TODAY, WRITER WORKING WELCOMES AUTHOR NANCY WOOD ON THE FINAL STOP OF HER LATEST BLOG TOUR. THE TOPIC–THE ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF USING HER SMALL-TOWN HOME, SANTA CRUZ, CA FOR HER FINE NOVEL, DUE DATE. I LIVE IN NEARBY OAKLAND, AND HAVE A LONG ACQUAINTANCE WITH AND GREAT FONDNESS FOR SANTA CRUZ. IT WAS FUN TO PICTURE VARIOUS LOCATIONS AS WOOD SENT HER CHARACTERS PURSUING THEIR GOALS THROUGH THE NOVEL. YOU CAN CHECK MY REVIEW OF DUE DATE IF YOU LIKE, @ https://www.carlrbrush.com/due-date-draws-you-in/ BUT FOR NOW, LISTEN TO NANCY.
When I started writing DUE DATE, I didn’t think twice about using my town, Santa Cruz California, as the location. I’d already written a novel (unpublished) set in Baltimore Maryland in the 70s. And I’d written another novel (also unpublished!) set in upstate New York. So it was time to write about something that was right in front of me.
You might have heard of Santa Cruz, as it crops up in the news from time to time. Santa Cruz was one of the first cities in the U.S. to become a nuclear-free zone. It’s the place where Mr. Twister, local clown/balloon performance artist, was arrested in 1995 for feeding expired parking meters. Recently, it’s the place that made national news when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case brought by local homeless activist Robert Norse, who’d been ejected from a City Council meeting in 2002 for making a Nazi salute.
But Santa Cruz is so much more than its colorful local politics. It’s a place of uncommon beauty, bordered on the west by a 246-acre open space preserve called Moore Creek. A few ranches away lies 7,000-acre Wilder Ranch State Park, which stretches from the sea to the coastal hills. Its northern boundary connects with the open space preserve on the backside of the university. Parks and preserves hopscotch the northern arc of the city limits, like beads on a necklace: the Pogonip, Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, DeLaveaga Park. To the east, the city boundaries melt into an unincorporated area, Live Oak, which then melds with the city of Capitola. The sweep of the Monterey Bay limits the city to the south.
The city of Santa Cruz is small and compact. The greenbelt and the bay keep out urban sprawl. Downtown, including the main library, the city auditorium, City Hall and other city buildings, is about eight blocks long and three blocks wide. It bisects the town, dividing it into east and west. There’s a friendly, and sometimes ominous, rivalry between the two sides of town.
My character in DUE DATE, Shelby McDougall, lived in a neighborhood on the east side of the city with her brother and his family until her sister-in-law asked her to move on. Shelby then moved to Bonny Doon, part of the Santa Cruz mailing zip code, but actually a small rural community in the Santa Cruz mountains northwest of the city limit. Shelby would drive past the university and through the west side of Santa Cruz on her way to the grocery or her doctor’s appointments.
Placing DUE DATE in Santa Cruz provided both advantages and limitations. The obvious advantage, from a writer’s perspective, was that I knew it. No extra research required. I could sit at my desk and write, without needing to explore the local bakery or the cavernous basement in the used bookstore (though those would both be fun research projects!). From a character’s perspective, it was easy to capture the flavor of the city. Shelby could stroll through downtown, visiting local businesses, seeing local street life. It was plausible for her to run into people she knew. But she couldn’t get lost, as the city is too small. And she couldn’t get stuck somewhere, as there are so many people willing to help. However, when she moved to the Santa Cruz mountains, where it’s isolated and remote, my imagination could go wild, as the setting was wide open and she was free to roam, as much as her pregnancy allowed.
I did find some limitations with Santa Cruz as the setting. At the last minute, I decided to disguise businesses. I’d kept local business names up until the very end, into the editing process, then realized it might be better switch them to something fictional. I didn’t want to risk alienating a reader if the business didn’t actually match a mental image. And I didn’t want to alienate a business owner if their business wasn’t portrayed to their satisfaction. I wasn’t sure how that would play with local readers, but I have since found out that readers enjoy the puzzle of figuring out which business is which.
I found that I also needed to be aware of repetition. Because of the size of Santa Cruz, I had to be careful not to repeat locations too frequently and present them using the similar descriptions. This proved harder than I’d guessed when I decided to keep the story within the confines of Santa Cruz.
The next installment of the Shelby McDougall story takes Shelby from central California to Big Sur, so I’ll have more latitude in the setting. Shelby lands back in Santa Cruz, but sets up office in south county, outside of Watsonville. Her sleuthing takes her back into the mountains and also into the wilds of Big Sur. When plotting this book, I deliberately gave myself more latitude in the setting. From a writer’s perspective, I wanted more area to write about. And from a reader’s perspective, I knew I needed to provide more variety.
WRITER WORKING READERS AND I THANK YOU FOR AN ENJOYABLE AND ILLUMINATING LOOK AT YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS, NANCY. WANT TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT NANCY AND HER WORK OR TO CONTACT HER? HERE ARE SOME LINKS.