5 books set in Sonoma County

Crissi vineyard
Me, standing in a Kenwood vineyard near Jack London’s ranch.

As a Sonoma County resident, I love reading books that are based around here. Some of the world’s best authors have called Sonoma County their home, including Jack London and Jack Kerouac, who have both written about Sonoma County in their novels.

That one time my kid thought I was one of the most famous *people* in the world. I’m writing about families again for the Press Democrat! Tune into my stories and other topics at the family blog, The Village. 

Road2HopeFontFinalWith its gorgeous landscape, towering redwoods, and close proximity to the ocean, Sonoma County serves as a wonderful backdrop for any story, including several of mine that I’ve written. The town of Petaluma plays a large part in the Hope series. Locals will recognize a few landmark restaurants mentioned in all three of the novels. Bodega Bay is the backdrop to my magical realism romance, Come Here, Cupcake (a book that will one day have a sequel!). And the book I’m the dystopian romance I’m currently working on, Numbered, mentions several Sonoma County and Northern California locations, though it’s set in the future.

Here are a few other books worth checking out that are set in Sonoma County.
Note:  I use affiliate links at no cost to you, but that offer me a small kickback with every purchase to help fund my book projects.

undersideofjoyThe Underside of Joy, Sere Prince Halverson
Halverson’s debut novel takes place in the fictional town of Elbow, but with familiar landmarks anyone in Sonoma County would recognize. The story is about Ella Beene, a widow caught in a custody battle for her stepdaughter with the girl’s natural mother, despite the fact that Ella has been the a steady mother figure in the young girl’s life. Following her husband’s drowning death, Ella is not only facing this battle, but also fighting her own internal battle as her husband’s financial secrets come to light. Halverson’s writing is exquisite, detailing the gorgeous landscape in delicate prose and telling a heartbreaking story with tenderness and heart.

afirestoryA Fire Story, Brian Fies
Anyone who lives in Sonoma County has their own personal story of what happened to them in October 2017 when Santa Rosa and surrounding areas burned in a devastating firestorm. Graphic novelist Brian Fies had his own story to tell, sharing the horrible details of fleeing his home in the dead of night, and coming back to a pile of ash where his house once stood. Through illustrations and intimate details, Fies not only shares what it was like to lose his home, but also the stories of other people who lost their homes, along with what the recovery process has been like. I’ve met Fies on several occasions, and he is just the nicest, most humble man in person. But you should also know that his story won a Grammy when it was retold as a video on PBS. Fies gave a voice to many of us who will never forget October, 2017.

The following books I have not read, but they are on my To Be Read list. The descriptions are from Amazon.

intotheforestInto the Forest, Jean Hegland
Now a major motion picture. Set in the near-future, Into the Forest is a powerfully imagined novel that focuses on the relationship between two teenage sisters living alone in their Northern California forest home. Over 30 miles from the nearest town, and several miles away from their nearest neighbor, Nell and Eva struggle to survive as society begins to decay and collapse around them. No single event precedes society’s fall. There is talk of a war overseas and upheaval in Congress, but it still comes as a shock when the electricity runs out and gas is nowhere to be found. The sisters consume the resources left in the house, waiting for the power to return. Their arrival into adulthood, however, forces them to reexamine their place in the world and their relationship to the land and each other.
P.S. I feel privileged to be in the same writing club as Jean Hegland, who is truly a gifted author.

divisaderoDivisadero, Michael Ondaatje
From the celebrated author of The English Patient and Anil’s Ghost comes a remarkable, intimate novel of intersecting lives that ranges across continents and time. In the 1970s in Northern California a father and his teenage daughters, Anna and Claire, work their farm with the help of Coop, an enigmatic young man who makes his home with them. Theirs is a makeshift family, until it is shattered by an incident of violence that sets fire to the rest of their lives. Divisadero takes us from San Francisco to the raucous backrooms of Nevada’s casinos and eventually to the landscape of southern France. As the narrative moves back and forth through time and place, we find each of the characters trying to find some foothold in a present shadowed by the past.

