About a year ago I posted about my own experience finding inspiration in the places I visit: Have travel, Will write. That was at the height of the pandemic, when traveling was still a distant vision. But by this spring, my wanderlust was suffering severe withdrawal symptoms. One trip to Italy last September hardly qualified as a vacation, since the purpose of my trip was to visit with my elderly mother who couldn’t get around because of her health issues and sort out her complicated personal matters.
Finally, earlier this month, hubby and I were able to take our first real vacation in almost three years. If truth be told, it was an almost ‘stay-cation’, since the location was only a two-hour drive away. Nothing exotic or extravagant, just a short trip to the Jersey Shore, nonetheless an escape—a much-needed one.
But I’m not one to not take full advantage of an opportunity, however small. It’s not a coincidence that I chose Cape May, New Jersey’s southernmost beach town as our destination. I was also in dire need of inspiration for the setting of the novel I’m working on, and it seemed like the ideal place. Cape May has inspired dozens of sweet romance authors with its ornate gingerbread homes and pristine sandy beaches. From its lovely promenade that runs along the beach, to the manicured gardens and narrow tree-lined streets, this little town is a delight to stroll through. At the risk of sounding cliché, it’s almost like taking a step back in time. Although I’ve visited the area many times before, I felt I could benefit from a ‘refresher course’.
For fiction writers in general, there’s no better way to get the full experience than to visit the place that inspired their setting in person. Browsing through travel blogs for research will only go so far. Only by being there in body as well as in spirit can you sense the smells and feel, learn about the customs and architecture, explore the local wildlife or study the weather pattern. Not to mention how much fun it is to discover unique natural scenery and hidden nooks and crannies. Almost anything can come in useful in crafting a plot or in world building. And even if we end up not using most of the information we’ve absorbed, having experienced it firsthand helps us visualize the story setting and improves the story’s flow.
I decided to keep it simple. No lounging by the hotel pool, no scheduled sightseeing expeditions—none of that cliché stuff people do on vacation. We were going to make the most of our time there by doing things organically and at our own pace. Just beach time in the mornings and long walks in the afternoons and evenings to enjoy the unique beauty of the town. Hubby seemed to be on board with my sudden urge for improvising. He’s all for simplicity, so it wasn’t a surprise he was such a good sport about it.
We set off on self-guided walking tours so that we could study the grand Victorian houses up close and browse the quaint retail stores. The sunsets in Cape May are a true spectacle, so we made a point of walking to Cove Beach or driving to nearby Sunset Beach to admire them whenever we could. We steered clear of the crowded restaurants and lunched on homespun meals at a working farm and picnicked on sandwiches on the beach. All the while I took notes and jotted down ideas. I felt supercharged, both spiritually and physically.
While I was at it (talk about opportunities!) I mapped out the Little Free Libraries scattered throughout the neighborhood and took hubby on a walking tour to drop off copies of my book. To his credit, he didn’t complain—that is, after I agreed to stop at his favorite ice cream shop in the Washington Street Mall on our way back. Did I mention hubby’s one of those men who need to be bribed into doing something he doesn’t normally do?
All in all, a satisfying and productive break. And now, back to the keyboard!