Sunday, August 5, 2018

Lu's Outing by John Lugo-Trebble

Lu's Outing
(My Good Reads review)

A short, charming coming of age story. Tired of being hassled in his Bronx school for being gay, Lu decides to skip it all for a day and heads downtown. He wanders into some of the well-known gay quarters of the city and gradually begins to find people who welcome him and see the world as he does. I found myself wishing that all lonely, outcast youth could find such a haven just by hopping on a train. And the heady, liberated feeling Lu has reminded me of a similar journey to the Castro that one of my friends described to me about first going to the Castro when he was a young man.

An additional strength of this book is that Lu is short for Luis, who comes from a Puerto Rican American neighborhood, as does the author. The book offers some nice glimpses into that culture and also shows what coming out in that context might be like, in both its strengths and obstacles.

View all my reviews

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Death al Fresco by Leslie Karst

Death al Fresco (A Sally Solari Mystery #3)
(My Good Reads review)

Purely by coincidence, I happened to read the third title in this Santa Cruz based series just after reading and reviewing the darker tinged Santa Cruz Noir anthology from Akashic Press. It makes a nice chaser. As with all good series, readers await each new volume not just for the crimes committed and solved, but to hang out with the characters some more. In this one, Sally Solari is helping her dad with a big sister cities event at his restaurant while trying to keep the head chef happy at the more upscale restaurant she inherited from her aunt. Of course a body turns up and Sally's natural curiosity kicks in, making the juggling act all that much harder.

Long time Santa Cruz resident Karst is great on the vibe of the place, this time especially focusing on the beach and wharf areas. This would be a great beach read for visitors--and locals too, for that matter.

View all my reviews

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Santa Cruz Noir--blogging the book. Day 21, "It Follows Until it Leads" by Dillon Kaiser

(To learn more about my "blogging the book" challenge to myself, go HERE.)

The gun on the kitchen table is not mine. Yet there it lies, insisting upon its own fealdad, its ugliness. Infecting my home. Sunlight streams through the window above the sink where Martha has set a vase of flowers and glints upon the gun. It breeds disease. And there, on the table beside my daughter Lupe's Doll, the disease spreads. 

The gun is not mine. Worse, it is my son's. 

Dillon Kaiser's story ends this anthology on a powerful note.People have their own definitions of what noir is, but "It Follows Until it Leads" is the kind of story I think of when I think of noir. There is an inevitability to the sequence of events, but  the outcome does have something to do with the protagonist's choices. It's just that the errors don't start with him and don't end with him and it would be hard to pinpoint exactly where he made the truly crucial choice.

Audible sample of "It Follows Until it Leads" by Dillon Kaiser HERE. Performed by Thom Rivera.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Santa Cruz Noir-- blogging the book. Day 20, " The Shooter" by Lee Quarnstrom

(To learn more about my "blogging the book" challenge to myself, go HERE.)

Lee Quarnstrom's tight little tale talks of a Watsonville before our era, some of it familiar, some not. Fort Ord is still open, it's after the war, which usually means WWII, and people still drive Studebakers, though perhaps not fresh off the assembly line. This story, written by a longtime journalist in this region, was the one that most felt like the kind of tale you might find in some classic film noir to me.

I'd picked out the shooter's car by the time I hopped out of my Plymouth and crossed the dusty parking lot toward the front of the two-story building. It was the rust-specked Studebaker, backed in against the head lettuce field dotted with thousands, maybe millions, of tiny, shiny green shoots sprouting from the chunky black soil of the fertile fields just outside Watsonville.

Audible sample of Lee Quarnstrom's "The Shooter" HERE. Performed by Richard Ferrone.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Santa Cruz Noir--blogging the book. Day 19, "Pinballs" by Beth Liseck

(To learn more about my "blogging the book" challenge to myself, go HERE.)

