Last year as I flew out to San Francisco for the RWA national conference, a haze began to fill the sky below the plane. At first it was light, almost white, like low clouds, but quickly darkened until it obscured the land and horizon below. The captain came on the loud speaker and said that what we were seeing was smoke from the wildfires burning out of control in the Yosemite area. Having never seen a fire produce anything close to that much smoke (and I’ve seen smoke from grass fires in Texas that burned tens of thousands of acres), I was amazed at the power of fire.
I think the seed for the book I’m currently working on was born then, though I didn’t know it at the time. As I sat down with a germ of an idea for this story, wildfire quickly became central to the plot. It was only natural that when I thought about where to set the book, then, Yosemite came to mind.
I’m kind of regretting it now. Not because it doesn’t work for the story — it’s a perfect home for the unicorns! But because the closest I’ve ever been to Yosemite is flying over it on that smoke-filled day. I’ve skated by writing about places I’ve never been in a few of my books. With some research, and by talking to people who live there, a writer can usually get enough of a sense of a place to get by, especially if the setting is a mid- to large-size US city. Let’s face it, there are certain elements that exist in every city.
But Yosemite…I’m finding it difficult to wrap my head around that one. To create the sensory images I want in the reader’s head. I need to go there. I need to stand next to a giant sequoia. I need to hike the trails, gaze at my reflection in a lake, hear the rumble of the falls. I need to feel the rough granite beneath my hands and feet. Smell the pine. Preferably not when the whole place is burning.
You get the idea. I need a working vacation.
But since I have no money and little time, I guess I’ll have to scour YouTube for some videos instead (I’ve already been through all the travel books I can find). Until I sell the darned proposal. Then I’m taking my advance money on the road to Yosemite before I write the book. Hey, why not? Since it’s research, it’ll be tax deductible!