the life she wantsThe Life She Wants, Robyn Carr
In the aftermath of her financier husband’s suicide, Emma Shay Compton’s dream life is shattered. Richard Compton stole his clients’ life savings to fund a lavish life in New York City and, although she was never involved in the business, Emma bears the burden of her husband’s crimes. She is left with nothing. Only one friend stands by her, a friend she’s known since high school, who encourages her to come home to Sonoma County. But starting over isn’t easy, and Sonoma is full of unhappy memories, too. And people she’d rather not face, especially Riley Kerrigan.
Riley and Emma were like sisters—until Riley betrayed Emma, ending their friendship. Emma left town, planning to never look back. Now, trying to stand on her own two feet, Emma can’t escape her husband’s reputation and is forced to turn to the last person she thought she’d ever ask for help—her former best friend. It’s an uneasy reunion as both women face the mistakes they’ve made over the years. Only if they find a way to forgive each other—and themselves—can each of them find the life she wants.
P.S. Carr also wrote A Summer in Sonoma, a sweet romance story.

Do you have any favorite books that are set in your hometown?

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Fire in Northern California

A firefighter monitors a flare of the Nuns fire in the Sonoma Valley, Oct. 11. (photo by Kent Porter / Press Democrat

I woke up Monday morning to the smell of smoke. It was faint, but strong enough that I kept searching for the source. I made my coffee, checking the burners on the stove to see if someone had left something on overnight. My dog stayed by my side, his nerves matching mine as the source of the smoky smell remained a mystery. As the coffee brewed, I checked notifications on my phone. That’s when I came across the text from my college saying classes were cancelled due to fires in area. Well, that explained the smoky smell. I grabbed my coffee and headed to my office. Before starting homework, I opened Facebook. That’s when I was met with post after post about the fire. My work, the Press Democrat newspaper in Santa Rosa, had a Facebook Live video going, taken from the Kaiser hospital in north Santa Rosa. The scene was apocalyptic. A whole mobile home park torched. The hospital had been evacuated. Fire everywhere. I thought it was just that part, but soon learned that the town was surrounded. People had been evacuated. I immediately thought of my parents, and found out that they had also been evacuated.

Santa Rosa was on fire.

The sheer magnitude of what was happening began to unfold over the next several hours. There were fires in Napa, Calistoga, Kenwood, Santa Rosa, Windsor, Mendocino… It felt impossible as the fire grew, popping up in new spots. I spent the morning keeping our newspaper’s social media up to date, wondering if I was even going to be able to make it into work. I didn’t know if the freeway was open, if it was jam packed with cars, if I would be driving into the fire, if my own house would burn down while I was away. I felt pulled to stay and protect my family, and to go to work to help keep the public updated on what was going on. Luckily, my husband stayed home, ready to leave with the kids and dog should anything happen. I was assured that the freeway was clear. So I set into work.

The sky in Santa Rosa was a deep black toward the fire. Where my work was, we were safe, but the smell of smoke was thick. Inside the building it was just as bad. I soon became noseblind to it (though my head and sinuses have yet to recover), and set to work. All hands were on deck as everyone pulled together to gather information. Let me tell you, information was confusing. No one knew were the fires all were, where they were headed, who was in danger…nothing. We did what we could, but it felt like the world was caving in around us as information kept pouring in. A whole subdivision was lost. Then another. Hundreds of home, demolished. Thousands of people evacuated. So many unsure where their loved ones were, afraid they were part of the growing number of lives lost.

PDfrontpageThat first day was organized chaos. Our team of journalists shone in the worst situation possible. Several had been up all night, awake since the fire broke and in the office to do their job. Some were evacuated and still at the office, unsure if they’d have a home to go back to when all was said and done. Stories poured in. Video and photos poured in. People came to our page for information, wondering if we knew anything about their specific house. I tried to answer every question sent our way. Some left me feeling helpless, others I was able to give answers. The answers weren’t always good.

We’re about to enter our 4th day of fires. Yesterday there seemed a small victory as firefighters attacked a section of the fire near my childhood home. They lit a backfire, sending an alarmingly large plume of smoke over southeast Santa Rosa. Before knowing what was happening, it seemed like things were over. But the firefighters appeared successful; this morning, everything in that fire’s path is still standing.

