Thursday, July 30, 2009

Bay Area Literary Tidbits New York Times featured a profile of Oakland writer Melanie Gideon, whose memoir, The Slippery Year, will be published by Knopf next week.

The title of the article: Car-Pool Epiphanies: A Memoir About the Ordinary, says a lot about the book. “Melanie Gideon does not have a story of divorce, death or abuse to tell. Nor does she write of recovery from cancer, drug addiction or even a miserable childhood,” says the article.

“This really is a book about nothing,” confirms Gideon, who is a write at San Francisco’s Writer’s Grotto.

Well, I have read the book, and while it is true the most dramatic plot element involved Gideon driving five hours to spy on her son while he is at sleep-away camp (either to make sure he is okay or just because she misses him so much) the book really is about finding happiness in ordinary life.

And her first chapter, when her husband buys a deluxe motor home, was so funny that I burst into laughter a half a dozen times.

Gideon will be at A Great Good Place for Books in Oakland on August 12 as well at some other venues in the Bay Area.

Another Bay Area writer, Kathryn Ma, is getting lots of advance praise for her linked collection of stories, All That Work and Still No Boys.

Curtis Sittenfeld, the author of Prep and An American Wife, listed Ma’s book as one of her favorite five books on The Daily Beast. Sittenfeld even went so far as to predict that Ma would win the Pulitzer Prize for her work. (She also praises the work of Jennie Capo Crucet. Sittenfled selected both authors to win an Iowa fiction prize.)

“When Crucet and Ma become really famous and win Pulitzers, I plan to pretend I discovered them,” writes Sittenfeld.

In another contest, Stephen Elliot, the Grotto dweller, founder of The Rumpus, founder of The Progressive Reading Series, author of seven books, and self-declared masochist and wild man, was voted the Bay Area’s favorite writer.

Recent book sales by Bay Area authors, via Publishers Marketplace:

Sister Madonna Buder and Karin Evans's IRON SPIRIT: The Wisdom and Inspiration of Sister Madonna Buder, World Champion Triathlete, about the 79-year-old nun and Ironman competitor known on the circuit as the Iron Nun, to Marysue Rucci at Simon & Schuster, in a good deal, at auction, by Elisabeth Weed at Weed Literary.

Radio show host, magazine writer and frequent contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle Tony DuShane's CONFESSIONS OF A TEENAGE JESUS JERK, loosely based on his experience growing up a Jehovah's Witness, to Anne Horowitz at Soft Skull, by Mollie Glick of Foundry Literary + Media.

Journalist (formerly with the SF Chronicle) and author Steven Winn's COME BACK, COMO: Winning the Heart of a Reluctant Dog, to Carole Tonkinson at Harper UK, by Juliette Shapland at Harper, on behalf of the Amy Rennert Agency. (Foreign rights have also been sold to France, Holland, Poland and China)

Thomas Peele's KILLING THE MESSENGER: the Assassination of Chauncey Bailey and the Ruination of an American City, a chilling story of murder, journalism, politics and intrigue that investigates the brutal slaying of Oakland journalist Chauncey Bailey, who was gunned down in 2007 for writing a story about Your Black Muslim Bakery, the business front of a violent polygamist cult, to Jenna Ciongoli at Broadway, in a pre-empt, for publication in Fall 2011, by Elizabeth Evans at Reece Halsey New York (NA).

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Julie and Julia -- Do Two Books Make One Movie?

I got to go to a sneak preview of the movie Julie & Julia Tuesday July 28, starring Meryl Streep as Julia Child and Amy Adams as Julie Powell.

One of these characters is famous. One probably never will be, but provided the stimulus for the movie.

In 2002, a young Julie Powell, facing 30 and stuck in a tough administrative job helping families whose loved ones died in the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, decided to write a blog. She cooked her way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in the course of a year. The blog was popular, but became a phenomenon after Amanda Hesser (who plays herself in the movie) published a story on Powell in the New York Times. Suddenly, Powell was a somebody, and was deluged with requests for interviews and calls from literary agents and editors asking her if she had ever considered writing a book about her experiences.

