Living in a villa on the grounds of the St. Regis Monarch Beach in Dana Point for the past six years, surrounded by swimming pools and breathtaking views, local author Anita Hughes wrote her debut novel, Monarch Beach, about a woman trying to heal and chart her own path to happiness.
Released on June 19, Monarch Beach follows Amanda Blick, a San Francisco heiress who catches her French chef husband having an affair with his sous-chef. To help her escape, Blick’s mother offers her an all-expense-paid trip to live in the Presidential Suite at the St. Regis Monarch Beach for the summer and perhaps the chance to rebuild her life as well.
“It is so beautiful – everywhere you look there are gorgeous flowers, fountains, swimming pools," says Hughes. “I thought, ‘If you are really unhappy, would living in paradise make you feel better? Or do you carry grief wherever you go?’”
Hughes grew up in Australia, where she won a national writing contest at age eight, before moving to the United States. After graduating from Bard College and receiving her master's degree in Creative Writing from UC Berkeley, she lived in San Francisco before settling in Orange County at the St. Regis, the place that helped inspire her book.
It's this resort that Hughes and her family call home, and is a place they'll likely stay at forever, she says. It offers a unique situation that allows them to live simply: a place where they can live in their own house, but have all the amenities of a hotel. The beach club, tennis, swimming - it's all there. And if one of her kids needs Tylenol, the resort is but a short walk away.
“Living in the OC has influenced my novel greatly,” she says. “I describe the St. Regis in great detail. I love Laguna Beach and one of my characters owns a restaurant on Forest Avenue. The novel also has a lot of references to fashion and all the wonderful foods available in the OC.”
Although there are passing similarities between the lives of Hughes and her fictitious character, Amanda Blick - Hughes lived in Ross, California, for several years, for instance - Hughes says the book is still very much a work of fiction.
As a veteran of English literature, she wrote the 288-page novel fairly quickly, finishing about four months after the first paragraph popped into her head a couple of years ago. A part of the spark came from her love for fiction that is about women’s friendships, especially the works of Emily Giffin and Allison Winn Scotch, because they “write straight from the heart,” she says.
Hughes is currently at work on her next novel, Market Street, which takes place in San Francisco and will be released on April 2, 2013. Lake Como, her third novel, will release later next year also.
“I love writing books set in gorgeous locations,” says Hughes, “and there is none better than the OC.”