Wandering Around the San Juan Bautista Mission

The other day I found myself having completed all the work for the first two classes in my MFA, which had somehow resulted in a massive case of writer’s block. Instead of sitting and staring at the blinking cursor, I decided to do a little work on setting. In Trial Run, Rick Keller ends up at a Family compound where Calix and Karen have set up shop, working as independent security contractors for the Family. The building they live and work out of is an old Spanish mission that was built in the late 1700s … a little too close to a Family city. Funny enough, once construction was complete, all memory of the place disappeared–records, eyewitnesses, down to the last materiel purchase order.

When I wrote the book, I mostly drew on my memories of the La Purisima Mission in Lompoc, CA. The rectangular construction around an open courtyard, the chapel, the rooms where the inhabitants lived and worked, the garden and fountains on the ground–all were hanging out in my mind’s eye.

The view of San Juan Bautista from across the street at the historic Plaza Hotel.

We’re a solid four hours from Lompoc at the moment, but there is another of the 21 Spanish missions that were established in the region that became California–San Juan Bautista. I was feeling kind of down and blah, so a field trip was in order. I drove down on a gray, rainy Tuesday to check it out.

The first thing I noticed was that the mission, unlike La Purisima, sits in the middle of a town, surrounded by a state park. For three bucks (actually, more like 20, since I bought a book at the gift shop with my entrance fee), I got to walk around the San Juan Bautista State Historic Park. The grounds include several historic buildings: a hotel, the Breen residence (survivors of the Donner Party), a stables and blacksmith shop, and another grand residence. Definitely worth the price of admission.

The mission itself was built in a giant L-shape, with the chapel at the corner. I

The outdoor hallway at San Juan Bautista Mission. From here, you can access the gift shop, chapel, or more of the property.

entered and walked down the long, outside hallway, which reminded me of the La Purisima architecture. My first stop was in the gift shop, where I picked up a couple of books (I really can’t help myself), a bracelet rosary, a Christmas present, and a candle to light in the chapel.

I also put my phone down while I was trying to juggle everything, and found a cluster of visiting schoolkids checking it out since I hadn’t locked it down. Oops.

Phone safely retrieved, I headed out the door into the inner yard of the mission. There is a garden, more elaborate than the one at La Purisima, with roses and lemon trees, and even a fountain or two. The air was cold, with a sharp chill, and it smelled sweet and wet.

Down the outdoor corridor, a large door with a wooden sign reading “Church” pointed the way.

 

The chapel was a rectangular space, with a baptismal font in a small room off the side. At the back of the church, a depiction of the Savior stood against the left side, and the Virgin Mary at the front. The floor was stone. In Trial Run, Rick stretches out on the floor of the mission’s chapel, enjoying the cool of the tile. It was a little too chilly to do that; also, there were more schoolkids running around, followed by chaperones exhibiting varying levels of enthusiasm, so I decided discretion was the better part of valor.

A view across the center/back of the chapel.

The altar was very much in a familiar style of the other missions. A series of alcoves held depictions of various saints. Unlike the La Purisima mission, San Juan Bautista holds weekly masses. According to their Web site, they have had an unbroken pastoral lineage since the mission was first consecrated. There was a definite sense of history around the place.

The view toward to the altar and its saints.

In Trial Run, Rick goes into the chapel, not knowing what he will find. The people who live and work there continue to use it as a space for meditation and worship, although not in any specific or formal way. Rick half expects to meet with the Green Man, whose manifestation has come to him in various places, but in this place of worship, he does not appear.

Chapels and churches are very familiar spaces to me, having grown up in a faith tradition. I brought my candle over to the space in front of the Virgin Mary. Feeling super self-conscious given the fact that kids were still milling around and, from their reactions, not really expecting to encounter someone worshiping, I lit the candle for my sister,

The devotional area to the Virgin Mary.

Jenn, and spent a few moments in meditation.  Afterwards, I snapped a few photos, and wandered around the garden for a bit.

By that time, I was ready for lunch. I grabbed a burger at a little diner a block down the street. While I ate, I started reading one of the books I bought, enjoying the chance to spend some more time doing introvert things.

After I paid the tab, I wandered in another circle around the grounds. By this time, most of the kids from the school trip had headed out. I got a few more pictures, but mostly just enjoyed the quiet that had descended on the place.

