In this compelling psychological thriller reminiscent of The Picture of Dorian Gray, reclusive artist Ruby Wellman retreats to rural Kingdom Come, California, a small town, 21st century Brigadoon. Ruby, who still suffers from the effects of a childhood tragedy, quietly focuses on her surrealist paintings and keeps locals at arm’s length. When six-year-old Finn McCord moves in next door with his contentious parents, Ruby is pulled into the boy’s disturbed and dysfunctional world. Finn talks only to animals and imaginary friends. Ruby, who communicates through her paintings which nobody sees, immediately identifies with the boy and sees parallels to her buried past. As the boy’s visions become more vivid and he further withdraws from the world, Ruby’s paintings and Finn’s dreams collide in an unexpected explosion that both heals and reveals old secrets and wounds.
In Kingdom Come, CA, author Judy Strick paints a compelling world of engaging characters placed in a rural setting, Readers will find a deeply satisfying work of literary fiction that leaves them questioning everything from their own responses and interactions to the very way they define reality. Ruby and Finn are joined by a cast of colorful supporting characters: from Ruby’s divorced and broken parents to the worldly and sophisticated Hannah and Mischa McCord. They are a curious addition to an eclectic collection of Kingdom Comers that includes an herbalist guru, a ruggedly handsome jack-of-all-trades part-time sheriff; a dead ‘40s cowboy movie star, a dog named Tonto, and the Wizard, Finn’s new best friend. Strick populates her novel with rich, engaging personalities, developing them fully to beautifully capture the complexities of the human condition. The world that she creates may delve into the mystical, but it is securely affixed to a reality that is made all the more familiar by the three-dimensional characters who inhabit it.
Published: July 2014
APRIL 18, 1978- SANTA MONICA CA.
Let’s go back thirty-four years, to a balmy spring day, sunny and warm, with just enough breeze to ruffle the palm trees along the palisades.
We Wellmans, four of us then, had gone to the Ocean Park pier on the occasion of my eighth birthday. I had picked the pier instead of Sea World or Knotts Berry Farm, my other choices. The decision had been prompted by a third grade urban myth making the rounds on the playground: The Ferris wheel in Santa Monica was said to have magical powers, and from the top of the ride you could see all the way to China. And if you held your breath and made a wish at that very moment, your wish would come true. I was enchanted by the idea. Eight year olds still believe in magic.
And so I chose the pier.
I’ll never stop ruing my choice. If only I had wanted to see Shamu jump through a hoop, or longed to ride on the rollercoaster at Knotts Berry Farm, if only I had not wanted to make a wish.
If only I had never been conceived
There are several pictures of that day, taken by a strolling photographer in a clown suit: a group shot, all of us squinting into the sun: Adele and David in their tie-dye and denim and their two adorable kids. And a solo shot of yours truly, Ruby Louise, mugging it up for the camera. I’m wearing seersucker shorts and a t-shirt with big red letters-‘Birthday Girl’. A red helium balloon is tugging at my wrist and I’m grinning a big loopy grin. My new teeth are too big for my face and my curly hair is blowing and I look like a chrysanthemum.
In that photo my brother was not the center of the photos, or for that matter, of the day. My brother was very cute. He was only five. All five year olds are cute. Not so eight year olds with bony knees and big teeth, but it was my day. I was the one getting all the attention, and I loved it: hot dogs and candy apples, cheap plastic prizes my father won for me at coin tosses and dart games, breaking waves and cawing seagulls making background music, and the calliope playing mechanical Strauss waltzes.
And then it was time for the big event- the Ferris wheel, where dreams came true.
We waited in line, hand in hand, my father and I, while my mother, her big halo of wiry curls, waited with my brother behind the ropes at the entrance to the ride. Abe was crying; he wanted to go on too. “No way,” my mother had said. A squirmy kid like you, you’ll fall off and kill yourself.”
So it was just my Daddy and me; much to my delight. I was nuts about him. He was tall, and cool for a father, with his long hair and his Frank Zappa t-shirt, He squeezed my hand and winked at me. I was excited and a bit scared; looking from down there, at terra firma, the top of the ride seemed very high up.
It was finally our turn and a shiny red gondola arrived. My father helped me aboard and bowed. I giggled, charmed and embarrassed. A chrome bar was locked in place to hold us in. The brake was released with a loud clunk, and we floated slowly up into the air. I clutched the bar, at first a little nervous, and then I surrendered to the whole experience, drifting u-u-u-u-up, our car swaying each time we stopped to take on passengers, honky-tonk sounds floating by like bright confetti. My Daddy and me- no snotty little kid to suck up the attention.
And I looked around. The sounds from below were more muted, blended, like a hum. The whole of Santa Monica bay and the curve of the beach stretched like a diorama up and down the coast; tiny toy sailboats dotted the water, and the horizon line, a million miles away, faded into the sky. I was bursting with happiness and the total rightness of my life at that very moment.
Meet the Author:
Judy Strick is a native of Southern California. She holds an MFA from Otis Art Institute, and in a former lifetime was a fine artist and then a toy designer. She studied screenwriting at AFI and fiction writing at UCLA, and has spent the last 10 years honing her novelistic skills. *Kingdom Come, CA* is her debut novel. She lives in Los Angeles with her 2.5 dogs.
About the Book Interview with Judy:
Tell us about your main character.
Ruby Wellman is a 40-year old surrealist artist of a reclusive nature, whose life was formed by the scars from a hidden childhood tragedy. She has left L.A for a tiny town in the mountains of California, where she lives quite happily alone — that is until neighbors move in across the road. Ruby is slowly and inextricably drawn into the lives of the McCord family; and especially six- year old Finn, a child who, too, is hiding secrets that have crippled him. The two unlikely friends connect through Finn’s dreams and Ruby’s paintings, in a most uncanny and unexplainable way.
Were you surprised by the behavior of any of your characters or the direction of your plot at any point while writing?
I was constantly surprised, by both my characters, and their actions. I was surprised when they showed up on the scene and glad to see where they decided to go. I don’t mean to abdicate responsibility in the creation of my book; but I do believe that, for me, when I enter my writing zone, I’m on another level of consciousness, not far removed from the dream state. The words are coming from some ancient well of memory that the brain retains to help us get through life.
Please share a few favorite lines or one paragraph.
The opening line: “What wish could have been so important, that the very making of it would wind up destroying my family? And now I can’t even remember what I had wanted so much on that lovely afternoon by the sea, the last afternoon of my childhood.”
How long did it take you to write this book?
It took me four years, the longest I’ve worked on any project in my life. I’ve pushed this book as far as I’ve ever pushed anything in my life (except childbirth). I’ve learned that the best work comes after the lousiest creative block. For me, one of the true joys of writing is the aspect of problem solving — when you finally get it right, and everything comes together. And then you just love the damn story.
Tell us about your cover art and how it pertains to your story.
The images, hopefully, reflect an air of mystery, and of the unexpected. The image of the Ferris wheel is a recurring metaphor throughout the book, as is the theme of fire. Hopefully the mountains, and the setting sun invoke California, at the time of day when change is about to occur.
Is there an underlying theme in your book? If so, tell us about it and why/if it’s important to you.
I suppose my underlying theme in the book, and in my life, is the elusive and plastic nature of what we define as reality. I want to articulate, through fiction, an open mindedness to the unknown.
Judy will be giving away a series of short stories! Sign up on her website for more information.
Thanks for reading. 🙂