You get off the freeway on Riverside Drive, right where you see that abandoned Queen Anne. Go past the strawberry fields, the artichokes and brussel sprouts, and that's where my spot was. You're not going the wrong way, even when you start seeing signs for the condo development. Keep curving around. You can practically smell your way there, there's so much eucalyptus. Chances are, the lot will be empty. It's in between two private beaches, so it seems like you don't belong there, but there's no trick. Pull up, hike over the little path, and thar she blows: a mile of beach almost all to yourself.

Almost all to yourself, except that's where our protagonist meets Marta and a station wagon so packed with kids that the narrators thinks of them as pinballs. 

Although Liseck's story is sat back in the time before seatbelts were the law, I saw this chilling tale as bearing similarities to our own present moment, or maybe it's just showing us how we got here.

Audible sample of Beth Liseck's "Pinballs" HERE. Performed by Beth Liseck.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Santa Cruz Noir--blogging the book. Day 18, "Crab Dinners" by Lou Mathews

(To learn more about my "blogging the book" challenge to myself, go HERE.)

Lou Mathew's story of a detective hired to find out what happened to a daughter's father mentions many aspects of Santa Cruz County that residents, past or present may be familiar with. There's Chef Wong, a fictionalized version of the first chef to bring Szechuan style cooking to the Santa Cruz area. And Manuel's, the beloved Mexican restaurant in Aptos. The university gets a glance. Cockfighting in South County, which was news to me. And then there's the cement ship...

The SS Palo Alto was one of two cement ships built in 1919 at the US Navy shipyards in Oakland. The war ended before the ship went into service, so they mothballed her for a decade until the Seacliff Amusement Corporation bought her and towed her to Seacliff Beach, where they tethered her to a pier, built a dance hall, a swimming pool, and a cafe on board--and sank her. Probably a great entertainment idea, but not in 1929. They closed in '31, stripped her, and left her as  a fishing pier, the focal point of the new state park. 

I spent a lot of time there fishing and watching the bay. The boat had split apart in '58 and become a paradise for fishermen, an ideal reef, full of fish, mussels, crabs, and the birds that fed on them.  

(Note to potential tourists. The cement ship was real, but did not survive the massive waves of 2017.)

Audible sample of Lou Mathews' "Crab Dinners" HERE. Performed by Susie Bright.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Santa Cruz Noir--blogging the book. Day 17, "The Strawberry Tattoo" by Maceo Montoya

(To learn more about my "blogging the book" challenge to myself, go HERE.)

As we get into the final quarter of the book, stories focus more on South County, which is more agricultural and more Hispanic than the northern area, though of course there's no clear dividing line. Much of Maceo Montoya's story takes place outside of Santa Cruz county, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have deep roots here. 

Marcela's new boyfriend Vicente seems to be perfection itself. At a gathering she mentions a tattoo of a strawberry that he has at the base of his neck, which she loves for its delicacy. But one of her friends has a different take on it.

"Isn't he from Watsonville?"

"Yeah, why?"

"I mean, I think that's a gang thing. In Watsonville its the strawberry, in Salinas it's a freaking lettuce head. Somewhere else it's an artichoke. My students, I swear, they teach me the randomest shit."
Audible sample of Maceo Montoya's "The Strawberry Tattoo" HERE. Performed by Almarie Guerra.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Santa Cruz Noir--blogging the book. Day 16, "Death and Taxes" by Jill Wolfson

(To learn more about my "blogging the book" challenge to myself, go HERE.)

One of the characters in this story is a sign dancer, meaning a person hired to stand on the street for hours holding a sign, hoping to get passing cars to notice a business they might have otherwise missed. Not too long ago, I would have had to say that I couldn't remember noticing any sign dancers in Santa Cruz. But just a couple of days before I read this story, I happened to see one. This one was a girl wearing headphones. It was very hot, but she seemed to be in another zone, possibly chemically induced. She didn't seem unhappy, though I would have been. However, I don't think anyone could top Jill Wolfson's Cody for enthusiasm on his first day of the job.


Spin that tax sign clockwise like its a Boardwalk ride. Toss it in the air, hurl your body around in a one-footed, tiptoed 360, and catch the sign behind your back. Ta-da.

