Miriam Parker spent a day in Sonoma and it changed her life. A New Yorker with a career in book publishing and a lifelong writer, she stopped here for a night en route to the airport and was inspired to make Sonoma the location of her novel.
Now she is author of “The Shortest Way Home,” released last week by Dutton, a Penguin Random House imprint, and being marketed as a book for summer reading. Parker says it’s the perfect book to read sitting by a pool with a glass of wine.
When Parker was here alone in 2010, she visited Buena Vista Winery. “I thought it was the most beautiful place I had ever been and it stuck in my mind,” she said, explaining that it is what inspired the Bellosguardo Winery that is the central focus in her novel. “It’s a fictionalized version based on my memory and how much I loved it.”
She had dinner the night of her visit at the Girl and the Fig, and ate the crème brulee she writes about, but she did not go to La Salette or Steiners Tavern, other places enjoyed by Hannah, the main character in her novel, as Parker relied heavily on internet research to create the Sonoma scenes.
She is already writing another Sonoma-based novel, following the lead of her “hero” Elin Hilderbrand, a best-selling author of 21 novels that all take place on Nantucket. Hilderbrand is quoted on the cover of “The Shortest Way Home,” calling it “Delightful… Effervescent, heady and intoxicating.” Parker worked in marketing at Little Brown for five years where she helped promote Hilderbrand’s books.
“Reading Elin’s books made me realize that you can write really smart fiction that’s fun to read that’s about relationships, about life decisions, and about beautiful places.”
Parker decided to make Sonoma her beautiful place. She created Hannah, who has just finished her MBA at UC Berkeley and is about to return to Manhattan with her boyfriend, where she has landed a high-powered job in finance. Before they leave they spend a weekend in Sonoma at the El Dorado Hotel. They visit Belloguardo, where by chance Hannah is offered a job and a cottage to live in if she will agree to stay in Sonoma and help improve business at the winery. She decides to stay, meets a new man and, in short, lives happily ever after.
Parker, 39, has worked in the publishing world for years and is currently the associate publisher of Ecco. She has a BA in English from Columbia. It was after she finished her MFA in creative writing at U. of North Carolina that she came to California to visit a cousin in Chico and made the short, life-changing stop in Sonoma and began working on her novel.
She returned to Sonoma County the following year with her King Cavalier Spaniel Leopold, and spent two weeks in Sebastopol, visiting wineries and learning more about wine. She did not return to Sonoma or to Buena Vista Winery.
Readers often wonder how much the characters and experiences in a novel come from the author’s actual life. In Parker’s case, Sonoma is a place she visited and loved although she’s never lived here. She says that there is some of herself in all of her characters, and the only completely true depiction is of the winery dog Tannin. “Tannin is 100 percent Leopold.” The two lead male characters, Ethan and William, are “a composition of a lot of experiences with men I have had or my friends have had,” she said.
‘The Shortest Way Home’ is available at Readers’ Books and online.