I’ve been blessed recently with a plethora of out-of-town guests, all of them hungry for an insider look at San Francisco and the bay area. I have an interest in and some knowledge of the city’s history (click on the “Writing” page of the “Writer Working” website and see the first chapter of The Maxwell Vendetta.), so I enjoy showing folks around. it takes some time, and the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park began to get a little tedious about the tenth time through, but I generally get much more than I give; and I’m reflecting this morning about how much the process resembles that of writing, which is after all nothing more than an inside tour of the artist.
Like every character and plot and outline of every story I’ve ever started, no matter how much I plan and think I know, unplumbed depths remained. And I’ve heard the same from many other writers. Sometimes it’s my own explorations that open new horizons. Sometimes it’s a reader/visitor’s question that sets me off in a new direction. I thought I
‘s about finished The Maxwell Vendetta, was ready to set down the final turn of plot and move into the denoument. It turned out I was like the kid in the back seat asking “Are we there yet?” When I came to what I thought was the last intersection, I saw not my destination, but more miles, more twists and turns to navigate before I reached the end of a road I thought I’d planned all by myself. Just so as I was descending the section of Lombard Street billed as “the crookedst street in the world” with its brick paving and splendid view of Telegraph Hill, Bay Bridge, Treasure Island, et al, did one of my passengers ask how the street came to be. I’d always assumed it was just part of an old wagon road whose switchbacks made it possible for horse-drawn vehicles to navigate the steep slope. But San Francisco has plenty of other–steeper–streets that drop and rise plumbline-straight up and down other hills, so why would this be different? Google, of course, led me to the answer quickly. The crookedst street in the world was a chamber of commerce gimmick constructed in 1923 as a tourist attraction. There is actually one other street in S.F. that has more turns and a steeper drop, but –location, location, location–has no views and is in a relatively isolated part of the city. So image trumps substance once again, and we need to question even the most obvious aspects of our characters and plots and to pay attention to the observations of that most valuable of creatures–the naive reader whose innocent questions lead us to new assumptions.
And then there are the renegades who have no wish to visit the fabled urban wonders, who find the city dirty, fast, and noisy, But who love tall redwoods, rocky shores, and raw oysters with horseradish. For them, it’s on to Point Bonita, Muir Woods, Point Reyes, Stinson Beach, Bolinas. That tour, too, is part of who I am and what I do, just as my contemporary flash fiction (Again, see the “Writing” page of Writer Working.) is as much a part of my interior as the historical narrative that fascinates me so. And each journey leads to more discoveries, more questions, whose answers lead to . . .