Interviewed by Eve Tan Gee
Visions of Sugar Plums is my latest book and probably my favourite. I had fun writing it and I think people will have fun reading it and you just can't get any better than that. It's a Plum book but it features a new character (Diesel) that I've been holding in my head for a couple years now. Diesel is actually a superhero and I loved that I could take the existing world of Plum and drop this sort of super guy into it. The defining moment in the book for me is when Stephanie Plum admits that she'd like to think there really are super heroes on the planet. Isn't that a wish we all have? That a superhero will walk among us and save us from ourselves? I mean, where's Superman now? And wouldn't you like to know the guy who could fill Batman's codpiece?
There were two early influences on my work. The first would have to be Carl Barks. When I was a kid I read Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comics and I developed a love for the adventure story. The second would have to be Robert B. Parker. When I made the decision to move from romance to crime I read all the Parker books and decided I wanted to be just like him when I grew up. He's such an incredible technician. He makes reading easy.
My early unpublished stuff was pretty far out there. My favourite was about a sort of porno fairy who lived in a fairy forest in Pennsylvania. Probably the world still isn't ready for that one.
Sadly, I do very little reading of other authors these days. I used to read when I flew but flying has become so obnoxious that I do it only under the threat of death or the promise of big money… so my reading time has been severely cut back. When I'm working on a book I find I need to go to bed with the book in my head. If I'm reading someone else I'm going to bed with the wrong book. And these days I'm ALWAYS writing a book. That said, I do find it hard to pass up a new Amanda Quick regency romance or a new Junie B. Jones. Yes, I was Junie B. Jones in a previous life.
I write very broad humour and I think humour can get tedious if it's relentless. So I feel it necessary to raise the stakes for the reader periodically. One of the ways to do this is to insert a violent scene. My rules are that the violence needs to be necessary and moves the story forward. I never kill cats or dogs. And all horrible violence takes place off stage. When it comes to sexuality I think writers need to do what's appropriate for their own voice. Some writers opt for frankness, some for discretion. I opt for funny. Okay, no comments about my sex life!
I don't think it's necessary for a book to make a political statement but all contemporary books reflect the author's view on a wide variety of social conditions. On a strictly personal level, I feel my first obligation to the reader is to entertain in a positive manner. Beyond that, I address issues such as family, women's rights, minorities, and violence if they arise as a natural component of the story.
I'm always working! I usually write seven days a week for a minimum of four hours a day -- sometimes I'm at the computer from five in the morning until ten at night, eating Cheez Doodles, drinking Coke, wishing I was someone else… Nora Roberts, maybe. I have an office at the end of my house with windows that look out over the Connecticut River valley. When I'm in the Cheez Doodle mode I close the blinds so I'm not distracted. I begin a book with a short outline which is actually a timeline of action. Then I follow my writing progress on a large white board, recording chapter by chapter, sort of like a movie story board.
I think my books make people happy and that's my principal appeal. I make people laugh. And I allow people to feel good about themselves. If Stephanie Plum can make it through the day, so can my reader. And I give people hope. My characters are incredibly average and yet they can be heroic if necessary. I keep my books relatively short and the structure is linear because a lot of people are busy these days and I don't want my reader to have to work hard to get through the story.
Music and films are all part of the mix that goes into my head. Everything I do and see and hear and smell ends up in the pot. I don't think a writer needs to stay abreast of the latest film, or the latest bestseller, or be a news junkie, but I do think a writer should live and suck in what's around him. I need quiet when I write so I don't use music to spur inspiration. But when I'm on the treadmill I need a LOT of music!
I write a series, so the characters are already there, waiting for a new plot, but the truth is, my books are character driven and the plot is simply necessary structure to tell the character story. That said, if I didn't have a half-way decent plot the whole thing would be damn boring.
I love New York and Chicago and Boston and London but my creative juices flow best in New Hampshire. If I'm going to get a book done I need a lot of quiet and no possibility to shop.
My relationships with my publishers and editors have all been excellent. No author, no matter how amazing, can achieve large scale success on his own. Only a publisher (and Oprah) can make an author a star.
