Thursday, June 19, 2008

Interview with Jen A. Miller

My fellow Phillies fan, Jen A. Miller, is the author of The Jersey Shore, Atlantic City to Cape May: Great Destinations: A Complete Guide, and we had a chance to chat about her book.

What's your connection with the Jersey shore? Besides writing the book, that is.

I've been going to the shore every summer since I was born -- literally. I was born in July and on the beach in August. My family had a trailer at Avalon Campground, so that's where I lived during the summer. Then, as an editor and then freelance writer, I covered that same area for the New York TImes, Philadelphia Inquirer, NJ Monthly and SJ Magazine, among others, so when it was time to pick a book topic, it seemed the logical choice.

Tell us about the book. How'd it come about, how'd you research it, all that fun stuff?

I saw on that Countryman Press was looking for more regional guides in their Great Destinations Series. I was doing a lot of writing about Atlantic City at the time and pitched them that as a topic. They said it was a bit too narrow, so I came up with the idea of writing about the South Jersey Shore. While there's been a lot of books about one shore town or the whole coast, I couldn't find anything that targeted just that region.

I researched the book in a lot of ways. I spent a lot of time in the library in the colder months. Then, when the summer season started in May 2007, I lived in Avalon, using the dining room table of a shore house as my base. Most of my information came from on the ground research. I'd park my car, walk into every place I saw, and go from there. I also spent a lot of time interview locals to find out those places tourists might not know about. In one cases, the regular patrons of a bar asked me NOT to write about it -- how could I not write about a bar with name that tune! (Owen's in North Wildwood, FYI).

I'd ask which is your favorite shore town, but you shouldn't play favorites. So I'll ask, which town was the biggest discovery for you? As in, things you didn't know before you wrote the book.

That's a great way to phrase it! I learned the most about Cape May. I didn't like it much as a kid, but as a grown up (I'd like to think), I found out why so many people rave about it. There's so much to see and do, whether your idea of fun is shopping or kayaking.

Growing up where I did, I know what you're talking about when you say you're going down the shore. After all, I spent my childhood going down the shore, but never went to a beach until I was in high school. But I say that to my Ohio inlaws, and they think I'm nuts. Did you ever discover why the folks in South Jersey, Delaware and eastern PA say they are going "down the shore"?

I still don't know. Since the book came out, I've learned that even Central and North Jersey people say "down the shore." I think it might come from when the easiest way to get to the shore was by rail. From Philadelphia, the train went south to Atlantic City.

Okay, so what's the dividing line between South Jersey and North Jersey?

For me? Cut a line through Trenton and then go south to Brigantine. Under that is South Jersey. But as I've talked about this -- and I talked about it a lot since I became a consultant on New Jersey: The movie -- I've realized that there is no set line. It depends on where you're from. It's like trying to say who has the best pizza or ice cream at the shore. Your opinion is going to be shaded by where you went as a kid.

And while this has nothing to do with the shore, a very important question -- how do you like the Phils chances this season?

Any time the bullpen sings like they do, yes. It's been a stunning season so far, and I'd be very disappointed if they don't get to the post season. I'm counting on Chase Utley as MVP, too!

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