The idea of using Half Moon Bay as a location for fiction has been germinating inside me for decades.
I’ve always loved the town and its environs, especially its dark and mysterious foggy summers. When my daughter was an infant, and I was still in that half-crazed new-mother trance, I’d take her with me for long drives up and down California’s famous Route 1, stopping to nurse her by the crackling wood stove at the San Gregorio General Store, located on the old stagecoach route that formerly ran between the coast and the flowering orchards in the Valley of Hearts Delight (the original name of the grim and now tree-less Silicon Valley).
I’d pack my daughter into a front baby carrier, her tiny head held close to my heart, and we’d wander on the beaches past the undulating Pescadero dunes, through isolated coves below the 500-foot high sandstone cliffs. Bundled up against the cold and with fog so wet that our faces dripped, we’d enter a wondrous universe far, far away from our suburban home on other, sunny, side of the coastal foothills.
Once, when my daughter was perhaps four years old, we were paddling amongst the tide pools when a huge section of the cliffs collapsed. I heard a sharp cracking sound, and felt the first few bits of rock hitting my shoulders. I had to decide in a split second: Do I throw myself on top of my daughter to shield her, or pick her up and run? I decided, luckily, on the latter, as we would have been buried alive if we had stayed put. I needed stitches on the backs of my legs from being struck by rocks as we fled.
There was always that sense of danger, of risk, in Half Moon Bay.
The weather never cooperates in Half Moon Bay. In summer, when the inland valleys on the other side of the coastal hills enjoy endless California sunny bright days, Half Moon Bank gets huge banks of thick fog rolling in from the Pacific, scuttling any plans for pleasant beach outings. You can be standing on the beach right above the tide line and your visibility of the sea is limited to gleaming bursts of white foam through the mist. And it’s cold. You go to Half Moon Bay in July, and you make sure to bring a winter jacket.
Even on the rare fogless days, few people go into the frigid water except fearless children and surfers, the latter clad head to toe in wetsuits to protect against hypothermia.
I grew up in Chicago, far from any ocean. Half Moon Bay evoked an ambiguous mixture of belonging and loss in me. I thought vaguely of moving there, but knew I’d be overwhelmed by melancholy if I did. Yet on the rare sunny and warm day, walking barefoot in the sand next to turquoise water, I’d experience joy so intense as to be nearly unbearable.
It was the emotional extremes evoked in me by Half Moon Bay that made me want to write about it. It spoke to me. Things could happen here. When I sat down to write the book that bears its name, a sense of longing for the unreachable permeated every sentence. I found myself finding out things about a woman, suffering an unspeakable loss, and vulnerable down to her bones to anyone bold or bad enough to take advantage. Half Moon Bay was the perfect location to place this woman in, to see how the place itself acted upon her, put her under a spell—the same spell I experience every time I visit.
I live in Mallorca now. You couldn’t find a more different place. Yet I was able to evoke Half Moon Bay while looking at the Tramuntana mountains and, in the distance, the Mediterranean sea. That’s how strong the spell was, and is.
Half Moon Bay by Alice LaPlante is published by Titan Books