This is my 964th post, so I’m heading toward 1,000 very soon. I haven’t decided whether or not I’m going to do anything grand for the 1,000th post. But if I do I’ll post about it soon.
Recently, I received the copy edits for my new book, The Bachelor. I’m on record for saying that I never argue with copy editors and I usually let them have the last word. I like the collaboration, and I like the small touches they add to the book. And there have been a few cases when they’ve questioned something I wrote and they’ve been right.
But this time the copy editor questioned the validity of a setting in the book. It was done nicely, and I do understand why the setting was questioned. The Bachelor starts out in Los Angeles, and then moves to Southern New Jersey and Philadelphia because the main character missed the LA auditions and he has to travel back to where he grew up to catch the Philadelphia auditions.
A good deal of the book is set in south western New Jersey, Salem County, to be exact. Of course when most people think of New Jersey, they think of the urban areas close to New York and Philadelphia. But that’s not what Salem County is like at all. In fact, there’s more of a southern influence than a northern influence because so many people who moved there after the civil war came from the south. According the the US south cenus, Delaware is considered southern and it’s only five or ten minutes away from a few towns in Salem County. And the difference between North Jersey and South Jersey is like the difference between Maine and Florida. But, mainly, rural southern New Jersey in these parts is not like the New Jersey most people think they know.
I know this because I was raised in Salem County, in Penns Grove, the same town where Bruce Willis grew up. I even knew him when I was a kid. I’m much younger than Bruce Willis, but I remember the day he “streaked” through Penns Grove High School. (Always looking for attention.) I think his family still lives there. And my family still lives there, too. It’s two hours away from where I’ve been living for the past twenty years, in Bucks County, PA. But I’m still down there at least once a month for various reasons. So I know what I’m talking about when I write about Salem County, NJ. It’s not research I had to look up. It comes from personal experience. I’ve even been to the Muskrat Festival in Lower Alloways Creek.
But the copy editor didn’t get this, which made me wonder how readers are going to feel when they read the book. I had to explain it to the copy editor, and I still don’t think she gets it. And then I had to wonder why people don’t trust authors when it comes to these things. I know, there are a few bad books out there where authors don’t get it right. I’ve read a few myself and I’ve been more than disappointed. But most of the time the author does get it right, and it’s a shame that we have to suffer because of a few idiots who don’t know the correct distance between Philadelphia and Lancaster, PA. And didn’t even bother to look it up.
The Bachelor is one of the few books I’ve ever set in Salem County, NJ. And it might very well be the last. But I always try to set my books in places I know at least fairly well. The odds of me ever setting a book in Michigan or Iowa are pretty slim. I’ve never been there and know nothing about either of these places. In Pretty Man, I wrote about the New York I know and love, because I lived there, too. And the scenes about Greenwich Village came from my own personal experience, not from wiki. And you can be damn sure that if I do write about a character living in Michigan or Iowa, I’m going to do the research and get the facts right. Settings are extremely important to an author. They create the overall feel of the book and help define the characters.
So sometimes you just have to trust the author. When he or she writes about the New Jersey you don’t know about, they are probably doing it for a reason and they are basing what they write on their own personal experiences. And Salem County, NJ, is not the New Jersey you know from what you’ve heard on TV. In fact, it’s so unusual there’s not much written about it on the web…at least not the real Salem County…and unless you’ve actually lived there, you’ll never really know what it’s like. The best I could do was describe it from my own personal experience.