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About the Book
First, a word about the title. “Valley of the moon” is the old Native American name for Northern California’s Sonoma Valley.
Just to the east of posh Napa Valley and north of San Francisco, the Sonoma Valley is your standard idyllically beautiful California paradise, surrounded on either side by green rolling hills and lush vineyards.
You want to go to here:
John Lasseter, the founder of Pixar, lives there, and has an incredible house where his model train set runs on a track that winds its way through his house. If you haven’t seen it, you should check it out. You can also take a tour of the Lasseter Family Winery. Because wine.
Jack London lived in Sonoma, too. You’ve read Call of the Wild, right? Okay good, just checking.
Why, here he is now as a dashing young stud:
Jack lived and wrote on a sprawling property called Beauty Ranch, with his boho-ey older wife, Charmian. Today his former property is part of Jack London State Park. You can go there and walk through the towering ruins of his personal pleasure palace, Wolf House, which burned down mysteriously right before they moved in.
I know, right? It’s almost too much.
Shall we wander around this place on a rainy day? Wouldn’t this be the best spot ever for a first date?
As far as I know, no one has ever set a story or movie here. To rectify this crime, some crucial scenes in VALLEY OF THE MOON take place at the park.
Jack London was so into Sonoma that he set his own novel there (not coincidentally, it was called The Valley of the Moon.) If you’re a Jack London fan, and you should be, check it out.
Who’s the Gilded-Age Heiress?
The main inspiration for my novel was the life and death of Huguette Clark. (Huguette is the feminine version of Hugo and it’s pronounced You-Get. Now you know.)
Here she is as a young woman:
Huguette was born in 1906 in Paris to self-made copper tycoon William Clark and his much, much younger second wife, a French girl named Anna. How much younger? Well, she was 23, he was 62.
William Clark, who was born in a log cabin, rose quickly from his humble beginnings. How high? Well, he eventually built this pathetic shack for his new family at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 77th Street in New York City:
At the time, it was the most expensive home ever built. It had 121 rooms for Clark, his wife, and his two young daughters. Tragically, the mansion was considered a bit too much and was torn down years later.
Here’s the Father of the Year with his two unhappy looking daughters:
Anyway, Huguette’s life was very poor little rich girl. Her older sister’s untimely death, and an unhappy marriage, probably didn’t help. She spent her time in her huge Fifth Avenue apartment painting and amassing a vast collection of rare dolls.
She was also a real estate tycoon, spending part of her $300 million inheritance on fabulous mansions, like this one in Santa Barbara:
Like all her properties, she never lived in them. She never set foot in her Santa Barbara estate after her wedding there, but it was kept pristine and managed by a team of servants–and still is to this day.
Instead, she chose to spend the last few decades of her life in a small hospital room in New York. Her nurses would take her on walks in Central Park.
She wasn’t insane, in the true sense of the word. Eccentric, yes. She wasn’t really sick, either. She just seemed to feel safer there.
She died at the age of 106 in 2011. I first heard of her when I read her obituary in the New York Times and I became fascinated with her story. (If you’re interested in learning more about her, I recommend picking up a copy of Empty Mansions, by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr.)
I started thinking about her vast fortune, left to no one, and distant relatives squabbling over it.
I thought, wow, what if you got a call one day from someone telling you that you were an heir to a grand old fortune? And your life at the time was pretty miserable–maybe you were a bit like Cinderella, a teenager being pushed around by her new stepmother and stepsister.
And…what if that old woman had in real life been your actual godmother, but you’d never known?
Thus was born my little story.
And now, dear readers, I give you, VALLEY OF THE MOON.
I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!