Writing California: Belmont Shore, Long Beach

Dr. Heather S. RiveraHeather S. Rivera knew when she met her protagonist that Tess lived on Belmont Shore in Long Beach. Heather and Tess met in a creative writing class during a guided meditation.

(Ed. Note: I once thought it might be fun to go on a cruise and impersonate my character. Heather comes close to doing what I dreamed of!)

In Heather’s words

“While I was in this relaxed state the protagonist began speaking to me. She hasn’t stopped talking. I first saw her sitting on a curb cutting her jeans with a piece of glass she found in the gutter. Intuitively I knew she lived in Belmont Shore. Belmont Shore is a small section of Long Beach in Los Angeles County. It features trendy shops on 2nd street and then it’s an easy walk to the expansive beach. Off in the distance the orange smoke stacks of the sleepy Queen Mary stretch towards the sky in unison.

The following weekend my husband and I visited Belmont Shore and searched for the apartment I imagined that Tess lived in. We visited where she shopped and where she sat on the beach. I let her guide me, listening within. I sat in her place on the beach many days while I wrote her story. Every time I thought I knew where the story was going Tess would tell me different.

“As I wrote Quiet Water I tried to portray Belmont Shore accurately.  I sifted the grey sand from Belmont Beach through my fingers, walked the residential streets and ate at the restaurants. I did, however, change the names of the businesses that Tess visits.

Living in Southern California my entire life inspired me to write about areas I loved. Many stories are set in Los Angeles and other large cities but Tess’ story is personal and intimate. Belmont Shore is that type of town. One can sit in sidewalk cafes feeling connected with the other visitors or relax on the quiet beach in solitude.

An excerpt from Quiet Water

Three rings . . . Four rings . . . Five rings. And then her cheery voicemail begins. I’m sunk. I hang up the phone. Icustom book cover Heather Rivera official paperback (2) don’t want to leave a voicemail and sound completely pathetic. I can hear myself, “Naomi, I don’t want to bother you and I know logically that I’m doing the right thing by striking out on my own, but right now I can’t recall why I ever thought this was a good idea. My life was fine and now I screwed it all up. My husband is struggling to adjust to the change. Wade won’t speak to me. Oh and by the way, I can’t even pull up the energy to get up off this damn, hot curb. So, can you help me remember why I’m doing this?” Nah, I can’t leave a message like that so I hang up and stay glued to my spot.

Maybe, I’ll use this opportunity to take in my new neighborhood. Let’s see:

  • Pink house across the street
  • One-way street with many cars parked on both sides (and space enough for me to plant myself on the curb)
  • One guy (grey tank top stretched over beer belly) fixing his blue mustang two doors down with 70s music playing on his radio
  • Yappy dog somewhere behind me
  • Ocean to the left about two and a half blocks down
  • And 2nd Street with the assorted trendy shops and international cuisine one and a half blocks to my right

This would be great if I wasn’t so damn depressed. I would love this town. Wait . . . I will love this town—Belmont Shore. That’s why I chose it. I love still being in Los Angeles County, but tucked away, close to the ocean in this tiny section of Long Beach, California. I remember coming here as a child with my older brother, Jared. Grandma and Grandpa lived in Cerritos. A visit to them almost always meant Disneyland. What can be better than that to a nine-year-old? I fiddle with the fluke pendant. Old memories come forth as I rub Jared’s necklace. I haven’t taken it off since he passed away.

About Quiet Water

Quiet Water is the story of thirty-eight year old Tess Whitaker. She’s haunted by dreams of an idealistic and romantic past life. She measures all love by the 1900 life of Kathleen and Thomas from her dreams. After leaving a stifling marriage she discovers through hypnosis that she was Kathleen in a past life. Tess wonders if Thomas, her soul mate from her dreams, has also reincarnated. She embarks on a quest to find him. It is a story of timeless love, forgiveness and self-discovery.

About Heather S. Rivera

Heather S. Rivera, R.N., J.D., Ph.D. lives in Huntington Beach, California with her husband, Mark. Her best friends consist of Kala (a Puggle), Kiki (a neurotic Chihuahua), and Danzy (a black cat who believes he helps her write). When not writing, Heather works in the institute that she founded with Mark and speaks on past life research.

Heather is the author of Healing the Present from the Past: The Personal Journey of a Past Life Researcher, Quiet Water, and Maiden Flight (to be released late 2014)

Writing California: Twain Harte

????????????Ski resorts pair well with romance  and Twain Harte offers just the access that  inspirational romance writer Maria Michaels feels is perfect for her debut novel Harte’s Peak.  Michaels fell in love with Twain Harte, a little jewel of a town in the heart of the Sierras, on her first visit 1999.

