Tag: Pittsburgh

Setting the Scene

Pittsburgh_skyline7Most people think Western Pennsylvania and immediately think Pittsburgh. And it’s a good thing that comes to mind. Pittsburgh is one of the country’s Most Livable Cities, and with good reason. It has so much to offer.

Casinos offer not just gaming, but entertainment and great food, as well. Or grab a bite at any of the fabulous eateries from sandwich shops to gourmet restaurants.

The Three Rivers boasts the most bridges in the US, and the city appeals to all water recreationists, from boaters and Jet Skiers to those who prefer fine dining and dancing on the Gateway Clipper Fleet.

There are three different professional sports teams, so there’s something to do and someone to cheer for all year long. If the arts are more your thing, attend one of the performances by symphonies, ballet troupes, or play actors. Looking for something more casual? The ’Burgh offers amusement parks and zoos, museums and science centers, conservatories and observatories. Education to recreation, playing hard or taking it easy… Pittsburgh offers something for everyone.

My new novel, Bleeding Heart, takes place in Pittsburgh, as well as in my hometown of Vandergrift. While Pittsburgh’s claim to fame is all it has to offer, Vandergrift offers all the quiet and camaraderie of small town living.

vandergriftVandergrift is the first worker-owned, industrially-planned town in the US. Planned by famed designer Frederick Law Olmsted, it has curved tree-lined streets, ball parks and tennis courts, a swimming pool and downtown thoroughfare. I can’t think of a better place to have grown up—it had all the charm and friendliness of an intimate neighborhood with easy access to the busy city.

I hope you have a chance to visit Western Pennsylvania and see everything it has to offer. Or you can visit my Pinterest page to see many more Pittsburgh and Vandergrift photos. And I hope you pick up a copy of Bleeding Heart, and check out a new piece of fiction set in a gorgeous part of the country.

What’s your hometown? Or where do you live now? What makes it so special? Let’s talk about it.

Setting Descriptions in Novels Reveal Character Details

I write different genres. One style of storytelling just didn’t enable me to say everything I want to say. I’ve already released a mystery, which lets me explore crime and problem-solving skills, and a mainstream novel, which lets me explore characters and their motivations. Both of these genres let me do what interests me most—delve into relationships and family dynamics. And the novel that’s coming out this spring? It’s a paranormal romance, but the main point of the story is, once again, relationships.

Pittsburgh_skyline7That said, I get to do something in my new series that I haven’t done before. Explore Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh is near and dear to my heart. My hometown is only about forty minutes away. It’s the city I spent much of my time in as I grew up. I went to college there. All my favorite sports teams play there. If you’ve ever been there, you know it’s amazing. And if you haven’t, you really should go.

The things to do and see there are too numerous to count. I’ll introduce a smattering of them over the coming weeks. But today, I want to talk about the museum. Specifically, the art museum, as Pittsburgh has several museums.

If you thought museums were boring or for only student field trips and upper crust society, you couldn’t be more wrong. There’s something for everyone at a museum.

And they’ve been in the news a lot recently. If you watch international news, you’ve heard about the museum in Tunisia. I want to turn the conversation to something happier.

The Carnegie Museum of Art has a Hall of Architecture, in which is housed the largest plaster cast collection in the US (third largest in the world) with almost 140 pieces. These are full-sized pieces, one of which is the largest in the world.

hall of architectureIn my novel, Bleeding Heart, the female lead studied architecture and (both in college and in her current life) spent a lot of time in the Hall of Architecture. I drew on personal experience for this part, because in college, I also spent a lot of time there. (I would now, too, but I live too far away.) Of particular interest to her is the cast of the Porch of the Maidens.

In Greece, the Erechtheion is a temple on the side of the Acropolis in Athens. It was dedicated to Poseidon and Athena. On this temple is a porch with six supporting columns sculpted in the shape of women—desirable and strong women—presumably holding up the stone roof as they gaze at the Parthenon. In Pittsburgh, the front four maidens are displayed in the museum, a life-sized cast depicting both the power and beauty of the feminine form.

My main character is focused on these four women, in part for their aesthetics, but also because she is one of four sisters. She is drawn to these figures, and we learn interesting facts about our lead through her study of the work.

Writers, consider your setting in your WIP. Setting descriptions in novels can be used to reveal so much about characters and plot. I’m not recommending you spend pages and pages describing a place, but a few well-placed details can not only ground your reader, but impart necessary information about the characters.

