San Clemente: More than a setting

Do you remember the television series, “The Wonder Years”? That was my growing-up experience in a suburb of Los Angeles. It was all tidy cottages and sun-warmed concrete under my feet. Palm branch horses and skateboards. The Helms Bakery truck and playing under the street lights.

The atmosphere changed during my freshman year in high school. Social change, the righting of injustices, is never comfortable. Mom announced the two of us were moving closer to my sister in San Clemente.

Talk about the ripping of flesh. I was fourteen. I had long-time friends.

I knew exactly no one (my sister and her husband didn’t count) in San Clemente.

[Insert not-so-silent scream of an angst-ridden teenaged girl here.]

I hated my new town. It was June. The California coast is shrouded in fog the whole month. I watched game shows all morning and read Reader’s Digest Condensed Books in the afternoon. I also wrote long missives to my friend, Loree, back in my hometown.

Have I mentioned San Clemente had only one stoplight and 17,000 souls? And Sailor Pete who waved to passersby?

Very strange.

I was so desperate to be with peers that I attended a youth group. (This turned out to be a life-altering decision that is worthy of a whole blog.) One of the girls invited me to go to the beach with her.

Sandy Worhoff, I love you wherever you are!

Mom and I lived in an apartment straight up (“up” being the operative word here) from the pier. The pier wasn’t a posh place back in the early 1970s. Marines lived in the apartments and hippies lived in the garages below. Mom didn’t like me going there.

I didn’t like me going there.

But I went anyway.

I walked past the leering and/or stoned inhabitants of the apartments where I now have the main character of my latest novel, The San Clemente Bait Shop and Telephony, living and working. To get onto the beach, I had to dodge under the railroad tracks through a nasty, dark, and stinky tunnel to the beach.

[These are the apartments where the Marines and hippies lived. The ground floor is now full of cute shops, so this is where I put the bait shop and the telephony. My main character, Jenna, lives over the shop on the far right.]

That first summer was lonely, but San Clemente didn’t stay that way for me. I met the friends that have stayed with me all my life. And I’m now re-meeting them through social media.

Once you’ve lived in San Clemente it’s always with you—the hissing surf, the swaying palms, an Orange Julius after a long day of water and sun.

Moving to San Clemente changed the trajectory of my life. It only seems right to give it top billing in my new novel.

Of all the places you’ve lived, which would make the best setting for a story and why?

You can buy The San Clemente Bait Shop and Telephony here.

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