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.