Readers, pay attention to the details writers give you about the setting in their novels. Writers don’t waste words, so if the information is in there, it’s important. Many people gloss over those setting descriptions as nothing more than purple prose, but in reality, those descriptions might hold clues to the characters that you would otherwise have missed.

If the Porch of the Maidens interests you, visit this site for more information.

If the Hall of Architecture interests you, visit this site for more information.

If Pittsburgh museums interest you, visit this site for more information.

And if Bleeding Heart interests you, visit this page on my site for more information.

I’d love to hear what you like about Pittsburgh, what’s going on in your WIP, what settings helped you better understand characters and plot in novels you’ve read. Let’s discuss it. Comment below.

How to Best Spend your Summer Vacation

Hi everyone! For those of you who follow me on Twitter and Facebook (links can be found by clicking the words or in the side panel), you’ll have noticed that I was silent this past week. Sorry for the disappearance, but I was on vacation.

Hilton Head Usually we go to the beach. We’ve been to plenty of them: Jamaica, California, Hawaii, the Bahamas, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and many on the east coast (from New Jersey through Florida). We’ve done amusement and theme park vacations, zoos, cities, and even a cruise, but we always go back to the beach. Sun, sand, surf… it doesn’t get better than that.

Until this year.

This year we spent our vacation in Pennsylvania. My husband and I are both from the same home town, our kids were born there, and we still have family and friends in the area. It’s a two day trip by car, but we stayed with family on the way there and back, so it was kind of like a two-for-one vacation. Sure, I miss the beach, but I have a pool if I want to swim, and I wouldn’t trade my visit home for anything.

pirate baseballWhen we crossed through the Fort Pitt Tunnel, the sight of Pittsburgh greeting us on the other side was spectacular. The only time it looks better is at night. We saw the fountain at The Point, the Gateway Clipper fleet on the river, the city skyline, Heinz Field, the Carnegie Science Center, and after a short drive, PNC Park (where a baseball game was in progress). I would have loved to have stayed in the city. There’s so much to do there—shopping and eating at The Strip; going to the four Carnegie Museums (Art, Natural History, Science Center, and Andy Warhol); visiting the Pittsburgh Zoo, the Allegheny Observatory, and Phipps Conservatory; riding the mt. washington, paInclines (Duquesne and Monongahela); touring Carnegie Mellon University so the kids could see where their parents went to school; attending a Pirate game; spending a day at Kennywood Park or Sandcastle… I could go on, but we didn’t stay in Pittsburgh. As awesome as the city is, we had better things to do.

We went home to see family.

vandergriftWe’re from Vandergrift, Pennsylvania… it’s a little town about forty minutes northeast of the city. Its claim to fame is that it’s the first worker-owned, industrially-planned town in America. Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape designer who designed Central Park, was responsible for designing the town. My husband and I met, dated, fell in love, and were married there. We still have a lot of family and friends in the area, and we went home to see them. That beats any trip to the beach, or anywhere else.

family visitWe spent time with my ninety-five year old grandmother, looking at old family photos and hearing wonderful tales of days gone by. We visited my husband’s grandmother and his great-aunt and uncle where we listened to stories of family and friends. We stayed with my parents-in-law, where we played games and enjoyed each other’s company. We ate many meals with my family, trying to celebrate Father’s Day and my dad’s birthday with the appropriate fanfare his holidays deserve. We spent time with siblings and their families, and ate the foods that we’ve been craving but can’t get here—both homemade and purchased spumoniitems. We even attended Mass at our hometown church… a church that is a national landmark and was designed in the gothic style (something that we just don’t see here where the churches are of modern styling).

It was fabulous!

scalzott familyThe best part was the reconnecting with family. We heard stories and histories that reinforce who we are and where we’re from. Some of the stories I’d heard before, and some were new, but they were all new to my kids, and watching them absorb their heritage was a golden experience.

I’m not sure what your vacation plans are this year. I could certainly recommend a trip to Pittsburgh. There’s plenty to do, to see, to eat… You wouldn’t be disappointed. But instead, let me recommend a trip where you can connect with your roots. That’s where the real memories will be made.

My entire family enjoyed our trip (adults, kids, and even dogs!), but I’m definitely going to benefit from our visit home. Not only were the areas good for me to revisit because my novel series is set in Western Pennsylvania, I now have fodder for several other stories as well. I bet a visit home would give you some ideas, too.

Have you ever taken a trip where you got ideas for a story? Why don’t you share the experience with us in the comments.

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