Ever wonder why author Lois Winston decided to set all those books about me and her other protagonists in New Jersey? Today she explains why.
I make no apologies for living in New Jersey. I’m not ashamed of my state of birth, which is also the place I’ve called home for a good deal of my life. Even though New Jersey tends to be the butt of many jokes (armpit of the nation is a frequent one I hear,) I think it’s a pretty cool place to live. In less than an hour I can be in the mountains, oceanside, or in Manhattan, depending upon my mood.
Those lucky enough to live along the Hudson River have a priceless view of the New York skyline. In New York you pay through the nose for a view of Weehauken.
We have culture, sports, and cow pastures. Horse farms and high-rises. We’re home to the famous and the infamous.
We even legally own the Statue of Liberty, but try telling that to New York. However, since they usurped our national landmark, we took their beloved football teams. That’s right, folks, for those of you who live in other parts of the country, both the New York Giants and the New York Jets play in New Jersey.
We’re also not at all like we’ve been portrayed on The Sopranos or various Jersey-set reality TV shows, at least not a good 95% of us.
Anyway, I like New Jersey so much that I’ve not only set many of my books in my home state, including my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries Series and my Empty Nest Mystery Series, I feature actual towns.
When I read a book, I love to connect with the location. Part of the fun for me in reading the Stephanie Plum books is recognizing the places where Janet Evanovich sets her scenes. I’ve been to the Macy’s in Quaker Bridge Mall and spent many an hour stuck in traffic on Route 1.
Personally, I get annoyed when an author sets a book somewhere she’s never been and relies heavily on Google for her research. There are too many features and nuances about a location that Google won’t tell you because you didn’t know to ask. For instance, how many people not from New Jersey know that trucks aren’t allowed on most of the Garden State Parkway? Or that we go “down the shore,” not “to the beach” or “the seashore”? Nothing pulls a reader out of a story more than when an author doesn’t get her facts right. And since we’ve got a population of over 9 million, if you get your facts wrong about New Jersey, chances are a lot of people will notice.
So for me, setting my stories in places I know is a no-brainer. Not only is it easier than making up a place or setting a book somewhere I’ve never been, it’s also a way of letting people know that there’s more to New Jersey than refineries and traffic jams.
Setting a book in New Jersey also gives me the opportunity to place my protagonist in diverse locations while still keeping her in or near her hometown. Many cozy mysteries take place in or around a small town in the Midwest, down South, or in New England. If the author wants to place her protagonist in a different environment, it involves the protagonist taking a trip. With a series set in New Jersey, I can have Anastasia or Gracie shopping at Ikea in the morning, antiquing in Lambertville in the afternoon and at a casino in Atlantic City in the evening. At least, I can if Anastasia ever climbs her way out of debt and Gracie ever sells the future bestseller she’s writing.
One caveat, though: As much as I love my state, I’ve been accused of having a biting sense of humor. So if you happen to read and of my Jersey-set novels, you’ll often find my tongue planted firmly in my cheek as I talk about my home state.
USA Today bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry. Visit her at her website and follow her on Twitter and Pinterest. Sign up for her newsletter for special features and subscriber-only giveaways.