When I was 24 years old, I decided to move to California.
This was no small undertaking, you understand: I was born and raised on the other coast, and no one in my family had ever ventured any farther west than Texas. (That would be my dad, and his adventure came courtesy of the United States Army.) But for years, California had called to me – Los Angeles in particular. I had a gas station map of Greater L.A. tacked to my bedroom wall, and spent a lot of time studying it. I knew which freeways led where. How far Burbank was from Santa Monica.
It was the place I wanted to be. The place my heart said I needed to be. So the summer before I turned 25, I packed my belongings into the massive trunk of my first car (a ’72 Chevy Malibu with two different-colored seats and no air conditioning) and went there.
That first trip proved to be premature; after four months I gave up and came home. But some years later – prompted by the offer of a writing internship at Star Trek: The Next Generation – I gave L.A. another try, and this time it became my home. For 11 years I was an Angeleno, a resident of one of the most famous, and arguably the most gossiped about, cities in the world. While I was there, I lived through the riots that followed the Rodney King verdict (during which I spent a harrowing night alone in a motel). The Northridge earthquake (no damage to my home, but all my belongings ended up on the floor). The murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman (8 blocks from my apartment, in a neighborhood I often took Saturday afternoon walks through) and the subsequent White Bronco Chase.
After the internship ended, I worked at a major record label, an international bank, a law firm, a gift manufacturer, and an art museum.
I watched a variety of TV shows and movies being filmed – one of them, right outside my apartment. I ran into Florence Henderson (“Carol Brady”) in a frozen yogurt shop, Lindsay Wagner (the Bionic Woman) in an elevator, Maria Shriver in a hallway, Jay Leno in a burger joint, and Leonardo DiCaprio in the mailroom of the aforementioned art museum. I stood near the red carpet at three movie premieres (at one, I shook hands with Courtney Cox; at another, I got a wave and a smile from George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez). I attended an awards dinner and ate prime rib a few tables away from Jim Carrey.
And because I lived in L.A., I was able to attend a fan convention for Quantum Leap, the TV series for which I’d been writing fan fiction for a couple of years. When a friend discovered that the editor of the QL tie-in novels was a guest at the event, she told me firmly, “If you don’t go up and introduce yourself to her, I’ll kill you.” You could accuse me of being easily swayed… but I obeyed. And was chosen to write two of the tie-ins.
At the end of those 11 years, because my parents were getting older and I felt the need to own my own home (something that’s not do-able on one salary in SoCal), I again got into my car… and came home.
I started thinking about all of this when a co-worker told me she’d been doing the same job, in the same place, for more than thirty years. There’s a lot to be said for that; she’s got some rockin’ seniority. But for me, as a writer – seniority’s got very little cachet. In those same 30 years I’ve driven cross-county twice, and I’ve traveled from the Northeast to the Northwest, and from the Northeast to the southern tip of Florida, courtesy of Amtrak. I’ve seen 41 of our 50 states. I’ve been to the Grand Canyon, the Oregon coast, the Rockies, the Everglades, Mexico and the Caribbean. I’ve been splashed by Shamu at Sea World and came close to barfing on Space Mountain at Disneyland. I’ve climbed a sand dune a couple of miles of the Trinity atomic bomb test site. I’ve ridden to the top of the Space Needle and I’ve stood among the giant sequoias.
In addition to the jobs I mentioned above, I’ve worked at two oil companies, two more law firms, an insurance company, an advertising and sales office, and a department store. I’ve been a guest speaker at two fan conventions, and helped organize three more.
I learned how to live on my own, three thousand miles away from my family. I followed my heart, when almost everyone I knew thought was I was doing was crazy. The second time I moved to L.A., I didn’t know anyone there. I had no refuge to run to if something went wrong – but I chose to listen to my heart, not my head. I chose to take a chance, and to widen my horizons. Rather than remaining in one place for the long haul, I chose to become a rolling stone – to get out there and see what I could see (and do).
It went well, in the long run. Sometimes, it went really, really well. If I’d remained at home, I never would have met that tie-in editor, and never would have had those first books published. I wouldn’t have been able to stand in the tiny bedroom where Abraham Lincoln drew his last breath, and I wouldn’t have been able to walk the Grassy Knoll in Dallas. I wouldn’t have seen Graceland, and I wouldn’t have been able to walk down to the beach on my lunch hour and watch the surf roll in.
As my dad puts it: I’ve done a lot of stuff. I’ve covered a lot of miles, every one of them useful to me as I step into becoming a full-time writer. People I’ve met, things I’ve done – they all go into the big blender in my head, and I think they help make my stories richer and more interesting. Much more real, I hope.
And I can’t wait to see what comes next.