Californian memories…

The state is big—in size, scenery, population, and history. As a native Californian, it’s odd that not many of my stories have a Californian setting. Silicon Slummin’…and Just Getting’ By, the second Mary Jo Melendez mystery, take place there, but mostly in Silicon Valley, the one place in the state I don’t know very well because it wasn’t there when I was growing up! (Millennials might not realize that we actually could survive without so much technology back then.)

When I started writing my post-apocalyptic thriller The Last Humans, I realized how little of my Californian soul is in my books. That’s odd, like I said, but even more so when considering that ubiquitous advice “write what you know.” Of course that advice is wrong, but one can easily correct it to “write what you know or can imagine.”  The Last Humans contains bits and pieces of my Californian soul, though, so in a sense I’ve made up for lost time. Let’s consider some settings in the book.

It starts north of LA on the coast where Penny Castro, a diver for the LA County Sheriff’s Department, is on a dive to recover the body of a murder victim. I know that whole coast well, from San Diego to San Francisco. Every third week my father covered part of that coast on a sales route, he painted the rugged ocean scenery, and died at UCSF medical center. I often went with him during the summer. I went to college in Santa Barbara and partied in LA and San Diego, but when he passed away I was a continent away so I couldn’t even go to his funeral. Yet I still love that coast, and Frisco is my favorite city in the world.

Penny also ventures into the Big Valley where I was born. On a clear day, you can see Mt. Whitney from my home town, and the latter can be considered the gateway to Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, so it was natural that one high school was named Mt. Whitney and the other Redwood. The local junior college is the College of the Sequoias; my brother went there for two years before going on to UC Santa Barbara, where I went for four.

Many people only know the Big Valley, half the San Joaquin Valley and the other half Sacramento, for its agribusinesses and many agricultural products. The other two-thirds of my father’s sales route was in the San Joaquin Valley, and after he retired he took a nighttime security job between the two parks so he could paint his beloved Sequoia trees during the day.

I paid for college the hard way. In the summer after the high school year, I was team captain and driver for a surveying crew; we pounded stakes for a civil engineer in that 100-120 degree valley heat. Fields had to be graded to take maximum advantage of irrigation water. Some of these places are visited by Penny in her adventures as one of the few survivors of a missile-delivered biological attack. Water has always played an important role in California; it does so in the novel as well.

California back then depended on migrant workers; it still does. The poverty I saw in their camps when my mother and I would take groceries and other things there as part of our church activities was only surpassed by some slums I saw in Latin America. Poverty isn’t pretty anywhere.

California has always been a land of diversity. The main street of my college town was named Embarcadero del Norte. I didn’t master Spanish until I went to Colombia, but I certainly developed an ear for it in the Big Valley. My parents loved ethnic foods, and their best friends were an Armenian couple who introduced me to Middle Eastern-type cuisine and red wine at an early age.

I’ve had many friends with no discernible ethnic backgrounds; I’ve had many who were justifiably proud of their ethnicity. Like my father, I don’t care about our differences because we all share a common humanity, but I celebrate our different backgrounds as well. I still remember him telling me about the Japanese friends who had to enter internment camps; that blight on America’s morality angered him to no end.

My character Penny Castro AKA Penelope Castro represents the strength America has in its diversity. Her adventures illustrate what we can all do by pulling together when the going gets rough. I think you’ll like her…and all those settings stolen from my Californian memories.

[A preview of this novel can be found in the blog archive “Pre-Release Excerpts” under the title Oasis Redux, which was the original working title for the project.]


Rembrandt’s Angel (Penmore Press). How far would you go to recover a missing masterpiece? Have great fun this fall reading about the adventures of Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiques Inspector Esther Brookstone and her paramour/sidekick, Interpol agent Bastiann van Coevorden. Esther becomes obsessed with recovering Rembrandt’s “An Angel with Titus’ Features,” a painting stolen by the Nazis for Hitler’s museum. The crime-fighting duo goes after the painting and those currently possessing the painting, but the whole caper becomes much more dangerous as they uncover a conspiracy that threatens the security of Europe. With all the danger, their budding romance becomes full-blown. This book is available as an ebook on Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, B&N, and Apple, and also as a print book from Amazon and your local bookstore (if they don’t have it, ask for them to order it). Check out the review and interview at Feathered Quill.

In libris libertas!


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