I took a few more notes and photos, stashing the experience away for a future story. Rick isn’t a big fan of California landscapes, but I kind of enjoy them. I find it fun to explore the history, especially on days when you almost have the place to yourself. I’m feeling a bit more energized to keep working on Winter Run, as well as a couple of other short projects whose deadlines are politely coughing over my shoulder.

In the future, I’d like to start doing more of this, finding a place once a week or so, to spend a few hours in. You never know when a place or time is going to pop up and demand a place in something you’re writing, so it would be a way to gather potential future settings in one blog. Looking forward to future mini-adventures.

A view of part of the inner garden at San Juan Bautista.

~ ~ ~

The Rick Keller Project can be found on Amazon:
Cold Run
Night Run
Vegas Run
Trial Run

Winter Run, the concluding novel to the series, is currently in progress!

Cold Run is live!!

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Three years ago I sat down with a character who had surfaced during one of my writing exercise sessions. A grumpy, disgruntled werewolf, Rick Keller showed up in my notes the night that the organization he used to work for came to get him.

Throughout the next year or so, this short excerpt stayed on my mind. The organization Rick used to work for gathered a name — MONIKER — and a history, namely a genesis in an unnamed office of an unnamed department of the Office of Strategic Services. Rick lost one homeland and gained another, and by the time he started to tell me his story, he had quit all vestiges of secret-agent hood and was retired out in the Vermont wilderness.

For the 2011 National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo), I began writing a novel flavored by some of the research I was doing on World War II, partisan warfare, and combating human trafficking. And today Untold Press releases that novel, Cold Run, available on Amazon and Goodreads.

We have a couple of cool events planned to help celebrate. The first is a giveaway, open from August 3 − 30, that could net you a $20 Amazon gift certificate, or free copies of Cold Run. You can check it out on the Untold Press Web site, or at a Rafflecopter giveaway.

Untold Press has also scheduled a Book Blitz for August 5-10, and a Book Tour from August 15-28. I’ll be Tweeting and Pinging, so stay tuned for more information!

Cold Runsm

 

Excerpt from Cold Run (available on Amazon and Goodreads):

“Keller.”

The man behind the weapon was a ghost, a black tactical suit concealing his form, expensive scope mounted on some sort of rifle. I howled again and lurched at him, brought down short by another surge of the change. I struggled to remain upright but found myself on my knees.

Another man appeared to the side, shining a bright, piercing strobe light at my eyes, disorienting me as I tried to turn to face the new threat, my traitorous body rendering my reactions unreliable.

I scrambled to get my feet under me, but the final throes of the change robbed the ground from me. I flailed my paws against the last remnants of my work clothes, now torn and scattered on the ground.

I heard the explosion of gases from the chamber of the first man’s rifle a split second after the bullet pierced my side. I yelped and fell sideways, trying to relieve the pressure. I rolled to all fours and lunged toward the man, intent on relieving the pain by ripping the screams from his throat.

He shot again and again as I reached him, bowling him over and aiming for the soft pieces exposed to my grip.

Instead of soft viscera beneath my teeth, the next sensation I felt came as intense pain, which slowed and disjointed my movements. I raised my head, snapping and gnarling in vain against the folds of the net suddenly enveloping me. Ignoring the second man–stupid mistake. From the burning the lines of the net raised against my hide, I could tell the wires were laced with silver filaments.

The man with the rifle scrambled away from me. I let him go, rolling on the ground, trying to escape the clutching net.

“He’s a big one.” The second man spoke the words, looking down on me from an impossible height as the pain began to outweigh the panic. I could feel the silver working against my struggling.

“He always was.” The first man hocked and spat. It smelled of Copenhagen. “It’s going to be a bitch dragging him down to the truck.”

The words made no sense. I listened, but could not understand.

“If we let you up, do you promise to be a good doggie?” The man with the rifle prodded the barrel into my side.

I growled, but it was mostly wishful thinking, the energy from the night and the change suddenly sapped by the ensilvered net. I lay on my side and simply lolled.

“Good boy.” The man kept his rifle trained at me as his partner knelt down and fiddled with the edge of the net. Grasping a loop from the edge, he pulled. The line must have been attached in some ingenious way so when he pulled on it, it contracted the net into a small, compact circle around my neck.

“Come on.” The second man jerked at my neck, holding the line as a leash. “I’m not carrying you down this hill in the dark.”

The net continued to burn against my neck as he dragged me to my feet. Head hanging, I padded after him through the snow.