Holy crap on a strap! He actually caught it! Thumbs up from a Prius driver. 

Another Prius, another Prius. Is there a fuckin' sale on Priuses or what?

Yesterday, this corner was just another place. Cody must've eaten a million slices of pepperoni at Upper Crust.  Carved his initial into the oak by the U-Wash-it place. Felt up that hippie chick Sequoia by the dumpster behind the Chinese place.

But now? Cody owns this corner.

Audible sample of Jill Wolfson's "Death and Taxes" HERE

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Santa Cruz Noir--blogging the book. Day 15, "The Big Creep" by Elizabeth McKenzie

(To learn more about my "blogging the book" challenge to myself, go HERE.)

"The Big Creep" starts in classic noir style--someone has a problem so they visit a detective they think might be able to help them solve it. The non-classic part is that the detective is a fifteen year old girl and the meet-up takes place in a yogurt shop, where she's hoping the client will pick up the tab. Things do not go as planned.

Wilkins was new to the area, he'd lived in Tahoe before.Here's the good and bad thing about Santa Cruz: it's not a place where everybody's lived here forever and a newcomer gets the once-over. No, it's a city where anybody can come fit in for a while, and move away before you've even had a chance to say hello. It's a city full of transients, and I don't mean the ones on the streets. I mean, you don't always know your neighbors and you don't ask questions. Kyle Wilkins shows up, moves in, replaces Ronald Hill, the neighbors nod or don't nod. For that matter a chubby truck driver and his alcoholic daughter move into a garage, no one notices that either. 

Audible sample of Elizabeth McKenzie's "The Big Creep" HERE. Performed by Bailey Carr.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Santa Cruz Noir--blogging the book. Day 14 "Flaming Arrows" by Wallace Baine

(To learn more about my "blogging the book" challenge to myself, go HERE.)

Wallace Baine is a man who's worn many hats in Santa Cruz. A longtime cultural reporter for the Santa Cruz Sentinel, he's gone on to branch out into many other roles in the community, and is the author of several books as well. So it's a bit of a surprise to find that this cosmopolitan man about town has chosen to write a story  about a guy slowly being driven mad by his neighbors' dog. But then again...

Santa Cruz's energy is often warm and friendly.Even Lonely Planet's website still describes Santa Cruz as "touchy-feely." But there's also a vibe here that's its polar opposite. (The fact that this anthology is called "Santa Cruz Noir" is a testament to that.) I found this passage from "Flaming Arrows" striking on this less examined aspect of the area, especially when you get out of the city proper and up into some of those mountain communities.

Nobody knows their neighbors around here. It's not done that way. You might pick up fragments about their habits, their aggressions, their neglects. You make judgments, usually negative ones. You'll see faces occasionally, through a windshield. Give a wave maybe. We get to know each other in personal shorthand. There's leaf-blower guy. There's Giants-fan lady. Maybe I'm wife-died guy. I don't know. 

But at the post office, or the Safeway in town, you don't look up. Being neighborly means one thing back in Illinois where I grew up. Here, it means the opposite. You respect your neighbors by not acknowledging them. People want space, physically, psychically. You should give it to them. 

The dog ruins all that. 

Audible sample of Wallace Baine's "Flaming Arrows" HERE. Performed by P. J. Ochlan.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Santa Cruz Noir--blogging the book. Day 13, "Treasure Island," by Micah Perks

(To learn more about my "blogging the book" challenge to myself, go HERE.)

Noir is not always bleak. Some fine writers of noir use dark comedy to great effect. Author and UCSC professor Micah Perks uses such humor in "Treasure Island," a tale told in posts to a website called Good Neighbors. If you have the mixed fortune of belonging to one of these networks, I suspect you've come across someone like the narrator. If you're anything like me, you'll probably find the tale cathartic. If you're more like the narrator, you might take it as a cautionary tale...