I write for my reader. I have four unpublished books sitting in a dresser drawer. I wrote the books for myself, wasn't able to get them published, and found the whole experience to be flat. For me, writing is all about connecting, communicating, entertaining.
Reading will always be important. It's entertainment and it's communication and it allows the consumer to mentally participate. What we need to realise is that reading fits into a larger picture, competing with and complimenting film, television, internet and live entertainment. I love the super stores that combine books and music and coffee bars. And I love the small mystery stores that give the consumer a personal and maybe mystery mood experience. I think buying the book should be as much fun as reading the book.
There are times when I'm writing when I'm behind deadline and I really need to be left alone to get the job done. Just slide the Snickers bars under the door, thank you. When I'm not behind deadline I find I need lots of stuff coming into my head to compensate for what gets pulled out.
It seems to me religion is just another one of those life influences that goes into the pot. Childhood experiences, love affairs, dogs gone to heaven, visits to Disneyland and religion are all part of the creative glop that becomes a book.
I feel very comfortable to be a commodity that's packaged and sold by my publisher. Truth is, my books are product and my readers are consumers. Deal with it.
The book I'm writing now is number nine in the Plum series. It's late, of course! And that's about all I'm prepared to say!! Doncha love surprises?
Janet Evanovich lives in New Hampshire but grew up in New Jersey. She is the author of eight best-selling Stephanie Plum novels, including One For The Money, which won the CWA's John Creasey Award, Two For The Dough, which won the CWA Last Laugh Award and Three To Get Deadly, which was awarded the CWA Silver Dagger for 1997.
From Crime Time
T. Jefferson Parker, interviewed by Harlan Coben
Over the years, the NorCal East Bay chapter of Mystery Readers International has had many "At Homes" -- intimate evenings with favorite mystery writers. We've hosted Anne Perry, Lawrence Block, Sue Grafton, Elizabeth George, Janet LaPierre, Sharan Newman, Laurie King, Rochelle Krich, Carolyn Hart, James Ellroy, Steven Saylor, Janet Evanovich, Eddie Muller, Taffy Cannon, and many others.
These events are held in private homes, and they're similar to Literary Salons. Since so many of our cyber members and friends aren't able to attend these intimate evenings, I thought it would be fun to have a "visiting" author each month interviewed by another "visiting" author. This month we feature T. Jefferson Parker interviewed by Harlan Coben.
T. Jefferson Parker was born in Los Angeles and has lived all of his life in Southern California. Parker received his bachelor's degree in English from the University of California, Irvine, in 1976, and began his writing career in 1978, as a cub reporter on the weekly newspaper The Newport Ensign. After covering police, city hall and cultural stories for the Ensign, Parker moved on to the Daily Pilot newspaper, where he won three Orange County Press Club awards for his articles. All the while, he was tucking away stories and information that he would use in his first book.
Laguna Heat, written on evenings and weekends while he worked as a journalist, was published to rave reviews and made into an HBO movie starring Harry Hamlin, Jason Robards and Rip Torn. The paperback made the New York Times Bestseller list in 1986. Nine other novels have followed, including the Edgar Award-winning Silent Joe and his most recent book, Black Water (2002). In April 2003, his eleventh book, Cold Pursuit, will be published. Booklist has called it "another wonderful mystery from one of the very best."
Harlan Coben: Let's start with the chicken-'n-egg question. You're starting a novel. Which comes first: Plot or character? What I'm mostly interested in is that "moment," if you will. The seed that grows into the book. Where does that come from?
T. Jefferson Parker: It's the characters first, then what happens to them. The first moment of a book is always kind of interesting. Sometimes it's something that just happens to you and the story lands in your lap. I remember many years ago when I'd finished Laguna Heat and I was hanging out, trying to play heads-up ball, looking for a story. I'm in a liquor store and the guy in line in front of me is an American Vietnam war vet. The clerk is a Vietnamese woman. I got curious about their histories so I eavesdropped on their mercantile transaction. I wondered -- could they have crossed each other's paths in Vietnam? Could her father or mother have fought with this ex-soldier, or against him? So, before the vet can say anything, the clerk reaches up and takes a pack of Lucky Strikes out of the overhead rack and sets it on the counter. He says, how did you know that's what I wanted? She says, Some things I just know. That blew my hair back. I knew I had a Vietnam mystery on my hands.
