Hey there, Beach Readers! We’re thrilled to announce that Michelle Richmond’s latest book, Golden State is our May Book Club pick!
We’ve been enamored of this bicoastal author (she grew up on the Gulf coast, before relocating to San Francisco as an adult) for quite some time. (If you missed her touching View essay for Coastal Living, make sure to read it here.) Golden State‘s fast-moving plot–it takes place in just one day–combines political turmoil, a birth, a hostage situation, and a woman’s struggle to find inner strength after divorce. Sounds like a recipe for a perfect summer page-turner! We asked Michelle for the 411 on the book and why her home state serves as its perfect setting:
Coastal Living: How did you come up with the idea for a novel that takes place in one single day?
Michelle Richmond: I liked the idea of compressing time, having all of these threads from Dr. Julie Walker’s past and present come together on a single, life-changing day. When I began writing the book, I wasn’t yet forty, and I saw that birthday looming. So there was probably something personal in having Julie’s journey take place on the eve of her fortieth birthday. Her own life is tilting drastically just as the city that she has adopted as home is going through a major shift. I’m interested in the way our individual lives play out against a backdrop of major world events over which we have no control.
I always do my best thinking when I’m walking. I imagined how much would go through Julie’s mind as she made this taxing physical journey, how the memories would rush at her. The wonderful memories of her life with her husband, Tom; the sweet and painful memories of the child they lost; the memories of her own childhood with Heather..
CL: What inspired the characters and plot of the story?
MR: I was inspired in part by place.. San Francisco is so small, it is walkable in a day. I wanted to explore that idea of passing through all of these different microcosms on foot. I think it’s part of what makes San Francisco interesting to visitors as well as locals: there are so many different neighborhoods crammed so close together, each with its own distinct culture. (Of course, all those hills can make seven miles seem much longer!)
The VA hospital, where Julie’s sister Heather is having a baby, is a very familiar place to me. We used to live a few blocks from the VA, and my son went to the preschool on the VA campus. The little boy, Ethan, was inspired by my own experiences as a mother to a young child. I have such strong impressions of the sweetness and exhaustion of that time. The book is in no way autobiographical, but those impressions of early motherhood certainly found a way into the book.
My husband always jokes that the bad guys in my books are modeled after him. In Golden State, Julie is married to a very good man. But just because they both have the best intentions, and just because they were once deeply in love, doesn’t mean that the marriage can’t break. I hoped to show two decent, loving people who, despite their best efforts, could not weather the tragedy that befell their marriage.
As for the backdrop of the story, secession, that came out of seeing various news items over the years, this constant background chatter about parts of the West Coast or East Coast seceding, or movements for different states, including California, to break apart. I’m fascinated by the idea that we become accustomed to the way things are, as if they are set in stone, when the reality is that major changes can happen very quickly.
CL: Golden State and The Year of Fog were both set in your home state of California. Why do you think California makes a great setting for a novel?
MR: The coast here is incredibly dramatic. I grew up on the Gulf Coast, where my first novel, Dream of the Blue Room, is partially set, and water is in my soul. I was drawn to the West coast from an early age. My family visited San Francisco when I was 13 years old. The moment I stepped onto Ocean Beach, I knew I wanted to live here one day. The waves were huge, the wind was strong, the fog was freezing, and the beach required something of you in a way that those beautiful, balmy, sugar-white Gulf Coast beaches don’t. When I wrote The Year of Fog, I was thinking about that dense fog, how a person could just walk into it and disappear.
Eventually, as an adult, I did live just eight blocks from Ocean Beach. What was a dream to me as an adolescent became a reality to me as an adult, in a way that felt almost magical. California is big and beautiful and complicated and messy, and it embraces so much. It’s a great place to escape to, a place to reinvent oneself, which is what Julie does. People come to California from all over the country and all over the world with the idea of making a new life, creating a new narrative. They arrive in the search of the golden ideal. Sometimes they find it, as Julie does for a time. But if you scratch the surface, you see the wear and tear underneath. These contradictions make ripe material for a novel, which is why I keep coming back here in my writing.
CL: Where do you typically do your writing?
MR: I write at home, either in my home office or on the sofa in my living room. I have to be alone to write. And I have to be near my coffee maker!
Pick up a copy of the book here, and don’t forget to join us on Twitter on Thursday, May 29, at 8 P.M. EST!
Portrait: Nick Eliot