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August 26th, 2013

SMOG Blog 1

    I have two new novellas coming out over the next two months. One, Summer's End, is about a middle-aged Halloween expert named Lisa Morton.

    The other one (Smog) is somewhat autobiographical.

    Smog centers on a twelve-year-old tomboy named Joey growing up in a little suburb of Los Angeles. The year is 1964, and Southern California is ruled by the aerospace industry. Joey's dad is involved in the development of new rocket fuels, and after a mysterious explosion takes place in the skies over L.A. and turns teenagers into id-driven monsters, prepubescent Joey - who loves spy movies and shows - tries to figure out what's happened while just staying alive.

  For Summer's End, I wanted to add my spin to the long history of authors using their own personal relationship to Halloween in literature (I've written an essay about this that will appear as part of HWA's "Halloween Haunts" blog series). I originally considered naming my heroine something else, but I ended up opting to create a character called Lisa Morton. While she shares many aspects of my life - she lives in North Hollywood, she's written a number of books about Halloween, she has a partner named RIcky and a cat named Roxie - I still considered her a character, separate from me.

    In some ways I feel closer to young Joey. I wasn't twelve in 1964 (I was considerably younger), I wasn't in L.A. when I was twelve (we moved a lot; by the time I was twelve, we lived in San Diego), and I didn't have an older brother (I'm an only child). But Smog nevertheless uses a great many memories of my childhood in Arcadia, a sunny little San Gabriel Valley suburb about thirty minutes east of downtown L.A.


(9th Avenue in Arcadia seen by Google Satellite; our house was the one near the center with the empty kidney-shaped swimming pool.)
My dad really did work in the aerospace industry, designing helmets and flight suits for the Mercury astronauts (my God, I wish I had a fraction of the stuff he used to bring home for me to play with, everything from signed photos of the astronauts to actual prototypes of the helmets).


(My dad modeling a helmet and oxygen mask he designed)
My mom really was active with the local women's club (although I think in real life it was called "the Arcadia Juniors", and both my parents were members).


(The Arcadia Juniors, with Mom and Dad third and fourth from left, circa 1964)
Our house on 9th Avenue really did have a wash that ran behind it, with a dirt trail separating the house from the fenced-in wash, and we really did find Jerusalem crickets there. My best friend lived across the street from us, and I remember all the other moms back then sounding kind of raspy because they all smoked.

    And yes, the smog was terrible. I've read studies that have confirmed that the smog was at record highs during that time in that place. Our street ran right up to the mountains, just a few miles away, and most days it really was so smoggy we couldn't see those mountains. No wonder I have terrible sinus problems as an adult (it's a wonder I don't have asthma).


(The Santa Anita wash behind 9th Avenue, sans smog)

    I was startled recently to realize we only lived on that street in Arcadia for a few years; as I mentioned earlier, we moved a lot because Dad usually worked as an independent contractor, and when I was about eight we left Southern California for one year and two houses in Northern California (Novato, in Marin County). But there's no question that 9th Avenue in Arcadia was the place that shaped me and lives most strongly in my memory.

(This is the first in my series of "Smog Blogs". In the next installment, we'll take a video tour of some of the places I used as the basis for settings in Smog; #3 will feature a breakdown of the pop culture references I included; #4 will be a podcast of me reading a section of the novella; and #5 will be a look at Eric J. Guignard's novella Baggage of Eternal Night, which forms the literal flipside to Smog. Thank you for reading this first entry.)



Smog is part of the second volume in JournalStone's "DoubleDown" series; it's paired with Eric J. Guignard's Baggage of Eternal Night. The book is now up for pre-order in hardcover, paperback, e-book or signed limited edition (the latter also includes Summer's End). You can also enter to win a free copy of Smog/Baggage of Eternal Night at Goodreads.

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