This is the first in a series of little pieces I want to do about San Jenaro, the setting for my San Jenaro series of vampire novels, Blood Flow being the first. Basically, I’m going to use these pieces to explore a little bit about the neighborhoods of San Jenaro. This is the kind of “behind the scenes” writing stuff you usually can only find by hacking my computer and digging into my Scrivener files. San Jenaro is Southern California. It’s a little bit Los Angeles. It’s a little bit San Diego. It’s a little bit Orange County. I don’t plan on ever really addressing whether or not the real-world cities exist within the scope of the stories.
But, I’m going to start off exploring San Filipe, or “The Flip.” First off, here’s how it’s described in Blood Flow:
San Filipe — also called The Flip — is widely known as a pretty shit neighborhood. But that’s code for an African American neighborhood. I’ve had friends that lived here before; I never felt like I was gonna be robbed walking home. There’s some crime, sure, but it’s mostly between drug dealers and drug users.
San Filipe gets a lot of its public perception from rap albums; we had a few big names come out of here. They’ve also made national news thanks to a few cases of cops overstepping their bounds and shooting unarmed black people. But you can’t pretend the Flip’s unique in that. It’s the same as Detroit, which is the same as St. Louis, which is the same as Baltimore.
I walk the streets. All these houses once looked great. Some still look okay. They’re all ranch style, very 1950s California. These are the houses everyone built right after World War II when highways were starting to be a thing, and everyone wanted to move to California to be a star or a producer or a banker for stars and producers. The 1970s rolled around. The stock market crashed, the American dollar fell through the floor, and the economy went into the shitter. All the starry-eyed white people left their pretty California ranches, and the property values dropped. The few investors left started factories, and lower to middle class workers filled those old houses. The property values stay low, so people on those wages can’t afford to move. Their kids and grandkids still live here today.
When I think of The Flip, I think of Compton. I think of Crenshaw. Avalon Gardens. Jordan Downs. The thing about Compton is, it’s far more diverse than people often perceive it. If your only experience with Compton is rap albums and reactionary responses to rap albums, it evokes a very specific look. But really, it’s a broad area, with some nicer areas, and some worse areas. Unfortunately, I don’t get much opportunity to explore it in Blood Flow. It’s just one neighborhood that plays a pretty minor role in the greater story. So in my very brief presentation, I kind of found an average. Besides, I think that’s how Dylan, the narrator, would perceive the place by and large. I want to do more with it down the line.
Avalon Gardens is a place I lived pretty close by as a kid, and often visited with my parents. It was pretty rough at the time. I was always sort of in awe of the scope. It was bigger than any complex I’d ever seen before. It’s not a single building, but just this massive collection of small ranch houses in this huge one-block neighborhood. There were always so many people outside, walking around, no matter what absurd hour of the night we were there. But on an inspirational level, I’m fascinated with the fact that it’s actually a pretty large complex (it has over 160 units) and was made with one very specific agenda in mind which changed over the years. Specifically, Avalon Gardens was designed as military housing. Very quickly, it became low-income housing. The idea of places with very specific purposes which evolve into others really speak to the way places and populations change. That, to me, is perfect for fiction since it gives a very easy to communicate the idea of a dynamic and organic setting. However, because of the place I chose to situate The Flip in San Jenaro, it’s closer to the neighborhood with the movie studios than the military presence. So, unlike Avalon Gardens, I decided The Flip was designed to accommodate the film boom in the same rough time period (which means the architecture will look similar.) After the golden age of film, things changed, numbers shifted, people moved. San Filipe’s property values fell through the floor, and industrial workers moved in.
I don’t know if I’ll ever get to use this idea, but I want a lot of the entertainment in The Flip to be named after or otherwise styled after the Jazz era. I feel like when the movie business moved out, the area was basically devoid of a real identity. It was very plain. So, the people that moved in, largely African American and Chicano, decided to bring in that (slightly dated at the time) aesthetic to spruce the place up. Also, The Flip is uncharacteristic in San Jenaro because of its attachment to the past. Most of San Jenaro is very new, frustratingly so at times. While individual buildings might be old, if you leave and come back a decade later, you won’t recognize any of the businesses. But some of the bars and businesses in The Flip are really quite old, and quite proud of it. A lot of them proudly bear placards that say, “Established 1958” or whatever. This is particularly of interest for vampire stories set in Southern California, because Southern California vampires think of The Flip as a place that’s tied to history. But, older vampires, vampires from the East Coast or Europe, they’ll scoff at the idea that the 1950s constitutes “old” by any stretch of the imagination.
This of course brings us to vampires in general: San Jenaro is not normal. Most of San Jenaro is very young, by vampire standards. Ramirez (the “Minister,” the head of San Jenaro’s vampire population in Blood Flow) is exceedingly, exceptionally old for the region. None of the other characters in Blood Flow date back before the 1960s. However, vampire culture elsewhere is really quite old on average. I feel that in some places, it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary to meet a vampire who lived to see a Crusade not started by George W Bush.