Friday, October 11, 2013

Location, Location, Location

I confess I'm more than a little jealous of authors whose novels involve full-on world-building. It's not part of my skill set, though I often wish it were. What an amazing talent to be able to create a completely new and wondrous world in which to place your characters and have their story play out. More importantly (here comes the writer's envy) to be in control of that world and not be limited to the realities of an actual physical location—one readers might know.

As a novelist, seems Urban Fantasy Adventure is more my thing. In Urban Fantasy fantastical things happen in the modern world as we know it. Delta Legend could really be considered a Rural Fantasy Adventure, but let's not add yet another option to the already overflowing toy box of genre choices.

The setting for Delta Legend goes by both the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and the California Delta. I refer to it by both names in the book. It was definitely challenging to describe this unique area in a way that would give people who've never been there a visceral sense of the place. But that's my job, right?

As a novelist, I have to accomplish two very important tasks right off the bat. I have to place you, the reader, in a location then quickly hook you with the characters and story line. If I fail, you won't engage and the wheels start to come off. Worse yet, I won't stand a chance of taking you along for the ride of suspended disbelief.

Luckily, I have a couple things going for me when it comes to this issue of location. One, I have a background as a screenwriter, so I write visually. And two, I spent a good deal of time in the California Delta from the time I was 15 until I was in my mid 30's.

Author smiles with self-satisfaction

In her Goodreads review of Delta Legend, literary blogger, Laura Thomas, said of the author, "Her descriptions of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta are almost visual. You can feel the sluggish dark water on your skin and the cold silty bottom between your toes."

Creating a sense of isolation in our modern world can be challenging considering the sheer number of humans crawling all over the planet armed with multiple means of connecting. And let's face it, if anything like what happens in the book were to actually happen in the Delta, it would be extremely hard to keep it on the down-low. But that's where the all-important suspended disbelief comes in. The heart of the Delta retains a sense of isolation due to its vast expanses of farmland and seemingly endless waterways that snake on for 1000 plus miles. That's right—one thousand.

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, which is about an hour away from the Delta. When I was 15, my parents bought a used 1969 Nautaline houseboat that was berthed at Korth's Priates' Lair Marina on Brannan Island. Like several Delta marinas, Korth’s is a family owned and operated business that’s carried on for several generations. I incorporate this concept with Heron's Harbor, the home base in Delta Legend, placing it in the Miller family for three generations.

Korth's Pirates' Lair Marina is far more upscale than the fictional Heron's Harbor of Delta Legend, especially with all the lovely additions the latest generation has added. Not that Heron's Harbor is a dump, it's simply a generic mash-up of typical marinas one might find in the Delta.

Writers love to bring stories full-circle. It gives both the storyteller and the audience a sense of completion. The older I get, the more I find things coming full circle in my own life. On a recent trip to the Delta to deliver books, I stopped by Korth’s marina on a whim. I wanted to walk around the place that holds so many fond memories for me. While there, I was introduced to the work of a very talented photographer, Lauren Korth. And yes, Lauren is the great-granddaughter of the couple who founded the marina back in 1937. Her amazingly beautiful photographs of the Delta put mine (included here) to shame. Take a moment from words about the Delta to see some truly wonderful images of it by Lauren Korth Photography.

Pretty great, huh?

A few weeks after my trip, through a posting on Facebook, I discovered a short film Lauren Korth made this past summer and posted to YouTube. Again, she captures this unique region with a personal and artistic eye. This video is Lauren's labor of love to bring attention to the California Delta.

If you just watched it, you undoubtedly noticed several shots of signs at the end that say, "Stop the Tunnels." These are currently posted throughout the Delta. The Tunnels project is a plan to divert even more water from the Delta to supply Central and Southern California. While I make it a point to refrain from being political in Delta Legend, at the end of the book there's a brief note from me that speaks to the fragile nature of the Delta and the need to protect it.

Like Lauren Korth and others who know and love the Delta, I don't believe The Tunnels Project is a good solution to California's water crisis—at least not good for the Delta itself. I would hate to see this magical place sacrificed as the result of uncontrolled and unsustainable growth in regions that have no water source of their own.

It's hard for people to care about saving a place they know nothing about. Lauren Korth's photographs and film are her contribution to bringing awareness to the California Delta, the place she calls home. At the end of the day, Delta Legend is simply a fictional romp, but I hope that by the time readers reach the last line of the last chapter, they feel like they know this magical place and its inhabitants. And maybe, just maybe, want to add their voice to the movement to save it.