The festival of storytellers is coming soon, featuring me as well as a host of other writers.  Here’s a link to just one of the novels I’ll have on the table.   


Here's the link if you feel moved to buy. https://amzn.to/3jI1MWc

No one knows what the Yellow Rose (Emily West) looked like. But maybe this was she?





Hollywood, Oakland, and the gospel truth

Blindspotting is among the top movie experiences of my life. That includes such triumphs as The Seventh Seal and The Godfather. What makes it so?

There is no better answer to that question than is contained in a recent homily by Father Steve Keplinger of Grace St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Tucson. (http://gsptucson.tumblr.com/post/177945930259/fr-steves-sermon-for-sunday-sept-9-2018) Without going into detail as to how our paths crossed, I will simply say that the paths were not long, though they were a little convoluted and indirect. What’s important is that what Father Steve, my friend, Bill Roeske, and I saw in this film was a painful and ugly explanation for the stereotyping and racism that too often dictate our thoughts and actions.

I won’t explore and explain the themes, plot and characters here. I’m going to skim over those and dive right into the deep waters of what this portends for our lives. The film’s title has its origins in concept one of the main characters is studying in her psychology class and demonstrates that we are physically and psychologically incapable of simultaneously seeing two realities at once within the same image. Thus, we can perhaps see below either a vase or two faces looking at one another. We cannot see both at once.

downloadThus it is that we cannot look at another person and see both a saint and a sinner, a criminal and a minion of the law. Or to further complicate the situation, a black person/criminal and a black person/upstanding citizen. Yet, we deal with these realities every day, and what you might call cognitive dissonance keeps us from appreciating and understanding them. Everything about Blindspotting helps us experience this situation, and it’s not a pleasant experience. The pain, danger, and injustice we visit upon one another because of this inherent disability is enormous. It’s one thing to be told about it and to recognize it intellectually, it’s quite another to see and understand it in depth the way this film forces us to do.

Father Steve’s homily pleads with his audience to recognize and attempt to overcome the human tendencies of Blindspotting, and he evinces some optimism that is possible to do so. He chooses as a scriptural example the parable of Jesus’ treatment of the Canaanite woman from St. Matthew, wherein the prophet recognizes his own racist assumptions and changes his attitude. Father Steve seems to me to suggest that  the narrative shows that we are all capable of reform just as Jesus was.

However, I can’t help thinking about how a generation or so later, St. Paul finds it necessary to admonish the Roman Christians to change their ways and to start admitting perviously-excluded gentiles into their ranks. Part of that appeal was strategic, I suppose. The church could not grow and survive if they continued drawing members only from their limited circle. However, I think it was mostly a matter of Early Christian blindspotting that did not allow the folks within that insulated community to see both Roman citizens and sincere Christians in the same person or group.

A couple of thousand years later, we’re still at it. Both the racism and the struggle to reform. Like life itself, the struggle to achieve the goal is often seemingly futile. When asked what a particular poem meant, T.S. Eliot is said to have answered by reading the poem itself aloud. The meaning, he was pointing out, is in the experience, not outside of it. You’ve got to see it to understand it. And like life itself, like the wonderfully poetic rap that is at the center of the film’s epiphany, Blindspotting tells us to keep struggling and, somehow, keep laughing and rapping and writing poems the while.


1608199606I first encountered Gary Kamiya’s work in his excellent weekly column in The San Francisco Chronicle–Portals of the Past–in which he recounts episodes from the city’s history. As the author of three historical novels set in and around San Francisco (two of them published–The Maxwell Vendetta and The Second Vendetta) San Francisco history, of course, interests me intensely. The column’s intro mentioned his book The Cool Gray City of Love, and I meant to get it but hadn’t gotten around to it yet. I guess I was waiting for it to come to me through a surprise connection with his mother, whom I didn’t even know I knew. I felt foolishly smug about my SF history knowledge. It turns out I knew nothing at all.

Kamiya’s “49 views” are not only historical, and meticulously researched, but personal and poetic as well. He takes us back, back, back to eras (there were several) when the bay was a valley without water, when mammoths and giant bears prowled the territory from Telegraph hill to the Farallones. He walks us through streets and fields we never knew existed and helps us understand them historically, geologically, emotionally. His literary and scientific erudition is enormous. The emotional/artistic aspect of the work announces itself in the title–a line from a poem by a forgotten San Francisco poet named Sterling. Fittingly, a poem engraved on a plaque in a small, unheralded park where the author played tennis. And Kamiya adds plenty of his own poetry as well:


. . . [A]s I walk through San Francisco, as I have done for most of my life and will do until I die, I walk in the company of friendly ghosts. They [the now-extinct, Yelamu, San Francisco’s earliest inhabitants] and their world are gone now, their campsites and villages buried beneath skyscrapers, their trees cut down, their streams covered by concrete. But they look through my eyes. We walk together through this ordinary place in the sanctified world, this 46-square-mile piece of eternity.