Me: (Holding out trash bag) Three juvenile delinquents stuffed this trash in your 'Little Library' again."
"Writer": (apparently Asian male, apparently in his thirties, in pajamas, per usual): "Okay."
Me: I've warned you before that your so-called 'Little Library' attracts vagrants."
"Writer": "Books attract vagrants?"
Me: "Have you been to the downtown library? It's basically a homeless shelter."
"Writer": (taking bag) "Thanks, Mr. Nowicki, I'll take care of it."
(NOTE: "Writer" is not on Good Neighbor! even though I have invited him by email multiple times.)

Audible sample of "Treasure Island" by Micah Perks HERE. Read by Richard Ferrone.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Santa Cruz Noir--blogging the book. Day 12, "To Live and Die in Santa Cruz" by Calvin McMillin

(To learn more about my "blogging the book" challenge to myself, go HERE.)

Just as no anthology of Santa Cruz stories would be complete without a surfing story, it would lack a certain authenticity without reference to the "City on the Hill", our local campus of the University of California. Perched in the redwoods above the city proper, with a view of the Monterey Bay, it is a place of great natural beauty, which at times can be its own kind of distraction.

But it's also like any other college campus in being a portal to adulthood, and people don't just leave their problems at home when they go off to college. So this story features the death of a graduate student who has apparently leapt from one of the campus's many bridges, and a narrator who isn't so happy with this verdict.

As a sample from the story however, I'm taking a piece from down by the water, a famous landmark which many have tried to make into something beautiful again, but which, at the time of this writing remains very much as Calvin McMillin describes. Although McMillin refers to it as the Beach Street Villas in the story, the description owes a lot to a well-known apartment building here called La Bahia.

Chet's apartment wasn't difficult to find. Boasting Spanish Colonial Revival architecture and an iconic bell tower, the Beach Street Villa must have been breathtaking during its 1930s heyday. Eighty-five years later, the place was considerably less impressive. I suppose "crack house" might be a more apt description. Still, the appeal lay mainly in its location: to visit the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, all you had to do was walk across the street.

Audible sample of Calvin McMillin's "To Live and Die in Santa Cruz" is HERE.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Santa Cruz Noir--blogging the book. Day 11, "Miscalculation", by Vinnie Hansen

(To learn more about my "blogging the book" challenge to myself, go HERE.)

Santa Cruz has had a fair number of bank robberies in the years I've lived here, and sometimes the robbers even try disguises, as in the case of the "Mrs. Doubtfire" robber a few years ago.And there is a real ukulele jam session called Sons of the Beach that meets regularly down by the water. But it takes a mystery writer like Vinnie Hansen to take these two facts and meld them into crime fiction. Oh, and don't worry--it's also got a touch of noir.

"Aim those baby-blues somewhere else, dollface." The man snapped his case shut. 
A taletell mark on the case clasp caught her eye. She'd seen this ukulele case plenty of times. Her knees quivered like a jellyfish.She stared into the robber's eyes. Dollface. She blushed.
He snapped his fingers like a six-shooter, "Here's looking at you, kid," and strode out of the credit union.
Molly's life of serving John Q. Public for fourteen dollars an hour walked right out the door with him.

Audible sample of Vinnie Hansen's "Miscalculation" can be found HERE. Narrated by Therese Plummer.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Santa Cruz Noir--blogging the book. Day 10 "Safe Harbor" by Seana Graham

(To learn more about my "blogging the book" challenge to myself, go HERE.)

My own story comes next in this anthology. It actually never occurred to me that it would come across in quite different ways, depending on whether you lived in Santa Cruz or not. Those who identify the real life story that it's loosely based on already know the ending and it's more the "why" of the tale that might intrigue them, as it intrigued me. But for unsuspecting others, there may be genuine suspense, so I won't wreck that for them here.

Although Santa Cruz does have its share of crime, it's not so often of a type that elicits lurid, tabloid style headlines, as this one did. I have to admit that when I first saw the real story in the newspaper it struck me as dark comedy more than tragedy. But when I came to write my story, my thoughts about it turned in a more somber direction.

