It all started with a simple request from his wife.
"Write me a love story," she said.
J.P. Dalton pulled from his years of experience as a journalist and his wife's request to craft his first fiction book, "Where the Campaign Ends." What rounded out the romance story even more, the author said, was the location — a little city called Del Mar.
The North Coastal San Diego city is one Dalton and his wife have frequented over the last three years for New Year's Eve, when Dalton participates in the Penguin Plunge, and where the Arizona-based couple first visited on a detour from a road trip to Disneyland.
Sites like the racetrack, dog beach, Poseidon Restaurant and L'Auberge
"In my mind, I was trying to think through scenes and to get the story to move along," Dalton said. "Just the sheer ways of trying to describe the ocean and everything there and a lot of the restaurants and shops, in some ways it turned out to be a love letter to the city."
"Where the Campaign Ends," released in December, follows a political consultant who suffered a heart attack while working on a campaign. The man retreats to Del Mar for a new beginning and forms a relationship with a local yoga instructor.
While writing the story, Dalton crafted the main character around politics, which he covered for several years of his career, including time covering the Arizona Legislature for the Arizona Capitol Times and Sun City Daily News-Sun. He also spent some time volunteering for Senator John McCain's campaign.
Dalton — whose bylines have appeared in more than two dozen newspapers and magazines across the country — said writing fiction differed greatly from newspaper reporting.
"Sometimes, when I was writing as a reporter -- I don't want to say I was trying to get as detailed as possible because I didn't want to lose anyone -- but I wanted to have the facts behind my articles as much as possible to explain to others," said the now-freelance sports reporter for the Associated Press. "Here, while [the main character] is a political consultant, I didn't rely too heavily on the political side of things. I kept it surface level, not much deeper than you would see if you watched a panel on CNN. I tried not to get too deep into that. Here, the story was people-driven, so the facts and all the rest of the different scenarios were far less important than just trying to build the relationship."
Putting the story in a familiar setting also eased the writing process, he added.
"One of the hardest things about transferring over to fiction was just trying to create a story versus just observing and reporting," he said. "Being able to build upon the places that I knew — in a lot of ways with fresh eyes and finding different ways to describe them — that really anchored the locations and really helped a great deal."
Dalton said he tried to make Del Mar so accurate in the book that he actually regularly studied how the sun rose above dog beach through webcam videos.
So far, his descriptions have been successful, he said.
"What I've found is, for the people who have read it, it kind of serves a touchstone and brings a smile to their faces to read the descriptions and know that these are places they've been themselves," he said.