Why I Wrote a Book Set in the Pacific Northwest

I found home once, completely unexpectedly, in the last place I thought it would ever be. I was traveling — (don’t all good stories start this way?) — with my husband and our two best friends. Two months on the road in an RV, discovering all the best the USA had to offer. We went from deserts to tropical islands to mountains covered in snow. We braved dust storms and heat waves and theme park lines and the tail end of a hurricane. We found places that felt a bit like where we’d come from — southern California — and were teased for our “American” accents in Montreal. It was exhausting and wonderful and the best thing we’d ever done.

But that home part, that struck me hard and fast. As soon as we left that little corner of the country, I felt it tug me back. Nothing felt quite right after that.

I’ve always been a summer girl. I grew up with dry heat and bush fires, cool rivers and summer storms. I spent my childhood yearning for the beach, and my teenagehood finding it. I always hated winter, the rain and grey skies, the feeling of being boxed in, kept from adventure. And yet…

I think we travel to find ourselves, to delve deeper into that inner landscape that seems at times as alien as the ones we visit. I wanted to find the unexpected, and I did. There’s this moment I remember, driving back through Washington State from Vancouver, when I turned to my husband and said: “I don’t want to leave.”

We’d been there only a few days. We’d seen Seattle and North Bend and Vancouver, and that was it. We hadn’t made it to the islands yet, or to Mount Rainier, which would steal my heart all over again, and yet somehow I knew. This place, this land of mountains and sea and pine trees and rain, was where I was meant to be.

I can’t explain it, that bone-deep knowing. In just a few days, the Pacific Northwest changed me. I’ve spent the two and a half years since rediscovering myself and searching for a way to go back.

There’s this word I discovered recently that captures how I feel: Fernweh; farsickness, the longing for far-off places.

Because here’s the thing. I’ve found my home, but I can’t be there. Oh, we have plans. Michael is retraining to be a teacher so he can meet the visa requirements, while I’m contributing to a mortgage that will be our nest egg once we get there. But all this takes time. We don’t know when we’ll ever get to go back. It could be this year, it could be eight years from now.

It’s hard, but we’ve dealt with this kind of thing before. I want to be a writer, remember? It’s hardly a straight-forward career path.

In the meantime, we dream and save and work and write books set in the San Juan Islands. We create walls dedicated to our dreams and we trust that if we work hard enough, one day we’ll get there.

And that’s the answer to the question I’ve heard over and over again since signing with my agent: Why do you write books set in the Pacific Northwest? Because I can’t imagine writing about anywhere else.

Our dream wall.
Our dream wall.
Mt. Rainer, which stole my heart.
Mt. Rainer, which stole my heart.
Friday Harbor <3
Friday Harbor ❤
Home. Oct 22 2011.
Home. Oct 22 2011.
Why I Wrote a Book Set in the Pacific Northwest

4 thoughts on “Why I Wrote a Book Set in the Pacific Northwest

    1. bethanyrsmith says:

      Nice spotting! Yes, it’s such a beautiful area, although we ate at Twede’s Diner in North Bend — damn fine coffee and a slice of cherry pie 😉

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