Ray was still trying to be a good family man. But he felt that there had been a divine dispensation that had allowed him to reach California, that somehow he’d been absolved of everything in advance. All the strict rules of childhood, the black-and-white way of seeing things that had followed him into adulthood, had simply dropped along the roadside on the way west.
Audible sample of  Seana Graham's "Safe Harbor" can be found HERE. Narrated by Nick Sullivan.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Santa Cruz Noir--blogging the book, Day 9. "First Peak" by Peggy Townsend

(To learn more about my "blogging the book" challenge to myself, go HERE.)

Readers may be surprised that there is quite a bit about Hawaii in Peggy Townsend's story, although the center of action is Santa Cruz. But there has long been a sense of connection between Santa Cruz and these Pacific islands. It's now known, for instance, that three princes of Hawaii visited the city in the summer of 1885 and demonstrated surfing in the mouth of the San Lorenzo river while they were in the U.S. at military school. Both surf culture and musical culture keeps them firmly entwined.

The real theme of the story is the more current tension about Silicon Valley new money coming into town and driving the older community out. As Susie Bright has said in her introduction, she received so many submissions about the gentrification of Santa Cruz that she could edit a whole volume entitled "Gentrification Noir." Peggy' story, Townsend's story offers up its own unique form of revenge.

Boone watched the kooks climb the wide set of steps the county had set into a faux rock wall to foster access for the tourists or something. He remembered when Pleasure Point felt like a community instead of a destination resort, when a carpenter or a teacher could afford to rent or even buy a house because there weren't vacation rentals on every corner--or giant paychecks that allowed people from over the hill to build giant houses that only they could afford. He remembered when you had to walk a narrow path and hang on to a knotted rope to get down the cliff to the water, which kept out the people who did not deserve the waves. 

Audible sample of Peggy Townsend's "First Peak" can be found HERE. Performed by James Patrick Cronin and Derrick Steven Prince.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Santa Cruz Noir, blogging the book. Day 8, "Mischa and the Seal" by Liza Monroy

(To learn more about my "blogging the book" challenge to myself, go HERE.)

I had to give a wry smile of recognition when I read this passage of Liza Monroy's story of Mischa, a graduate student in marine biology who has dropped out and become kind of a surf bum. I am pretty sure Mischa's mother is not the first mother who has entertained these thoughts when visiting her child in Santa Cruz, nor will she be the last.

On Mischa's mother's final visit, she'd entered a repetitive loop of conversation blaming Santa Cruz for her daughter's loss of ambition. The small seaside city was a land of lotus-eaters and it sucked her in. The place was an opiate. The Mediterranean weather, perpetual sunshine, glare of light on the bay beneath the cliffs. How did anyone ever get anything done here, or leave to go anywhere else?

Indeed. All is not quite what it seems here, however. This is one story which definitely benefits from being read twice.

Audible sample of Liza Monroy's "Mischa and the Seal" can be found HERE

Friday, June 29, 2018

Santa Cruz Noir, blogging the book. Day 7, "Wheels of Justice" by Jon Bailiff

(To learn more about my "blogging the book" challenge to myself, go HERE.)

I surf Steamer Lane. It's my home break, not yours. You're not Westside Santa Cruz born and raised. Steamer's is not for you. Go back to the Valley or Cowell's or even Pacifica. We will not be tolerating any university inclusivity-diversity bullshit from outsider kooks, queers and mud people. Stay behind the railing and watch.

When I flew down to L.A. for the Skylight Books event for Santa Cruz Noir a couple of weeks ago, I happened to have a shuttle driver who was a true Santa Cruz local, though not a Westside local. H was born and raised in Boulder Creek, which is up in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Growing up, he would go down to both Eastside and  Westside beaches to surf, and have to earn his right to be at each place, which included a few beatdowns in the parking lot afterwards. 

Jon Bailiff is not a local. As he says in the author's bio in the back of the book, he's only lived in Santa Cruz for thirty years. So I feel that I should perhaps explain that the rant of his rage-filled screw-up of a narrator is not autobiographical. It's more along the lines of what he's witnessed and experienced of the territorial skirmishes that accompany surfing in Santa Cruz. When asked why he has decided to write about this guy, he thought about it and then said, "One word--"Payback."