Still, it feels bleak as the fire fight continues. The whole town of Calistoga has now been evacuated. Half of Sonoma is evacuated. Santa Rosa is still burning, and containment is unclear. It’s been 0% for days. My parents haven’t seen their house since they left early Monday morning, but we’re assured it still stands thanks to vigilant firefighters fighting defense on the hills around the neighborhood. We have no idea what we’ll see when….if…they come back home.

In all this, our community has formed a solid bond. We’re all in this together. People are reaching out to strangers. Donations of food, supplies, money are pouring into evacuation centers. Our newsroom has been well taken care of as people send food in every day for our hardworking crew. Friends are opening their homes to those who have no home to stay in. My aunt lost her home as her neighborhood was wiped out. My friends with a one-year-old left home with only the clothes on their back, returning to mere ashes. At least 10 of my high school classmates have lost homes, and several very generous people from our class have worked tirelessly to gather money and supplies for them. One of these classmates who lost their home is a fire captain, and he’s continuing to save other people’s homes even though his home is gone.

Me, I live in Petaluma. We’re still okay, but told to be prepared in case the fire comes this way. With the high winds expected today, it’s possible. I don’t even want to think about it. I’ve been devoted to the news while at work, and unable to detach while I’m at home. I’m praying it will end soon, trying to combat feelings of helplessness, that it’s all hopeless. I know it’s not, but when will this end? I’m trying not to be angry as the world keeps going on while our community goes up in flames. I’m trying not absorb the chaos, the desperate need, the sheer danger. What happens next for the people who have no homes? Where will people go when the evacuation centers can no longer hold them? It feels like the end of the world. It seems weird to open up the New York Times and see stories that have nothing to do with the fires here in California. Everything seems trivial while we continue to burn. Why hasn’t the president stepped in? Why aren’t there more planes fighting this in the sky? Why is the fire still burning?

I pray that this nightmare ends soon.

Hear about ‘The Road to Hope’ and upcoming series at Copperfield’s Books April 25

This week, the Argus Courier, my town’s local newspaper, featured me as their Petaluma Profile. This was a complete honor because A) it’s really hard for smalltime authors to get any kind of significant coverage in their local newspaper, B) it’s near impossible to get any kind of coverage if you actually work for the newspaper (I work at their sister paper, The Press Democrat), and C) I got to talk about my upcoming book series and my appearance at the Montgomery Village Copperfield’s Books next Tuesday.

If you’d like to read it, click here.

I should let you know that while book talks are absolutely vital to an author’s career, I’m always a bundle of nerves before these events. It doesn’t help that I’m struggling with an unrelated essay I’m writing for my college English class, even though I know I need to prepare for this upcoming author event. Or maybe it’s better this way — it means I don’t have time to stress (fat chance on that).

What I am excited about is knowing that there will be so many familiar faces in the audience next Tuesday, along with people I know have read the book. These are the people who likely have the inside scoop on why this book I wrote means so much to me.

For those of you not in the know, The Road to Hope was the first book I ever wrote (though the 5th I published). Because this is what a lot of new authors do, I ended up writing many true things within the fictional stories of Jill and Maddie. However, I embrace this fact, and have used this series as a way to cope with some of the things I’ve grappled with in real life, unapologetically telling the truth with fiction. It’s probably the closest I’ll ever come to writing a memoir (no promises), and has been a true therapeutic release.

That said, the events in these stories are completely made up. It’s the feelings behind them that are real. For instance, when Jill loses her son in the second chapter (this is not a spoiler, it’s one of the main themes of The Road to Hope), it’s based on how I felt when I lost my infant son to stillbirth. When Maddie is kicked out of her parents’ home after she reveals she’s pregnant, it’s based on how I felt to become pregnant at a young age, experience poverty and figure out my place in the world (for the record, my parents are awesome and never kicked me out!).

I wrote the upcoming books, Hope at the Crossroads and Hope for the Broken Girl, with the same theme, as I follow Maddie’s story. The second book in the series has Maddie grappling with self-worth and a new romance. The third book has themes of domestic violence and poverty.

