Lainie Smith Morris enjoys the lifestyle she has in New York City. There, she raises her four children, draws inspiration for her paintings and lives close to the ocean. But when her surgeon husband, Charles, gets a new job and moves the family of six to Elliot, a wealthy suburb in New Jersey, he sets in motion a series of events that changes the family forever.
Lainie and Charles are not real, nor is the town of Elliot. They are figments of Susan Shapiro Barash’s imagination and the subjects for her first novel, “Between the Tides,” written under the pen name Susannah Marren. The New York City author drew from her love of the Jersey Shore to write a story about female friendship, marriage and motherhood.
“For me, I’m biased, but I don’t think there are more beautiful beaches — a better experience — than summers at the Jersey Shore,” she said. “It’s so distinctive, and I don’t know if I feel that way because I grew up on LBI. It resonates with me.”
Barash, who has written 13 nonfiction titles, is originally from Long Beach Island. Her father was a land developer; her brother still lives there with his family. Like anyone who grew up in a beach town, she had her year-round friends who lived close by and those who rented houses and came down in the summers.
When writing her first book of fiction, Barash said, incorporating the Atlantic Ocean and the New York waterways were important to her. While her characters move to a fictional town that is surrounded by land, main character Lainie finds comfort in the sea and the views during the family’s summer visit to Cape May.
In real life, Barash and her family own a second home in Long Beach Township, where the author goes to escape the noise and busy life that is Manhattan. A writing room at the back of the house faces the bayside of the island. Children walking through high grass with fishing poles and people weaving through the water on Jet Skis can be seen through the tall, glass windows.
“I prefer to write at the shore. It’s where I do my purest, most effective writing,” she said. “It’s tranquil and quiet. I divide my time between New York and the shore, but I get there as much as possible.”
The author is in good company when it comes to writers who have chosen to locate their fictional characters along the Garden State coast. Dave Hart and John Calu, both of Trenton, teamed up to write “Adventures Along the Jersey Shore” for a September release. The duo mixed well-known Jersey legends with historical places and fictional characters to create a seven-story volume.
“Our design for the stories is to educate and entertain,” Hart said. “New Jersey has some of greatest stories, people and events throughout history. We take the characters on a magical history ride of these stories. We tell them through the characters to educate and entertain a whole different audience.”
Calu said the ultimate goal would be to one day develop the series into a movie or a television show while adding more stories. The two authors have been familiar with the shore areas since they were children and want others to know about the stories they have uncovered over the years.
Pam Jenoff, author of “The Kommandant’s Girl” and seven other novels, got well acquainted with the area in and around Margate for her new book, “The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach.”
Jenoff, of Cherry Hill, wrote about how her main character, Adelia Monteforte, flees Italy at the start of World War II to stay with her aunt and uncle at their summer home in Margate. There, she meets an Irish Catholic family next door, including a young Charlie Connally. But war takes a toll on their relationship in this coming-of-age story.
Although the Rutgers law professor had lived in places as far as Krakow, Poland, and Cambridge, United Kingdom, she was no stranger to the area around Atlantic City.
“Atlantic City is really homecoming for me,” she said. “My dad’s family is from the shore and owned little mom-and-pop hotels in A.C. My dad went to Atlantic City High School. When I was a child, my grandmother lived in Ventnor. It was an epic place in my mind.”
While most of her previous novels are set in war-torn areas of Europe, this is the first story she placed in New Jersey. She was familiar with the area, but not as it existed in the early 1940s. The author said it took a lot of research to get the scenes as authentic as possible during the World War II era.
She searched through libraries, archives, photographs, old newspaper articles and asked local historians for specific details related to that time. She wanted to know what dates the cities would implement “blackout” and how they would do it, which was by wrapping Boardwalk lights in a blue film to dim them.
“This book makes me nervous. If I get it wrong, people might point it out,” Jenoff said. “Atlantic City’s role in World War II, it was super exciting to learn all that. But you can’t do a history dump; you have to think about how to weave history in story. Balance the history and the story.”
As for her bucket list, she hopes to one day own a house on the Jersey shore. But for now, she’ll keep writing what comes out of her imagination.