If your only knowledge of the Jersey Shore comes via a certain MTV reality show—which partially inspired my mystery plot, by the way—I hope you’ll indulge me for bit. I’d like to talk about the real Jersey shore, the one that I grew up with and one for which I have great affection. It also provides the setting for my debut cozy, Murder and Marinara: An Italian Kitchen Mystery.
Though the book is set in the fictional Oceanside Park, New Jersey, it’s inspired by a number of real places along the coast of my home state, including Ocean Grove, Point Pleasant, and Seaside Heights. But more than any other town, the model for Oceanside Park is the place that Bruce Springsteen put on the map forty years ago: Asbury Park.
Asbury has had a long and checkered history, but when I knew it, it was a magical place. Growing up in in a family of limited means, our “vacation” each summer was a day in Asbury Park. We started in the morning with a trip to the salt water Monte Carlo pool, with its cheerfully painted Adirondack chairs. The locker room sported a sign with a 40s style bathing beauty in a red swimsuit, a holdover from Asbury’s earlier days. After a morning swim, we walked through the cool underground tunnel that led straight to the beach, where we spent the afternoon until it was time for dinner at the Homestead Restaurant, over the border in Ocean Grove. Sometimes we took a ride in the swan boats on Wesley Lake, but we always ended up on the boardwalk, riding the carousel, eating Kohr’s custard and salt water taffy, and always stopping to sit on the reversible benches, where you could either watch the people or the ocean.
Going to Asbury was a tradition in my family, one that started during World War II. Most of the men in the family were away, so my grandmother, my mom and two uncles, as well as a number of assorted great aunts would spend a week in one of the more modest boarding houses. It was a women and children’s vacation during the week, and on the weekends, the men who were either too young or too old to serve would come down and visit. My mom remembers nights around the Monte Carlo pool, where a swing band played on a floating platform in the middle of the water. It was easy to imagine the ladies in their 40s updos, dancing with their soldier husbands and boyfriends to Big Band music.
Asbury retained its sense of an old-time resort long after its heyday, and that’s what I try to convey in my fictional town of Oceanside Park. The family of my main character, Victoria Rienzi, owns the Casa Lido restaurant, a red-checked tablecloth kind of place that had its beginnings in the 1940s. The town has a boardwalk and a rides pier, with an old-fashioned Ferris wheel and carousel, just as Asbury boasted long ago. (In fact, when my editor asked for input on my cover design, I knew I wanted a Ferris wheel, and it’s beautifully rendered by cover artist Ben Perini.)
Over the years, Asbury Park has had its share of setbacks, from economic decline to hurricanes. These days, many of its familiar landmarks have been lost to the bulldozer, or sit empty and abandoned. But like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the town has reinvented itself as a musical mecca, in part through the influence of its most famous proponent, Bruce Springsteen. Asbury Park now belongs to the young and hip, but the Asbury I remember and treasure is kept alive for me in my books.
Rosie, thanks so much for being my guest today. I’ve never been to the Jersey Shore, and even though both of my sons are big Springsteen fans and have attended many of his concerts, I haven’t had a chance to do that either. Your tour helps fill in the gaps. And I really like the cover art for Murder and Marinara.
A Jersey girl born and bred, Rosie Genova left her heart at the shore, which serves as the setting for much of her work. Her new series, the Italian Kitchen Mysteries, is informed by her deep appreciation for good food, her pride in her heritage, and her love of classic mysteries from Nancy Drew to Miss Marple. An English teacher by day and novelist by night, Rosie also writes women’s fiction as Rosemary DiBattista. She lives in central New Jersey with her husband, two of her three Jersey boys, and an ill-behaved fox terrier.
To learn more about Rosie and her writing, visit her website and blog. You can also find her on Facebook and Goodreads.