Her book came out in 2005 and was a hit. Julia Child's memoir about her life in France came out in 2006 and was a hit. Hit filmmaker Nora Ephron put them together for the movie Julie & Julia, which will come out August 7.

The movie is charming and fun and will make you hungry since the food all looks so good. (The New York Times even ran an article about the food stylist.) Plan on going out to dinner after you see it, and plan to find a French restaurant.

The movie should do wonders for the sales of Powell's and Child's books, as well as for the sales of The Tenth Muse, a memoir by editor Judith Jones, who published Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Jones is a character in the movie.

Meryl Streep, of course, is fabulous. She should win yet another Academy Award for her portrayl.

Julie Powell has already been written about extensively. She is quite a character: she swears profusely, she has sold her eggs to pay off her credit card debt, she cheated on her husband, Eric, while writing her second memoir about learning to cut up meat; she was dismissed curtly by Julia Child in various interviews, and more. All of this is great fodder for her literary work.

I think this is one of those case where two books make one delightful movie.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Lake Tahoe's Gilded Age

I'm off to Lake Tahoe today for what has become an annual event: Living History Day at Sugar Pine Point State Park.

Every year dozens of volunteers dress up in costume (from the days of the trappers to the Jazz Age) and wander around Isaias Hellman's historic summer home on the edge of the lake. The volunteers try to bring to life the various eras of Lake Tahoe, with talks from Washoe Indian elders to tours of the home.

I do a talk about Isaias Hellman and his contribution to the development of California. This year I speak at noon in the gazebo.

An added bonus this year is the appearance of Warren Hellman and his band, The Wronglers. They play at 11, 1, and 3 pm.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Chauncey Bailey story to become a book

I have been waiting for a book like this to sell. It has great elements: a murder, a diabolical organization/cult, incompetent and/or misguided police, culpability of local politicians, etc.

Publisher's Marketplace reported this sale:

Thomas Peele's KILLING THE MESSENGER: the Assassination of Chauncey Bailey and the Ruination of an American City, a chilling story of murder, journalism, politics and intrigue that investigates the brutal slaying of Oakland journalist Chauncey Bailey, who was gunned down in 2007 for writing a story about Your Black Muslim Bakery, the business front of a violent polygamist cult, to Jenna Ciongoli at Broadway, in a pre-empt, for publication in Fall 2011, by Elizabeth Evans at Reece Halsey New York (NA).

Thomas Peele was one of the reporters who won an award in 2007 from the Investigative Reporters and Editors association for his investigation into the slaying of Chauncey Bailey. He has a long history in investigative reporting. In recent years, he has been a reporter for Media News, the company that owns the Oakland Tribune, Mercury News, Contra Costa Times and other publications.

Peele is a member of the Chauncey Bailey Project, a group of reporters and editors from various news organizations who banded together in 2007 to write about Bailey's murder and its links to Your Black Muslim Bakery.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Los Angeles and its Times

I had a wonderful time down in Los Angeles. More than 300 people showed up at the main branch of the Los Angeles Public Library for the ALOUD talk with me and USC professor Bill Deverell. It was an appreciative audience who was eager to learn more about Isaias Hellman and the days of early Los Angeles.

Before the talk I visited Paul Feldman, a foreign editor at the Los Angeles Times. I had never been inside the paper and was interested in seeing it, in part because I worked at newspapers for so long and the Times was for decades one of the nation's best. Of course, the fact that I discovered in the course of my research that Isaias Hellman had lent $18,000 to Harrison Gray Otis in 1886 to take control of the paper has given me an added interest in the place.

It was an interesting and sobering tour. The building, especially the Art Deco lobby, is beautiful, with its globe standing in the center of a domed room decorated by Depression-era murals. One can't help but be impressed by the five golden Pulitzer Prizes hanging on a wall and numerous front pages announcing big stories.

But the newsroom felt more muted than I expected and there were plenty of empty desks. At one time, an entire addition to the building housed the corporate headquarters of Times-Mirror, that powerful media conglmoerate that once owned the Times, the Baltimore Sun, Newsday, and other newspapers.

