Welcome. I am the author of Universal Time, a sci-fi urban comedy;
Beaufort 1849, an historical novel set in antebellum South Carolina;
and Pearl City Control Theory, a comedy of manners set in present-day San Francisco.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Benefits of a Brisk Wind

On my last trip to Beaufort Spanish moss was everywhere. It hung from the live oaks but also from other shrubbery and even telephone wires. It was thicker and even more evocative than usual, catching the light in its swaying, ever modulating green-gray wisps.

But the residents complained that the moss was too prolific. Now Spanish moss is not a parasite. (It is technically not even moss but a bromeliad.)  But even as an epiphyte, absorbing nutrients and water from the air and rainfall, if it gets too thick, it weighs down branches and prevents light from getting to the leaves of its host.

The owners of one grand home had hired someone with a cherry-picker to strip every last piece of moss from their tall oaks. But I have to say those trees looked awfully bare and plain after that.

What the town needed, residents said, was a good storm to blow the moss out of the trees. Then there would be balance again. Only with storms could the trees and the moss naturally live in harmony.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Mental travel

Once I realized that Beaufort was indubitably the location of the story I had in me to tell, naturally I had a burning passion to see the place.  However, due to family responsibilities and the sheer cost of travel, I had to postpone my first visit for many more months than I liked.

What to do? I read everything about the city I could get my hands on--from dry history books, to on-line newspapers, to old fiction set there.  Since the San Francisco Public Library is curiously lacking in materials about Beaufort, South Carolina, I had to buy many more books than I liked, but now these volumes are old friends.

In my near frenzy to see the place, I took to walking the streets via Google Maps street view. I would make my way down Craven Street into the Old Point, glimpsing houses through the shrubbery, getting frustrated with dead ends, trying to get a sense of what this town was all about.

So when I actually got to Beaufort the first time, it was quite a surreal experience.  To be surrounded by an entire town that was simultaneously foreign and familiar created a dichotomy more unnerving than I expected.  In a dream-like way I knew the order of the streets, that if I turned left here I would see such and such building, that if I continued straight for three blocks I would find the river. I recognized house after house I'd never seen, stepping along roads where even the asphalt was strangely familiar.

Ah, but as you might guess, the real thing easily outstrips the virtual. Google maps couldn't capture the light through trees, the richness of the resurrection ferns, the allure of the Spanish moss. It couldn't reproduce the timeless serenity of the antebellum homes, the play of the tidal river, or even offer me up a dolphin. It could convey structure but not soul.

Maybe someday we humans will master virtual realities complete enough to truly fool our senses, like the holodecks on Star Trek. Until then, the best form of mental travel might very well be a good book.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The elegant joy of touring South Carolina

My friend, Melinda Adams, from Cabbages and Kings Press, went with me on my book tour of South Carolina to keep me company, doubling the fun.  She was the trip photographer and took the excellent picture of a chandelier hanging in a Beaufort garden that is now in the header of this blog.  (Also at left, in its full, uncut glory.)

I thought long and hard about what would happen to this chandelier if it hung at arm's length from a sidewalk in San Francisco.  It would be stripped in one night, most likely, or its crystals would be fractured by the wind.

I didn't get to see the chandelier at night with lit candles, but the sunlight reflecting through its prisms was grand enough.