Visiting Western Shores

A couple of months ago I started writing Western Shores, #4 in the Compass Series. Usually, the first step of my creative process is to travel to where my book is set, in order to soak up the atmosphere and gain insight and inspiration, but due to other commitments I wasn’t able to do that this time. Full of optimism and faith that I could create a world from my kitchen table, I went online to do my research, spoke to people over Skype, Facetime etc, and immersed myself in documentaries about marine life.

Six weeks later, I was 60% into the manuscript and hated it. I had no affinity with the characters or the story, and was afraid my readers wouldn’t feel it either. My characters had no chemistry – not because of the age gap (it’s an age-gap romance), but because I couldn’t relate to their lives. Dread crept up on me that I might have wasted those six weeks, so in order to save what could be saved, I booked my ticket to Northern California. The moment I got there it became clear how wrong I was not to have done that in the first place. Here’s a little update on my time on the Western Shores …

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I had chosen Santa Cruz as my ‘hub’ because it’s quite central, and within reasonable distance from everywhere I needed to be. The sunsets are amazing there and so is the morning light. It’s also riddled with pelicans and psychics, neither of which I’d ever seen in the wild before. I’m not sure where all the people were though, as it was zombie-apocalypse-quiet in town, even on the weekends.

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Capitola, a 15-minute drive from Santa Cruz, is the setting for Western Shores, so I’ve been spending time there in the mornings, taking in the atmosphere and writing. It’s a quaint and very colorful little village, noticeably more bohemian than most other towns in the area. I felt at home there and miss it already. The people are sweet, life is slow-paced and all in all it’s just very, very chilled and very beautiful J. Maddison, Hannah’s half-sister will be moving here soon, and I think she’s going to like her new life!

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To get a feel for the coast (and because my editor implored me to go as it’s her favorite place in the world), I drove along the Big Sur Highway 1, and holy fuck it’s pretty! Honestly, I did not expect such beauty and almost crashed twice, distracted by the scenery. I ended up driving for way longer than I’d planned because I was scared of missing out on whatever was just around the next bend.

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Maddison is a marine biologist (she was still in college in Southern Roots and now has her Masters), so I wanted to know about her world. Thankfully, there’s a wealth of information and inspiration in this area when it comes to marine wildlife. Monterey is a lovely city, and also home to an amazing aquarium that aims to inspire visitors to think about ocean conservation. It certainly inspired me, so I went out in search of wildlife myself, primarily obsessing over harbor seals and sea lions. I could watch them for hours, and indeed did.

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Before I left, I’d arranged to meet with Dr. Noren, a lovely lady who has devoted 25 years to research on marine mammals. Truly admirable and great fun! We need more people like her in the world… She filled me in on what it takes to work in her field, and it’s helped me a lot as my knowledge on the topic is extremely limited.

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The beaches along Monterey Bay are beautiful, and my favorite one was Sunset State Beach, which is often covered in a thick mist in the mornings. It was eerily quiet and felt like the end of the world. I found two sand dollars here and apparently, they bring luck!

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Apart from beach-hopping and staring at sea lions, I also got lost for three hours. Satnav didn’t work and I had no idea where I was, but it was really pretty so it was okay J.  Then my car got stuck in the sand and I had to dig it out before helping other geniuses like myself, who thought it would be a great idea to drive next to the dunes without a 4×4. Once safely back in town, I was then approached by two different people who asked to pray for me, and another man who offered me money to get in his car, all of which I politely declined. This had me worried for a little while about the image I’m projecting to others, and I made a mental note not to stand smoking next to motel containers after nine pm, wearing thigh-high boots and a furry coat, sporting wild hair from driving all day.

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All in all, it was an incredibly inspiring and informative experience. Not only regarding the book, but also in a personal sense, as I now have sleepless nights over the future of our oceans and have embarked on a mission to reduce my carbon footprint. But the culmination of my experience has been the insight I’ve gained about my writing process: since I started writing I’ve tried to live by ‘write what you know’. This one time I disregarded it and paid a heavy price: 30.000 words went in the bin. Six weeks of hard work wasted, but an incredibly valuable lesson learned and hopefully, the book will be better for it.

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