Of course I had to stop by the book review section, where Paul and I chatted with David Ulin, the books editor. If you are a writer and have wondered why your books have never been reviewed in the Times, or other major papers, the size of the book is a perfect explanation. It is jammed with books and easy to see how there are too many books and too few column inches. (photos below)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Hitting Highway 5 on my way to LA

I am off to Los Angeles tomorrow morning for another dose of book promotion.

This will be my fourth trip to southern California to talk about Towers of Gold, but in some ways this is the most exciting.

I will be appearing at the Los Angeles Public Library's ALOUD series. It is a very high profile series. somewhat like San Francisco's City Arts & Lectures. Well, perhaps not exactly the same since the people who go to City Arts & Lectures are usually famous, which I am not.

Still, it is a prestigious venue and I am thrilled to go. I will be "in conversation" with USC professor Bill Deverell. He is also the director of the Huntington-USC Institute of California and the West.

I knew Bill way back when. We went to Stanford together and met in a class on 19th century American social history. He went on to get his PhD at Princeton and specialize in the history of the West and of Los Angeles. After years at CalTech in Pasadena, he moved to USC. He is now one of the preeminent scholars on California.

The talk will happen at 7 pm Thursday July 16 at the Mark Taper Forum in the main branch of the LA public library. It's at Fifth and Flower streets.

I am hoping to get there a little early so I can poke around the library's fabulous history section. It takes up an entire floor. And they let you rummage through the photographs, too!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Why Local News is Your Future

As the San Francisco Chronicle shrinks both figuratively and literally (it reduced its size this week and there is barely any news in it since 150 staffers were let go) journalists around the region are looking for new models on covering the news.

There are lots of different news sites popping up to fill the void, such as SFist, SF Appeal, The Public Press, and the San Francisco Sentinel. They are all sites that try and give a global perspective to the region.

But if a gathering of about 20 local bloggers Thursday night at the Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism is any indication, the future belongs to sites that focus not on broad swaths of territory, but small neighborhoods. I am referring to hyper-local sites, places where readers can get news about local stores, local crime, and good eats, as well as larger stories that look at government institutions.

The group came together to talk about the successes and struggles of running a website on a shoestring. While the discussion focused to a large degree on how to earn income from a hyper-local blog, it also strayed into questions on how to keep a site current with fresh material, how to increase the impact of a story, and ways to collaborate.

The journalism school has jumped into the hyper-local vision of journalism in a big way: using money it got from the Knight Foundation it has started a number of neighborhood web sites. Now first semester students spend their time reporting in one central city or neighborhood and posting stories to that site. This fall students will report for Mission Local, a site that covers the San Francisco Mission district; Oakland North, a site that covers the northern section of Oakland, and a new site for the city of Richmond.

It's not just journalism schools and independents who are going hyper-local. The New York Times has set up a series of blogs on its website that cover small neighborhoods. SFGate is also experimenting with some of these sites. There is one in Marin and one in Alameda.

I attended the meeting because I have been blogging about the Bay Area literary scene at Ghost Word for four years. It’s not really a hyper-local site though. Recently I have started to contribute to InBerkeley, a new website started by Lance Knobel and Dave Winer, so I rode in on their coattails. (I am also now blogging for SFGate as one of their City Brights writers)

While the meeting was mostly a get-to-know-you discussion, it was gratifying to discover that journalists and community activists are trying to fill the void left by the decline of traditional newspaper journalism. There are many good local sites out there. Here are a few:

Oakland North
Mission Local
A Better Oakland
California Beat
Future Oakland
The Island
Albany Today
N Judah Chronicles
The Oakbook
El Cerrito Wire
The Harrioak News
Church Hill People's News
San Francisco Everyblock
RVA News (a collection of Richmond blogs)
Hills and Heights (Richmond)
Near West End News (Richmond)
North Richmond News
River District News

While is not a hyper-local site, its success is definitely tied to them. It's s site to pioneer "community-funded" journalism, Freelancers post story ideas on the site and people pledge donations to fund various investigations.