I'd love to research and write another non-fiction book. So there are a few exciting possibilities to mull over.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found your interview interesting. I am trying to contact Ms. Copquin to invite her to speak at Metropolitan College of NY (metropolitan.edu) within the next few months. Could you provide this information? My telephone number is 212-343-1234, ext. 2204.

Thank you,
Vanessa Cruz

8:52 AM CST  

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