Point and shoot: They interviewed strippers, gunmen, and Ice-T for their book Etiquette for Outlaws (Harper Entertainment, $14) and rode with soldiers in tanks for Why We Rule (Harper Entertainment, $13.95). They worked on MTV's prank show, PUNK'D. Now Rob Cohen and UC Berkeley grad David Wollock are launching a new MTV program based on stupid home-video footage. Yeah, been there, done that, but this one is hosted by a stuntman from Jackass.
Suggested video subjects include "tattoos gone bad, booger-eating, and farting your favorite Britney Spears jam," says Wollock, who cites as high points of his post-Cal career the writing of "trite yet award-winning ad copy for the likes of Wherehouse Music, Taco Bell, Slim Jim, and various record labels," as well as founding a hip-hop magazine and then having been "interviewed and threatened by some of the nation's leading rappers."
Mob mentality: Starting at noon on September 26, the Berkeley Public Library will give away 500 copies of Vietnam-born, Northern California-bred Dao Strom's novel Grass Roof, Tin Roof (Mariner, $12). This variation on flash mobs and reading groups is a joint scheme of the library and the Berkeley Arts Festival, following last year's Invisible Man Project, in which hundreds read Ralph Ellison's novel simultaneously and attended related events all over town. (Strom-themed gigs are set for October 16 and 23 at the library's main branch.) GRTR lapel buttons will be distributed along with the books so that readers can identify each other on the street.
Hella spectral: Eric is a surfer boy seduced by his best friend's chick -- and then slain for his troubles by said friend. He'd like to haunt the dude, but antidepressants render even slayers insensate to supernatural nudges. Thus dead Eric roams the beach bending the ears of whomever will listen, and narrating Michael Scott Moore's debut novel Too Much of Nothing (Carroll & Graf, $13).
It's not easy writing like a dead guy.
"Eric was modeled on someone who was half-Jewish," says Moore, an ex-Rockridgeite and current SF Weekly drama critic. "So ... what are Jewish ghosts like? Modern Jews don't believe in an afterlife," but Moore found a bit about spirits in the Zohar -- that 13th-century mystical text held in high esteem by Madonna, Naomi Campbell, Roseanne, and Donna Karan: In other words, those once-esoteric but now Us-magazinoid Kabbalists. And that's how Eric became a nefesh: Sometimes translated as "middle soul" (as compared to the higher soul, neshama), the nefesh is the personality of the deceased, said to wander restlessly until it can somehow find peace.
"It's almost identical to the model of the soul in Hinduism -- Atman and Brahman and so on," says Moore, who recently bought a secondhand surfboard.
Gender lessons: He covered the Chilean secret police and Wen Ho Lee as a New York Times Washington-bureau reporter, but when Christopher Marquis decided to write a novel, he had to start making stuff up.
A Hole in the Heart (St. Martin's, $24.95), the sadly funny saga of an insecure widow who leaves remotest Alaska for San Francisco, is drawn partly from life: As a UC Berkeley undergrad, Marquis used to spend summers working 49th-state fish-cannery "slime lines."
But creating a female protagonist cranked up the make-up factor.
"This may sound odd for such an intimate portrait," he says, "but I wanted to establish some distance between myself and my character. I had chosen to deal with subjects that in some hands could come off as melodramatic or even maudlin. I wanted a more dispassionate view, a lighter touch infused with humor, to explore the weighty questions of what happens after your life blows apart. ... I have been blessed with a lot of strong-willed women in my life, and I've spent a lot of time listening to them. That said, I did have some rather embarrassing conversations with my female confidantes to get the sex scenes right."
Point and shoot, part 2: Teens do drugs because it's fun, says Meredith Maran. In Dirty (Harper Collins, $24.95), the Oakland author tracks three Bay Area kids in and out of juvie, rehab, crack houses, and pimps' cars ... and in ... and out ... and in again. Happy endings? Look elsewhere, dog.
An activist whose 2001 book about Berkeley High School, Class Dismissed, lingered long on the San Francisco Chronicle best-seller list, Maran had a good reason for investigating the kids/drugs connection. Her teenage son "was arrested nineteen times for increasingly serious, increasingly violent crimes, fueled by his chronic use of marijuana and alcohol. ... I blamed myself for Jesse's problems, just as I'd spent twenty years in therapy blaming my mother for mine." At twenty, Jesse found religion, and this "ethnic if not religious Jew is now the youngest and the only white minister at the African-American church he credits with saving his soul, and his life," muses Maran, who will be at Lafayette Books October 17.
