Dynamic Woman — Changing Times
Writing California: Los Altos
Los Altos in the Fifties was a great place to grow up. As many of the authors in this blog series have done, I set my novel The Sheep Walker’s Daughter partly in my hometown. Growing up, I spent a lot of time in my grandmother’s dance studio on Lundy Lane listening to her stories about life during the Depression and World War II. She saw a past. I saw a future.
The story of Los Altos winds through the narrative:
It’s deceptive, this quiet Valley of the Heart’s Delight. The barons of industry who created this landscape imagined themselves to be gentlemen farmers, I suppose. It looks like they achieved a perfect balance of agriculture, education, and industry, but the agriculture is vanishing fast.
I don’t want only the pastures I can see to be my borders. California is big and bold, and its enterprising spirit is in my blood. Palo Alto and the sleepy towns around it percolate with new ideas that promise to cut new paths in every field. It will start at Stanford and Berkeley. I don’t know what is coming, but the energy palpable. Back home, when I walk through the neighborhoods and smell the sweet aroma of apricots and Italian plums mixed with the sharp scent of freshly planed wood stacked at new home sites, I see The Valley of the Heart’s Delight making room for all comers.
A reviewer captured the importance of interplay between setting and characters in a novel:
I love how the author weaves her tale: she gives details that might seem meaningless, but are so important, she gives life to every tree branch, car tire, and pebble mentioned in her story that while you read a movie plays in your mind so you can watch everything that her characters do, say, think, and hold back from their friends, family and loved ones.
Careful attention to detail evokes an era and help readers experience the story. The smell of overripe fruit puts you past the growing season, the sound of tires on a gravel driveway recalls the rural past, before we architected our driveways much like we now do the interiors of our homes. Elements in a landscape provide touchstones for our characters and metaphors for our writing. The dark waters of the creek that ran behind my grandmother’s house still bubble quietly in my heart. In both my books, Dee goes down to the creek to sort out her difficulties.
Readers, Do you have a touchstone set in a favorite place? Search out a book set in or near that place.
Writers, make love to your home town in a story. Allow the personality of loved (or hated) places to become characters and tell their story.
© Sydney Avey