by Kitsy Clare
I’m a factory geek. Yup. I’ve been obsessed with spooky, spidery warehouses ever since I lived in a defunct shoe factory in Boston while I was in my twenties in art school. It was a mecca for creative souls, and we formed a funky-utopian tribe with a dance bar in the basement and a veggie garden on the roof. The place still had barrels of shoe soles in the halls and mildewed promo flyers in the basement from 1920, announcing they’d utilized the latest trend in production line speed: workers flying around on roller-skates! My very first novel was set there.
The Boston shoe plant was awesome (Until it burned down. Thankfully, no one got hurt). But my favorite old warehouse ever is the Domino Sugar Factory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I moved around the corner from it, before Williamsburg grew into the mega-hipster paradise it is today. In the sketchy days, when my car battery would get stolen and I’d buy it back from the local gas station for $25, I recall strolling by the place, ever eager to see which magnificent vessel was docked on its East River port. Sometimes they sailed in from Cuba, sometimes from Brazil or Thailand. I thrilled to the colorful flags flapping on the rigs, and the idea that the boats came from such exotic, faraway places.
One afternoon, I took my camera and notebook over and interviewed the night watchman. My senses infused with its distinct burnt sugar scent, its walls covered in a skim of blackened sugar. He told me stories of workers falling into vats and boiling alive, tales of hearing their subsequent ghostly sounds as their spirits floated around at odd hours. Oh, man, was I hooked! I wrote a story outline with the intention of penning a freaky urban fantasy. Then, in a stroke of bad luck, my bundle of notes and photos were lost when I went out drinking with friends and left them in a bar. No doubt, some fool thief got a handful of strange scratchings. Yet, the setting stayed firmly embedded in my mind after I moved to Manhattan where I began to write novels in earnest.
In 2013, I finally thought up the perfect plotline for the fictional sugar factory setting. PRIVATE INTERNSHIP is my forthcoming new adult romance, out this Fall with Inkspell. In it, artist Sienna Karr lands an interview for a high-level internship with bad-boy sculptor Casper Mason, or Caz. Guess where he lives and works? In the Domino Sugar Factory, which I renamed the Schneitryn Sugar Factory (You have to read the novel to learn why. There’s a specific reason) “Sugar, no shit!” as the newly hired Sienna remarks. Rich, famous Caz has bought the entire factory, and uses the hundreds of existing sugar bags for his sculptures.
A summary: Sienna’s bestie, Harper warned her not to intern for famous bad boy artist, Casper Mason. After all, he just fired Harper who helped Sienna get the interview. But the moment Sienna sees Casper—or Caz—sweaty and practically shirtless and swinging from chains while he works on his sculpture, she’s hooked. He’s the richest, hottest artist in New York, and he lives in the fabulous Williamsburg Sugar Factory. But he’s also an incorrigible gameplayer, who seems to relish testing Sienna’s loyalty with a string of unsettling tests. She knows she should get away fast. But by the time Sienna sneaks into his locked storage room and begins to unearth his dark and terrifying secret, she’s fallen way too hard for the handsome, charismatic Caz.
Little did I know that in 2014 the Domino Sugar Factory would be a fixture in the news; that the neighborhood landmarks committee would be in an uproar about its demise and redevelopment, and that well-known sculptress Kara Walker would set up her sugar sphinx mama in that doomed place. Yes, reality is as strange as fiction. Kara explains through her little sugar slave boys who are literally melting—an arm dropping off here, a nose there, that the sugar trade was a very nasty business, fueled by oppressed slaves hauled in from Africa to the Caribbean and elsewhere.
Ditto the mood from the Landmarks Preservation Commission in a September, 2007 statement: “Raw sugar was supplied from America’s deep south, mainly Louisiana, and the Caribbean, where it was primarily harvested by slaves. Though slavery ended in the United States in 1865, it continued in Cuba, the world’s largest exporter of raw sugar, until 1886.”
Coincidentally, in PRIVATE INTERNSHIP, the sculptor Caz quotes from Voltaire’s CANDIDE. A horrified Candide comes across a slave boy in what is now Guyana who has lost an arm and leg. The boy explains: “When we work in the sugar mills and get a finger caught in the machinery, they cut off the hand; but if we try to run away, they cut off a leg … it is the price we pay for the sugar you eat in Europe.”
Caz is no fool; he’s aware of the dark side of his spun-sugar art medium. Ironically, as he tears three sugar packets and pours one after the other into his gourmet blend coffee, he says to Sienna in all seriousness, “Sugar, it’s delicious yet deadly, sweet yet bitter to the arteries. It’s no good for anyone.”
What kinds of unique settings inspire you to write?♥
Kitsy Clare hails from Philly and lives in New York. A romantic at heart, she loves to write about the sexy intrigue of the city, particularly in the art world. She knows it well, having shown her paintings here before turning to writing. MODEL POSITION, her new adult novella is about artist Sienna and her friends. The next in her series, PRIVATE INTERSHIP just launched with Inkspell.