Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Destination: Life : : You Can Go Home Again

lifes journey bigger_thumbWriters have a treasure-trove of memories to sift through, to contemplate, to use in their writing. Anne McAllister is no different. She looks back at places she’s been long ago and rather more recently when she went home again.
20th-century American author Thomas Wolfe wrote a well-known book entitled You Can’t Go Home Again. In a sense, of course, it’s true.
The home you remember isn’t the same as it was when you lived there. It may, in fact, look exactly the way it looked then – but time has passed. Not only it has changed, but chances are you have, too.
I know I’ve changed a lot from the girl who grew up in Southern California when Manhattan Beach had dirt roads and vacant lots and houses cost less than my last used car cost six years ago.
When I go back, I don’t see the same place. It doesn’t look like the same house at all. The ironing board cupboard is now a spice cabinet. My bedroom has a wall gone so it’s part of the dining room. There is a staircase on one side of the living room leading up to a second floor that never existed when I lived there. It’s all different -- except the tile by the sink in the bathroom still has the same little fish on it, I was amazed to discover when I met the people who live there now a couple of years ago.
No matter. When I write, I go home again.
Not just to Manhattan Beach where I grew up, but to Colorado where my grandparents lived, and to Montana where my mother was raised, to Santa Barbara where I went to college, to lots of other places I spent memorable times. I go to the feelings, the emotions, the conflicts, the joys. I go to the feel of the seaside dampness that permeated the walls, the smell of eucalyptus on foggy mornings, the feel of sand on hardwood floors, the sound of the dog barking to be let in, the melody of Christmas carols playing in the kitchen while my mother was making breakfast.
Those memories are tied to place and yet they transcend it. They live in my memory and I dredge them back up to find new life in my books. Oh, I pave the streets in Manhattan Beach when I write about it now (most of them were paved even then, just not the one I lived on). And I acknowledge that the cost of living has changed markedly – only my heroes can afford to live on The Strand in Manhattan these days.
But the melding of the past that I knew (and still know) with the present that lives there now, is always a part of the books I write. Even when I’m writing about Cannes or New York City or Santorini, the memories come along – they mutate a bit, but emotionally they resonate. In them I go home again.
Until 2010 the last time I was on Balboa Island I was probably five which was, let us just say, quite a while ago. In some respects it has changed. But the sea is still the sea, a surprising number of houses look very much like I remember them – small beach houses in white and soft pastel colors, tiny brick front yards. There were apartments up above garages, and an interesting mix of people – old folks who’d been there since the time when living on Balboa didn’t take a seven figure income, young and unattached folks who could share an apartment and thus make the rent, tourists on the island for a week or two, and those folks who had figured out how to live where they wanted to and still make their mortgage payments – like my current hero.
There is a reason Presents heroes are wealthy, I’ve decided. It’s so people like me can go home again and imagine what it is like to live now where we used to live then.
I had a wonderful time writing Savas’s Wildcat, the story of Yiannis Savas, the youngest brother in the original Savas family. Yiannis had been kicking around the periphery of my life for quite some time. He was a forest ranger when I first met him. I could see him in Montana – I knew right where he was when he wasn’t coming up to snuff as a hero.
But then he went off the radar for quite a few years. He had to grow up.
When he did, I knew that he loved his family but he needed space (though perhaps not as much as his older brother PJ who had needed not only a whole continent but the Pacific Ocean as well between him and the rest of the Savas clan). And I knew he wasn’t going to get a look-in at Presents if I insisted he was still living on the mountain amid the trees.
But even I was surprised when he turned up on Balboa, bringing his love of wood with him. But he said it suited him, just as it suited me to write about him there. He, too, like the old and the new. He bought a house – a one-owner home built in the 1930s – from the original owner, Maggie Newell, who didn’t leave, but who moved into the apartment over the garage. She tied him – as she tied me – to Balboa present and past.
And having Maggie, he also got her granddaughter Catriona. Cat had grown up on Balboa. She was from there; he was from away – that’s a dynamic that plays out over and over in populations like Balboa’s where so many people come and so few people stay. It’s a dynamic I knew well. I grew up with it. I “went home” to it when I wrote about Yiannis and Cat.
Savas’s Wildcat was, for me, a trip back to not just a place I knew as a child, but to some of the tensions and the conflicts I knew first hand. Cat and Yiannis came from very different places. They had different hopes, different dreams, different roads to travel down the first time they met.
And the second time?
Well, what happened the second time was what happens when you actually grow up and go home again.
Savas’s Wildcat will be out from Mills & Boon Modern and from Harlequin Presents Extra as a April title. But you can win a copy this month as Anne and Kate Walker and Liz Fielding are doing their annual HERE COME THE GROOMS! contest until February 29th – Sadie Hawkins Day! Stop by Anne’s website and check her blog or contest page for more details!


  1. What an interesting post! I'm planning to return to my childhood home in the near future after fourteen years and I'm curious to know will it feel the same or totally different. I think I should keep a notebook handy because the experience might make good content for any writing I might do in the future.

  2. Maria, what a good idea. When I go back, I sometimes see things in "layers." I see what's there now, but have the sense of something else from before living beneath it. I wonder if you will find something like that. I'd be interested to hear. If you want to come back next month (3rd Tuesday) I'll be here again and would be delighted to hear what you've discovered. Or, drop by my own blog and leave a comment at www.annemcallister.com/blog/