“I took some creative liberties and because of that I renamed the town Harte’s Peak,” Michaels said. “You can do almost any story in a California setting!”

We’ve got it all, baby – beach, mountains, snow, history.

“Personally I love a good beach story, and we have plenty to pick from. I’m a Barbara Freethy fan. When she wrote All She Ever Wanted set entirely in the Bay Area (from San Francisco to Santa Cruz) I thought: I know that place! I’ve been there!”

About Harte’s Peak

Vera Carrington loves her newly renovated home and her cafe, The Bean, but with a balloon mortgage looming over head and a man from her past ready to bounce on her misfortune, she may have to face the agonizing decision of keeping one and selling the other.

Deputy Sheriff Ryan Colton is a new man in Christ. His days as a flamboyant pro-circuit skier are behind him, but to help Vera keep her home and her business, he agrees to coach her for an upcoming open ski tournament. He even agrees to hand over the purse if he should win.

Can Vera beat the odds and win the tournament? Will Ryan save the day, or will they both learn to trust God, no matter the outcome?

Maria’s debut novel Harte’s Peak will be released on June 20 by White Rose/Pelican Book Group.


This scene is from Dodge Ridge Ski Resort in Pinecrest, a short 15 miles from Twain Harte:

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Writing California: Point Reyes, Cow Heaven

Pierce Point Ranch Point Reyes

Pierce Point Ranch Point Reyes

 Jenni Brummett drew inspiration for Ribbon of Fog from a Marin County food magazine feature about the local dairy industry history in “Cow Heaven”, Point Reyes. The article  told the story of an entrepreneurial woman who recognized San Francisco’s need for fresh cheese in the 1850’s.

Point Reyes cooling fog  provides the perfect setting to age cheese and make butter, not to mention historical fiction laced with suspense and romance.  Jenni focused on the early years of this industry when “dairy fever” was pervasive and prospered until the early 20th century. (And don’t we miss those days when the milkman came to our door!).

“ I have fond memories of visiting Point Reyes as a child, traversing the numerous steps to the lighthouse, camping at nearby Samuel P. Taylor State Park, and stopping on the peninsula during my honeymoon 16 years ago,” Jenni says.  “It’s important to me to include an accurate portrayal of the natural world in my stories. The natural history of Point Reyes is varied and intriguing, and I enjoy the challenge of injecting my story with interesting facts.”

 From top to bottom, this state fascinates me, and I want to focus on lesser known locations and times in history as I continue in my writing career.

Ribbon of Fog

Jenni Brumlett

Jenni Brummett

A milkmaid who wants to be noticed and a lawyer who tries to keep his past concealed must set their differences aside to find a lost loved one who’s slipped into the dark abyss of depression. Set in 19th century San Francisco and the dairy dotted hills of Point Reyes, freedom is found when Byron and Caroline emerge from beneath a ribbon of fog.


Byron Waverly approached the warm candle glow emanating from the downstairs windows of the Bower farmhouse. His pulse quickened, and after closing and latching the corral gate behind him, he leaned his head on the quivering flanks of his horse. Why had he ever volunteered to leave his comfortable home in San Francisco to venture onto this damp, wild peninsula? In his job as a lawyer, he felt confident and competent. Addressing other people’s messiness was much easier than facing his own demons. Here, even though the fog swirled and eddied around him, he felt vulnerable and exposed.

How would it feel to climb the porch steps, peel the cloak of fog away, and allow candlelight to expose his features? When she recognized who stood on the threshold of her home, would Amanda Bower ever admit how badly she’d stained his character with her lies four years ago? And when he finally cleared that up, would he have the nerve to court her twin sister Caroline, the one he’d always meant to tangle with in the first place?

Jenni Brummett has written card copy for DaySpring cards, and also writes historical suspense soaked in the truth of scripture. She doesn’t shy away from addressing the darker issues within her characters, tingeing her stories with winsome romance while she’s at it. She is married to her high school sweetheart, and their courtship is recorded in her journals for posterity (or not). She is a full time mom of one, and a part time office manager at a physical therapy office. 

