I’ve been asked enough times lately if The Ghost Daughter is autobiographical to want to address the question before the official release of the novel on July 1.
Yes, it is.
No, it isn’t.
The Ghost Daughter is a novel. A work of fiction. It’s a piece of imagination, woven together in an effort to make a pattern in a chaotic universe.
But some of it really happened, though. If you’re interested, here is a short list of scenes in the novel drawn whole cloth from reality:
1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake: Del Rio Beach is a stand-in for Santa Cruz in 1989 when the Loma Prieta earthquake flattened the downtown. I was indeed in a hundred-year-old brick building at that moment. I did dive under a big oak desk just in time before the ceiling came crashing down. I lived, while good people on the other side of the wall died and it didn’t make any sense. The city was devastated. The scene of the walk from the war zone of downtown to the almost impervious Boardwalk is a panorama of how surreal the aftermath felt.
Jerry: There really was a Jerry (not his real name) who was feared and revered by the other residents at the homeless shelter where I spent a lot of my time. They said he cut off someone’s head with a machete at the hardware store, but I worked at the hardware store and no one there ever heard of it. His legend was amazing. I really was the only person brave enough to get him out of the shower. That scene where the old man emerges naked from the mist? Yeah, I didn’t have to tax my imagination a bit to write that description.
Trailer: The decor of the trailer in the mountains was lifted from life too. I lived in a place just like it during one of the happiest summers of my life. The bathroom was extravagant, with an enormous tub and church-like stained glass windows.
Cooking pheasant: Twenty-two years ago or so I tried to make dinner out of frozen pheasant. My character is much more successful than I was in the attempt.
Ray’s chapel: Ray is based on a real dude I knew in the early nineties. He was a big church donor, a Knights of Columbus guy, Santa at the Catholic school before Christmas, and also, it turned out, a major player in the local drug trade. I spent a day at his estate once. That chapel with the statues? A hundred percent real. I never stuck my hand up one of those creepy saints to see what was inside, but he was hiding his money somewhere.
Ray as a character is fiction, at least I hope so. The real man had a family. They were some of the unhappiest people I’ve ever met.
Desert hot springs: Real. Real tubs, real free spirits, real Berkeley graduate students. Real haunting pictographs etched on the cliff, real stones. I love California.
So much of The Ghost Daughter is my love letter to the landscape of my state. The story is my finger in the sands of the beach, the desert, and the river bank, etching my own patterns, announcing to the chaos of everything that I was here.