Real vs. Fictional Sterling

Cassandra Economos, the main character in The Rock Star’s Wife series, is born and raised in Sterling, IL.  Author Melina Druga used her experiences growing up in another industrial Midwest city, Canton, OH, to create the Sterling you see in the series.  The fictional Sterling combines attributes from the real Sterling and Canton.

Some Facts About Sterling

Located in Northwestern Illinois, Sterling had a population of somewhat more than 15,000 when Cassandra was growing up there in the 1990s.  It sits on the north bank of the Rock River opposite the city of Rock Falls and is surrounded almost entirely by farmland.

The city was once nicknamed The Hardware Capital of the World and is home to many manufacturing plants, most notably Wahl Clipper Corp., Frantz Manufacturing Co., and Northwestern Steel and Wire which closed when Cassandra was 22 years old.

The city is more than 80 percent Caucasian, followed by Hispanic or Latino.

Some Facts About Canton

Located in Northeastern Ohio, Canton had a population of slightly more than 84,000 when Melina was growing up there in the 1990s.  It is 60 miles south of Cleveland along the Middle and West Branches of Nimishillen Creek.

The city has a history seeped in industry.  Current manufacturers include TimkenSteel, Diebold, Belden Brick Co., M. K. Morse Co. and Republic Steel.  It also is the home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the William McKinley Presidential Library and Museum, the First Ladies National Historic Site, and the McKinley National Memorial.

The city is more than 70 percent Caucasian, followed by African-American.

Q. In the series, the houses in Sterling are all located on narrow plots of land. Were the houses in your neighborhood close together?

A. Yes. The house I spent the most years in during my youth is maybe less than eight feet away from its neighbor. When I picture Cassandra’s neighborhood, however, I think of my maternal grandmother’s.  The houses were built in the 1910s.  They were long and narrow on long and narrow plots of land with an alley in the back to access the garage.

Q. Cassandra’s parents’ one car garage is detached. Did your parents’ house have a similar garage?

A. Yes. My parents’ house has a detached, one car garage located 30 feet or so from the back door.

Q. Cassandra’s parents’ house has three bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms? How many bedrooms and bathrooms did your house have?

A. Until I got married, I never lived in a house with more than two bedrooms and more than one bathroom.

Q. Cassandra grows up in a residential neighborhood. What was your neighborhood like? 

A. I grew up on a busy street. It was residential but at the intersection there was a gas station and few other businesses.  We also were close enough to the intersection that I could hear the local bar on that street emptying bottles into the dumpster at 2 a.m.

Q. Cassandra lives two houses down from her aunt and uncle. Did you live close to family?

A. Yes, we lived on the property located in front of my paternal grandparents’ house. And, yes, privacy was an issue, but I’ve exaggerated it in the story.

Q. Both you and Cassandra are from industrial Midwest cities? How was manufacturing and factories part of daily life?

A. My grandmother’s house was within site of a Timken plant. She also lived closed to oil refineries, and there are places in the city and from the highway where you could view the refineries’ smoke stakes and industrial fires.

Q. Most of the adults we meet in Sexual Awakening are working-class people. Was the case when you were growing up?

A. Yes. I knew people with college degrees, including my father, but no one I knew held a white collar job.

Q. Cassandra considers Todd’s house upper class because it has an attached garage and other amenities. Did you feel that way?

A. Like I said, I never lived in a house with more than two bedrooms and more than one bathroom until I got married. I also never lived in a house with air condition, a dishwasher, an attached garage or a laundry room.  I felt exactly like Cassandra into my late 20s.

The Real vs. Fictional Sterling High School

Sterling High School is real a public, high school located on Fourth Avenue in Sterling.  It has a student population of around 1,000.  Its mascot is the Golden Warriors, and school colors are navy and gold. 

Q. Was your high school anything like the Sterling High featured in the series?

A.  No, and neither is the real Sterling High. The students in the series are obviously oversexed.  But it would be pretty boring if all we saw them do was go to class and study, wouldn’t it?

My parents opted to send me to a private, Catholic school even though we were neither Catholic or religious.  They felt I would receive a better education there than Canton City schools.  This is a point of contention in my mind.  While I’ll leave the academic debate for another time, not being a Catholic, I was labeled “an other” from the get-go.  Teachers often pointed out the non-Catholics so, whether they intended or not, they created an atmosphere of exclusion.  I was bullied through all 12 years of Catholic school.  My own experiences are the basis for Shawna being ridiculed for being a minority and for bully Karen, although I was never brave enough to stand up to my tormentors or had enough friends take my side. Shawna is blessed to have the support of Cassandra, Jen, Jenny, Jennifer and Tiffany.

Current enrollment at my former high school is 346, which is smaller than my graduating class by about 100 students.