LOS ANGELES - In late September 2005 - two years after she was nominated for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for her novel "Evidence of Things Unseen" - Marianne Wiggins was on her deck watching the Santa Susana Pass fire that would eventually char 17,000 acres.
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Today, she describes the colors and images she saw as resembling the otherworldly beauty of a Renaissance painting, and recalls the event itself as a kind of baptism into her adopted life in California.
"That," she said over lunch this week at a French cafe in the Studio City neighborhood, "was the first time I felt, 'I think I belong in this place.' " She had found a setting that literally fired her imagination.
Wiggins, a Pennsylvania native who lived in London and other European capitals for more than 20 years and moved to Los Angeles in 2000, has fallen in love with California's landscape and history. Given the combination of rhapsodic lyricism and a restless - sometimes cutting - intelligence in her work, it seems only fitting that her feelings for the place would be fixed by a natural disaster.
Wiggins' new book, "The Shadow Catcher," takes place mostly in the Northwest and Seattle. But her next projects will be set farther south. "I'm just head over heels committed to writing a series of California novels.
"I was in London 16 years," she said, "and never got a good story out of that city." California, she said, she expects to sustain her for years to come.