(First off, today’s the first day of Left Coast Crime right here in my town of Los Angeles, California. If you’re attending, make sure you stay hi when you see me!)
Today I thought I’d share a story about living the writer’s life. Hope you enjoy it.
I grew up in a community of about 25,000. It’s actually two communities that basically operate as one. China Lake is a military base, and Ridgecrest is the town that surrounds it.
To get anywhere of comparable size you had to drive over an hour though empty desert. And if you wanted to go to the big city – in our case Los Angeles – it was at least 2 1/2 hours, and usually more if you hit traffic.
Did I say empty desert? I guess that really depends on how you look at it. There were times in my life I noticed all the mountain peaks and dry river washes and odd rock formations, and there times when I thought it was just one big, endless expanse of brown.
I moved away a good twenty-five years ago, and my parents moved less than five years after that. Which meant I no longer had family there, so return visits became fewer and farther between, until it became an every five of six years kind of thing.
But even with my infrequent visits, and even though I’ve been a big city guy for the last quarter century, Ridgecrest has always been with me because it’s my hometown.
Why am I bringing this up now? Two reasons: 1) my next book NO RETURN is set entirely in the Ridgecrest/China Lake area, and 2) [the thing most forefront in my mind at the moment] last week I returned there because I’d been Invited to talk to the local branch of the California Writers Club.
The invitation came early last December, and I immediately accepted. I can’t tell you how much I was looking forward to returning. I’ve been hoping to go back to speak at an event for a long time. So it was with more than just a little bit of excitement that I drove up last week.
I got in town about three hours before I was to meet with the group’s leaders for dinner prior to the meeting. I spent two of those hours just driving around and taking in the old and the new. It’s a small town, so that meant I made several circuits before I finally stopped at Starbucks and read a book for an hour. So much was the same, and so much was different. It was, as I think I posted on Facebook at the time, surreal.
Dinner was very nice. One of the leaders of the group was actually the mother of an old friend I’d gone to school with since at least junior high, if not before. I remember actually going to her house for a birthday sleepover party for her son. It was nice talking to all of them and hearing about life there, which really wasn’t that different from when I lived there.
As I drove from the restaurant to the place where the talk was to take place, I started to get nervous, which was odd. I don’t get nervous before speaking to crowds. Ten people, a hundred, a thousand, more…it doesn’t matter. (THANK YOU high school drama club!) But this time I did get nervous. See, there’d been a feature article the local paper about me speaking…think “hometown boy makes good.” I knew there might be a lot of people there I knew from my past, so I guess I was worried about screw up in front of them…and, I think, also a little concerned no one I knew would show up.
Turns out I didn’t have to worry about anything. There were old high school friends, parents of old high school friends (including the father of the girl I dated junior year at high school), and even friends of my parents. And as soon as I started greeting them before the talk began, I realized it didn’t matter if I screwed up or not, we were all just happy to see each other.
There ended up being between 40 and 50 people there. I was told it was one of the larger meetings the writers group has had…they even had to bring in a lot of extra chairs from elsewhere in the building.
It felt so good being there, and talking to my hometown friends. I even did something I’ve never done at a talk before. I read from one of my books…actually from the book that will be out next year, the one set in Ridgecrest.
And after the meeting, I was able to go out for a drink with a friend I’d probably first met in third grade. It was great catching up with him. He’s had an eventful life to say the least, but still has a smile on his face and a positive attitude about life.
The next morning, after being interview on the local FM station, I headed back home to Los Angeles, thinking how much I enjoyed the visit, and looking forward to the next time. And there will be a next time.
Alright, Murderati…many of you have probably moved away from the hometown you grew up in. Love to hear what it’s like for you when you return to your old stomping grounds.
Please excuse the lack of responses today from me as I’ll be at the conference trying (not to hard) to avoid the allure of the bar.
Perhaps I should be drinking this: (via i09.com) Scientists Have Discovered Booze That Won’t Give You A Hangover!
I moved back to my old hometown in 1993. It has its good points. It’s nice to see how the place is developing an interesting arts and music community. Sometimes it’s a little depressing, though, to see a lot of my old running buddies in court, gone to wrack and ruin.
But..booze that doesn’t make you suffer afterward? It just doesn’t feel right. 😀
I grew up in a small (13,000) city in Western Pennsylvania, closely aligned with two other cities of the same or lesser size into what was called the Tri-Cities; total population even now is about 31,000. My parents still live in the house I grew up in. I go back to see them four or five times a year; they come to Maryland once or twice.
I’ve been gone since I joined the Army in 1980, and I often fantasize about moving back, though I know it’s not likely, with my family and life 250 miles away. It’s a little sad sometimes to see how the economic progress Pittsburgh has made over the past 30 years never seems to trickle down to Lower Burrell.
My wife noted how I feel about it before a recent trip back. When traveling back to my parents’, I unconsciously refer to it as "going home," then say "going back to Maryland" when it’s time to leave. So I guess it will always be home to me.