Writing Dirty showed her how few souls are saved.
More, more, more: Who's the most prolific local author ever? Could be Barry Gifford, whose forty-plus biographies, novels, and other books delve into Giotto, Edward S. Curtis, racetracks, Tang-dynasty poet Wang Wei, the Chicago Cubs, William Saroyan, fast cars, films noirs, Paris, Wyoming, and fellow Berkeleyites Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg -- who, he says, "carpetbagged here in the '50s." Two new Gifford collections appeared this year, The Rooster Trapped in the Reptile Room (Seven Stories, $19.95) and American Falls (Seven Stories, $12.95).
His secret formula for writing so much isn't writing constantly.
"I have never felt compelled to write every day. Sometimes not even every week," says the author of Wild at Heart, a novel now best known in its 1990 David Lynch film version. Instead, the formula is curiosity, fantasy, and mobility.
"I suppose I would prefer to have lived during the Tang dynasty. Basically, when I'm in the Bay Area I keep to myself, don't socialize much and do my work. My social life in Europe has always been far more intense."
And now you can glow: A tiger falls out of a tree, its guts rip open, a woman the beast has just eaten pops out of the gore and ascends skyward with her pale-faced daughter -- and that's how the morning star and the moon got up there, according to a Korean folktale in Carolyn McVickar Edwards' international anthology, In the Light of the Moon (Marlowe, $13.95). Augmenting lunar tales with anecdotes, the Oakland storyteller is hosting a series of rituals/sing-alongs/readings, including one at ChangeMakers on October 10. She remembers advice a literary agent once gave her:
"'If you get published,' the agent said, the colonel she was in another life evident in her corpulent self-confidence, 'you must stop everything else and sell your book.' A chill of revulsion came over me," Edwards says now. "But, like a bad scene in a movie, I couldn't get it out of my head.
"My big dilemma is whether or not it's politically okay to read in accents," says Edwards, who can carry off the Celtic thing but hesitates at attempting Inuit or ancient Egyptian.
Sacred mayhem: Everybody's after a jewel-encrusted Russian icon which may or may not have miraculously brought down Napoleon and spurs a ritual killing in Pamela Cranston's The Madonna Murders (St. Huberts, $14.95). Mixing myth and realism, Cranston sees herself as descended from C.S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, and J.R.R. Tolkien -- that literary cabal known in its Oxford heyday as the Inksters. As for mixing religion and fiction -- her protagonist is a Berkeley theology professor -- Cranston is qualified. She's an Episcopalian priest.
The artifact in question is real. Displayed at the 1964 World's Fair, the Icon of Kazan now belongs to the Pope. "I'm not on speaking terms with him," says Cranston, who is head chaplain at a Dublin hospice and will be at Diesel on November 16, "so I've never seen it."
Has it got the power? Maybe, says Cranston, who has believed in miracles ever since her own conversion at age twenty in the late 1960s: "I was a radical socialist, raising hell like everyone else"; then she met a clergyman whose healing energy "came out of his hands like warm sunshine. I fainted. Then I asked myself, 'Am I crazy or not?' I'm not."
Litquake report: East Bayites April Sinclair and a sportily clad Maxine Hong Kingston shared a scorching Yerba Buena Gardens stage at the annual festival last weekend with dozens more authors including Lemony Snicket, Po Bronson, Dorothy Allison, devorah major, Iris Chang, Josh Kornbluth, and Tamim Ansary. Eddy Joe Cottin's bodyguard obligingly held a parasol over the Hobo author's head. An audience member protested that the excerpt Oakland brothers Kent and Keith Zimmerman had read aloud from Dead in 5 Heartbeats (Morrow, $24.95) -- a new thriller, released just yesterday, which the Zimmermans coauthored with Hell's Angels honcho Sonny Barger -- was the most profane thing she'd ever heard. Rumor has it that Don Novello, overhearing the protest, responded with profanity. Another rumor has it that reclusive/elusive JT LeRoy expressed interest in attending the afterparty only if he could bring a way-underage guest. Estonian vodka drinks from festival sponsor Türi were flowing freely, so he couldn't. At work on a new novel championing Caledonian cuisine, from haggis to deep-fried Mars bars to fish-in-Rice-Krispies tempura, Irvine Welsh was a headliner for the second year running; he has moved from Scotland to San Francisco to train for a charity boxing match in hopes of launching a teen-suicide aid foundation. A sweet heart beats in that Porno and Filth author's breast.
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