The shuttle driver, who seemed like a reasonable enough sort of man at this point in his life, said that things had gotten mellower in the Santa Cruz surfing scene in recent years. But he wasn't too happy with the influx of people from Silicon Valley hitting the waves with their expensive boards. "I think maybe we've been a little too nice to them," he said. "Yeah,  just a little too nice."

Audible sample of Jon Bailiff's "Wheels of Justice" (read by the author) can be found HERE.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Santa Cruz Noir-blogging the book, Day Six. "Possessed" by Naomi Hirahara

(To learn more about my "blogging the book" challenge to myself, go HERE.)

Edgar award winning author Naomi Hirahara lives in Southern California but is no stranger to Santa Cruz County, and sets one of her  Detective Mas Arai novels in Watsonville, where she has a family history. In fact, she told me at the Skyline Books event in L.A. that she considered making her contribution to the anthology a Mas Arai story. Although I'm sure fans would have loved that, I am glad she decided to do a stand alone, because this way she was able to bring us yet another facet of Santa Cruz County, that of the religious camps in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Not all such camps are Christian, but the Christian camps have a long history up in this forested region. I had never heard that there was something so delightfully specific as a Japanese-American Christian camp, but apparently up around Mt. Hermon this is so. 

If you're born again, you can't be demon-possessed," Wendy assured them. "The Devil has no hold on you. Wendy, always the  good cabin leader,was steady and calm.
"But you can be oppressed," Rachel said.
"What does that mean?" a Lukewarm asked.
"That a demon can attach to you," Karen said."They can't take over, but they can still bother you. They can enter through a weak spot."

Audible sample of Naomi Hirahara's "Possessed" can be found HERE.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Santa Cruz Noir--blogging the book, Day Five. "54028 Love Creek Road" by Jessica Breheny

(To learn more about my "blogging the book" challenge to myself, go HERE.)

I'd never thought about how noir the life of a teaching adjunct is, or at least can be, till I read this story by Jessica Breheny. An adjunct is just another member of the gig economy, trying to patch together enough work to pay the bills. In Central California, that may mean driving between several different campuses a day. That's maybe not so terrible when you're young, but what about when youth has passed and you're still scrambling? Part of the reason "Miss Janet" makes some of the dubious choices she does in this story is that she never has a moment to just sit down and think things through.

The author teaches at San Jose City College, just like her protagonist. Luckily for her, she is not an adjunct. Luckily for us, she probably has a few more stories up her sleeve as a result of working there.

I'll just pass Frank. That's it. He doesn't want anything else from me. I'll tell him his descriptions are good in his paper and leave it at that. It's none of my business what he's done. It's between him and his conscience. Besides, he never actually says he stabbed anyone, just "because stabbed him." Without a subject in the sentence, anyone could have done the stabbing. I imagine the grammar lesson I could give with Frank's sentence--I stabbed him / You stabbed him / They stabbed him / Frank stabbed him.

Audible sample of "54028 Love Creek Road" by Jessica Breheny is HERE.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Santa Cruz Noir--blogging the book, Day Four." Monarchs and Maidens" by Margaret Elysia Garcia

(To learn more about my "blogging the book" challenge to myself, go HERE.)

Like several other writers in this anthology, Margaret Elysia Garcia wears many hats. She has a couple of collections of short stories out there, she's the cofounder of a microtheater company that travels around the High Sierras, and she's writing a book on plus-size models.

When I met her after the Skylight Books event, I told her how much I had enjoyed, Madison, the child that features in the story.

"I hate that kid!" she said.

"That's what I mean," I said. Madison falls into the characters you love to hate category. Check out the audio sample below and you'll see what I mean.

First, though check out the beautiful passage about the butterflies that annually descend on Natural Bridges State Park. Yes, it's real. On top of all the other natural beauty here, we also sometimes are graced with this.

