Carmel as a Writer's Haven
(As it appeared in Carmel Living Magazine)
As a novelist, I'm often asked about the myriad of variables I find necessary to pursue my craft. I'm sensitive to aspiring authors who sense the writer's muse within. They may recognize they have a story to tell, or may be one of those passionate souls in love with words along with the peculiar thrill of word arrangement. I have always understood this; writers like to compare notes with each other. It lends support and offers direction in an ephemeral arena that begins with a prompting, travels to a blank page, and results in the painstaking commitment to a body of work built on hope and blind faith that it is worth sharing. But where does a novelist begin? What is the salient source of inspiration that leads to a novel? For me, it began with an overwhelming sense of place, right here in Carmel.
At the time, I was a newspaper columnist in Malibu. My husband and I had married in Carmel, and decided to return on our one year anniversary. We'd made reservations for the weekend at Carmel's historic La Playa Hotel—a hotel we'd never stayed in before. Everything about the lobby of the historic hotel piqued my interest, and as my husband checked us in, I let my imagination roam free, taking in every inch of the opulent lobby with its sand-stone fireplace and sweeping Mediterranean tiled staircase.
I'm the sort who likes to try on new places, as if I were trying on a new dress. As I walked through the lobby, I pretended it was the foyer of my own home and I imagined myself belonging to the space heart and soul, as if it were I who had chosen every area rug, every porcelain lamp, and every picture on the wall.
I followed a particular hallway that flowed back from the lobby, where sepia tinted photographs dated in the year 1904 depicted people in period clothing standing on unpaved roads, beside horse drawn carriages. Alongside the pictures were architectural plans of a home, and as I looked closely, I realized the La Playa Hotel originated as a private residence.
In looking up the lobby's Mediterranean staircase, I imagined myself sweeping down, dressed in clothes indicative of the turn of the century. I walked up the staircase, and there, at the end of the long hallway, a wooden cathedral door loomed ominously. "Surely," I thought, "this was once the master bedroom." Taking into consideration the position of the room, I decided there must be a large window within that looked out to a view to the sea. I imagined myself standing before that bedroom window, scanning the grounds below me purposefully.
I believe energy lingers in historic sites, that memory is retained within the very walls like an indelible record of history. So firm am I in this belief, that on the first night of our anniversary weekend, I tapped my sleeping husband on the shoulder at two in the morning. "I can feel a magical history in this hotel," I reported. "I suspect there is a story!" I ruminated for the following hour, while a story unfolded in my mind's eye.
As fate is kind, and incidents often arrive unexpectedly, on our anniversary weekend, my husband and I found a wonderful guesthouse to rent in Carmel. We began dividing our time between Malibu and Carmel, and as we took up local residency, I started writing my first novel. "A Portal in Time" is the story of an imagined life that brought me to that window at the top of the stairs in Carmel's La Playa Hotel. I knew the story could only be told in alternating time periods with the same destination, so I began frequenting the library on Ocean Avenue to research the origin and subsequent development of Carmel, in the pursuit of establishing an accurate sense of place. It took a year of spending most my time in Carmel to write the first draft then fine-tuned it. When the manuscript was in its best form, I submitted it to an independent publishing house that specializes in the genres of romance, mystery, and historical fiction. Within three months, I was offered a contact, and "A Portal in Time" was released eight months later.
All of this is to say that the inspiration for my first novel came from this magical, mystical area on the Monterey Peninsula known as Carmel. It is an inspirational setting conducive to creative pursuits; an environment that supports the artistic soul now, just as it did at Carmel's inception. And all this is imperative for a writer; for I find a sense of place such as Carmel the most important variable in pursuing my craft.