Writing California: Earthquake country

Lorrie coverLorrie Farrelly’s contemporary romantic suspense novel Dangerous  travels the rural roads that crisscross earthquake country; the dry rolling hills, chaparral, vineyards, undeveloped lands and higher mountain passes of a small lakeside California town. Burned-out Cam Starrett seeks haven from the tragedy, grief and anger in Chima Valley, a fictional town nestled in the hills inland from Santa Inez and Los Olivos, north of Lake Cachuma (called Lake Pasqual in the book).Here Cam encounters school guidance counselor Meredith Hayden, who recklessly abandons herself to the arms of the dangerous-looking ex-L.A. cop, and they begin their adventures.

“I wanted an area that had once been relatively isolated and homogeneous, but was now experiencing the growth of a diverse population,” Lorrie says. That’s a perfect setup for the escalating pattern of bigotry and violence that Cam and Merry discover threaten the lives of everyone in the community. Resistance to change, culture clashes, fear of those who are different, and the jockeying for power that goes on in a small California town were fascinating to me. The land and nature are in conflict as well. This is earthquake country, and fire is a constant and deadly threat in the dry hills of Southern and Central California”

Lorrie has lived in California most of her life, graduating from the University of California at Santa Cruz, which is surrounded by beaches, small towns,  farmland, and redwood forests. “I was a counselor at camps in rural areas of Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, and I’ve lived in and/or taught school in urban, suburban, and rural communities of Southern California.  So, while I did research some particular plot points, overall I had a very good idea already of the setting for Dangerous.”

“California’s rich, exciting, larger-than-life history comprises just about every life style imaginable. The huge diversity of landscapes and cultures set the stage for a vibrant if sometimes conflicted and clashing society.”

Add the ever-present natural dangers of earthquakes and fires, and you have a state that is literally always changing, always on the move. Every kind of story is possible here! 

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The Beanpunk Café

Avatar by Tana Bevan

Avatar by Tana Bevan

Life happens at the Beanpunk Café. Hammered copper double doors in front swing open and shut all day, letting in  heavy hot air to  battle the hard working desert cooler in the fictional town of Nearfield, USA.

Fall into a leather cushioned sofa; set your mug on the rough wood table fashioned from a shipping container fitted with train wheels for legs; sip exotic coffees–pewter mugs of m.u.d., a coffee blend of Mbeya, Urubamba and Djimah beans or artful layers of espresso and Guinness served in depression era glass demitasse cups.

Meet the regulars: Jaye,  Perfect Match Dating Service dropout; Kay, acerbic trust fund baby; Elle, Down on her luck;  Em, out of work;  Shiloh, dating service success story; and Pastor Jerry, who keeps office hours at the café.

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Writing California: Big Sur

FlowerChildMary Stewart Anthony set her memoir on the rugged coast of Big Sur, a place where she dropped out of sight, society and her mind. Love Song of a Flower Child is the story of a Hunter College graduate who felt trapped in the Big Apple in the late Fifties and took flight to Berkeley.

The oldest of eight children, the renegade Catholic school girl joined the merry band of pranksters and hippies in the Sixties before escaping into a wilderness of spiritual experimentation in Big Sur. There the single mother of two children tried to fit into the Big Sur mythos, living on top of a mountain, searching for truth, and hoping to contact aliens.

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Writing California: Los Altos

Los Altos in the Fifties was a great place to grow up. As many of the authors in this blog series have done, I set my novel The Sheep Walker’s Daughter partly in my hometown. Growing up, I spent a lot of time in my grandmother’s dance studio on Lundy Lane listening to her stories about life during the Depression and World War II. She saw a past. I saw a future.

photo contributed to cinematreasures.org by Gary Parks

The story of Los Altos winds through the narrative:

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The Narrow Path: A different journey

Just when I assure myself that my ten-year writing plan and slow-build marketing strategy will work well for my

© Andres Rodriguez | Dreamstime

© Andres Rodriguez | Dreamstime

purposes, I open an e-mail and read about a hard-working author fighting feelings of failure because her first book sold less than 16,000 copies. I know better than to compare my experience with hers; she’s playing in a six-figure world where the stakes are high. Shake it off.

I close the email and page through the Wall Street Journal Books section. My eyes go right to this headline: Family Guy Becomes Novelist Guy. Reviewer Alexandra Alter reports that Seth MacFarlane’s comic western “packed with raunchy, twisted jokes that push the boundary between spit-take humor and poor taste,” will be a film three months after it hits the bookshelves. Well good for him. There is obviously a huge audience for “prose peppered with infanticide, child brides, bestiality…” etcetera, etcetera. Shake it off.

