Sometimes I need to do a little research to determine if books are actually set in California. Sometimes bibliographers make mistakes, and sometimes they say a book is partly set in California without indicating the size of the part. So here’s a list of famous authors who for one reason or another did not quite write books of California fiction.
Willa Cather, known for her grim novels of the American plains, set nearly (but not quite) half of My Mortal Enemy (1926) in an unnamed western state that must, because of its unnamed sprawling metropolis, be California.
Walter van Tilburg Clark, author of western novels The Ox-Bow Incident (1940) and The Track of the Cat (1949), also didn’t name the coastal state in the novella that takes up most of The Watchful Gods and Other Stories (1950). It could be California, but then again it could be Oregon or Washington.
John Dos Passos wrote many novels after his monumental trilogy, U. S. A. (1930-36). One was Most Likely to Succeed (1954), the tale of a writer whose career includes time in Hollywood. Just over half the book, however, is set in New York.
James T. Farrell, author of his own famous trilogy, Studs Lonigan (1932-35), produced dozens of short stories in his nearly fifty-year career. One of his collections, $1000 a Week and Other Stories (1942) begins with a tale of a writer in Hollywood. But then it offers little mention of California elsewhere in the book.
Jean Stafford, once a well known personality in the New York literary scene, wrote only a few novels. One, The Mountain Lion (1947), is still admired. Despite the title, she sets a surprising amount of the story in her birthplace, mountainless Covina, California. The book’s not a California novel, however, since most of it takes place somewhere else -- in this case, Colorado.
Cornell Woolrich (a.k.a. George Hopley, William Irish), master of suspense, produced dozens of stories that were made into movies and TV shows. So it’s easy to imagine confusing the setting of at least one of the books with the setting of the film adaptation. That may be why Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1945) is sometimes considered a California novel. The movie apparently takes place mostly in Los Angeles but, as far as I can tell, the book is set in no specific place.