I’ve spent many days in Big Sur. I’ve been drawn to it for years given its many moods and changing landscapes due to the weather. No other place exists in my mind where the landscape is as disarming and mysterious when the fog rolls in. Landscape plays a big role in the characters of my novel, The Palisades. The fog permeates the book just as rain permeates the series, The Killing. Setting a mood and tone for a book or television series is much the same – people reflect the places they live in – some in mercurial ways, some in placid, more passive ways.
In using fog as much as I do in The Palisades, I wanted the reader to begin to feel claustrophobic in the lives of the characters. In essence, to wrap them in their stories and not let them out until each of them make their final decisions. I wanted the reader to feel the fog lift and dissipate when the characters worked out what they needed to do and it was fun to work in that mode. I remember vividly the act of writing much of The Palisades late into the night – working after hours in darkness to get at that feeling of closeness and only being aware of the small space surrounding me.
When I went to revise the book after many years after working with my terrific editor, Amberly Finarelli, I paid particular attention to character’s motivations as it related to what was happening in and around them weather-wise. But I also didn’t want to overdo it and found myself removing sentences and descriptions that went too far. It’s important to ground the reader in the character’s existence but not to drown them in detail. It’s a fine line, and I fight the urge to overdo description constantly.
If I’ve done it right, however, then landscape becomes a sort of character unto itself, and it informs the novel and its characters, and it enhances meaning, which is the most important thing writing description, in my mind, can do.
The pleasure of remembering those days in Big Sur, where my skin sparkled with dense fog, and the landscape changed in an instant when the fog rolled away or swept over the hills remains vivid. I think this book is finding an audience as it’s continuing to sell well despite a definite lack of marketing effort on my part. But I do love this book – it meant a great deal to me as I wrote it, and it gains more meaning as time passes.
A note: The cover photograph of the novel was taken nearly 30 years ago on a camping trip with my friend, Sean Galland, a fellow photographer. I had it drum-scanned to digital for safe keeping over the years and finally put it to good use since it fit the mood of the book so nicely!