My eyes travel down the page to a review of six-figure-deal Sally Green’s debut novel “Half Bad,” about battling covens of witches. Her publishers believe the young-adult trilogy will attract older readers as well because of its dark themes. The combative anti-hero smokes, swears, is barely literate, hates technology and sleeps outside. (I think this would qualify him for several spots on any number of spectrums described in the DSM-5.) Green has absolutely nailed the formula for success.

Negotiating the narrow path

© David Coleman | Dreamstime Stock Photos

© David Coleman | Dreamstime 

At this point I remind myself that the path I have chosen is a narrow one. Not many readers go to the New Fiction shelves at their local book stores looking to be challenged on themes of spiritual growth. (The very words conjure boring hours in Sunday school looking at badly dressed flannel board figures.)

My challenge is to draw readers into stories that change hearts: hold up the mirror that reflects the good and evil in our souls; deepen our compassion for the difficult people in our lives; examine a full range of emotions—from self-loathing we secret to wonder we experience when we encounter the mystery of liberating faith.

Walking a narrow path is like tunneling under the broader way, wondering what the terrain will look like when you surface. Billboards posted on the broad way tell you what to expect. There are formulas for success. On the narrow path, when you aren’t digging for hidden treasure you struggle to keep the trail under your feet so you don’t stray into areas that lead nowhere. It’s a different journey.

So here’s my question. Is there a narrow path on the broad way, or do the roads diverge, as Robert Frost suggests?

MailChimp and MicroDwellings

mailchimp2This little guy arrived special delivery, mail dropped from Barbara Haiges to Stan and Mary Bruederle.  They brought him to me from California along with my Writer’s Magazine and my Chico’s catalog. Chimpie comes courtesy of MailChimp, my email list management and delivery service who does such an awesome job for free on my enewsletter. Now that’s a lot of e’s, and probably more than you want to know, but he’s so cute I wanted to introduce him.

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Writing California: Sacramento Delta

James L'Etoile

James L’Etoile

James L’Etoile is a crime fiction writer with a cause; his upcoming release, Hollow Man, is set in the Sacramento Delta because Northern California has found itself center map for human trafficking. (I did not know that!)

The story involves a police detective trailing an organ harvesting serial killer who faces a choice–capture the killer, or make a deal for a kidney the detective’s son needs to stay alive. (He set his first human trafficking novel, Little River, in Jamaica because the setting needed to be somewhere remote, exotic and foreign to the protagonists.) Hollow Man uses the extensive river networks, aqueducts and reservoirs in the Sacramento Delta as a backdrop.

Water, rivers in particular, tend to be used as a metaphor for life and renewal. I wanted to turn that tradition on its ear. In Hollow Man nothing good happens near water.  Deaths occur on the river, bodies are found, and the river washes away the killer’s trail.



Google Maps

L’Etoile believes that each place has a feeling and culture that makes it unique. It is helpful to walk where the characters walk, see what they would see and soak up the smells and nuance of the setting.

The sun glints off of a building at a certain time, casting a specific glow.  Google Maps can’t show you that.  I talk to people who might interact with my fictional characters. That helps me get a feeling for how people behave in that setting. I think readers will allow a fictional character to do almost anything, sprout wings, cast spells or fend off zombie attacks, but portray a setting incorrectly, refer to the blue steel of the Golden Gate Bridge, or Giant Sequoia Redwood trees in the Central Valley, and the reader gets jarred back into reality and is less likely to get back into the story.

A perfect setting for crime

Crime occurs everywhere, he says, but the Golden State delivers a certain flavor that translates to the page.  The list of crime-inducing ingredients is long:

  • The largest prison system in the country
  • A powerful correctional officers union
  • A history that comprises Rodney King, Watts Riots, The Hillside Strangler, the Manson family, the Bloods and Crips, all California creations
  • A legacy of TV shows that embraced West coast crime: Adam-12, Dragnet, Ironsides, SWAT, Starsky and Hutch, Numbers, Women’s Murder Club, and The Mentalist
  • A reading list of crime fiction stories with strong California settings such as Michael Connelly’s Angels FlightThe Lincoln Lawyer and The Concrete Blonde; Sheldon Siegel’s Special Circumstances; John Lescroart’s The Second Chair, anything by Robert Crais
  • Enough conflict and contradiction for lively plotting:  North, South, beaches, barren deserts and Sierra extremes in our terrain and population Nevada Mountains. Asian, Hispanic and numerous immigrant populations 
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