Write what you know. It's author advice 101, and I do it often. That's why I set the Night Songs books in Vegas and Secondhand Heart in my hometown of Plymouth, Massachusetts. No Strings Attached has roots in Massachusetts, too. It's also why many of my characters work in the entertainment industry, or some of my heroines are a little older or curvy and my heroes are often rock stars. I've lived that life before, and that part of the story is as comfortable to me as the pajama bottoms I'm most likely wearing while I'm writing it.
Sometimes, a character is totally out of my comfort zone. Like Jagger Holiday. To my knowledge, I've never met a male escort. The idea of his character completely intrigued me. How does a man who gets paid for sex find real, lasting love? I took to the internet, watching episodes of Gigolos as I developed his character. I often say that the characters take over and I just write down what they tell me. Turns out, Jagger was a bit of a lost soul, an escort who loved to create haunting photography, and he lived in Miami.
I could handle the photography part (entertainment industry), but not only had I never been to Miami, I had no CLUE about Miami. It wasn't even on my radar as a place I was interested in visiting.
Boy, was I missing out. As I researched The Escort Series, I fell in love with Miami. It became a part of Jagger's character–the heat, the art, and the passion. Leah had the same reaction I did–she couldn't believe she'd never been to this magical place. After all, it's known as Magic City.
Then, as I was looking for a pet-friendly Air BNB in the Northeast, the internet gods somehow showed me Bungalow 443, a mid-mod getaway set in a tropical paradise. In Miami.
The universe was speaking to me loudly and I would've been a dumb ass not to listen. I was on my way to Miami. I LOVE being able to visit the places I write about. It's always those little details that I don't quite absorb until I experience a place that take the story to the next level.
I expected Miami to be similar to Vegas off the strip or Phoenix–a lot of strip malls with an art deco feel. Not exactly. It was kind of like those cities, but mixed with New York. Grittier than I expected, which was perfect, considering Jagger's character. And in the neighborhoods I visited were very up and coming. As my friend and travel partner, Liz, said, Jagger got in at the right time.
My gateway drug to falling in love with Miami was Wynwood. Jagger had a photography studio on his bucket list. An entire neighborhood full of street art, galleries, and restaurants? Sign me up.
Throughout my trip, I kept finding little easter eggs that made me feel like Leah and Jagger were actually there. Like in the Zebra building, where I found photography that could've belonged to Jagger and a furniture wholesale place that Leah would love.
But the absolute best part was I found what could've been Jagger's gallery. The artwork wasn't the same, but as I stood outside, I was like, this is it. And then when I went inside and found the furniture arranged in front of the art, just like Leah decided to do to get more people into the gallery, I got super emotional. I'm actually tearing up as I write this. I'd never seen this gallery before. I made up the furniture part and there it was.
The gallery also had an easter egg…my publishing company is Blonde Ambition…
The next day, we headed down to The Keys. In Ties That Bind, I wasn't super specific about where the wedding took place, I just knew it was somewhere in the middle. An out of the way place that there could be an abandoned church. In The Passion Project, Zach and Shannon talked about staying in Islamorada, which made sense. The keys were also nothing like I expected them to be. I expected open, sandy places and didn't even think about mangroves! D'oh! Some parts, like Key Largo, reminded me of Cape Cod. We stopped for lunch at Alabama Jack's, which was my inspiration for the place that Zach and Shannon stop and get conch fritters on their way to the wedding.
On Saturday, we went to Little Havana for a food and culture walking tour. This was one of my favorite parts of the trip. Little Havana is also an arts district, and a bit more developed than Wynwood. In my imagination, Wynwood was a mix of these two neighborhoods. Jagger loves Cuban food, which I'm totally on board with. The Ball and Chain would be perfect for some late night salsa dancing and sangria.
Next up–Miami Beach! Now this is what I expected Miami to look like. Leah gets some pretty strong cravings for breakfast, so naturally, we had to get brunch there. Our Air BNB host told us about the nude beach, but we stuck to South Beach. We also had sushi for dinner in a converted garage, which I was sure Jagger would approve of.
While we waited at a stop light, we were adjacent to Equinox Fitness. The gym was all lit up on the outside. The guys mention going to the gym a lot, and I wondered if that would be where they'd go. In the window, we could see the silhouette of a guy working out. Broad shoulders and long hair tied back in a sort of man bun. Was it Jagger? We'll never know…
We tried to find the building that I based Zach's glass house on, but it was really dark and we couldn't see it from the road. We did find a couple other easter eggs, like a street named after someone named Godfrey (like Leah) and little things like this… (Liz wanted to read No Strings Attached by the pool)
And then it was time to come home to cold Massachusetts with the leaves falling off the trees. It had been a long time since I was sad about a vacation coming to an end. I was so glad I took this trip. It gave me a chance to see the places I'd only experienced on the screen–and find things that fit the book that I didn't know about. It was also good to know what I didn't get quite right, too. But most of all, I'm thankful for the chance to believe that my characters were real, if only for a weekend.
Want more Miami photos? Check out my Instagram. I documented the trip as it happened.