One of the best parts of writing a novel (especially one set in the future) is set design. Full disclosure: I watch way too much Fixer Upper, and my husband is a carpenter.
When I was writing Colony War, we were in the middle of a kitchen remodel, which might have impacted how many words I devoted to describing Tripp’s Sea Cliff mansion and his rooftop meditation garden.
Unlike most of my “sets,” Tripp’s mansion wasn’t that different from crazy celebrity homes that exist today. It wasn’t on a space station or in a nuclear compound or set after the world had ended, so I had the freedom to go wild with all the decorations and amenities my little heart desired.
Since I first visited New Mexico, I have been in love with the Southwest. You can see the subtle nods to that style in my home office — meant to make me feel like I’m in Taos — and I decided to give Tripp a home that reflected a Southwest-meets-Far-East aesthetic.
This style fit nicely in Sea Cliff — the ultra-exclusive enclave in San Francisco that’s insulated from commercial development. It boasts some truly magnificent Spanish colonial revival homes that cost many millions to own.
The Talavera tiles are common in kitchens and bathrooms in New Mexican homes, as is the saltillo tile on the floor. If you’ve ever been in a real adobe, you’ll appreciate the little nooks and crannies in Tripp’s home filled with plants and mementos from his travels.
It was essential that Tripp’s home be flush with amenities — an enormous balcony overlooking the Bay, fully-automated smart technology, built-in speakers, jacuzzi, and yoga studio. I focused in on the areas I lust after most in a house — including the outdoor spaces — and, if I’d had a reason to bring the reader into Tripp’s kitchen, that would have been another ten pages.
I was delighted that I got to design the ultra-deluxe master bathroom. (The bathroom at my house is built around the original clawfoot tub, which takes up nearly all the space.) I wanted to design a bathroom that embodied the best of the great outdoors but which was still overly luxurious in its comforts.
It was fun to imagine Tripp’s home because his lighthearted personality lent it an eclectic flavor. Once I knew that Tripp was a practicing Buddhist, story ideas for transformative points in his life just blossomed in my subconscious. (I wrote about Tripp’s return home after spending six weeks in a Buddhist monastery in a short story for my Patreon subscribers.)
I decided to give him a meditation garden on the roof of his father’s building — something that would fit Tripp’s offbeat mode of living and surely annoy his father.
Even though I lived in the city at the time of this book’s publication, I have always had a love affair with beautiful outdoor spaces. Because Colorado Springs has such a fine climate, I spend a lot of time reading, writing, meditating, and bird-watching on my front porch, and I’m always trying to improve my little garden.
There’s something wonderfully rebellious about gorgeous pockets of nature that exist in cities. The more I walk my city, the more I’m amazed by my neighbors’ ingenuity.
One family built a container garden on top of their flat-roofed garage, complete with flowers, a sitting area, and a hammock. A few of my neighbors keep chickens fenced in their yard like dogs, and if you wander down a certain alley in Old Colorado City, you’ll find an urban farm run by people who sell eggs from their back gate. People plant perennials in the cracks between bricks in the walls that surround their yards, and sunflowers grow determinedly from gaps in the sidewalk.
Tripp’s meditation garden had, by design, an austere simplicity, but I incorporated water and potted trees to create the impression that it truly was an oasis.
As a writer, it’s impossible to keep your real-life obsessions from seeping into your writing. Even though my books are often set in stark futuristic communities that exist apart from nature, nature always finds its way in.
In The Defectors, Haven and her friends retreat to Ida’s farm. In The Fringe series, Harper and Eli wander out into the desert and find that it may be less threatening than their home. In Lawless, Lark prefers spending time alone in the woods to being a part of her prison community.
I didn’t set out to write books that advocate living in the wild over living as part of society, but rejecting modern advancements and retreating from the world has become a theme that runs through most of my work. Maybe I’m destined to be a hermit?
Big life questions aside, I think humans will always find solace in nature — whether that’s a rooftop garden or a cabin surrounded by untouched wilderness. We are a part of nature, and we cannot separate ourselves from it any more than a tree can uproot itself from the earth and walk away to live someplace else.