(And, like Brett, my WIP is set there, though in a fictionalized version.)
Hey, Brett – I’ll be seeing you in just a few hours.
Same thing happened to me when I went back to Albuquerque on my book tour. This was my hometown, the place I ran from when I was eighteen. And I had the same type of reception – an article in the paper (Local Boy Makes Good, or maybe Makes Dark and Twisted), the return of friends from elementary school through high school (thank you Facebook), the nervous excitement, the wondering if I would let anyone down. And then it all worked out perfectly. It’s definitely not the same town I grew up in, and yet…it’s home.
This is ironic because I just moved back to my hometown two weeks ago after living in another country for three years. So far it’s been comforting to see all the familiar places and yesterday I got to see my best friend’s mom, who I’ve known since first grade.
My current wip takes place here so now I can do last minute research (I’m hoping they’ll let me inside the police station). It’s be nice to return under the same circumstances as YOU (published author) but all in good time…
I got the same wonderful sense of nostalgia when I returned to Tucson with my first book. And grinned like a Cheshire cat when I learned that my old high school has put my author photo and books in a glass display case.
Wish I could be there with you today!
Have a great time at LCC!!
Lived in Charlotte for a time before moving home to Raleigh. Definitely like Raleigh better. Too many people that I met in Charlotte came across as stuck-up if you weren’t a native Charlottean. Not my bag at all.
Have fun at LCC!!
. . . and I moved home in 1987 and it’s been one of the happiest decisions of my life. As Stephen says, Albuquerque isn’t the town it was when we were growing up, but it has far more good going for it than bad.
Our reunion took place at my sister’s. Half an hour and a different world from where we grew up.
It was my brother’s idea. After a 20 year absence he wanted to see the house we grew up in–the house my dad built.
“So do you know where to rent a Sherman tank?” my youngest sister asked.
“That bad? I really want to go,” he said.
“Okay, but don’t say we didn’t warn you.”
Time magazine once compared East St. Louis to Fort Apache the Bronx. As we drove through streets narrowed and clogged by weeds, looked at houses that were burned out shells, passed the boys Catholic High School now a prison surrounded by razor wire, we thought the magazine optimistic. The hamburger joint stood with crumbling concrete steps and barred windows. Our aunt’s old house hid in a jungle of trees and weeds. St. Martin’s elementary school and church changed religions. Our old house, a block from the school, still stood, garish yellow and green, cracked windows taped.
I took pictures, developed them later but never sent copies to my sisters and brother. It was too sad. Sometimes you shouldn’t go home again.
I think I’m more tied to people than places.
I grew up in Sacramento, CA. I go back about once a month to visit family, but that’s it. Only one of my friend’s still lives there, and she and her husband plan to leave in the next few years. Once everyone is gone, I doubt I’ll go back (unless invited to sign books there one day!)
Have fun at Left Coast Crime!
Brett — hope you have a great time at LCC and I’m glad your trip home was a sucess.
Dusty– Isn’t that hard at times?
When I go "back home" usually for an event….I’m totally blown away by how much my contemporaries are beginning to look like their parents, even the ones younger than myself. Not only do they look like them, they sound and act like them.
When I was younger, hell, I couldn’t leave fast enough. This was due in part, because I wanted to go somewhere where no-one KNEW me(or about me). Couldn’t really do anything without it being known to our parents before we even got home, oh yeah, this wasn’t just in our hometown..it was county -wide…related to most of the people there, why each one of us sibs got married to people from other parts of the country….
Now, I have mixed feelings about it. The outside world is more accessable now, through technology. I know the best and the worst, one of my WIP deals with the area I grew up in…something I’ve always wanted to do…write about the area through my eyes.
My sister was born at NWS China Lake; my brother and I were born on Whidbey Island, WA at the Naval Station there. Three guesses who Dad worked for, and the first two don’t count!
My folks always said that China Lake/Ridgecrest was one of their best duty stations. Mostly because of dad’s boss and his wife, Harry & Helen Parode, who made the young lieutenant and his wife feel right at home. I wonder if you happen to know them?
Kagey…one of my friends at high school was Steve Parode. Their sons perhaps?
Lillian and I have talked about moving back to my hometown in southern New Mexico. Funny, growing up there I couldn’t wait to get away because it was boooorrrring. Now I’d love to live in a small town again.
Have fun at LCC. Wish I could be there, but Janine will be having fun for me!
Good luck on your program tomorrow….was looking at the schedule of events, and went OMG! what a roster of talent…
and Robert…no destroying of the house! LOL hope you all have a wonderful time.
Sorry to reply so late — yes, Steve is their son. My dad has memories of Steve at a very young age – 5 maybe? – sitting on his lap and telling him specific details about WWII naval battles — tonnage sunk, types of armament, and more. Now he’s a captain? (I think) in the Navy.
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