Someone asked me why I chose Vallejo as the setting for my novel, Taking Root. Early on, as I began thinking about the plot and envisioning Delaney, the protagonist, a little memory bubble floated up to the surface and popped.
When my brothers and I were kids, our family lived in Novato, a city north of San Francisco. At that time, the nearest Sears store was in Vallejo. If my father needed new work boots or the boys grew out of their Toughskins jeans, we’d pile into the old Ford station wagon and follow highway 37 across the salt marshes along San Pablo Bay. If we were lucky, we’d be treated to nickel scoops of ice cream at Thrifty’s in the same shopping center before heading back home.
Fast forward to my own days as a soccer mom passing through Vallejo on the way to tournaments in Pleasanton or Livermore. I’d point out the massive slate-gray vessels at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard as we crossed over the bridge. Maybe it was the spirit of Rosie the Riveter or the fried chicken take-out at the intersection with State Route 29 but Vallejo always felt like a gritty, working-class city to me—a perfect backdrop for the story that was beginning to take shape in my mind.
While writing the first draft, I returned to Vallejo to get a feel for the historic downtown area around Georgia Street; tiled storefronts, faded maroon awnings with scalloped edges, a mix of architectural styles, buildings with fire escapes and back alleys, steel doors, wrought iron gates. Some businesses had obviously been shuttered for a while. Others offered hydroponics, pipes and tobacco, discount waterbeds and brass and pottery items from India. The wooden floors of the Army/Navy Surplus were patched with squares of sheet metal. The street was showing its age. It may have been a little down, but it definitely was not out. Residents of this city are resilient.
That visit gave me the sense of place I needed to create Delaney’s world, an urban environment where she might find an opportunity to grow and thrive.