When I started writing NO ONE YOU KNOW, I knew that I wanted to write a book about storytelling, about the blurred line between fact and fiction, about how literary ambition and the desire to tell the perfect story can cause a lot of grief. I knew how the story started, but that was about it. In other words, I knew just what sort of mess the characters were in, but I had no idea how to get them out of it.
Enter real life. About a year and a half ago, my husband Kevin and I met legendary rock journalist Ben Fong-Torres and his wife Dianne at the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library Laureates dinner. The four of us immediately hit it off, and because Ben and Dianne happened to be into the same Bravo shows we're into, we spent a few evenings in one another's homes, watching Project Runway and Top Chef.
About this time I was stuck, uncertain how to solve a pretty major problem I'd created in the book. I never have a storyboard or an outline, instead just figuring it out as I go; before long there was a former rock-and-roller in the mix, someone who'd been fast and furious on his way to music stardom in the seventies but who hadn't been heard from in decades. I couldn't figure out how Ellie would find him, until I thought of Rolling Stone, and Ben Fong-Torres, who'd been an editor there at exactly the time that my rocker was hitting it big. One thing led to another, and pretty soon Ellie was going to visit Ben at his house. This was supposed to be a single scene, a diversion within the fabric of the story. But so much of writing is accidental, so much of it hinges on that moment when you're typing away and think, well wouldn't it be neat if...
Wouldn't it be neat, I thought, if Ben took on a bigger role. So he did. Once I'd got him wound up all good and tight in the plot, I asked if it would be okay to use his real name in the book, and very kindly he consented. He even let me put his house in there, as long as I promised not to be too specific about its location.
Now, I suppose if we hadn't met Ben and Dianne at the Library Laureates dinner, I would have figured out some other direction to take the book. But I'm convinced it wouldn't have been nearly as much fun to write, nor would it have had the same feel of connectedness to San Francisco.
At the very end of No One You Know, I kind of figured out what I'd been trying to say all along. Having become lost in the middle of the night on an unfamiliar San Francisco street, Ellie remarks, "Sometimes it felt as if books and life formed a strange origami, the intricate folds and secret shadows so intricately connected, it was impossible to tell one from the other."
With each subsequent book I write, I have the sensation of falling a bit farther into the rabbit hole. But now I'm starting to take other people with me. Just a warning, should you be in my general vicinity while the next novel is in progress.
And please join me for my book launch at Books Inc. Opera Plaza on Tues, July 1, Kepler's on July 9, Booksmith on Haight on July 15, or any of my other Bay Area events listed here on Redroom.