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Monday, April 11, 2011

WRITING ABOUT PLACE

by Lisa Dale

I did an interview with a reporter from The Bergen Record the other day, and she asked me if I was planning to write a book set in New Jersey (where I live). I’ve written about Pennsylvania, Vermont, Rhode Island, and Virginia—but no Jersey.

Not because Jersey isn’t a fascinating place to set a book—the Meadowlands are amazing—but because my process of writing about place is pretty specific at this point.

I told the reporter: “I probably won’t do a book set in New Jersey until I move away.”

Here’s why: My new book is set in Newport, RI, at a small coffee shop on one of Newport’s bustling piers. The coffee shop in question was based ever so loosely on my experiences as a barista here in Jersey. But I needed a romantic, seaside location for it. Newport fit the bill.

Matt and I went up to Newport to scope out the location—and it was perfect: the beautiful blue bay, darling colonial buildings along the waterfront, and the giant mansion “cottages” on the peninsula. It took my breath away. I knew I had to write about it.

But as much as I take care to base my work on real life, the Newport in my book is ultimately an “imagined” Newport. It’s Newport through my eyes. It’s evocative of the real Newport, perhaps, but it’s something largely different.

In order for me to write about a place, my imagination needs room to grow into it. It’s like a honeycomb: the facts are the structure, but it’s imagination that fills in.

Here in NJ, a stone’s throw from the city, I’m too immersed in fact to set a story here.

Anyway, in case you didn’t see it already, my Rhode Island book, SLOW DANCING ON PRICE’S PIER, was out on April 5! Here’s the beginning of an excerpt. I hope you’ll find it interesting! Each chapter of SLOW DANCING is prefaced by a bit of coffee lore—which could be a blog post unto itself! Coffee is fascinating!

*

“How’s the espresso?” Thea asked.
           Garret took a sip. The espresso was rich, pleasantly bright with hints of citrus, but chocolaty too—low notes of something dark, heavenly, and forbidden. He wanted to close his eyes, to give himself over to the taste and weight of it on his tongue. It was a damn good espresso, but then—he knew it would be. She’d made it. It burned a little going down.
           “It’s alright,” he said.
           “I need to talk to you.”
           “I’m a busy man. I’ve got things to do, places to be.”
           “I owe you an apology,” she said.
           He crossed his arms, careful not to spill espresso.
           “Anytime something’s gone wrong, I’ve always had my family to depend on. Well, I’ve always had your family to depend on. Since I met you, they’ve been my entire life.”
           He pressed his lips together. Wherever this was going, he planned to resist. She’d get no sympathy from him.
           “But now,” she went on, “I feel like I’m losing them. If they’re not already gone.”
            He took a sip of his espresso to cover his reaction. “What do you want me to do here, Thea?”
           “Nothing. Nothing at all.”
           “I’m afraid I’m not following you.”

*

To read more of this excerpt, click here.

Wishing you much happy writing and reading!  And if you check out SLOW DANCING, let me know!♥


QUESTION:  What is your process for writing place? Do you write better when you’re immersed in the place you’re writing about? Or when you’re away?



Lisa Dale's new novel, SLOW DANCING ON PRICE'S PIER, is here. For more information on Lisa and SLOW DANCING visit www.LisaDaleBooks.com.

2 comments:

  1. I too find it sometimes hard to write about New York though I do. This close to a setting, I find I have to pull away from it to see the finer details. So I understand your struggle but when you find the desire to write about New Jersey, it's your writer self telling you to move. :)

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  2. What a great post, Lisa - and a terrific question. I write about "place" using my memories of either urban, suburban or rural areas that I have lived; then I build on the sense of the place in question and embellish, enhance and put my own spin on the places. I build my world by infusing them with my memories or current sensations. I can also write about someplace I'm sitting in the middle of. But there you go. I'm a Gemini!

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