Even if you don’t know and love the city as I do (and, did I mention I know nothing of the city compared to Kamiya?), its fine prose and affection of place are reasons enough to open and devour The Cool Gray City of Love. Everyone who has ever loved a city–even if that city is not San Francisco–will find communion with this wonderful book. Grab it.





418U9To5bhL._AA160_41HXgy0KnhL._AA160_41gOh0ie2dL._AA160_I’m surprised Charles Williams  isn’t better known. Seems to me he’s right up there with Chandler and Hammett—well, almost—and from the same era. His career encompassed the same 1940’s and 1950’s era, and his command of language and character is as true and touch as it comes.charles-williams-for-website

The title of Aground refers to a stolen yacht that’s marooned on a sand spit somewhere between Key West and Cuba. The rich widow, Rae Osborne, “a statuesque blonde with a flamboyant mop of hair” hires our narrator/protagonist Ingram to search for the yacht he is for a short while suspected of stealing. They find it, but complications prevent their sailing back home.

During the ensuing conflict, while Osborne and Ingram plot a way out of their difficulties, they engage in tough-tender banter reminiscent of Bogart/Bacall at their best.

“Do you have any desire to get rich?”

“Not particularly.”

“Could two people sail this boat? Very far, I mean?”

“ … Most of the time they’d have their hands full.”

“What about two people who’d just as soon have their hands full of each other?”


Crisp and spicy. Just the way I like it.


Williams apparently didn’t create a character or group of them follow them from one book to the next, at least for this trio. The Big Bite concerns a pro football player who’s washed up by a knee injury suffered in a car crash. It wasn’t an accident. He was the victim of a murder attempt by in a case of mistaken identity. The crash didn’t kill the perpetrator, but someone else came along and finished the job while our John Harlan was unconscious.

John finds out about the caper and decides to replace his sports salary with some blackmail cash. It gets complicated. Williams uses the same taut prose and deft imagery as in Aground.—“She drank like somebody trying to finish a highball with a cab waiting outside … ”—but this time our narrator is no hero. He’s the next thing to a noir protagonist—a decent guy who’s been hardly done by and gets corrupted by the thought of easy money. Entertaining, realistic, and full of people with respectable facades and larceny in their hearts.


Talk of the Town presents us with a different situation altogether. It’s still first-person tough guy, but this one really does have a heart of gold. Ex-San Francisco cop Chatham is driving cross-country, trying to leave a broken life behind, when he’s involved in a small accident in a little Louisiana town. He’s about to get arrested when a woman steps forward to witness that it was the other driver’s fault. Not testimony that sits well with the small crowd that’s gathered. Chatham takes up residence at the motel owned by that very woman, Mrs. Langston. Turns out she’s an outcast, in circumstance that fits the book’s title. Everyone suspects she murdered her popular husband, thought the evidence isn’t strong enough to bring her to trial. She’s ostracized, but too stubborn to leave.

Chatham’s cop instincts take over, and he gets drawn into an investigation over of the original crime. Turns out, of course, that there’s a lot more to the situation than appears on the surface, and what he uncovers makes for an exciting and satisfying read.

I gobbled up these three with relish and anticipate going for more of this prolific guy’s ouvre. I hope he has a renaissance. Even post-mortem, I would like to think it would do him good.




412BtXahcCL._AA160_“Charity is not love.”

That remark by native Lubandan and the only white native of the country Martine Aubert could define the entire narrative spine of Thomas H. Cook’s Dancer In The Dust. Ray Campbell came to Lubanda as a young man intent on doing good and changing peoples’ lives. He left, defeated in his original purpose by politics and revolution, but in love with this lady who inherited a farm from her family and is intent on leading a simple, uncorrupted life.

A murder in NYC of a man whom he knew all those years back and who worked for his love, Martine, takes him back. The investigation of the murder takes him back to the country to see what he can solve. He finds himself involved with many of the people he knew before. The convoluted circumstances of both the personal and the political intrigues become byzantine in the extreme.


As Campbell’s interviews proceed, we find ourselves involved not only in the personal and criminal drama he came to deal with, but with principles of international relations. When is foreign aid helpful, when corrupting and destructive to the very people and countries it was intended to support?

There are answers to these questions in the novel, but no solutions. And in the end, it seems to me we are left with the romantic and ephemeral image of the title. It may not seem like much, but believe me, it’s emotional impact is considerable. Dancer in the Dust doesn’t leave your mind or your heart.