Monday, August 21, 2006

The Warped Mind of a Writer

Although I live in it, New Jersey is not the state I was born and raised in so I haven’t been to all the usual civic and historic places on school trips. I’ve been forced to remedy my lack of basic Garden State education because my current work-in-progress, a romantic suspense novel, is set in the world of Jersey politics.

My most recent trip was to Drumthwacket, the governor’s official residence, a lovely old mansion just outside Princeton. Don’t you love the name? It’s Scottish and means “wooded hill”.

The walls are covered with gorgeous hand painted wallpaper and New Jersey themed landscapes and portraits. The dining room holds magnificent antique silver pieces as well as the governor’s official china (some of it made in Trenton which once had a thriving china business). Outside are beautifully terraced gardens with statues and fountains and walkways, all making for a lovely afternoon stroll. It’s well worth a visit.

Instead of savoring the aesthetics, however, I was madly taking notes because photography isn’t allowed inside the house. Our guide was a lovely lady in a snazzy navy blazer who was entertaining the children on the tour with stories of the owner’s private zoo. Every now and then I’d interrupt and ask a question such as, “Which entrance would the governor use when he’s here?” or “What rooms are on the second floor where the governor lives?” or “Does this door lead to the kitchen?” (I had to ask because I’d tried to open it and discovered that it was locked.)

People were starting to look at me strangely.

Outside I whipped out my camera and shot every nook and cranny of the gardens. Then I started on photos of the service entrance, the parking lots, the security booth and even the trash receptacles. As I clicked away, I’m muttering to myself, “Okay, the kidnappers come in through this door, climb up to that porch, go in through the window over there….”

My daughter (who had been bribed to accompany me by the promise of a shopping spree at the Princeton U-Store) finally walked far, far away from me, saying over her shoulder, “Mom, if I were a guard worried about terrorists, I’d arrest you.”

I’ve included one of my more artistic photos so you can see how lovely Drumthwacket is. Now if you can picture the guys in black masks crouching amongst the foundation shrubs or scaling the white columns, you have the warped mind of a writer.

Anyone else have an occupation that makes you appear a bit strange to the general public? Tell us about it!


Susan Vaughan said...

Nancy, I'm in the same occupation as you, so I've had exactly the same experience. When I take notes and pictures as I'm imagining a place as a murder scene, my husband fusses. How can I appreciate the beauty or history if I'm plotting? Like you, I can multitask. I enjoyed the Mayan ruins while plotting, no problem. Thanks for sharing the beautiful New Jersey state capital. Not the image of the state one usually has.
Susan Vaughan

Nancy Herkness said...

It's true: New Jersey's reputation is as warped as the mind of a writer. There are lots of stunningly beautiful places here--and lots of truly ugly ones.

I grew up in West Virginia which is known for its scenic beauty. Yet it has some truly horrifying strip mines and industrial wastelands with rivers as polluted as any in New Jersey.

It's hard to figure out how those reputations became so different. It reminds me a little of the not-so-stellar image romance novels often are given in the media versus the reality that some are terrific and some inevitably are not. However, all our books are tarred with the same brush just because they're romances.

Okay, how'd I get on THAT train of thought?

Sandra K. Moore said...

I treated the San Antonio River Walk in much the same way, Nancy.

I took the digital camera and was scouting things my Bombshell heroine could do as she pursued bad guys. Unlike Susan's husband, my dSO walked around going, "Hey, she could jump from the fourth story window and climb down that trellis right there!"

Yes, we did get more than a few strange looks that day.

Nancy Herkness said...

Sandra, your dSO gets into the spirit of the thing, doesn't he? Good man!

I've scouted out Carnegie Hall for the possibility that one could jump from the first balcony to the stage (I decided one could).

I spent hours walking on the George Washington Bridge, taking photos for the chase scene in my first book. I had my hero and heroine climbing over railings and stretching across spaces between girders, all of which one could do but I'd have to really be running for my life to dare it.

My second book has several scenes in the Rose Center for Earth and Space at the Museum of Natural History in NYC. I took billions and billions of photos there(to quote Carl Sagan). I'm always amazed that no one even asks me what I'm doing (thank goodness!).

Allison Brennan said...

ROFLOL Nancy. I've had some strange looks and comments from some of the questions I've had to ask. Such as, how to disable a car so it'll just break down after 3-5 miles, or the rate of decomposition of an exposed body . . .

I think people in general always find other people's occupations either strange or interesting. Some people think it's cool that I worked in the California State Legislature. Trust me, it's not . . . though I did get a lot of good ideas . . .

Sharon Schulze said...

How about when you're out in a restaurant with writer friends, and happen to be discussing how to murder someone in a story (or how to do something of a criminal or horrifying nature)? We've certainly received some strange looks from wait staff, and in a couple of instances felt the need to reassure them that we were "just writers working on a plot" when they happened along as we were deep in brainstorming mode.

We tend to tip well, which is probably a good thing :-)

Nancy Herkness said...

Allison, now that I've plunged into the world of state politics for my latest novel, I think it's cool that you worked in the California State Legislature. Although the more I learn about NJ politics, the scarier it is.

Sharon, I can see how a good tip is totally necessary in your case. It keeps the waitstaff from turning you over to the local police. :-)

Kalen Hughes said...

or the rate of decomposition of an exposed body

Oooooooo, Allison! I totally forgot to tell you that one of my friends is a forensic entomologist! Nik knows all about this stuff (esp. when it comes to bugs helping things along).

As for the main question . . . I’m always setting off alarms. *GRIN* Luckily I seem to be able to talk my way out of being manhandled out of the buildings. I’m usually causing problems at historic sites in Europe, though. Always wanting to see something that’s not on the tour, or is off limits to visitors. Docents are pretty nice about it if you explain why you desperately must see the priest’s hole hidden behind the book case, or why you simply must see the inside of the carriage.

Allison Brennan said...

Kalen, you know I'm going to be talking to you in the future . . .

Nancy, feel free to pick my brain anytime. I'm not so much scared as disillusioned . . .

Nancy Herkness said...

Thanks, Allison. I may take you up on that. You don't happen to know how they number bills in the NJ legislature, do you? :-)