The Appeal of Place with Drea Stein

Some writers are great at describing places.  But they aren’t always places you’d want to visit.  Think the America of the Hunger Games.  But I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum. Whether it’s a book set in the Big Sky Country of Montana or in a quiet town in Maine, I tend enjoy stories where there are places I want to go visit.  Perhaps it’s because reading for me, is a form of escape. I want to get away – at least in my head, to someplace nice, much like a vacation.  Sure I endure a few bumps along the way, but in the end when I crack open a book, or turn on my ereader, I want to be transported.

When I set out to start my contemporary romance novel Rough Harbor Iwanted to write what I knew.  Sure I’ve been lots of places, but for better or worse, I have only lived in a handful or environments – New York City, suburban New Jersey, and Long Island. For many reasons, I wasn’t interested in writing about New York City and though I love the countryside where I live, I don’t know much about all the things that go with – I can’t ride a horse, milk a cow, or chase a chicken.  But I do know a thing or two about boats and the water.

I grew up on the North Shore of Long Island. For those of you who don’t know it, Long Island is just that – a long island in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Manhattan. Part of it contains Queens and Brooklyn, city size entities on their own. But the farther east you go, especially on the north shore, the more country – and sea-like you get.

The coastline is jagged, dotted by harbors and inlets and large body of water, imaginatively named the Long Island Sound, separates us from Connecticut. The Sound is a boater’s paradise and my summers were spent swimming, boating and generally hanging out in, on or around the water.

But how many romance novels have you read set on Long Island?  Somehow when you say ‘Long Island’ people have a pretty strong reaction – and not one that conjures up the majesty of a Montana ranch, or the charm of a small New England town.

What to do? Well like most writers, I decided I needed to be creative.  So I picked up my old hometown, moved it across the sound to Connecticut (which is technically New England) and renamed it Queensbay, the setting for my series. Of course a few other things have been changed along the way, to create more opportunities for different couples to meet and fall in love

And that’s what writers do.  We create our own little worlds. Sure, Queensbay isn’t a total fantasy land in distant time or place. Nope, that wasn’t what I was going for. See I love the idea of small towns, of communities where people know one another. I’m a sucker for a parade, the high school play or a good harvest festival. Most of all, I wanted Queensbay to be the kind of place you wanted to visit.  You know, where you’d want to book  a room at the Osprey Arms, grab a cookie from The Golden Pear, take a boat for a spin on Queensbay Harbor and then walk down Main Street, window shopping.  Or be invited over to Caitlyn’s house, Rough Harbor’s main character, for a glass of wine and chocolate cake.

I think that’s one of the joys for a reader, to be able to go back home, or at least some version of it, when dinner’s burning, the kids are screaming or you just had a bad day.  For me the setting of the story is one of the most important characters. I want you to smell the faint tang of salt from the harbor, hear the unmistakable cry of a seagull and feel the sand between your toes.

But unfortunately the only way you’ll get to visit Queensbay is in a book. Shoot – it’s a lot cheaper than a real vacation. Enjoy!

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