Ron Carlson, author of "The Signal," discusses the craft of writing at a One City One Book gathering on Nov. 4 at the La Canada Unified School District headquarters.

Ron Carlson, author of "The Signal," discusses the craft of writing at a One City One Book gathering on Nov. 4 at the La Canada Unified School District headquarters. (November 5, 2012)

The inspiration to write can be found anywhere, even on a freeway overpass.

That was one of the observations author Ron Carlson made Sunday in La Cañada Flintridge as the city celebrated Carlson's 2009 novel “The Signal” as its One City One Book selection for 2012.

Carlson, the author of three novels and two collections of short stories, took a break from his work as codirector of the master's writing program at UC Irvine to read from “The Signal” and answer questions before about 70 people at the La Cañada Unified School District meeting room. Attendees included librarians, members of local book clubs and budding authors from the English program at Glendale Community College.

“I'm always asked where I get my ideas,” Carlson told the crowd. “One of the first stories I wrote came from my own experience losing a mattress off the bed of my pickup truck. The mattress had fallen not only from my truck, but five stories over the edge of an overpass.”

“The Signal” takes place in the Wind River range of Wyoming, where a couple whose marriage is on the rocks head for a last trip together to the wilderness. Reviewers have praised the book for its pacing and vivid imagery.

Carlson said a key to working through a story is embracing it at its heart, not mapping out each twist and turn before you get going.

“Somehow I used to believe that I needed to know the whole story and its details before I wrote it,” he said. “But I've since learned that I don't need to know; that your commitment to the story is more important than knowing its plot or details.”

Carlson said he tells students to stay away from clichés, such as using rain to evoke a sense of sadness and despair, and to try to write without the distractions of the Internet. He encourages students to engross themselves in writing and “let the book unfold.”

Carlson's book is the ninth to be celebrated in La Cañada's annual One City One Book program.

“The program helps to get people reading, and to support local authors,” said One City One Book committee member Fabiana Badie. “Every year it builds, and we receive a bigger turnout every year.”

Librarian Marta Cea, a veteran of One City One Book events, said she enjoyed Carlson's talk and appreciates his writing style.

“He's a really no-nonsense author,” Cea said. “The book was short. He gets you into it so quickly, with so much imagery, that you don't have the opportunity to wander.”