HC: Give me an idea of your writing routine, Jeff. Are you a morning or evening guy? How many hours? Are you consistent? Do you count words or pages? Do you play music or do you prefer silence? In the house or at your local coffee bar? Details, man, details!
TJP: I start early, around 6:30 and quit around 5 p.m. It's not always all writing, but sometimes it is. I set a daily page count for each book. Usually 5 or 6 pages per day. Then there's the weekly count. If I'm ahead I feel smug; if I'm behind I sense panic. I go through all these labyrinthine calcs every morning to see where my stock is. It's really kind of funny.
HC: I'd like to steal your question to Jan Burke from last month. What would you like to see more of, and less of, in crime writing these days?
TJP: I think the Achilles heel of mystery/crime writing is character. You have to have good characters and sometimes I think mystery writers rely to heavily on plot and velocity of plot at the expense of characters. This leads to the question of what is a good character, and that's up for interpretation. Certainly a character who is passionate. One who is more than just competent. I think the best mysteries are the ones where you've got an outer mystery and an inner one going on together and these two stories compete and collide and finally become one. Another thing I really enjoy is a story that zooms off in directions you're not expecting. It's difficult to work within the confines of the genre and make that happen.
HC: You've written critically acclaimed, award-winning stand-alones and series books. Is one harder to write than the other? Is the process different when you're doing a stand-alone or series -- or is writing a book, er, writing a book?
TJP: Harlan, that's a coin-toss for me. The stand-alones are harder because you have a whole world to create. But the series books are harder because you can't create a whole world. Somehow, for me, the whole thing boils down to the emotion behind the story. My new book, Cold Pursuit, was the most difficult one to write since Laguna Heat. And that wasn't because it was any larger or more complex than the others, it's because I started working on it on September 12 of 2001. My emotions toward writing fiction at that point were almost completely dead. But back to series or stand-alones, I'm beginning to believe that the stand-alones are easier. I'm working on one now, and I've never felt such joy and enthusiasm for a book.
HC: The old Batman TV show, the one with Adam West and Burt Ward. Who was your favorite villain and why? (If you didn't watch the show, you can skip this question but hang your head in shame).
TJP: Harlan, I was sort of a tough nut as a kid. Not really violent or hateful, but... impatient. I honestly wanted Batman and Robin to get slaughtered by one of the villains. I couldn't stand them, those asinine costumes. And so I hardly ever watched. I know this is perverse, and I do feel shame...
HC: Okay, Jeff, this is a variation on the Hemingway saying that the best way to become a writer was to have an unhappy childhood. Give me an event, preferably in your childhood but we can go up until you were, say, twenty-one, that I can see in your work today. In other words, what happened to you that made you write what you write?
TJP: Now you're getting me back for hating that TV show. Tough question. I actually had a very chipper childhood -- suburban Tustin, good parents and brother and sister, a little church, Little League, bodysurfing, a red family Country Squire station wagon with the wood-look paneling on the side. Lots of fun. So, if you try to trace my somewhat darkish fiction back to that, I guess the answer is that when I saw that childhood breaking up -- when I became aware of myself becoming a young man -- suddenly the whole bubble burst. That's an ugly sentence. Let me try again. It was like one day I was a crew-cut, buck-toothed boy looking for snakes in orange groves, and the next thing I knew there were seriously weird people taking huges doses of LSD, calling the cops pigs and trying to bring down the country. At that point I think I was just left standing gape-jawed at what was happening. I'm talking about 1963 to 1966, say. I'm writing about that period now.
HC: One of my favorite writing quotes comes from E.L. Doctorow: "Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." Do you agree with this? Start with this: Do you know the ending of the book before you begin?
