What is not visible to the readers who drift by is that behind the scenes I am wrangling my fourth novel to the finish. I completed the manuscript a few years back and had to set it aside knowing it needed reworking. I didn’t have the stomach for the challenge. There’s a good final draft somewhere to be found in this body of prose and I am doing what I can to complete a splendid fourth novel. Don’t count me out just yet.
My newest work begins in Napa County at the Calistoga Fairgrounds. The fairground was temporarily turned into an evacuation center for the victims of the Lake County Fire. The September 2015 fire was a real event that was folded into a fiction.
Since I began work on this fourth novel there have been a score of monumental fires here and most recent of all in Australia. Here the Lake County Fire burned about 100,000 acres, destroyed about 1800 buildings and killed 4. I have written with all the heart and passion I could muster about this tragedy. Since, another fire and then another fire in the wine country has devastated this part of California.
Fire in this great state is a symptom of an increasingly climate change damaged environment. There are more fires, they are bigger, hotter and more frequent. In some sense they begin to dwarf the plot I had pieced together in 2015 when I had initially set out to do this work.
In Australia the world has witnessed fires that have consumed 15 million acres. You may google the tally if you want more numbers, but they are just numbers and caring survivors attempts to visualize and scale up their imaginations to such monumental size is a difficult task.
I had wanted to write a pleasant pastoral wine country story when I first started plotting my fourth novel. But the climate emergency took over. The urban-wildfire interface was once a rather obscure and irrelevant topic. That was a threat for residents living outside Missoula, Montana.
For years I reserved my environmental concerns to such faraway places as The Great Barrier Reef, Amazon Jungle or the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. As the size of our problems increased I failed to keep up, to scale my imagination and to reconfigure the plots and purposes of my fiction more work was demanded.
Whole revising my fourth novel one takeaway is that I went far too easy on the events that helped shape this story. Planning commissioners, Board of Supervisors, agricultural special interests and the ordinary citizens caught in the midst of all these forces battling for supremacy have behaved ever more horribly than I had fictionally foretold.
Since the story recounts the fight to save a few thousand acres along the eastern ridge of what forms the Napa Valley a wildfire has since done great damage to this land. If developed the new homeowners will undoubtedly insist firemen come risk their lives not if but when the next big wildfire sweeps through. Further development in the surrounding hillsides of Napa County is untenable and should not be permitted.
In Sacramento the insurer’s that sell coverage for homes in California are contemplating a ten-fold increase in the price of a policy for homes situated near an urban-wildfire interface zone. Homes in such diverse locations as Mill Valley, Lake Arrowhead or perhaps even Palo Alto are looking at having to pay $10,000 per year for fire protection.
None of this makes a novel. I mean what does the price of tea in China have to do with the human condition. Perhaps the difference now is that the problems we are facing are of such scale, contain the seeds of existential catastrophe, threatening virtually all life, a growing menace of such magnitude that small bore stories become irrelevant.
I wish my manuscript was in better shape and I could move on with my next. I’m researching a groundwater water grab attempt up in Northern Nevada by the Las Vegas Water District located way to the south. Nevada’s Las Vegas Goliath is roaming the American West in an attempt to quench the desire to sustain the construction boom.
We’ll see where this takes my writing. I think it needs to be funny no matter what else. We’re going to need to laugh while we try to save the world. I know that to be fundamental fact.
Now I prepare to ride by train from San Francisco Bay to Reno, Nevada where I will encamp with busking friend in Silver City to enjoy a view out his window of nearby Mustang and on Sunday momentary diversion of a good playoff game.
Writing can be quite something, beautiful and moving. When writing is redemptive, inspires, calls a soul to take action, and looks without flinching at our circumstances, it is in this direction our hard work is best aimed.