Diablo talks to Jane Smiley, Carmel Valley resident and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Thousand Acres
After the success of A Thousand Acres, the tale of a disintegrating Iowa family, Jane Smiley headed to California, where she bought a ranch in 1996. She’s never looked back. A tall, lanky blond with wire-rim glasses, Smiley looks every bit the horsewoman she is. She stands straight and sits languidly. And she is very much at home in Carmel Valley, where she breeds thoroughbreds. She also manages to travel quite a bit (she had just returned from a literary festival in Paris and was planning her next trip to Mexico when we met). And somehow she even finds time to write. Last year’s A Year at the Races was widely acclaimed, and her forthcoming book, Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel, a nonfiction treatise on the history of the novel, will be released next fall.
DIABLO: A Thousand Acres was very much tied up with its sense of place—the Midwest, the heartland of America symbolizing a sort of virtuous core. Instead, it turns out to be not what it seems. Do you find that a sense of place often inspires your work?
JANE SMILEY: When I moved here I was writing The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton. I was traveling a lot at the time. We were looking for a place in California. Something north of L.A. and south of the redwoods. I’ve written a lot about horses since I’ve lived in Carmel. But I’ve never set a book in a particular place because I was living there. I am more interested in the issues of a place.
D: What are the issues facing Carmel Valley today?
JS: It’s a vibrant ranching community with a strong agricultural ethic. There are still lots of old Italian–Swiss ranchers who live in the hills. And then there’s the progressive artists’ colony element. Carmel Valley is more about sport than art, though. I came here because it was a great place to raise horses. There are lots of people who do events here: dressage, jumping, cross-country. [Smiley owns horses that live in the valley and others that live at the racetrack at Santa Anita. It’s interesting to see how we all co-exist.
D: What’s your favorite part about living here?
JS: Well, the weather is certainly fantastic. I like to say there are four seasons in every day. It’s just a beautiful place to live. And hard to leave.
D: Carmel Valley seems to be increasingly more sophisticated, with new shops and restaurants and a more international flavor. Is Carmel still the same place it was when you moved here almost 10 years ago?
JS: Yes, basically. It hasn’t changed very much. There are limits to growth here—the availability of water for one. And that’s probably a good thing.
D: What are your favorite places to go in the Carmel Valley?
JS: I shop at the Pot Farm. I love that place. And I like Café Rustica and the Village Fish House. It’s all fun. It’s a great place to live.