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“I actually could not put the book down. It is well written and kept my interest. I want more from this author.”
Reader review of Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead on Amazon.com 

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Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Proving Thomas Wolfe Wrong

It’s hard to believe that it has been more than fourteen months since Lautaro’s Spear was released. After this amount of time, you may even been wondering if it is not time for the next book to come out. You are free to continue wondering. It has been a busy summer and, indeed, a busy year. Yet hope springs eternal that I will soon, finally, return to writing.

One way my time has been used this summer was to journey back to the home country. By that I mean the West Coast of the United States. It was my first time in California and Washington since 2011, which is to say, since well before any of my three books were published. So it was interesting to go back and visit some of the places I had written about in Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead and Lautaro’s Spear and to see them in the new light of settings for works of fiction. Hence the cheeky title to this post, a reference to an early-20th-century novelist’s book You Can’t Go Home Again. Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938) is definitely not to be confused with the later novelist and practitioner of New Journalism Tom Wolfe, who died in May at the age of 88 and whose works included The Right Stuff and The Bonfire of the Vanities. That’s a mistake I made for an embarrassingly long period of time in my youth.

So I was able to go home again. Except that I wasn’t—at least if you think of home as not just a place but rather as a time and place. Everything was different, yet in a lot of ways it was the same. Since it was July my hometown was, well, as my protagonist Dallas says in the very first chapter of Max & Carly, “If you ever spent a summer in the San Joaquin Valley, you know it’s f***ing hot.” That hadn’t changed. It was indeed right around 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius). The people from my youth were all, of course, older or gone, and there were new people. One thing that had not changed, though, was the high temperatures. I didn’t mind. After so many years in cool and wet climates, it was a nice change. Besides, it was part of being home.

I drove down Chester Avenue in Bakersfield, just as Dallas and his best friend Lonnie would have done back at the beginning of the 1970s. It wasn’t the same, though. I don’t know if teenagers in Bakersfield and the surrounding area still cruise Chester. “I didn’t know who his friends were,” says Dallas in that same first chapter, talking about an older friend, Tommy Dowd, whose disappearance a couple of years earlier sets the plot in motion. “It didn’t seem like he did any normal things that a guy does. He never got drunk or went cruising down Chester Avenue.”

Bakersfield has done a lot of growing since I lived in the area. It has expanded way out toward the west, and that seems to be where the action is these days. Do teenagers now cruise in that part of town? Who knows? My recent drive down Chester wasn’t on a Friday night, so who’s to say? Anyway, kids, if you want to get an idea of what I’m talking about, go watch George Lucas’s American Graffiti. The good news about Bakersfield is that there are still great Basque restaurants, Mexican restaurants and Dewar’s Candy Shop, the best soda and ice cream parlor in the world.

Like Dallas in Lautaro’s Spear, we made a transition from the southern San Joaquin Valley to San Francisco. This would have been my first occasion to return to that special city since sometime in the previous century. I didn’t have time to look for what might have been Dalla’s old apartment in the South of Market district—if it even would have still been there. We did however, spend time around Union Square where he and Lonnie’s old girlfriend Linda went to a fancy restaurant for dinner. I don’t think that area has changed all that much except for maybe all the gleaming high-tech coffee places catering to business people and tech employees. We even drove up and down Russian Hill, but there wasn’t time to look for the mysterious house where Dallas was entertained by the enigmatic Marty with his glasses of outrageously priced scotch and his smuggled Cuban cigars.

Unlike Dallas, we did actually manage to leave San Francisco and go to Seattle. The fact that, more than once, Dallas makes plans to go to Seattle but never does is something I included in Lautaro’s Spear purely to amuse myself. It’s perhaps the one clear thing I can point to in order to prove to certain curious readers that Dallas and I are not the same person. And we are not. We really, really are not.

If Dallas never makes it to Seattle, that does not mean I do not get to include the Puget Sound area in my fiction. My next book is set in Seattle. Well, it starts out in Seattle anyway. From there it moves to the San Juan Islands and then to all kinds of other dimensions and worlds and time eras and who knows what else. Did I mention that it was a supernatural fantasy?

When you can’t go home again, you just start making places up.