The mountains are calling and I must go ~ John Muir
I once lived in the mountains fifty miles east of San Diego, at an elevation of about 4,200 feet. Deer and wild turkeys are common there. The hills are lush with grass, and native oak crave the rain that (sometimes!) falls in winter and spring.
Much of the pine forest has lost its battle with a bark beetle, but cedars still flourish on the tallest peaks. Stands of sage and chokecherry dot the open meadows, and savvy hikers look sharp for the bright green tri-leaf stands of poison oak before they venture off a path. Firestorms have decimated much of the landscape, but pockets of beauty survive, and I pray they always will.
My family owned a cabin in these mountains when I was a kid. My parents bought the place in partnership with four other families, cousins and life-long friends. The cottage was one huge room with a wall of curtained, built-in bunk beds (which we absolutely adored). The kitchen was a dark add-on, tiny and primitive. The dank, moldy shower stall approached horrible, and the “facilities” were outside, an old-fashioned outhouse that was a drag to find at midnight.
I loved the place. A couple of my Life’s Most Awesome Moments happened there. My cousin Julie and I caught a horse wintering over next door and rode it around the pasture. In high school, we played hooky and rented skates, then spent the day floating back and forth on the nearby Southern California lake that had frozen for the first time in 25 or so years. Growing up, I thought the mountain life was perfect, and I decided that someday I would live in the pines.
I was born “down the hill” in San Diego, a coastal Navy town, back when locals easily found a parking place a block from the beach. I’ve always had a hermity personality, and as city life busied with the surge in population, I relocated to an inland valley in search of quiet, farther away from the sea breeze-seeking population. Once my day job went online, it was easy to pick up and move an hour away to live beneath the trees.
My goal was to find a place where I could hear nothing but the sound of the birds and the wind. To walk out my door with the dog and amble through the woods every day. Although I had to work to pay the mortgage, I had a notion that the peace would finally settle me enough to write a novel. I found the right place, but years passed. Job, family ties and remodeling projects took precedence. Writing was always relegated to the bottom of the list. Until one spring, when I simply decided it was time to prove – or disprove – whether I was capable. So I started, just like that.
In retrospect, I think “writing a book” is a huge task and the enormity of the project kept me from Chapter One. Some folks have the ability to break projects down into smaller pieces, prioritize them and dig in. It’s only been later in my life that I’ve learned to wear blinders. I get the concept now:
How do you climb a mountain? One step at a time, baby.
I’d daydreamed about crafting the sort of mystery I love. I’m the type of reader who roots for the good guy to win and the girl to get the boy, as long as the boy has the soul of a really great man. I’m partial to strong-yet-flawed characters who experience conflict, but have an innate core that’s good and real. I’m a quirky person with a personality that’s a clash of opposites. A great friend who lives too far from civilization to be a good one. A lover of random thoughts with little time to entertain them. A smartass with no one to practice on but the dog. Someone who loves to laugh but rarely has the chance to make others snicker.
To a great extent, I’ve resolved my internal conflicts by crafting novels. I love to write about deep friendships between intelligent, sharp-witted, smart-mouthed women. Like me, my characters are flawed and floored by life. They juggle too much and struggle along, until a light goes on and they experience their own “aha” moments. Oh, but sadly, the epiphanies are few and far between.
Writing a good novel is so much like living a good life. I’ve found that the secret to both is really all bound up in our ability to figure out workable solutions. The better we get at solving problems, the more satisfying and successful our life – and our novels – become.
Image by paul bicat