How this romance novelist learned to see Pike Place Market through rose-colored glasses
It’s easy to look at Pike Place Market and see organized chaos. Fish are flying, buskers are playing music for tips, tourists lugging their suitcases behind them walk around taking selfies and looking for the first Starbucks, all while residents shop for that night’s dinner.
But if you look closely, you might see what author M.L. "Matt" Buchman saw: the backdrop for a romance novel.
“There's an energy to it that’s instilled by these couples discovering cool things to show to each other,” Buchman said. “Dragging along kids with cotton candy and going past the row of jewelers at the far end of the market, each with their own little table.”
Buchman’s Where Dreams Are Born follows an enemies-to-lovers storyline between a fantastically rich but burned out advertising photographer, and a food and wine critic whose columns can’t quite make-or-break a restaurant yet — but she’s getting close.
It’s full of Pacific Northwest history and it’s an education on Italian wines — even if a few lines do make your eyes roll. It’s still a romance after all.
“Cheesy is easy to write, but sometimes it's also comfortable to write and to read,” Buchman said.
The five novels and short stories that make up his series are all centered and concentrated in the market. His characters have dates there, they own businesses there, they sit down over a bite and try to solve their relationship problems there, too.
"I think it's hard to not fall in love at the Market."Thaddeus, chocolate vendor at Pike Place Market
The Market doesn't immediately have the same appeal as a steamy beach vacation where the protagonist gets saved by a lifeguard, or perhaps a prodigal daughter’s return to her small hometown where she falls in love with her childhood best friend who’s grown into a man.
Even Sam and Annie from Sleepless in Seattle have their final meet-cute thousands of miles away, in Manhattan on top of the Empire State Building. But Buchman found the potential in the Market.
He wasn’t always a writer. For years Buchman worked in IT in Seattle, and he spent a lot of time downtown in the '80s and '90s. He said he went to Mr. D’s, a Greek restaurant in the Market, every day.
“I'd get myself a gyro and then wander the market and end up standing at the little park at the end looking down at the water."
He would walk around fascinated by what he found in all the stalls and nooks and crannies. The Market was a place where he took friends and family, and explored with dates of his own.
But a “mid-life crisis” and a bike trip around the world later, Buchman traded his career in IT for a career in writing. At first, he wrote fantasy and found some success. Then, in 1996, his publisher sent him to a romance writers convention.
Tips for your own market romance
- Get a bouquet for your loved one before catching the ferry
- Make a special dinner with fresh market pasta
- End a date by taking in the nighttime lights at the market
- Grab a flower, some chocolates…deliver Valentine’s Day any day!
“I read my first four romances at that conference, and that was the moment when I realized that there was this huge connection to my life.”
He realized he'd always been a romantic at heart. He grew up watching those classic MGM musicals featuring iconic starts like Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers and Gene Kelly. That idealized version of romance and romantic relationships stuck with him.
“That was the way I wanted to see the world. I wanted to see it as a place of trust. I wanted to see it as a place where hope thrives, not where it exists, but it thrives.”
He started writing romance, becoming one of the few male writers in the genre. In 2012, best-selling romance novelist Eloisa James listed his book I Own the Dawn as one of her favorites that year. It’s a titillating opposites attract military romance adventure.
“I was fascinated by the fact that it presented a complicated military problem, it was deeply respectful, and at the same time you have an incredibly hot romance," James said of the book.
Buchman began writing full-time in 2013.
Today, Buchman has written over 50 romance novels, starting with that very first series set in the Market, Where Dreams Are Born. He said at the core, romance is about a deep connection with another person, getting to know them and being made better by them.
So, to write a romance novel, he needed a way for his characters to meet and things for them to react to and connect over. They needed a world to operate in. Pike Place Market, the same space he uncovered for himself bit by bit every day, was perfect.
“It gives a lot of opportunity as a writer to take a character and go, what do they need to be feeling at this point?” he said. “They're wandering around and running into the different pieces that I want them as characters to face or react to, or grow or enjoy or share or be bothered by because there are some very strange things in that market.”
“There’s so many neat things in that market,” Buchman said, remembering his time wandering the market years ago. “I mean there are 200 different stalls from an Italian grocery to a spice merchant to a pasta merchant, to a parrot seller - and they’re all just tucked away in these neat little crooks and crannies, and so I went on quest to start discovering some of these places.”
And he put those places in his book.
“I think it's also an opportunity for discovery about each other in a way, because each market, each stall, each business is tiny and they’re side by side,” Buchman said. “So you can get the person who walks up to one thing and goes ‘Ew!” and you get to talk about that, and then you go to the next one that the other person thinks is really cool and you learn, ‘Oh, the person I'm with thinks that's cool or odd or strange or different’.”
Whether you’re trying to fix your relationship issues or falling in love, the Market is a place where anything can happen.
Buchman said all those small romantic gestures, those intimate moments, that’s how two people build the deep connection with one another that romance is all about.
He knows this from personal experience, too. Buchman and his wife have been together for more than a quarter century. So, he gets to be the protagonist of his own love story in real life.
“I did find the real honest-to-God happy ever after romance and it makes that inner heart that I built so carefully all those years ago pretty happy.”
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