I am on vacation, which simply means that me, my laptop, my family, and all my various work commitments have moved to a swanky island 30 miles out to sea where the average cost of a house is $1.9 million and the gardens alone are fancier than my house.* In addition to my immediate family, which includes the Husband and the Wild Children, I also have the Sister, the Sister’s Husband, their children, some grandparents and aunts and uncles. There are clearly stories to be written here, and they range from National Lampoon’s Family Vacation to King Lear (ok, not really but you get the idea).
It is lovely here, and part of me wants to set my mermaid novel here so that I can come here often on “research” trips and try to deduct all the costs when I file my taxes (which might be kind of sketchy, I realize, but it’s worth a try!) After all, I have spent time here almost every summer of my life – I can pepper the novel with hundreds of details that can only come from really knowing a place. And those details are so evocative to me…I can close my eyes in the middle of winter and imagine the smell of beach roses in the air, the dampness of the morning fog before the sun burns through, the clean, simple lines of the gray houses with their white crushed shell driveways.
Details are important. Freshman Creative Writing 101 teaches young writers ALL about the need for details. Details make the story come alive, we are told. Don’t just say the character is wearing a jacket, make it a ratty jean jacket with a peace sign drawn on in black ink. Don’t have her own a black dog, but an enormous, shaggy mutt with burrs in its fur and a slobbery grin. Details are critical. And a lot of fun to write.
So why don’t my mermaids live here? Why are they 3,000 miles away in Santa Cruz, a place I’ve never been and found on Google? Well, it turns out that loving a place does not automatically make it a great place to set a novel. I’ve tried writing books set on this island. In fact, I’ve tried twice; once was a adult novel and one was a children’s book, and they both kind of sucked. There is a famous expression used to admonish writers to be tough on their work: “Kill your darlings!” we are exhorted. In other words, don’t fall too in love with anything you are writing. Be willing to have bad things happen to characters you love and want to protect, to cut beautifully written but ultimately useless passages, and, in my case, to give up on locales that wind up trying to steal the show from the characters and plot.
So as I bike around the lovely secret corners of this island some part of my mind is storing away the sights and smells and sounds, so that someday I can find a story that’s waiting to happen here. And in the meantime, I’m looking at maps of Santa Cruz. Might be a nice place to visit someday.
*This is an actual statistic…feel free to email me if you want the source.