If you’re in the Santa Rosa area this coming Tuesday, I’d love to see you at the Montgomery Village Copperfield’s (even though I’ll likely be nervous!). Come and say hi. The event is 6-7 p.m. See all of the event details here.

Anthology idea: A Day in the Life of Sonoma County

writers

This morning I came up with an idea for an anthology that I might want to head up, though at this point I’m just musing since I’ve ever done something like this before. I thought it would be cool to gather a bunch of essays that share what a day in the life of different people who live in Sonoma County looks like. For instance, a day in the life of a homeless person, a vineyard worker, a garbage man, an author, a fashion consultant, a secretary, a lawyer, an events coordinator, an artist, a social worker, a sex worker, a retired senior, a college student…and so on. My purpose behind this anthology would be to show the vast contrast of the people who live in Sonoma County, and to offer a realistic view of what each life looks like. This wouldn’t be to shame or exalt anyone. It would just be about reality.

There are several reasons why I want to do this project.

First, my personal life has gone through several periods of massive change. I went from growing up in a middle-income family with plenty to be grateful for, to living in poverty, to surviving domestic violence, to divorce, to being a low-income single mom, to moving up the corporate ladder, to remarriage and blending a family, to living a life filled with blessings. I know what it’s like on both ends of the spectrum. I’m hoping that by sharing the stories of people in all walks of life, we can also share perspective and promote understanding.

Second, every person has a reason for where they are today. A homeless person did not just wake up homeless. There were events that led to that way of living. Same with a lawyer or a bestselling author – success did not happen overnight, there were steps that were taken to reach their career goal. I want these essays to not only reflect what a day in the life looks for each person, but to also give an idea of why that person is living that life today.

Third, I want to offer an in-depth look at the everyday people who make up Sonoma County – not just the big names we often see in the newspaper, but the ones who you pass on the street every single day.

Fourth, I want these essays to be about different people told in different voices. I think it would make a lovely patchwork quilt of stories.

I don’t want to list a bunch of specifics (though I’m thinking about them), but a few details would be that these are biographical about a Sonoma County resident (not memoir or autobiographical, and definitely true), are 2,500 words or less,  and are original works (previously unpublished). I would also offer no compensation (other than notoriety and a link back to your website), there would be a small submission fee (to cover printing and publishing costs), submission won’t be guaranteed, and 100% of the proceeds (after printing and publishing costs) would benefit a yet-to-be-determined Sonoma County nonprofit. In other words, this would make none of us money (though it could lead readers to your books or cause).

Promotion ideas would include republishing a few essays on my Press Democrat books blog at books.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. If this pulls together like I think it could, I might even be able to get some of these essays in print (though that’s not a guarantee).

As I said before, this is just an idea. I’m not sure how big this idea would be to pull off, and I’d definitely want a team of people on board should I decide to move forward. Right now, all I’m looking for is interested participants. If you’re in Sonoma County, would you want to take part in something like this? Would you want to read something like this? Would you want to be a part of the teams that helps put this together (mostly looking for editors).

I have other books news to share, which I’ll do in my next blog post. But right now, I’m just throwing this idea out there to see what you think. If I think there is enough interest, I’d love to move forward with this. If not, this idea might just quietly go away. Let me know what you think (or if you have insight on the amount of work it takes to put together an anthology).

Meet me and other Sonoma County authors with the Redwood Writers Fiction program

In the New Year, resolve to read more! Redwood Writers and Copperfield’s Books is making it easy to get the inside scoop on the books of Sonoma County authors through their Redwood Writers Fiction program. Each month, read a new novel by a Sonoma County author, and then attend a Q&A program with the author at Copperfield’s Books in Montgomery Village. This is your chance to learn why each author wrote certain things, what inspired them, learn about their writing process, and anything else you ever wanted to know. How fun would it be to read a novel, and then chat with the person who wrote it?

I will be the featured author on April 25th, 2017 with my novel, The Road to Hope. Learn more about where you can purchase The Road to Hope by clicking HERE.

