Johanna Lehmann explains why San Francisco is the place to be for chick lit characters.
When a woman crosses oceans to start a new life, that’s already thrilling. When that new life begins in San Francisco, “the Paris of the West” – though, it’s a whole new world. When I was writing my chick lit novel I wanted readers to discover a spirited young woman who finds adventure in the city.
Somewhere that when she’s offered work for a year, that it would be able to turn her life upside down in the most surprising and wonderful ways. Where else could she get infected by the Silicon Valley virus to start her own company, falls in love with an American guy whose behavior causes her to question her understanding of relationships?
Where else could convince her to sacrifice German caution for American optimism, where she would have to navigate the ups and downs of a bizarre new world? Where could she decipher the cryptic code of American dating, while developing a taste for the ‘secret sauce’ of Silicon Valley?
There was only one real option, the most expensive city in the U.S. It had to be San Francisco. San Francisco has all what it takes to be the perfect setting for a chick lit novel. Let’s look at why: New York may be The City That Never Sleeps, but San Francisco is the City That Knows How. ‘How’ to do what? Well – everything! How to have fun, how to embrace diversity, how to recover from adversity, and how to shine a light on people that are loving & warm.
And then there’s the light. I love the sunlight of San Francisco for my novels! I’m sure you will, too. You just need to spend a few days with the sun in San Francisco – and then you know: this city gives you so many great backdrops to set the stage for your characters most important moments and discoveries. This is mostly because San Francisco is so atmospheric.
The city wins you over with its light – its color and variety: the beautiful amber blanket that spread through the main characters room, awakening Hanni (our heroine) on her first morning in San Francisco; the golden light of the sun peeking through the morning clouds in the Financial district when Hanni is excited to start her first working day; the dim yet refreshing light shining through the branches of the old eucalyptus trees in Golden Gate Park; and the skyline sparkling yellow and white shimmer beneath the sunset fog. With all of the impressive nature of San Francisco to explore, you have a broad palette of experiences for you to explore and share with your readers.
Only eleven miles outside San Francisco are the Muir Woods, a National Monument and part of the National Park Service that was preserved as a result of the efforts of John Muir, a famous naturalist and conservationist. There are many locations like this that combine romance, nature and discovery. For example, slightly further north, about thirty miles from San Francisco, is Point Reyes Natural Seashore.
This is where Hanni and her American boyfriend visit for a weekend, discovering the ocean, Pacific grey whales… and each other. With a location like this, readers can expect a weekend with consequences! 😉 The city is already chock full of potential experiences: with different types of stories in every one of San Francisco’s neighborhoods. There’s never room for boredom.
You need somewhere like this where your characters, and readers, can spend weeks, even months without needing to force the plot to have them to go anywhere else and, to discover more. What kind of personalities and stories could you explore in a place where your characters can go sailing in Berkeley, experience Chinese New Year or run the Bay to Breakers. San Francisco has so many aspects to it’s personality.
It’s not a one-note city, but a collection of personalities, of neighborhoods, each with its own scents, tastes and feelings, its own unique history, more like different countries that happen to share a border. You can try to create a rich and complex tapestry like this to develop your characters in… or you can experience one that already exists, and let it inspire you. Of course, it’s never just buildings and views in a location that move your readers. People connect with people.
If you have a great location, you’ll have a wealth of characters born of that location to intrigue, amuse, enrage, inspire your readers and more. Where better to find the diversity of characters to choose from, than one of the most multicultural cities in all of the United States, with people drawn for so many reasons from every corner of the world. San Francisco has a willingness to embrace people of different ethnicities and different cultures.
It’s nicknamed the “Least American” of American cities – which gives me, and you, something interesting to play with in the novel as well. It’s open and welcoming to people from all cultures and backgrounds. It’s a true melting pot. San Francisco welcomes everyone arriving on its shores with all of their hopes and dreams, from the gold miners who arrived in 1849 to seek their fortune, to the new explorers of our age, like Hanni, open to adventure and eager to experience as much of life as she can.
And what about adding a touch of glamor and stardom to your novel? Merely by basing your novel in San Francisco, the opportunity for your characters to bump into famous celebrities opens up in your novel. For instance in the famous Tosca Cafe on 242 Columbus Avenue where your characters can realistically spot such Hollywood luminaries as Francis Coppola, Sean Penn, Robert DeNiro, Bono or Sharon Stone. Granted, that maybe San Francisco isn’t the right location for every story that could ever be told. You need a location though that can provide opportunities. You need a location that can provide you with inspiration.
You need a location that gives you a wealth of characters, personalities and experiences. If somewhere else fits the story perfectly, then by all means, set your story there. If you’re still looking for a place that easily provide you with all of these, and more… then San Francisco just might be the perfect location for your chick lit novel. I look forward to reading it.
What girl doesn’t long to chase her dream in her late twenties? Especially if she’s just split up with her boyfriend, is bored by her home country and job, and wants to make a change in the world.
This is the story of 27-year-old Hanni, a native German, who is inspired by the character Mary Ann Singleton from Armistead Maupin’s bestselling series, Tales of the City. When Hanni gets a job offer giving her the opportunity to work in San Francisco for a year, she decides to leave Germany to explore a new culture.
It is the story of a girl who crosses both oceans and cultures to live her dream, and fall in love with a new city that is bewilderingly different from any in Europe.
How to love San Francisco – One year in the City by the Bay is a hybrid between novel and travel guide.
Born in Berlin, the creative hub of Germany and growing up with books all around her, Johanna Lehmann always wanted to become a writer but her parents – her Dad an engineer and her Mom an English teacher – said “If you want to be a writer you have to: 1.) Read a lot and 2.) travel a lot to.”
Johanna started working on that vision: She studied Business Administration at INSEAD and Catholic University Eichstätt-Ingolstadt and worked for major companies all over the world. After she had read a few hundred books and traveled more than 40 countries in the world, she thought it was time to give the author life a try: She moved to San Francisco, took writing classes at Stanford University and wrote her debut How to love San Francisco – One year in the City by the Bay. Johanna was a finalist at the Writer’s Institute 2013 and her work was described as “a fresh, somewhat frisky and unusual take on San Francisco” as well as a ” fresh voice.”