As some of you are no doubt aware, my wife and I split our time between two homes, spending half the year in Santa Cruz, California, and the other half in Hilo, Hawai‘i. I’ve lived in Santa Cruz since the mid-1970s, and my love for the locale inspired me to create my Sally Solari mysteries, which are set in the once-sleepy fishing and retirement community, now-bustling University town, full of trendy restaurants and tech start-ups.
Living in two places has many advantages, but it also has its downside. And one of the things that frustrated me when we switched to our dual-location life was that it seemed as if every time I started writing a new Sally Solari book, I’d be in Hilo—2,500 miles and an ocean away from the story’s setting.
I’m not alone in this. James Joyce penned his masterpiece, Ulysses, while living in Zurich, and in conjuring Dublin from far-away Switzerland, he famously wrote letters to friends back home asking for details such as the number of steps between various building and the types and colors of awnings and doors along the streets he was writing about.
It’s of course far easier now than in Joyce’s day to recreate a location from afar, employing the likes of Google maps, YouTube videos, and online restaurant menus to measure the current pulse and goings-on of a city. And in preparation for my absence from Santa Cruz, I’d also take countless photos of the town—its historic fisherman’s wharf where Solari’s Restaurant is located, the busy shopping area, its beautiful beaches and coastal farmlands, the university high up on the hill. Images that I could peruse while in Hawai‘i, from which to draw inspiration and ideas for my new manuscript.
Now I find myself writing a brand new series, one set on the Big Island of Hawai‘i, and guess where I am. You got it: Santa Cruz!
But of late, I’ve come to realize that being away from the book’s setting while drafting a manuscript is not actually a bad thing. Because once absent from a place, the heart does indeed grow fonder, and I find myself eager to return to Hawai‘i in my mind’s eye.
And as I write about lovely Hilo town and its vibrant farmers market, its magnificent black sand beaches and active volcanoes, and its warm and generous people, the love and passion I feel for the place overflows onto the page (okay, computer screen) in a way it might not otherwise, were it possible to merely walk down the street and encounter all these lovely things in person. So perhaps being away from Hilo helps to make my writing more urgent and purposeful. We shall see.
Now, if only I could conjure a sweet Hawaiian papaya for breakfast…
Readers: Do you find that being away from a place you love makes it more desirable, more vivid in your imagination? Or is it more of an “out of sight, out of mind” kind of thing when you’re gone?