Setting for No Place to Hide
Although I was in a writing slump most for the 3ish years I lived in Boston, I still found inspiration while I was there. Visits to small New England towns or nearby cities allowed me to absorb things I loved about them and use them in my stories. And because I still travel to Boston a few times a year for work, the hustle and bustle of the city is still fresh in my mind so I can use them for stories like Saving the Winchester Inn and A Night of Syn.
But I’m not and never will be a city girl.
If you asked me what my ideal city would be, it would include quaint shops, amazing restaurants, historic architecture, nature (such as quiet parks on the water), and fun events throughout the year. It would be walkable, busy enough that it was lively without being overwhelming. And it would be driveable, easy to get in and out without grueling traffic or insane costs to park.
Those small escapes from the city while living in Boston gave me a much-needed breather. It was trips like these that sparked the setting idea for No Place to Hide.
Enter Portland, Maine.
My Visit to Portland
Just a two-hour drive north of Boston and I pulled into the lovely waterfront city. It was the middle of March, so it was still a little brisk, and the summer crowd hadn't yet flocked there for beaches and lobster rolls. I remember walking down the streets and feeling a sense of calm. The sidewalks weren't crowded with people, we could park no problem, and we could walk to a ton of amazing places with ease.
After having lived in Charleston for a few years before Boston, I became a bit of a food snob. If I’m going out to eat, it better be good. None of those fast food or grab-and-go spots for me. I want a full experience. Better yet, I love being able to try a little bit of everything because I also love to eat. Portland was perfect for that. My husband and I had easily bounced from restaurant to restaurant, bar to bar, sampling BBQ, baked goods, cocktails, local beers, and delicious wines. There was enough variety to keep it interesting, and everything we had was great.
Inspiration for No Place to Hide
It wasn’t the fantastic food or lack of obnoxious crowds that made me choose Portland for No Place to Hide. It was the vibe. Despite being a city, it had a real “locals” feel to it. For example, we sat at a brewpub named Gritty McDuff's where you can have your own individual mug waiting for you there (aka the Mug Club). I could picture people pushing through the blistering cold and piles of snow during the winter months, taking a stool, and asking the bartender for their mug hanging overhead. I know it’s nothing groundbreaking, but something about it stuck with me.
Then there were the ports. My husband and I grabbed a couple drinks to-go—coffee for him and tea for me—from a cute coffee shop down a side street and took a seat by the ports where we watched the seagulls swoop around the colorful boats unloading fresh seafood. Growing up near the ocean in New Jersey, something about the sound of seagulls felt nostalgic. What many might find grating, I found it calming. I could see myself sitting there to decompress, enjoying the sunset and how it would color the water with pinks, oranges, and purples.
Emily’s Coffee Shop
The coffee shop mentioned earlier was also the inspiration for Crafty Café. Of course, I can’t remember the name of it, but the look and feel stuck with me. It was based in a brick building commonly found in Portland, with massive windows in the front. Walking in, the space felt warm and inviting, thanks to the sunlight that poured in through those windows. Despite it being mid-day when we stopped in, the light had that warm morning glow. You know the glow that happens when it’s still quiet and you have a few minutes to yourself before the chaos of everyday life starts? Not sure how, but those windows created that feeling no matter what time of day it was.
Then there was the chalkboard signs and huge display case with the most beautiful creations I’ve ever seen. This inspired Joanna’s desire to make pastries and desserts that not only tasted good but also caused people to stop and admire.
I took a few liberties when it came to the inside décor. This coffee shop had that French-feel to it. Rather than sticking to the bright whites throughout the shop, I opted for the more rustic feel. I wanted to enhance the warmness coming from that morning sun with rich wooden chairs and benches. I added pops of color with teal and yellow pillows (you’ll find a lot of in my own home).
After ambling around the city, I wanted to scoot down to the promenade. As I mentioned, being by the water gives me a sense of peace, and I needed that while living in Boston. Blame it on me being an introvert or the fact that I grew up in a teeny suburb in Jersey, but the hustle and bustle of the city killed me a little. It was an amazing experience, but after a few months, it was a bit much.
Anyway, as we walked down to the water, I loved the quiet side streets with the charming Cape Cod homes and well-manicured front yards. I also loved the mature trees lining the streets, giving it that “New England” vibe. For some reason, I could picture Melissa living there. She was a well-off lawyer, and the picturesque home near the water felt right. Being a runner (Melissa, not me…DEFINITELY not me), I pictured her taking advantage of the paths along the promenade to center herself before a day of kicking ass as a lawyer.
Unfortunately (and fortunately), we moved back to Charleston a few months after this visit. I had grand plans to visit Portland again and maybe take one of their sunset wine cruises around the harbor over the summer, but that never happened. We loved that city so much, we’d even considered buying our first home there and commuting to Boston for work (which is nuts, but that’s how much we liked it), but it wasn’t in the cards.
Revisiting Portland is on my travel list, and I can't wait to go back. In the meantime, I’ve used my trip to inspire the setting for No Place to Hide so I’m able to relive that wonderful visit each time I read it. I hope you like it too!
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