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Thursday, July 27, 2017


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.


Angela Adams said...

I didn't know that little tidbit about the Statue of Liberty! Wow! What's that saying about learning something new every day (smile!).

Lois Winston said...

So how ironic is this? Today happens to be National New Jersey Day, according to nationaldaycalendar.com. I had no idea! I just learned about it this morning while reading the newspaper.

Lois Winston said...

It's always a good day when we learn something new, Angela. (See my comment above.) Thanks for stopping by!

Susan Oleksiw said...

A fun post, Lois. I agree strongly with the principle of knowing the place where your story is set. I love using local details to enrich the story.

Charmaine Gordon said...

Lois, I totally agree with you. I live in Rockland County, Pearl River, NY and always, almost always, set my stories right here where I know what it looks and feels like. Thanks for another delighful blog.

Charmaine Gordon said...

P.S. Several of my stories are based on the Jersey Shore, Long Beach Island with a mature surprise romance.

Lois Winston said...

Thanks, Susan and Charmaine!

Charmaine, when I lived for awhile in Philadelphia, we used to vacation on Long Beach Island. Now that I'm back up in the northern part of the state, it's back to Ocean Grove, Asbury Park, and Bradley Beach.

Unknown said...

Lois, thanks for saying so clearly what needed to be said. I'm from the South, though I no longer live there, so I'm often tempted by mysteries that are set in the South. It's disappointing to discover the author is clueless about the region and relies on tired cliches to prop up the writing. This can also be disrespectful to the actual natives of a place, such as with Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series, which appropriated the legends of some Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest.

Lois Winston said...

Thanks, Ramona. I really try to make my books as authentic as possible. I never read the Twilight series and didn't know it borrowed from Native American legends. Some might think my Mafia characters are a bit cliche, but growing up in NJ, I went to school with many sons and daughters of the Mafia. Sometimes a cliche is a cliche because it's so true! ;-D

Loretta Wheeler said...

It seems like a lot of us didn't know that tidbit about the Statue of Liberty. What a neat piece of information! And I love that you can get to all sorts of places in one quick drive. I would love that, too.

As far as your tongue being planted firmly in your cheek, all my friends and most of my author com padres suffer from the same affliction. Looks and sounds normal to me!

Great blog!

Lois Winston said...

Thanks, Loretta! I think the tongue firmly planted in cheek is also something those of us who live in NJ claim. We have to, given how most of the country thinks of us!

ManicScribbler said...

An enjoyable post, and different. It makes perfect sense to me to write about what you know best, which is why I set all my stories in places with which I'm very familiar.

Lois Winston said...

Thanks for stopping by, ManicScribbler! Glad you enjoyed the post.

Earl Staggs said...

I agree about using settings you know personally. I spent most of my life in the Baltimore area and set my first novel there. I enjoyed writing about places familiar to me. I'm working on a sequel now, and it's like taking a trip back home. Our daughter lives in New Jersey (Barnegat), and we always enjoy our visits. (Love Long Beach Island!) New Jersey really is a beautiful state. I also enjoy having someone pump gas for me. :-)

Lois Winston said...

Thanks for stopping by, Earl. Personally, I'd like the choice of pumping or not pumping. It really irks me that the state thinks a high school dropout is more capable of pumping my gas than I am. I also can't remember the last time anyone pumped my gas who wasn't also talking on his cell phone at the same time! We're only one of two states in the nation where drivers are not allowed to pump their own gas. It's idiotic and one of the few downsides of living in NJ, IMHO.

Joanne Guidoccio said...

Excellent post...chock full of interesting tidbits bout New Jersey. Thanks for sharing, Lois :)