TJP: That's a really nice quote. Very true, I think. I usually know the ending before I start, but not always. The thing is, it's a long way from page one to page 500, so just knowing the ending doesn't mean the whole thing writes itself. You reach a point in a story, especially a mystery, where you've got to choose which story you're really telling. You can see, say, three different ways the story could go, and all three of them look tempting. It's a matter of going with the one that feels best. Here's an example. At the end of Silent Joe I had to reveal Joe's true father. Well, since he'd been adopted very early in life, and because he'd come from a rather evil past, lots of men could have been his father. I picked the one I thought would work best in the story. Some people liked the choice I made and others didn't. In the end, sometimes all you have to call on is instinct.
HC: You're one of our top writers and you've learned a lot during your remarkable career. Could you give me one piece of advice you wish someone had given you when you were first starting out?
TJP: I wish someone would have encouraged me to work harder. That sounds odd, but really, I spent a great many of my younger professional years just goofing off and not getting much done. When Laguna Heat was published so successfully and the HBO movie came out, I was so dumb I thought people would love me forever. Three years later when Little Saigon came out I think a lot of readers had forgotten who I was. I wish an editor would have said, look, Parker, write us a book a year for a few years and we'll get you a nice big audience. But I let another three years go by before Pacific Beat was finished. By then my personal life was in near shambles and it took me two more years to write Summer of Fear.
HC: Your new book, Cold Pursuit, is set in San Diego, a first for you. Why the move away from Orange County? Can you tell us a little about the story?
TJP: I moved down here to San Diego County three years ago, so writing about San Diego was just about inevitable. I really like the city. It's got a whole different feel and history and look than Orange County or Los Angeles. I'll tell you, Harlan, it was a little daunting to grab my old reporter's notebook and camera and drive into this new, "foreign" city and try to get a feel for it. Cold Pursuit is a straightforward whodunit that involves feuding families, forbidden love and a cop caught in the middle of things. It was interesting to see how the San Diego PD works homicides -- very different than most other departments, because they use five-person teams. When I first discovered that, I thought, oh damn -- now I have to write a book with five protagonists. But I worked around the problem okay, I think.
HC: I know the T in T. Jefferson Parker stands for nothing, but what's up with that? Give us the down low.
TJP: True story: my mother told me that she and dad put the T. there because it would look good on the president's door. But they got a mystery writer instead of a statesman.
HC: How much does your writing life bleed into your personal life? Are you grumpy when the writing muse is not paying extended visits, or can you keep the personal and artistic separate?
TJP: I really can't separate too well. When the writing is going well, it shows in everything I do. When it's going poorly, that shows, too. The worst time is always between books, when I'm trying to start. It's hard on my wife and family sometimes. But I've been lucky in my career. Especially when it comes to writing what I want to write. I've yet to sit down and write a certain book because I have to. I've always written the book I wanted, for better or worse. So, even if it's not going real well, I always know that it can go well. If I can just get the story to come out of those strong, mysterious emotions that make you write in the first place. At some point a story takes on a life of its own. It kind of draws you into its world. One good sentence leads to another, one good page leads to the next. When it's going well, like that, you start to really trust your instincts. You get confident, downright brave. It's like stepping into the batter's box, knowing you can hit this guy. You know it, and you do.
From Mystery Readers International
The Pulitzer Prizes:
For fiction: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
For biography: Master of the Senate by Robert A. Caro. This is the third volume of Caro's biography of Lyndon Johnson and is Caro's second Pulitzer. He won in 1975 for The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York.
For history: An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943 by Rick Atkinson
For general nonfiction: 'A Problem From Hell': America and the Age of Genocide by Samantha Power
For poetry: Moy Sand and Gravel by Paul Muldoon
Los Angeles Times, March 30, 2003 pA-6
WAR WITH IRAQ / AIR AND GROUNDCombat's Lull a Pain in the Leatherneck; Marines who had been in the thick of battle find themselves fighting tedium, repairing equipment and catching up on their reading.
COPYRIGHT 2003 The Times Mirror Company
Byline: Tony Perry; Times Staff Writer
WITH THE U.S. MARINES IN CENTRAL IRAQ -- Nobody likes an MRE, until you're told you can't have one.
