I had an interesting weekend. I went to a wedding in northwestern New Jersey. If you've never been, apparently (according to my date and his friend) you can use northwest Arkansas as a reference. Honestly, I didn't even know places like this existed here, but I was humming the song from Deliverance while the GPS took us the long way back to the turn I missed.
I was born and raised in NJ, and I've always known that there are many different sides of it. There are the cities (Newark, Elizabeth, Jersey City), which are the places people think about when they think of New Jersey. There are the beach towns. There are parts in southern New Jersey that remind me shockingly of the Deep South (Georgia, Tennessee, etc.). And apparently there are farms and rolling hills (yes, both) in western New Jersey.
NJ gets a bad rap. I can't tell you how tired I am of telling people, "No, it's nothing like The Jersey Shore." In fact, almost none of them are actually from New Jersey. So it's not all GTL, and it's not all oil refineries and petroleum, like Sandra Bullock claims either. In fact, if you do a Google image search of New Jersey, those pictures don't even show up.
There are places in New Jersey that are breath-taking. Drive down the Garden State Parkway in the fall, and you'll see what I mean. There are places that are so typically suburban you'd think you were in Leave It to Beaver. And, yes, there are places with smokestacks and ghettos and really gross industrial complexes. But they don't dominate the state.
The Capitoline Hill Chronicles are set in the Pine Barrens. Here was my logic: I'm from NJ. I know about NJ. Therefore, my book should be set in NJ (because you should write what you know). My book is about werewolves. NJ is the most densely populated state in the country. Where could werewolves live here? Of course, in the Pine Barrens. Hey, werewolves could be the Jersey Devil! This is perfect.
Subsequent monologues would prove that I actually knew nothing about the Pine Barrens. Turns out, living in one place in NJ doesn't make you an expert on the whole state. Who knew? Still, I did research and consulted Google Maps a lot, and I think I did a good job with it.
What I do know about New Jersey are the people, and I think that helped. My characters are from NJ or the surrounding area (NYC and Philly, for example). They're northeastern snobs, who don't believe anyplace else is as nice as where they are. They curse, often in creative and colorful ways. They're sarcastic and bawdy and occasionally drunk, and they're unabashed about it all. These things may not be unique to NJ, but they're definitely characteristics of New Jerseyans.
They do not--not even once in 400 pages--utter the phrase, "Yous guys."
I've been to 22 different states, some for a vacation, some just passing through, and I'd pit New Jersey against any of them, corrupt politicians and all (and not just because my state could totally beat up your state). I just wish more people could see what I do when they think about it.