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Pittsburgh provides setting for Mt. Lebanon author's romance novels

| Friday, July 17, 2015, 6:12 p.m.
Romance writer Chloe Barlow of Mt. Lebanon, with her husband, Zak Thomas, at Point State Park Saturday, July 11, 2015.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
Romance writer Chloe Barlow of Mt. Lebanon, with her husband, Zak Thomas, at Point State Park Saturday, July 11, 2015.
Romance writer Chloe Barlow of Mt. Lebanon at Point State Park Saturday, July 11, 2015.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
Romance writer Chloe Barlow of Mt. Lebanon at Point State Park Saturday, July 11, 2015.
Romance Writer Chloe Barlow of Mt. Lebanon at Point State Park Saturday, July 11, 2015.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
Romance Writer Chloe Barlow of Mt. Lebanon at Point State Park Saturday, July 11, 2015.
Romance Writer Chloe Barlow of Mt. Lebanon, with her husband Zak Thomas at Point State Park Saturday, July 11, 2015.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
Romance Writer Chloe Barlow of Mt. Lebanon, with her husband Zak Thomas at Point State Park Saturday, July 11, 2015.
Romance Writer Chloe Barlow of Mt. Lebanon, and her husband Zak Thomas at Point State Park Saturday, July 11, 2015.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
Romance Writer Chloe Barlow of Mt. Lebanon, and her husband Zak Thomas at Point State Park Saturday, July 11, 2015.

Chloe Barlow was born in San Francisco and grew up in Washington, D.C. She attended college at Duke University in North Carolina and has lived in Vietnam and China.

But the Mt. Lebanon resident has fallen for Pittsburgh and uses the city as the setting for her romance novels.

“(Pittsburgh's) such a magical place,” says Barlow, an attorney who moved to the area to study law at the University of Pittsburgh in 2001 and stayed after marrying her husband, Zak Thomas, a West Virginia native. “I've never seen anything physically like it. I like the rain and fog, so it's like San Francisco, but you can't afford to live there.”

Barlow's affection for her new hometown provides the setting for her fiction. Her three novels — “City of Champions,” “Three Rivers” and one novella, “Shanghai Wind,” (not set in Pittsburgh, obviously) — are approaching 16,000 copies sold, according to BookScan, a remarkable total for a self-published author.

The sales are, in part, a result of a comprehensive marketing plan that uses Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media to publicize the novels. But even the savviest marketer needs a good product. Barlow's stories are more than just “traditional romances,” she insists, noting that many mysteries and thrillers have a romantic component.

“Most of our favorite stories have a level of romance or interpersonal relationships to them,” Barlow says. “Even Agatha Christie mysteries have one little romance in there. There's something to the fact that meeting the person you'd like to spend the rest of your life with is earth-shattering. It changes everything.”

Barlow considers the books to be hybrids, but the crux of each novel remains the same: finding a soul mate. And, since that experience is alternatively elevating and frustrating, Barlow explores a range of emotions, no punches pulled.

“The characters in my books have real honest fights, accurate fights,” she says. “I have this theory that every couple has some form of the same fight their entire life together.”

Barlow wanted to be a writer and studied English at Duke but set that aside in favor of her legal studies. When she started to practice law, she only had time to write legal briefs. Then, as the stress of being a newly minted lawyer increased, Barlow became sick. She was suffering from lupus, a condition that had gone undiagnosed since she was 12.

Determined to find a silver lining in her condition, Barlow started to write again. She and her husband had been visiting various Pittsburgh neighborhoods since they moved here, and as Barlow wrote, she saw that the diversity and breadth of the region made it a perfect setting for her stories.

“People say to me Pittsburgh is a character in the books,” she says. “And I say yes, it is, because Pittsburgh is a character in people's lives. Unlike so many other cities, Pittsburgh has a negative and positive connotation for anybody who lives here. It's its own living, breathing entity. … I can take a scene from Lawrenceville to Mt. Washington, and it's as though I've left for another state. You're able to have all of these different sights and sounds and people and decision-making, all within the same place.”

Rege Behe is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

Love in the ‘Burgh

Romance writer Chloe Barlow started to fall in love with Pittsburgh when she moved here in 2001. Here's her take on the most romantic places in the city for dates.

A one-night staycation at Hotel Monaco: “Ever since this new hotel, and its great bar-restaurant ‘The Commoner,' opened its doors Downtown, its ‘living room' take on a lobby has been one of my favorite spots to escape to and write my next novel, before meeting my husband for a drink downstairs. It is the epitome of the comfortable and quirky type of Pittsburgh glamour that I love. Adding an overnight stay in one of their equally funky and romantic guest rooms is the perfect topper to a romantic evening.”

The National Aviary on the North Shore: “Even though it's just across the river from Downtown, for the price of admission, you and your loved one can hold hands while being transported to a rainforest, or simply enjoying each of the unique bird exhibits along the way. Once we topped it off with the penguin experience. I got a kiss from a penguin named Sydney, but don't worry, my husband had nothing to worry about, as this Sydney had too pointy of a beak for my taste.”

A night on Mt. Washington: “I know, it's the classic choice, but as my husband always says, some things are cliched for a reason. Back in 2001, when Zak was persuading me to move to Pittsburgh with him after I graduated college, he sealed the deal with a thrilling ride up the Duquesne Incline, followed by dinner overlooking the most magical place I'd ever seen. The experience was made all the more exciting because, when I looked down at the sparkling city below, the choice became even more clear. I gave Zak an exuberant yes — Pittsburgh was going to be our home, it had to be. To this day, I still insist on taking the incline up whenever we go to dinner on Mt. Washington, though Altius restaurant is my latest obsession.”

Low-key fun while exploring Regent Square: “Zak and I used to live in the heart of the Square, and we love going back to stroll its brick streets or to take our dog, Lady, for a run in the trails of Frick Park. South Braddock Avenue is heavily concentrated with neat things to do, especially when “Rear Window,” and other great old movies are playing at the Regent Square Theater. Plus, we never miss the chance to grab hot dogs and beers at D's Six Pax and Dogz.”

A picnic at the fountain in Point State Park: “To me, this spot is the most romantic of them all, because it is vision of love itself. They call them the three rivers, but they are really two becoming one, each joining the other to form something bigger and greater — together. Sitting by the fountain on a blanket with my husband, whether it be after picking up goodies at Market Square or while listening to a great band during the Arts Festival, will always be a special kind of perfect for me.”

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