The military-issued food packet (MRE stands for "meal, ready to eat") has been in short supply lately. With the U.S. march to Baghdad stalled and supply lines stretched and under attack from Iraqi guerrillas, Marines in the 1st Division, Headquarters Battalion, were rationed to one MRE a day last week.
Now that supply trucks have arrived from Kuwait, the quota has been boosted to two.
"Oh no, the four fingers of death!" groaned one Marine as he opened his MRE to find four frankfurters in hot sauce -- not a favorite.
At this sprawling makeshift camp in the Iraqi desert, thousands of Marines assigned to Headquarters Battalion are fighting not Saddam Hussein and the Republican Guard but dust, flies, primitive conditions and even ennui.
By nature, Marines are an impatient lot and lack of movement does not sit easily with them. Just a few days ago, they led the headlong dash from Kuwait along the Euphrates River toward Baghdad. They battled Iraqi fighters for days to secure two bridges over the river and guarantee a supply corridor that will eventually extend some 400 miles.
Since Wednesday, however, they've been stuck.
"We're starting to call it Operation Enduring Boredom," said Staff Sgt. Jason Kirby, 33.
Marines are repairing vehicles ravaged by sandstorms, keeping supplies moving to more forward troops, digging "fighting holes" (only the Army digs foxholes), and tending to the minor chores that take on major significance when all other comforts are denied.
They are such chores as washing, shaving -- and picking just the right MRE. When there is time, they read. The Marine Corps is the only military service with a reading list. And books are everywhere -- books about Marine history, books by Robert Ludlum and Tom Clancy, and a few that surprise.
A supply officer is reading "Uncle Tom's Cabin." An artillery spotter is working his way through Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales." So far, he's finished "The Miller's Tale."
And Staff Sgt. Taryne Williams, 25, of Grand Rapids, Mich., is reading "The Spiral Path" by Mary Jo Putney, because "it's as trashy a novel as I could find, but it keeps my mind totally off the fact I'm in Iraq."
Living in tents, denied any chance for a real shower and subject to clouds of dust kicked up by the helicopters that land and take off at all hours, Marines here are on the prowl for diversions. Chess, spades ("the thinking man's poker," said one Marine) and dominoes are big. GameBoys are popular with younger grunts. A few of the troops keep journals.
In their flak-jacket pockets, Marines stash small articles of significance to their daily lives: good luck talismans, lip balm and tiny bottles of Tabasco sauce (rescued from their MREs).
When Marines are on the move, there is little time for thinking of anything but the mission. When the pace slows, the mood changes. They dwell on their fears, what they miss, what they've seen and their own lack of activity.
"When you get like this, it gives Marines time to think about stuff," said Staff Sgt. Brad Faulkner, 25, of Glasgow, Ky. "Right now we're here because the freakin' Army needs to catch up and be resupplied."
Few of these Marines, especially the young enlisted men, have ever seen action. And they know that whatever they have experienced so far is only a prelude of what is to come.
"We are all pretty young here and we've never been to war," said Lance Cpl. Christopher Somrek of Chicago. "This is all pretty new. Every time we go out we know we probably will get in a more dangerous situation. It gets you thinking: Is my gear good? Is my stuff good? Am I ready?"
In this downtime, before the final push to Baghdad, one thing Marines think about is whether the American public supports the war that has brought them here from Marine camps around the country. They often ask reporters assigned to the troops whether the U.S. public supports the war.
Although they are too young to have seen it firsthand, many have heard stories about servicemen returning from Vietnam to a hostile or indifferent nation.
"When you go back, you want people to know why you went over and served your country," said Sgt. David Vanuch, 24, of Springfield, Ohio.
Work starts early in this camp -- only a slacker is still in his sleeping bag at 7 a.m. -- but ends early as well. With sundown, all activity ceases.
Lights out is strictly enforced after sunset. To deter attackers, no lights are permitted outside tents and are allowed inside only if the window flaps are securely fastened. Flares attached to trip wires are positioned around the camp to warn of intruders. Some have been set off by wild dogs, leading to a swift and armed response from the "react squad."
There are morale boosters, though, at this undisclosed location, which, with its flat terrain and ashy soil, could pass for the California desert.
