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.
Your book sounds really good. I have yet to go to the East coast to see what it is like so hoping the book can give me a bit of a picture of it.
Arlee Bird says
I’ve grown rather attached to the Jersey Shore area. My daughters all moved there and now live in Toms River and Jackson. My youngest daughter and her husband both worked at a restaurant on the Asbury Park boardwalk. After spending some time in the area I wouldn’t be adverse to living there myself.
Great location for a novel I think.
Tossing It Out
Donna Volkenannt says
Hi Pat and Rosie,
What lovely photos, and I love the cover of your book. I agree with Pat about setting being so important in a novel, and it sounds like you have captured yours perfectly.
Susan Gourley/Kelley says
My parents lived in Asbury Park after they were married in the late 40’s. It was the first beach I visited it as a child.
Hi Peg! I could never forget the teacups. My great Uncle Nick would ride them with us and use that wheel to set them spinning. (They were also one ride I wasn’t afraid of.) Do you remember the big Ferris wheel? That’s the inspiration for the wheel on my cover!
Rosie, I grew up in New Providence,NJ and the biggest treat in the world was going down to Asbury Park to go on the rides. We’d usually go after dinner, and my parents would never tell us in advance–it was always a surprise (probably so we wouldn’t drive them crazy waiting!) I’d forgotten about those reversible benches! Do you remember the giant tea cup ride? When I had kids of my own we would go to Spring Lake or visit my friend on Long Beach Island. Miss it!
You’re welcome, Pat. Interestingly, my editor grew up at the Jersey shore, so she was very attuned to the setting. I think cozy readers are also more cognizant of setting–they get invested in the communities. As you said, just like another character.
Patricia Stoltey says
Rosie, thank you for being here today. It’s always fun to get an author’s perspective on setting because it’s such an important part of a novel…almost like another character.
Thanks for your kind words–I love the cover, too. The artist is Ben Perini, and he’s doing my next one as well. I really lucked out!
Julie Luek says
Oh what a great sounding book and absolutely LOVE that cover!
Your description of Asbury Park reminds me very much of a very old amusement part in Pittsburgh we used to go to (sans the lovely beach, of course).
It’s true, isn’t it, Margo! I have such wonderful memories of the boardwalk, both at Asbury and Point Pleasant.
Pat, thanks so much for hosting me today!
Margot Kinberg says
Pat – Thanks for hosting Rosie.
Rose – I grew up on the US East Coast and your post made me remember going ‘down the shore.’ You’re right; the real Jersey Shore is nothing like that TV show…