3 ways your hometown can help your novel

News! The Rumpus just put up my piece on their series The Last Book I Loved – Nice Work by David Lodge, if you’re wondering. Lodge is a wonderful comic writer introduced to me by the brilliant Rob Roberge. I learned a lot (and was inspired by) reading and annotating comic novels by Lodge as well as Richard Russo, Carl Hiaasen, Zadie Smith, and others while I was writing my latest, Wrestling Alligators.  You can check out those and more annotations at Annotation Nation.

I’m from La Jolla, CA. It was a spectacularly beautiful place to grow up. La Jolla was the setting for my first book, Dead Weight, as well as my third, Growing Chocolate. I write about La Jolla because I love it, it’s part of me, but I also want to preserve some of my favorite places that no longer exist, including the garden of old family friends, long dead. The garden found a place in Growing Chocolate. I’m experimenting with changing that book into a YA (will let you know how it goes when I’m further in).

La Jolla also makes an appearance in Wrestling Alligators. There are three main characters, siblings who come into conflict: Alison, the oldest, a psych nurse, middle child Brian, a Wall St. strategist, and the youngest, Emma, a painter. At one point, Alison drives to San Diego. What better place for her to stay than the La Valencia? The hotel opened in 1926, designed by architect Reginald Johnson and cost $200,000. My dad used to have his annual office party in the Sky Room, which has a breathtaking view of the coast. More history? Gregory Peck used to host parties for the La Jolla Playhouse in the Whaling Bar. Raymond Chandler used the hotel as the backdrop to his thriller Playback. As long as I’m mentioning a mystery writer, take a look at Aaron Gansky on mystery vs. murky. On to the business at hand…

How can your hometown help your novel?

1. It will provide resonance in your writing. It’s a place where your first memories are formed, where you first explored the world, so those emotions are going to run deep and provide a goldmine of sensory and emotional experiences.

2. You know it and you know it in a way that a visitor can’t. Take a look at how it formed you. I grew up next to the ocean. The smell of the sea was always there. I was able to go to the beach after school whenever I wanted. My experience of the ocean is very different than someone who’s never seen it or from someone who never cares to. My childhood was spent building sandcastles, bodysurfing, running in the sand. When I grew up, I learned scuba diving and wrote a novel about it. Setting doesn’t only affect characters.

3. You know how to adapt it. If you want to create a fictional town for your characters, you can adapt your memories. Chances are those memories aren’t entirely accurate with the passage of time anyway. Use your hometown as a template for a fictional place and redesign it to suit your story.

One last look at the La Valencia

I’m going to have to visit soon…..

 

done done

Well, done for now. The problem with novels is that you can tinker with them endlessly and it’s not always clear at first when it becomes counterproductive. HOWEVER, for now, I am done with Wrestling Alligators. I gave it to four trusted readers. They only had light notes, so I’m getting better at revisions. Then I read the whole novel aloud. Surprising what you catch (even after it’s been past 5 pairs of eyes) so it’s a technique I highly recommend.

Go read my friend Andrew Panebianco’s post, Six Degrees of Robert Langdon (Dan Brown’s protagonist). If you want the longer, juicier version, go here.

List of the words circled by David Foster Wallace in his dictionary.

So, the dreaded synopsis (is there a writer who likes writing them? no), a short bio and the first three chapters are out to an agent. As all writers know, Tom Petty was right.

The Norman Mailer Writers Colony invited me back (with scholarship) for one of their summer workshops, so am hoping the timing works out.  It was nice to hear that they consider my work the quality of a Fellow though they could not seat me as one of the seven this year. A week’s probably better than a month for me considering how busy this summer will be. See there? Things work out for the best.

I feel the need… the need to read

Nathan Bransford at Curtis Brown blogs about ‘gap’ books. His key is books most people have read, so bear that in mind. What are yours?

He’s right about the recut trailers. A feel-good Shining. Good exercise to think of your story in a new way, too.

And if you need a reality check, The Rejectionist is happy to give it to you.

Pronouncing authors names correctly here

Reading my novel aloud today (and possibly for a few days!). Started the new one, but really looking forward to getting Wrestling Alligators out into the world next week.