There is, for example, recently installed telephone service that allows calls back home for those with credit cards or relatives willing to accept the calls collect. The limit is five minutes.
But if there is a No. 1 booster, it probably comes in the form of the outdoor toilets, holes in the ground with box seats and camouflage netting for a bit of privacy. In the beginning of the move north, there were only trenches and bushes. Toilet paper is hoarded by Marines and shared only with best buddies.
"We're spoiled here," said Navy Petty Officer Kathryn Fauss, 22, of Rapid City, S.D., who assists the camp chaplains. "We've got toilets."
Here's a real page-turner
Nevada City and Grass Valley's story? More bookstores than anywhere else
Adair Lara, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, April 6, 2003
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle
Nevada City -- "It took me almost a year to discover I'd moved to a writer's idea of heaven," said poet Molly Fisk, who moved from Stinson Beach seven years ago when she fell in love. "Even though I'm extremely small potatoes in the writing world, when I step out onto Broad Street headed for the store to buy a lightbulb, people smile and wave and ask what I'm working on."
Where is she? Bloomsbury? Greenwich Village?
Nope. Nevada City.
Located in the Sierra Nevada foothills, just below the snow line about 30 miles off Highway 80 near Auburn, it's a typical little mountain town in many ways, with the usual hippies, busted dot-commers, rednecks with flag decals on their trucks, coupon clippers and right-wingers. Exhausted gold mines dot the countryside. But as Fisk found out, it's different.
It's literary. Nevada County voters, no fonder of tax increases than people in any other struggling rural community, overwhelmingly voted to triple the library budget five years ago. The local paper has a literary page. There are book fairs, classical music festivals and literary festivals. Fisk, along with bookstore owner Eric Tomb, hosts a radio show called "BookTown" on Monday afternoons on KVMR, a mountain version of Berkeley's KPFA.
And between Nevada City and the neighboring town of Grass Valley, with a combined population of about 15,000 people, there are 23 booksellers. Seventeen of them have stores, and the five others sell from their garages or on the Internet, including John Hardy, a former San Francisco trial lawyer.
Nevada City is, in fact, officially a book town. The term comes from a European idea for reviving little villages by concentrating booksellers there. This notion was dreamed up by an Englishman named John Booth in 1961 in Hay-on- Wye in Wales, when he inherited a castle and turned it into a used-book store. Then he bought up the rest of the town's buildings and turned them into bookstores, too. Today, the hamlet has more than 30 bookshops, which draw half a million visitors each year.
Gary Stollery, owner of Brigadoon Books in Nevada City, went to Hay in 1996 and came back determined to transform Nevada City and Grass Valley into a California version of Hay-on-Wye. A year later, Booth himself came over to attend a banquet for book dealers and local politicos that formally named the two towns as the Gold Cities Book Town.
According to Stollery, there are only two other book towns in the country. "Stillwater (Colo.) tried to get something going, and Larry McMurtry started something like it down in Archer City, Texas, where he runs a used-book shop spread over four buildings," Stollery said. "But Stillwater only has three or four (bookstores), and McMurtry's is a one-man operation, which is like cheating."
Admittedly, some of the Nevada City-Grass Valley bookstores are teeny. Nine of them are in one co-op building in Grass Valley called Booktown Books. In fact, when informed that she lived in a book town, the bartender in a downtown hotel looked puzzled. "There are a lot of funky little bookstores here," she allowed.
None of them are chains, and the booksellers work together. They have a common newsletter and gladly refer customers to one another, as two side-by- side used-book stores may not have a single title in common. "A book scout can hit a lot of shops without having to go a lot of miles," said Stollery. Ames Bookstore, with more than 300,000 volumes sprawling over five storefronts, is considered one of the best used-book stores in the state.
And where you find books, you also find readers. "I tried to join a book group and found out that all of the groups that meet regularly were filled," Fisk said. "Some are of such long standing that my brother-in-law Tom, who was born and raised here, inherited his mother's slot when she died."
And you find writers. Novelist Louis B. Jones ("California's Over") has been here eight years. "Our little house in Mill Valley purchased a lot of comfort up here," Jones said.
