On Location in Santa Cruz

Pleasure Point Totem PoleWhen I decided to include Santa Cruz in my novel, I didn’t really think it through. I drove over, spent a day watching surfers, drinking coffee, wading in the ocean, and thought, yah, okay, I’ve got it. I got home, sat down at my computer, and realized that one day wasn’t enough to capture the strange allure of Santa Cruz. 

Santa Cruz is new and old side-by-side. It’s an old place, with history etched into the very cliffsides, but the rush of tech from the Bay Area has brushed it with broad strokes of modernization. There’s a resentment from the old surfer/hippy culture towards the growing sprawl of the Silicon Valley culture that has invaded the town, and a growing sense of entitlement from the tech crowd. As a visitor, you can hang out at Pleasure Point and watch the surfers all day long, or go enjoy the quaint summer-vacation-by-the-sea feel of the Boardwalk with its wooden roller coaster and carousel. You can drink microbrews in posh mod-art bars overlooking the beach, or have a pizza in a surf-shack with painted surfboards hanging from the ceiling.  You can shop for new fine jewelry or old used vintage clothing. Street musicians and artists hawk their wares on the sidewalk downtown. Santa Cruz has everything, and all of its elements seem in constant battle for dominance. 

Trying to capture the feel of Santa Cruz had to happen in the opening paragraph of my manuscript; the sights, the smells, the sensation of having spent time eating vegetarian portabello burgers at Saturn Cafe and drinking espresso at Finn’s. Santa Cruz was more than a place, it was a voice. And trying to capture that voice was harder than I ever imagined. My partner lived in Santa Cruz for some time, went to school there, and every time I questioned my writing decisions I turned to him. “Does this feel right?”
“You’re missing something…” he would say, and the next day, I’d climb back into my little red Yaris and head back down 880 and across Highway 17. 

If this sounds like complaining, it isn’t. I wrote entire chapters sitting on benches at Pleasure Point and hiding out of the blistering wind in my car in beach parking lots. I ate where my characters ate, swam where they surfed. (My spinal surgeon has politely suggested to me that surfing is on the list of things I should probably never do again, along with skiing and snowboarding. He’s such a spoilsport. *eyeroll*) I walked where they walked and drove where they drove until I felt that my descriptions did those places justice. And along the way, I fell in love with the strangeness and contradiction that is Santa Cruz. I hope when you get a chance to read the first Kami story, you will, too! 

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