To learn more about this program, visit redwoodwriters.org.

I hope to see you on April 25th at Copperfield’s Books, and at each of the other books events, as well. Happy reading!

rw-fiction-book-club

How to take a soul retreat, part 2

The other day I took time away from everything to come back to center and find the answers to some very serious dilemmas in my life that have been plaguing me. I called it my soul retreat, as it was time I had set aside to get back in touch with my soul.

The Tides Restaurant in Bodega Bay

My biggest takeaways from this experience were to BREATHE and LOOK AROUND—as in, take advantage of every free moment in my life to just do NOTHING. You can read more about that in part 1.

Before I left for this personal retreat, I had to have a game plan. So I mapped out a course.

The first thing I did was to decide WHAT I would be addressing. I think that was probably the most important part of this whole exercise. If I didn’t know the WHAT, I wouldn’t have been able to find the answers I was seeking. I know that sounds so basic, but sometimes we don’t know what it is that’s bringing us down in our lives. By identifying these problem areas, I am being very clear on what I hope to accomplish.

IMG_5888
The gazebo at Walnut Park in Petaluma.

Next, I chose different places where I would be tackling each issue. For me, there were three things I wanted to address. So I chose three different places I would be traveling to throughout the day. My biggest rule about these places were that they couldn’t be at home. If I stayed home, I wouldn’t be able to relax. So I chose places that spoke to me with each issue, places that would bring me a sense of peace as I tackled each issue.

IMG_5895
My new favorite spot in Petaluma, the boat dock with a view of the bridge in the Turning Basin. Expect my new novel to be written here….

Third, I armed myself with wisdom. For me, that meant finding scripture that addressed the very issue I was struggling with. For you, it could mean a few inspirational quotes, a poem, a passage from a book…anything that speaks to you, and is about the particular issue you’re facing. I recommend that you find at least three pieces of wisdom for each dilemma you hope to tackle.

Finally, I created a schedule. I don’t mean a timed schedule—there was no way for me to know how long each issue would take. But I mean WHAT I would be doing to address each issue. Here’s what that looked like for me:

  • Arrive at destination.
  • Be still.
  • Read wisdom and meditate on the words.
  • Pray/focus on wisdom and the issue at hand.
  • Be still, remain open for answers.
  • Journal.
  • Prayer of gratitude.
IMG_5884
A bench at the Children’s Bell Tower in Bodega Bay. Expect more on this in a future post. The place is really amazing.

Here’s the funny thing about the wisdom I chose before I set out on my journey. When I chose it, I knew that it spoke to me. But I didn’t know how it would speak to me in the moment I would be meditating on it. As I focused on each passage I chose, there were certain words or ideas that would ignite inside of me, almost as if a light bulb went off. The words I chose in the morning ended up holding a brand new meaning as I meditated on them, offering me new insight into the dilemma I was facing.

I ended each session journaling what I had experienced, as well as offering a prayer of gratitude for the answer I had received. Journaling was an important aspect of this process, as it helped me to formulate what I had just experienced, and to ensure I wouldn’t forget. As for gratitude, we should always be grateful when God/the Universe meets us where we are and provides us with a path.

When I was done with my three issues, I came back home. The kids were already home from school, so I said my quick hellos. Then I locked myself in my bedroom for an hour, with a note to not bother me until that hour was up. I did a half hour of yoga, and then I took out my journal for the final time to record my takeaways from the day.

And I’ll repeat those takeaways here: BREATHE and LOOK AROUND.

Before I end, here are a few things you will want to bring with you when preparing for your own soul retreat:

  • Kleenex! Tears are cleansing. 🙂
  • A journal
  • A plan
    • What you want to address
    • Schedule of events
    • Destination(s)
  • Food and water (don’t let thirst or hunger get in your way of connecting with your soul)
  • A blanket or chair, or something comfy to sit on
  • Inspirational music
  • An open mind

If you decide to gift yourself with a soul retreat, I hope you’ll share your experience with me. Not the whole thing—that’s between your soul and God/the Universe. But let me know if it helped you to reach the answers you were seeking.

{{{Peace}}