Where did HOME FIRES come from? That’s probably the most frequent question asked of authors, and my answer is almost always, “Who knows?” For me, that’s the fascination of writing fiction—that surprise, astonishment even, and what emerges from places I recognize but have no conscious access to. But I also know that answer only makes sense to other authors, so I’ll try to do better. Understand, however, that this is hindsight.
My first creative writing coach said, “You write from place. Place creates your characters.” Add time to that, and I think you have the most consistent source of my stories. NOWHERE ELSE TO GO—years spent raising children in a college town in the Sixties. THE INHERITORS—growing up in Chicago among the racial and cultural groups that make up that city. In the same vein, HOME FIRES was born of the years I spent in Goleta California, just north of the UC Santa Barbara campus, on the edge of Ellwood Mesa.
For more pictures, take a look here: http://sb-outdoors.com/ellwood-mesa/.
When I arrived in California and first walked out across that 137 acre meadow to the sea, I vowed I would walk it daily, reminding myself of the unbelievable beauty of the place I lived. And, usually with my best friend and later housemate, Joyce, I did. Daylight permitting, we woke early, leashed the dogs, walked across the mesa and turned them loose to run out to the beach. Bordered on the south by the University of California bird refuge and by Sandpiper Golf Course on the north, this was the longest strip of wild beach in Santa Barbara County and a rarity enjoyed by random walkers and bikers like us. Two other mesa-lovers–my daughter and niece–provided the cover.
Except for the grove of eucalyptus where the Monarchs wintered, hanging in great skeins from the branches, the mesa remained obscure and undiscovered–inhabited by the coyotes, skunks, birds, sea lions and porpoises that populate Home Fires. It’s also the source of other blogs, such as Chasing Bears.
But unlike the mesa of Home Fires, Ellwood, during the years we lived there, was under constant threat of development. We joined other mesa-lovers in the fight to save it—a story with a happy ending you can read about at http://www.westerncity.com/Western-City/March-2006/Goleta-Resolves-Decades-Old-Conflict/. The land is now a public trust.
So it is little wonder I wrote a short story called “Sea Breezes” about a woman looking out to sea from her tower. I suppose fairytales and princesses were somehow fused with the unreality of the place. “But it’s not a short story,” my critique group told me, “It’s the beginning of a novel.” I put it away. I wanted to be a short story writer, not a novelist. Years later, after I’d finally conceded I wasn’t much of a short story writer, I pulled it out again.
Except for her love of the mesa and her incredulity that she’d ended there, Myra’s story bears no resemblance to my own. By hindsight again, I think it sprang from years of media filled with accusations of sexual conduct and misconduct, the rushes to judgment, and the forever unanswered question of what really happened. That last, the unanswered question is grist for a novelist—a breed addicted to the question of why people do what they do.