LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
My new novel, Just Like Me, Only Better, tells the story of Veronica Czaplicki, a single, cash-strapped suburban mother who lives a split life after being hired as celebrity double for a self-indulgent, imploding young starlet named Haley Rush. Picking the setting for the story was a no-brainer. Haley had to live around Hollywood, so I parked her in a big house in Beverly Hills. Veronica had to live within commuting distance of Beverly Hills, but in a town so normal it could be Anywhere, U.S.A. I put her in my backyard in Fullerton, California. (I mean this literally; I have a guest cottage, and I made it Veronica’s home.)
In addition to California, I have set my books in Maui, Scottsdale, and Boston. Coincidentally, I’ve lived in California, Scottsdale, and Boston. Sadly, I’ve never lived in Maui, but I’ve been there six times, the last visit an especially grueling research trip that involved downing countless mai tais in the name of authenticity. But here’s something odd: I’ve never even considered setting a book in northern New Jersey, where I grew up. And forget all your cracks about not wanting to spend research time there, because I’d take New Jersey over L.A. any day. (So don’t mess with me. I know people.)
Because my books are so location-specific, and because I make a big effort to capture the sounds, smells and feel of a place, I hear from a lot of readers who enjoy my details about, say, Massachusetts traffic, Arizona overdevelopment, or Maui swim-up bars. (Again, two words: grueling research.) So I was a little surprised, a few years ago, to receive an anonymous email message about my second book, Getting Warmer:
as someone who has lived in Phx/Scottsdale all of my 37 years and know other naitives - your depiction of naitives and the city is irritating.
I have never and neither have my friends or family ever worn cowboy boots - or any western attire.
The main type of house in the Valley are ranch houses - not Spanish or Territorial - and cookie cutter houses built by builders in the 1990s also do not qualify for this title.
I'm a little leary to continue reading as every time a reference is made to the area I get annoyed as it is so wrong.
They say to write about the things you know...I don't know how long you lived here, but it doesn't appear it was long enough to write about it.
The note stunned me, and not just because the writer didn’t know how to spell “natives” or create paragraphs. (Yes, it’s true: when put on the defensive, I find solace in grammar.) I had received so much feedback from Arizona readers saying that I had nailed the Valley of the Sun, my home for two years, perfectly. I didn’t pull the cowboy boot references from thin air; the western clothing store in my local strip mall did brisk business. And did she really say that most houses were ranch style and not Spanish? Really? Then why the housing developments look like fields of Taco Bells?
Last year I tried for the second time to set a book in Cape Cod, which just happens to be my favorite place in the world. I spent all of my childhood summers there; now my parents live there year-round, and I visit for most of August. But the weird thing was, I couldn’t nail it. In Maui, the air smelled like raindrops and hibiscus. In Cape Cod, the air smelled like … Cape Cod. In Arizona, the light was flat all day until dusk turned the sky pale blue and the mountains muddy purple. In Cape Cod, the sunset looked like … a sunset.
Finally, it hit me: sometimes you see things more clearly if you’re an outsider. Home is where the heart is. But your eyes and ears work better somewhere else.
Thank you so much for your post!
Thanks to Joan Schulhafer Publishing & Media Consulting, I have a copy or two of Just Like Me, Only Better to give away! Here's the deal: If I have less than 25 people enter the contest, then I will give away one book but if I have 25 or more people enter the contest, then I will be giving away two copies! Enter the contest by clicking HERE by Wednesday, April 14th at 11:59 pm. This contest is open to US/Canada only.