Montana isn’t the first cold place I’ve lived in my life–it’s only the current one. I’ve spent time in New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Michigan (where they closed the state one winter). Somewhere around February, the gray skies of winter, the sometimes bitter cold (think well below zero), and the really short daylight hours make me long for the warmth of anywhere-but-here.
When I was growing up, California was the golden place. We heard about GTOs, goin’ surfin’, California Dreamin’, and, most of all, Surf City USA. It took a while, but eventually I moved to the left coast. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten about the song that warned it always rained in Southern (and Northern) California. And no song ever mentioned the fog that could sock in the towns along the Monterey Bay.
A few years back, there was a lot of controversy about the town that truly owned the title of “Surf City USA.” The vying cities were Huntington Beach and Santa Cruz. I’d already been living in and around Santa Cruz for 14 years by then, so there was no doubt where my loyalty lay. Santa Cruz fought hard, but the legal victory went to Huntington Beach. Still, the number of surfers in Santa Cruz is strong, something I used in my novel, California Homecoming, where a returning soldier and amputee, wanted to learn to surf more than anything. (Well, almost anything. It is a romance, after all.)
Whether it won the title of Surf City USA or not, Santa Cruz County seeped into my psyche. It was also where I came back to writing, thanks to a weekend long writing class at the University of Santa Cruz in 1998. Three of those people were invited to my wedding in 2003, and we still keep in touch. We started a critique group, and I began to slowly flex the fictional writing muscle that had atrophied in the years I was in the technical industry.
A second critique group helped me germinate the beginnings of California Sunset, the first book in my California Romance series. I drew on the culture I knew and the life I’d lived. One of my reviewers said it best:
This book is a wonderful snapshot of the central coast of California and the people who inhabit this area. Ms. Dawes recreates the atmosphere, sensibilities and personalities with poetic realism. Not only is this a sweet love story about a struggling single mother, but a love story about California.
Once I began, I kept writing. After I moved to Montana, I returned to California several times as the series moved on. I also had a wine book I needed to keep updated. But summer means Montana now–when the temperatures sore, the rivers rise and fall, and the eagles, bears, and moose keep it the Last Best Place. But that’s a story for the future.
For now…bask in the California Dream…
Excerpt from California Sunset
The heroine, Annie, is taking her son David to a soccer tournament. She needs to tell him they’re moving to New Jersey, but doesn’t know how…
The following Saturday, Annie roused David early for the soccer tournament. He sprang out of bed, but the energy disappeared the moment he flopped into the car. He clicked the seat back and closed his eyes.
She took the southern route over the coastal mountains, climbing the switchbacks to Hecker Pass on Highway 152. The road always soothed her, even though its twists and 26 turns required concentration. Glimpses of Watsonville‘s morning-lit strawberry fields framed by the curve of Monterey Bay lifted her heart as she ascended. The early spring air was clear, washed clean by the rain of the previous two days.
The landscape abruptly changed from sunlit ocean edge to secretive forest when she crested the summit. She always felt as if she was entering a fairy forest. Maybe this was where the mountain knights lived. Maybe that wasn‘t a patch of dogwood in the trees, but a white steed, ready for battle. Song of India played on the car radio and she could almost believe in dreams coming true.
Almost, but not quite.
But it didn‘t matter. She peeked at David. No matter what the difficulties, she was glad she‘d had him. He was growing up so quickly. Every moment with him was precious.
He was stirring by the time they got to Morgan Hill. She was starving and figured hewas, too; he always seemed to be hungry these days. She dropped him off at the soccer field to register and then went to the nearby Safeway to stock up on Starbucks, lunch items, a cardboard flat of water, and bag of oranges for the boys.
By the time she got back to the acres of soccer greens, David‘s team was warming up on one of the fields near the tree line. She left the food in the bags and the cooler in the back of the car, grabbed her folding chair and ―boredom bag,‖ and strolled toward the cluster of parents on the sideline. A few of the other parents smiled at her as she set up her chair. They‘d been together with the team for years. She chatted briefly with them, settled down in her chair and pulled her “to do” list from her bag.
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