They had thought about it for nearly a decade. So last summer, authors Ann and Evan Maxwell finally made the move.
The couple, who write the Orange County-based Fiddler and Fiora mystery series under the name A.E. Maxwell, sold their longtime Laguna Niguel home in July and moved to the Pacific Northwest.
Home is now in Anacortes, Wash., a small town 90 minutes north of Seattle. More specifically, Anacortes is on Fidalgo Island, which, as Evan Maxwell says, "is just a broad, long bridge drive from the mainland."
The Maxwells' trilevel house, perched on a bedrock cliff 30 feet above the water, is designed in the Craftsman tradition and has, Ann Maxwell says, "a wall of glass facing west."
"It's wonderful," she said by phone recently. "We see killer whales and eagles from our window."
The Maxwells were no strangers to the Pacific Northwest, having been periodically lured over the past 25 years by salmon fishing and friends who had already made the move. The couple had lived in Laguna Niguel since 1970. But it just wasn't the same any more, they said.
"When we moved to Laguna Niguel, there was one four-way stop sign between the freeway and PCH," said Ann, 49. "And now I think there's something like 11 stoplights--I stopped counting--and four carwashes." With a laugh, she added: "You want to know why we moved? If I had wanted to move to Los Angeles, I knew where it was. But L.A. moved to us."
Said Evan, 50: "We now live in a county in which the speed limit--unless otherwise posted--is 35 miles per hour. So it's taken some getting used to, but it is the sort of thing we were looking for."
Their new setting on a private road is, needless to say, conducive to writing.
"It's very peaceful," Ann said. "Evan and I were very fortunate that we were able to move and take our work with us."
Ann, who has a successful solo career writing romance novels under the name Elizabeth Lowell, had just sent in a new medieval romance to Avon. (Over the past 18 months, she's had three romance novels--"Only You," "Untamed" and "Forbidden"--on the New York Times paperback best-seller list.)
The Maxwells' eighth Fiddler mystery--"Murder Hurts"--was published in September; a production company recently optioned the character rights for development as a possible hourlong TV series.
But just because the Maxwells have moved from Orange County doesn't mean Fiddler and Fiora--he's a streetwise free-lance investigator, and she's his financial consultant, ex-wife and current lover--will be giving up their beach house in Crystal Cove and following suit.
"Fiddler had always been in many places in the West, so it won't be much of a change," said Ann, adding that although the characters are based in Orange County, the books have been set in the Pacific Northwest, Santa Fe and Northern California. The next one, she said, may be set in Nevada.
Orange County and Southern California, however, will always factor into the plot. And Evan said "in some ways it's more fun to write about Southern California as a semi-outsider. Southern California is such a rich and yeasty place."
He said they betrayed their antipathy toward some of the changes in Southern California in "Murder Hurts," in which they liken Los Angeles to "an E-string that's been overtuned to play an extra octave. The result isn't music. It's a shrill, penetrating, head-banging, nerve-shattering, mind-bending cacophony; a dull high-speed blade sawing hard steel, a drive-by shooter ripping through a 30-round magazine on full automatic."
Evan said it was fun to do the book, which was written as they were making the decision to bail out of Orange County.
"We have been back a couple of times since moving, and I look at Southern California through different eyes now than I did (living there) every day," he said. "The diversity, the friction and the conflict, it wears you out \o7 and \f7 it energizes you."
Indeed, the Maxwells plan to return to Southern California every few months to visit their son and daughter-in-law in San Diego and, as Evan said, to "rev up the batteries again."
"When I look at this northwest corner of Washington, I realize how quiet life is for these people," he said. "There's a lifestyle, which I find attractive, but which, if I had to live with full time, I'd go crazy."
But, he said, "one of the joys of the modern workaday world is that there are these interconnections. The Seattle-to-Orange-County flights are jampacked with people going both ways. Shuttling back and forth is a natural sort of proposition.
"One of things Fiddler and Fiora have always done is operate throughout the West from a base in Orange County. The connections between Southern California and the rest of the world are really what we started to explore when we started to undertake the series, and we continue to do so."