This month my location series takes us to the bustling, glittering streets of downtown L.A. and various other spots in Southern California. I hope you’ll help me give a big welcome to Kristin Anderson and her novel, Green.
Before we get to Kristin’s guest post, let’s take a few moments to marvel at her cover design. Lovely – right? As well as intriguing, this cover made me want to read Anderson’s book. Kristin tells of finding the image for her cover and the process of contacting the digital artist and working to fine tune what she knew had to be the cover of her book on her blog – do check out her post.
Take it away, Kristin.
During my honeymoon in Italy, we traveled through a series of small northern Italian towns in the off season. When we stepped off the train at the next destination, I announced the name of the city in an effort to gain my bearing.
“Ah. So this is Treviso,” I would say.
“No. We were in Treviso this morning. This is Belluno,” my husband would correct me. He’d been with me long enough to realize I had a little (big) issue with directions; well, with geography in general, but this was a strange step beyond reason even for me. And it kept happening. Why was I constantly referencing backward?
I share this little slice from my honeymoon over a decade ago, as it is directly relates to my author brain and the writing process. Sometimes, you have to leave a place to wake up to its beauty. When I lived on the central coast of California, the layers of mountains, the deep blue Pacific, the chaparral and oak trees lining the mountain trails were a part of my landscape. And I took them for granted. I didn’t notice them, really, any more than I noticed the details on the palm of my hand.
And so is it with my writing process. True, I started my debut novel Green while living in California where it takes place, but the majority of the story was written while living in The Netherlands. Just like that honeymoon train ride so many years ago, I was reflecting backwards, writing about a place where I used to be. Of course, I’ve long forgotten the details of Treviso, Italy, as we were only there for a few days. But I grew up in California and the thirty plus years of impressions that have etched their way into my mind are easily available to draw upon in my writing. And for everything else, there’s Google.
Green is about relationships, but also about the environment. Environmental activism plays a big role in my plot, in character development and in ethical dilemmas that challenge the lead characters. In order to make the character debates realistic, conversations need to be grounded to their location; character backgrounds need to be defined in order for the reader to better understand character development. All of this is related to place.
For example, my lead character Ellie Ashburn grew up in rural Idaho, but has cast off the benefits of rural life to pursue a career in the big city of Los Angeles. When she goes to a tribal gathering in rural Santa Ynez Valley, California with her new boyfriend Jake, the natural surroundings awaken a part in her she has forgotten.
She felt something loosen inside her as she glanced around at the rolling hills, not a single building in site. Ellie knew she felt at home. A dusting of soil settled into the creases of her crisp white jeans and stickers poked into her rhinestone sandals as if mother earth herself was trying to push the city girl away and bring Ellie back to her humble beginnings.
This sense of dusty earth coming up to claim you is something I personally relate to, having grown up in the Santa Ynez Valley of California myself. It doesn’t matter how urban you become; the rural life of your childhood is ingrained within you, and just a little contact can pull you back to your beginnings.
The majority of my novel takes place in urban Los Angeles, and thus many of the settings are in restaurants, clubs and office buildings or the city streets. How do our characters interact with their natural and, in this case, man-made environments and how do these settings inform us about the characters? Consider this passage. Ellie and her best guy friend Arno are attending an environmental art opening at a gallery.
Here is what happens when they arrive by car.
They headed to Studio City and pulled up in front of a contemporary building of steel and glass.
“Where’s the valet parking?” he asked an employee.
“There’s only valet parking for bicycles this evening, sir. However, there is a secure automobile lot two blocks away,” the attendant explained, pointing.
“Oh this is going to be interesting,” Arno chuckled as he turned toward Ellie. “You wait here while I go park my evil little gas guzzling Carmengia.”
Clearly the artist was popular as they had to wait in line to get in. When they finally reached the entrance they were greeted by two glamorous women in green sequined dresses with matching stilettos. They handed Arno and Ellie cloth napkins with a forest design signed by Earl Diamond, the artist.
“These are for your use this evening, and yours to keep. This is a waste-free event and Mr. Diamond encourages you to switch from paper to cloth” they chirped in unision.
“I hope there’s t.p in the bathroom,” Ellie whispered to Arno mischievously.
“Multi-purpose cloth in your hand there, dear,” he clamoured.
In this short passage, we learn through their reaction to the setting, that both Ellie and Arno are not entirely comfortable with environmental concepts, and address their discomfort through humour. Although the gallery in Studio City I envisioned is a figment of my imagination, I have been to events that have bicycle valet parking, and have been to a handful of contemporary galleries made of steel and glass, several in Los Angeles. Thus creativity mixes with reality.
Each location introduced serves a purpose; it is a catalyst to understand characters. And I believe it is best to write about locations with which you personally have experience. My latest work of fiction, an eco-thriller to be released in the summer of 2015, is set in the Netherlands, where I currently reside.
My Review of Green
A 30-something coming-of-age story set in beautiful L.A.
I recommend Green as a coming-of-age story for the 30-something crowd of readers – or those approaching that age range and the life decisions that seem to come with that territory these days. Things have changed a lot since I was thirty, married for several years, raising two children and asking what else life had in store. Thirty is the new twenty, I’ve heard. Young people are using the years from twenty to thirty to exercise their options in everything from careers to relationships and this novel illustrates well the dilemmas faced.
Upon first blush, Anderson’s main character, Ellie, seems to have it all – a rewarding, upwardly mobile career, looks and fancy clothes, a nice home and the whirl of an exciting social life. And yet she struggles on the edge of knowing that the time has come to make a relationship commitment and reorder her well-constructed life to allow that something more to happen for her.
She meets and falls for Jake, a committed, walk-the-talk environmentalist, a guy who is nothing like anyone else she has ever known. It would seem a true case of opposites attracting as Ellie no more fits into Jake’s world than he fits into hers. The stage is definitely set for a crash or two along the road to true love.
The story is rich with details about L.A. and the surrounding area, the environmentalist movement, going green, and the lifestyles’ of several characters. Anderson’s attention to detail made me feel like I had actually gone to many of the places she describes – be it hikes in the wilderness or desert, gallery openings, fancy restaurants or a perilous bike ride down Sunset Boulevard.
My one objection, albeit a small one, is that the characters were a bit too polished perfect – in how the they saw themselves and how the world saw them. I wanted both Ellie and Jake to step of their pedestals now and then – let their hair down so to speak.
You can find, Green on Amazon I recommend you pop over and peruse a few of the twenty reviews. I won’t be surprised if you decide this novel is worth the investment of a few hours of reading time.