If you're like me and don't have the best vision, you don't notice the butterflies at first. But as you go closer to the trees, you realize they are moving. Thousands of monarchs beat their wings about the eucalyptus and pine so that trees appear to dance. They move back and forth like a kelp forest in a tide zone. Orange and black and white, so thick that the tree colors are hidden. The farther you go on the trail, the thicker the colony. By the end of the path there seem to be nothing left but the beating of a million orange wings. 

Audible Sample of Margaret Elysia Garcia's "Monarchs and Maidens" HERE.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Santa Cruz Noir--blogging the book, Day Three. "What Ever Happened to Skinny Jane?" by Ariel Gore

(To learn more about my "blogging the book" challenge to myself, go HERE.)

Ariel Gore is in many ways at the other end of the spectrum from the author of the first story in this anthology, in that she has written many books and founded Hip Mama, an alternative parenting magazine. As with so many other writers in this anthology, you can tell she has spent time (I was going to write"done time") in Santa Cruz because of a particular striking paragraph.

It's the next day and I'm down at the Clock Tower 'cause Food Not Bombs is serving lunch without a permit and I'm not hungry or anything, but I just dropped another tab and I'm in the mood to start some shit with the police. Before I even get a chance, here comes this skinny girl in a skirt and no fuckin' shirt on and she's all limbs and yellow hair and pink tits and she's hungry, she's practically starving, right?

For those of you who don't know the town, the Clock Tower is a tower at the top of Pacific Avenue that has been the meeting place for much political protest and the Food Not Bombs tables are set up to feed the hungry and homeless, not without some push back from the powers that be. As for the girl, it would be easy to think that she was just made up for the purposes of fiction, but as someone who worked downtown for many years, I am sure I have seen something very similar to this scene. In fact,  just yesterday I was downtown about to walk into the Trader Joe's there when a young woman wearing a backpack walked out of it. It took me a moment to realize in profile that she was also completely naked. She came out to Front Street set down the pack, pulled some garment out of it and began to dress, as calmly as though she had just gotten out of the shower. Inside the TJ's people looked on in somewhat baffled amusement. 

Audible sample of "Whatever happened to Skinny Jane?" by Ariel Gore HERE

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Santa Cruz Noir, blogging the book--Day Two, "Buck Low" by Tommy Moore

(To learn more about my "blogging the book" challenge to myself, go HERE.)

The first story in this collection is also Tommy Moore's first published story, which is quite a coup when you think about it. "Buck Low" draws from Tommy's experience of living in Santa Cruz. Not everyone arrives in Santa Cruz via Silicon Valley, and as he told it as his reading at Skylight Books a couple of weeks ago, he ran into some of the darker elements of the community. As someone who used to live down by the Boardwalk and walk back and forth to downtown on the river levee, this doesn't surprise me. I met a few people who were a little like his drifter protagonist (but I hope not too much like him.)

An arresting passage that tells us volumes about the narrator in a small action:

Feeding crabs to the anemones has become automatic, almost meditative. I ram the last hermit crab deep into the anemone's distended blossom, overflowing with empty shells. It chokes on the meat and spews forth whole, half-digested crabs.


Audible has made samples of each author's story available, and you can listen to Tommy Moore's sample HERE.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Santa Cruz Noir--blogging the book, Day One--The Introduction, by Susie Bright

See yesterday's post for an explanation of this experiment.

I'm starting out today with the introduction to the book. That may seem a little unusual, but this is very much Susie Bright's book and she really gets the anthology rolling here. When I mentioned to people that I had a story in Santa Cruz Noir, some were amused. "Santa Cruz" and "noir" didn't seem to go in the same sentence. But sometimes the sunniest places have the darkest shadows. And Susie gets that.

We live in what's called "paradise," where you can wake up in a pool of blood with the first pink rays of the sunrise peeking out over the mountain range. The dewy mist lifts from the bay. Don't hate us because we're beautiful--we were made that way, like Venus rising off the foam with a brick in her hand. We can't help it if you fall for it every time.

See what I mean?

