Guest post from Alma Alexander

If you read the previous blog post, you saw my review of 2012: Midnight at Spanish Gardens. To follow that up, here’s a guest post from the author, Alma Alexander, about her writing of it.

Back in the days when I was a student, my University had a secret.

In a time between the indispensable Baedeker Travel Guides, which ruled the itineraries and were repositories of all geographical knowledge needed by turn-of-the-(last)-century travelers, and things like Google Earth and its hidden cameras which were still science fiction, the café known as “Spanish Gardens” managed to avoid appearing on any maps.

It was tucked away in a hidden courtyard at the end of an un-promising alley. There were no signs advertising its presence. If you did not know it was there, you would NEVER find it. But it was a special place, nonetheless, and it was a secret passed down from one generation of students to the next. It was a magical spot, something that lingers in the memories of everyone who ever passed through it, and they will all (even thirty years later) describe it to you in uncannily similar terms, like it had been preserved in amber.

It also made the best Irish Coffees on the planet, bar none.

This is a place which no longer exists in any version of our current reality, long gone, replaced by… other things. The secret courtyard and its treasures are no more, except in the mind and memory and spirit of each and every person who ever passed through it, a place of trysts, and of celebrations, and of sharing. All that remains, now, is the legend.

And sooner or later that legend would find its way into the worlds which I create in my fiction. Spanish Gardens, the café itself, is as much of a character as any of the human protagonists in my new novel, Midnight at Spanish Gardens.

If you want a quick summary, I could offer you this:

On the eve of the end of the world, 20 December 2012, five friends meet in Spanish Gardens, the café where they had celebrated their college graduation 20 years before. Over Irish coffees, they reminisce – and reveal long-held and disturbing secrets.

Each friend in turn is given a curious set of instructions by an enigmatic bartender named Ariel:

“Your life is filled with crossroads and you are free to choose one road or another at any time. Stepping through this door takes away all choices except two — the choice to live a different life, or return to this one….”

Each in turn passes through the portal and are faced with new lives and challenges. Their decisions show a new life — or something far worse. At the end of the world, it’s a chance for redemption, or a chance to learn something about themselves.

Four of them return to their own lives, imperfections and all.

One does not.

And one protagonist of this novel is the anchor of it all, and that’s the place itself.

It’s odd, but I don’t have any images of it. I actually asked on a forum where people who might also have known the real place congregate, and the very idea of there being literal physical visual traces of it seems to have met with a certain degree of astonishment. It was as though it never occurred to anyone at all to document that place – or, perhaps more in keeping with the legend itself, the physical visual documentation was simply unnecessary. Those of us who were there in our time just… REMEMBER it. Viscerally. Sometimes you don’t need cameras; sometimes you recall with a far more perfect clarity a place which you never captured and took away with you in a photographic record. It’s as if the photograph gives you permission to forget the details – because, you know, there they are, in the photo, and why should you keep it all tucked away all perfect and complete in your mind’s eye when you can just refer back to that? But the place which you touch only with heart and mind and memory – ah, that’s different. That lives within you, and only within you, when it’s gone – and because of that, the memory is cherished and kept burnished and bright and perfect.

Having returned to Spanish Gardens, in spirit, to set this story there, I found the ghost of my youth standing in the ghost of the café – and they are both there, one of them young and the other ageless, both forever.

There are only a few places like this that most of us are given to treasure. If you’ve got one folded deep down in your memories you’ll know what I’m talking about, and you’ll know how lucky you are. If you are yet to find your own secret place… I almost envy you. Because you are yet to meet the equivalent of the love of your life.

When I shaped the story of Midnight at Spanish Gardens, it was wrapped around the magic of the place where it was set – and it was inevitably molded by it. The original place was always a spot where lies withered on the vine and only truth might be spoken – and I added a dimension to that, by setting the whole thing on the eve of the Apocalypse, at which point lies become irrelevant anyway. So to me this novel was a sort of truth-teller potion. I asked the questions. I gave what my characters would think of as the only honest answers.

In the end this is a novel that asks – and leaves open the answer to – one of the most powerful and poignant questions ever asked by a human mind: WHAT IF?

What if you had made a different choice? How would it have changed your life?

Read the book. Play the game.

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