"People started moving up here in the late '50s, early '60s, partly because of Gary Snyder having come here. (Snyder, one of the original Beat poets, lives up on the San Juan Ridge above town.) But a lot of leftist, educated people moved up and stayed. So, it's small, but there are a lot of deep pockets of cultural stuff."
Jones has two kids in the local schools, which got the second-highest scores in the state, after Marin County. "It's quiet. It's beautiful. What Mill Valley used to be. We have a kitchen garden and a lot of space," he says. Jones, 49, is growing a beard and fantasizes about getting a job clearing brush. "It's sort of little Provencal. Good food, good people."
And where you find writers, you find artists. Elizabeth Dorbad, 32, a visual artist who lives on 90 acres outside town and works in a bookstore, says artists have followed the bookish types here.
"They are of like mind and interest. The literary scene influences all the arts." Fisk's co-host on the radio show, Tomb, 57, who started the first bookstore here in 1973, says Nevada City right now has a lively bohemian feel, like the art scene in Carmel at the turn of the century. He worries, though, that people are always talking about what a cultural center it is. He says Nevada City is in danger of becoming "a little too pleased with itself, like the Carmel of today."
It is a cultural center, but it is also still a rural small town. When he first moved up here, Jones worried he'd run into "a certain kind of small-town meanness. A resentment of people who think they're smart." In some ways, he says, the residents do live uneasily with each other. "There's a polarity up here. Collier and Snyder are the poles of that polarity." Peter Collier, who wrote for a left-wing paper, was a thorn in the side of the Johnson-Nixon administrations and is now writing for William F. Buckley, lives in Nevada City. "There's an interesting counterculture scene involving Wobblies and peace movements."
But Jones found his own views broadened by the locals. "I've met a lot of really smart conservatives up here." The local Foothill Theatre, in which his sister-in-law, novelist Sands Hall, is active, did a production of David Mamet's "Oleanna," a play about a professor who inappropriately touches a female student and sees his career unravel. Jones urged his wife (Brett Hall Jones, director of Squaw Valley Community of Writers) to sit near the door so they could escape the planned after-performance public discussion, but found he was glad he stayed to hear it. "All these country people had come in to see this play. The discussion was so much franker and braver than it would have been in Marin County, where people are unable to say how they feel anymore. It gave me a fresher faith in how neighborhood discourse can happen."
Fisk says that since she's moved to Nevada City, new words have made it into her poetry -- "granite," "heat" and "sugar pine." "But mostly I write about love," she says, "which got me here, to this little Victorian picture postcard built by miners and then reawakened by words."
A literary treasure trove in the Gold Country
Here are some of the bookstores in Nevada City and Grass Valley. For a complete list, call Nevada City Chamber of Commerce at (800) 655-6569.
309 Neal St., Grass Valley
Sprawling over five buildings, Ames has more than 300,000 used books, including sections on puppetry, heraldry and castles (if they don't have a section for a book, they create one). Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday and Thursday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. (530) 273-9261.
107 Mill St., Grass Valley
This store has about 75,000 volumes and prides itself on special orders. It also features an entire floor of children's books called the Children's Cellar.
Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. (530) 272-2131.
231 Broad St., Nevada City
General store specializing in metaphysics and local history. Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 10 a. m to 5 p.m. Sunday. (530) 265-9564.
TOAD HALL BOOKS AND BRIGADOON BOOKS
108 N. Pine St., Nevada City
These stores offer children's classics, novels, books on Scotland and Californiana and Western Americana. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. (530) 265-2216.
MOUNTAIN HOUSE BOOKS
418 Broad St., Nevada City
Specializes in Californiana, Mark Twain and the West, and offers rare and out-of-print editions. Hours: noon to 5 p.m. Friday through Monday. (530) 265- 0241.
11671 Maltman Drive No. 2, Grass Valley
This bookstore co-op houses nine stores. Among them are Lost Horse Books (books on horses) and Eric Tomb's Tomes Bookstore (philosophy, history, literature). Hours: 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. (530) 273- 4002.