Friday, June 22, 2018

Santa Cruz Noir edited by Susie Bright

I'm going to try a little experiment here on my rather neglected reviewing blog. I have a story in the new anthology Santa Cruz Noir, and thought I could do a little something by way of helping with its publicity. To that end, I'm challenging myself to write something up on each of the stories in the collection, one day at a time. Then I'll tweet the post on Twitter. These won't be true reviews, as I don't think that's appropriate in this situation, but I'll instead be writing about something that interested or intrigued me about each story. I'll even have something to say about my own.

Whether or not this will help the book in any way, I don't know. But I've already read all the stories and I do think it will be a fun project. If you'd like to read an actual review of the book, Escape Into Life's own Kathleen Kirk posted a fine one today. You can find it here. Then keep an eye peeled for the first post here tomorrow.

Friday, May 11, 2018

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

Posted from my Good Reads review

The Good Earth
This was a book that I never would have read if it hadn't been a selection of my book group. It came laden with associations from my childhood of a work carrying the Book-of-the-Month-Club seal of approval, and I thought it would be old-fashioned and sentimental. The fact that it became an Oprah pick seemed like just a modern day version of that old model. Moral uplift and edification.

I just read Celeste Ng's review of the book, which I happened upon here at Good Reads. She hates the book and has good reasons for doing so. Her complete diatribe (and I say that in praise, not condemnation) can be found at The Huffington Post. But she admits that her critique is really of the way the West embraced the book and took it as a sort of one volume encyclopedia on all things Chinese. As Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says in her Ted Talk The Danger of a Single Story, we get into trouble when we infer too much from one person's story, making them stand for a much more complex whole.

But I don't think Buck was attempting to interpret the whole of China for us. I don't even know that she was trying to write a realistic novel. The Good Earth came across to me as more of a fable. Her storytelling style struck me not so much as literary than as biblical or saga-like, and as someone who came from a missionary family, she was probably more formed by that book's way of speaking than many of us are.

Wang Lung, her protagonist, is not interesting because he is Chinese. He is an everyman figure. He could be a peasant farmer in any culture where most people live at a subsistence level. Buck is more interested, I think, in showing us his drive to succeed and the inherent pitfalls in that sort of monomania. In the end it is more of a morality tale than an anthropological study. To her credit, there is no missionary proselytizing in her story. At perhaps the only point that Christianity overtly enters the story, it comes across as incomprehensible to Wang Lung.

Perhaps Buck's greatest accomplishment in this story was not to 'explain China' to the West, but to get her readers to empathize with Wang Lung as a human being with ambitions and faults (or if not with him, with his long suffering wife, O-lan) but also virtues, similar to our own. At the time of its publication in 1931, anti-Chinese sentiments were still alive and well in America, which is not to say they have died off even now.

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Monday, February 26, 2018

Posting this on from my Good Reads review.

The Last Straw (Pigeon-Blood Red Book 2)The Last Straw by Ed Duncan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was offered a review copy of The Last Straw after reviewing the first book in this series, Pigeon-Blood Red. I enjoyed this book for some of the same reasons I did that one, including its fast paced, easy to read storyline. Although this second book involves several of the characters from the first, I think Duncan has upped his game a bit with this one. There is more introspection on the part of the two main characters, hitman Rico and lawyer Paul Elliott, and a relationship between them is slowly evolving. In fact, you might say that the characters are becoming more like each other, although since they come very different places, they still have a long way to go before you could call them anything like the same.

There are several compelling women in the book, and one of the interesting things about the story is that the women all question the men's actions and motivations, getting into some interesting conversations about whether what they are contemplating doing is right. True, the men usually just go ahead and do what they were planning to do anyway, but even the most violent of them seem to hold a respect for the woman in their life's viewpoint. And it changes his outlook a little, even if it doesn't change his actions.

Most of what you need to know from the first book is retold in this one, but I would recommend starting with Pigeon-Blood Red to really appreciate the arc of the story. I am assuming this isn't the last time we'll be hearing about Rico and Paul Elliott.

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