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?







Now, I seldom, maybe almost never, talk much

about the arc of a story. Even books I don’t much care for have one, for good or ill, and I tend to concentrate on character story in terms of reader impact. But I recently read two novels in a row that are very disappointing in the arc department. Not a frequent happening. It’s sort of liking spotting a dodo bird, then realizing it’s a mirage. Normal approach would be to treat them separately, first one, then the other, but their deficiencies are to similar, I’d rather clutch them together in my hot little fist and toss them into the nearest bin together. Unfortunately, the printed page is by nature linear, so first comes Lauren Groff,  it says here, is a two-time national book award finalist. I assume her other works are far superior to The Matrix because I respect that particular award and would hate to think the quality has sunk to this novel. I bought it because it sounded fascinating, a 12th century tale about a middle daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine, who became a power-wielding nun and created a fascinating abbey shorn entirely of men. Sounds like a sure winner. Prose style is good. Characters are vivid. What could go wrong? Read on.

Hernan Diaz sets his In The Distance primarily in the American west in the gold rush era. Main character is Swedish, who is shipwrecked with his brother on the coast of South America (I think) and is saddled with the task of finding his brother, from whom he became separated in the wreck. Speaking no English, the only knowledge of his new-found land is that his brother was headed to New York, so he figures he should go there to connect. Not a bad setup, especially if, like me, you’re particularly interested in that time and place. See my novels, The Maxwell Vendetta, The Second Vendetta, Bonita, and the upcoming Swindle in Sawtooth Valley if you don’t believe me. I believe all three of these are far, far superior to either of the books I’m describing here.

And that’s enough said in general about these two tales. Obviously, their settings are disparate, but what they have in common are the distinct lack of what I refer to in the title of this article. Aristotle (How often do I quote him? Once again, seldom.) said a well-told tale needs a beginning, middle and an end. The arc. Not to be pedantic about it. I can point to plenty of stories whose progression are not exactly clean. The Sound and The Fury is one sometimes-baffling example. Toni Morrison’s Beloved is anything but linear. In the volumes under consideration, we have beginnings, certainly. Perhaps we have middles, but I don’t think you can have an ending unless there’s an ending. Matrix has no end except that the main character (at last!) dies, demonstrating nothing except perhaps that all human works–male or female–are pretty much in vain by the end. Beyond that statement, which doesn’t require hours of reading to arrive at. I admit to not quite finishing In the Distance, and I don’t usually quit on a book. Being an author myself, I feel disloyal laying aside the best efforts of another toiler in the literary vineyards. But once again, the main character trundles along from one crisis to another without much sense of progress. Does he reunite with his brother? That’s probably where the book is headed, but I don’t much know nor care.

As for this piece? At least it is now coming to a stop. You judge whether the stop qualifies as an ending.




It’s been a long drought for us moviegoers. Although the lack of big-theater experiences can’t be compared either in inconvenience or pain to the horrors of Covid-19, if I’m honest (and I occasionally am) I still admit missing walking up to the box office, settling back into a darkened house, and watching large people play out their dramas on the silver screen. Now, it’s easily as important to me as the opportunity to go maskless (almost) without fear or to rub elbows in a crowd to return to that somewhere over the rainbow world.

Lin Manuel Miranda shown sporting a jacket from my granddaughter’s (and his) alma mater

I’ve done it only twice so far. Early on, we took in IN THE HEIGHTS, set in (of course) NYC’s Washington Heights. The name that dominated the whole production was  Hamilton’s Lin Manuel Miranda, though he had much less to do with this one than he did with that historical tour de force. It’s a multicultural, multiracial production that shows fault lines between two dominant groups of the heights–those of Puerto Rican heritage and those from the Dominican Republic. The conflict, predictably, is as the line from the pop song (not from the show) says, “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” Same conflict as in West Side Story’s “I want To Be In America.” You’d think the theme would be played out by now, but unfortunately not so. I must say the whole thing is Broadway-derivative and a bit too heartwarming and sentimental if you examine it too closely. But if you accept it for what it is and enjoy the return of movie magic, it’s a winner.

From the urban America of IN THE HEIGHTS, we take you now to rural Italy and the adventures of a bunch of old–and I do mean old–guys and their canine companions as they scrabble through the forests in search of the rarest and most expensive fungi in the world.

THE TRUFFLE HUNTERS refers both to the humans and their doggie partners who labor mightily to bring this delicacy from their near-poverty dwellings  to the plates of the hoi polloi worldwide.

I’d always thought of truffle hunters (when I thought of them at all) as pigs, but apparently dogs are really good at it also. The film centers on the close relationships between the men (and their families) and the animals who scour the woods in search of this apparently exquisite treat. We see not only the hunt, but the ridiculous attitude economically upper class humans bring to the whole enterprise. Hunks of truffles are ensconced in wine glasses and passed from nose to nose as people make pretentious noises every bit as pompous as those which  sommeliers spout over vintners’ artistry.

As heartwarming and lovely as the truffle warriors themselves are, it is hard to ignore the sense of class oppression and exploitation that comes along with an enterprise that plunders the labor and pain of the workers and transforms it into huge profits for the fat and sassy. But that’s an old story and one certainly not limited to the world of high-class fungi, and it’s certainly not what the  The old guys feel about themselves. They and their dogs are the center of the story, and they are as genuine and honest and touching as they can be.

The film is undoubtedly too slow for some, but I found it overall endearing and a great testimony to the capacity for human happiness even in the face of what from the outside looks like adversity and disadvantage.




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.