I turned in the manuscript for the third book in my teen series, DRAMA!, this past Wednesday. For an idea of what the week leading up to that deadline was like for me, please check out Jenn’s brilliant post on the “Nine signs you’re about to finish writing a new novel.” It perfectly mirrors the days leading up to sending my own baby off to my editor ... minus the parts where Jenn refers to her husband.
There was also one other major difference with my life leading up to the deadline, which has a lot to do with the book I was turning in. You see, DRAMA! is set in and around Malibu, CA.
First, let me make it clear that I live in Burbank. The fires aren’t near my home. I have not been in jeopardy. I am perfectly fine. At various points over the past six days, however, I was able to see huge plumes of smoke to the North, East, and West of me, off in the distance. For much of the week, the world outside had a yellow tint to it. Today, not only was the sky gray, but the very air around me was gray as well. I shudder to think what is currently in my lungs.
My sister was in a more precarious situation in San Diego. Her home is relatively insulated by several neighborhoods, but the mandatory evacuations did come within a few miles of her place. When the electricity went out the other day, she decided that it was time to take a short out-of-town vacation. She’s fine. The house is fine. But still, kind of scary.
I am, in no way, trying to compare my situation with those who have been displaced, lost their homes, their possessions, their pets, and in a few cases, their loved ones. But I do want to share how I have experienced this tragedy from a truly unusual perspective.
My characters live, work, and play in the part of Malibu that was directly threatened by the fires. In the scramble to get my book done, I would take breaks to find out if the places I was writing about were still there.
-Pepperdine University? Evacuated, but safe.
-Eric’s fictional house (the only house in the entire series that I have placed in a specific location)? Fine. But a house on the same block is gone.
-The shopping center that now plays an integral part in Bryan’s life? Varying reports note that anywhere from three to five stores are destroyed.
My heart goes out to the real people who suffered genuine tragedy, but I find myself surprisingly moved on a personal level, as if I was living the fire through the eyes of my fictional characters. It’s not like I can compare this to the actual losses people have experienced, but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t feel more touched by this particular fire than the many others in Southern California (well, except maybe the one in my sister’s neck of the woods).
Malibu is about an hour away from my house. I’m often there scouting locations for scenes, hanging out to get a feel for the place, and setting up camp at the local coffeehouse that I like so much I set a scene there in Book 2. (No. It’s not the coffeehouse that Britney Spears frequents, although I have been there too). For the past two years, Malibu has played a significant role in my life and has been almost a second home in my imagination.
The Malibu fire is now 100 percent contained. It may not have been as devastating as the other fires in Southern California, but it has taken a definite toll on the community. As I begin work on Book 4, I have to decide how (or if) I need to address the fire in the series. Once things calm down out there, I’ll take a trip to survey the damage and determine how it affects my characters and their world. In the meantime, I thought it might be interesting to share my experience here, as an example of yet another way writers’ lives tend to be different from people with “normal” jobs.