What Are You Working On?
When I moved to San Francisco in 1999, I immediately felt a gravitational pull toward the Pacific. Now, I live ten blocks from Ocean Beach. So I guess what led me to this project was landscape -- which has been a driving force in all of my work. (My first novel, Dream of the Blue Room, was inspired by the Yangtze River in China as well as the coastal Alabama landscape of my childhood.)
From downtown San Francisco, you can drive west for just ten minutes and find yourself on this dramatic stretch of sand sidling up to the Pacific. Surfers will tell you that Ocean Beach has some of the most treacherous waves anywhere. Some days, the fog at Ocean Beach is so dense that you can see only a few yards in front of you -- so there's the hum of cars on the Great Highway to the East, the roar of waves to the West, and there you are, sort of blind in the fog, chilled to the bone. It just felt like the perfect setting for a strange and terrible thing to happen.
This is the first thing I've written, aside from a couple of short stories, that's set on the West Coast. Additionally, the intellectual process of writing this book has been quite different. While Dream of the Blue Room required a lot of geographical research, Ocean Beach has called for a different kind of research. The novel is, in large part, about memory, so I studied up on various theories of memory, how the brain stores and retrieves information, how that information may be lost and altered. One of the most intriguing books I came across was The Art of Memory, by Francis Yates, which traces ideas about memory back to an ancient named Simonides, who is considered the father of memory study.
Structurally, this novel presents a challenge, as it spans one year in which the protagonist is engaged in a search, a search with life or death consequences. Dream of the Blue Room covered two weeks, then stretched back into the narrator's past. Sustaining dramatic tension over the span of a year-long search really forced me to expand my skills as a novelist.
I hope to finish final revisions and edits by the end of May. The book will be published next spring by Bantam.
First chapter of the forthcoming Ocean Beach
The title story from Michelle's first book, The Girl in the Fall-Away Dress
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published 18 Feb 06 on Too Beautiful. email copyright 2006 Mark Pritchard, Bernal Heights, San Francisco