Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Tobias Wolff: tomorrow in Santa Cruz. Stay tuned for a smaller photograph.

I bet you this will fill that auditorium all the way up.

Hope to see you there [but don't take my parking spot!]

Wow -- this photo is way too big for this blog entry. It jumps right out of the page. Let me try a smaller one tomorrow.All events are free and open to the public. Jump to the full schedule right here.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

My upcoming appearance at Literary Orange [with additional info and added link.]

I'm off to the Southlands [soon] for Orange County's biggest literary conference on April 9 at the UC Irvine Student Center. I will be one of three featured authors on a panel that will speak about voice and place. Hope to see you there. Keynote speakers at Literary Orange 2011 are Ron Hansen, author of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, which was adapted for a 2007 film starring Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck; and T. Jefferson Parker, an Edgar Allan Poe Award winner. Lunch will be served. Looks like you'll be able to park right there in the student lot near the event center.

And this goes out to the folks who have been asking me about this, a UCI news article with some additional info and highlights.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

36 Hours Anthologized, part two: Ballard and Fremont (in Seattle)

An updated, expanded version of my New York Times story about Seattle will also be part of the new Taschen anthology of 36 Hours pieces, along with my more recent story about Santa Cruz. Should be available in bookstores worldwide this summer. (photo: Fremont Troll awaits a victim.)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Living Writers 2011: Tobias Wolff, Chang-Rae Lee, Andrew Sean Greer and Aimee Bender in Santa Cruz for free

I just found out about this 11 seconds ago. The Creative Writing Program and Literature Department is presenting the Spring 2011 Living Writers series, and they've got a pretty amazing line-up. I'm going to go to as many of these as humanly possible. Tobias Wolff, March 31. Chang-Rae Lee, April 7. Andrew Sean Greer, April 14. Claudia Rankine, April 28. Jessica Hagedorn, May 5. Aimee Bender, May 12. Neo Benshi, Roxi Power Hamilton, Jen Hofer and Konrad Steiner, May 26. All events are free and open to the public. Jump to the full schedule right here.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

St Patrick's Day: pass the Maalox (and the pain relievers.)

Just got home from my first St. Patrick's Day party in 11 years. Drank a pint of Boddington's Ale (which is actually British, but my friends put a whole bunch of McCormick's green food dye in it so that makes it OK.) Ate too much corned beef and cabbage. Live chickens were running all over the property. And to top it all off, a family member head-butted me right in the teeth.

Good times.

To sustain the theme of the week, I'm reading Skippy Dies, which I highly recommend. The author's name is Paul Murray.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Alleged Sex Toy Thief Cuffed In Santa Cruz

If you saw this workplace unfriendly news story unfolding in any other city in the world, you'd never believe it for a moment. But this is Santa Cruz, so there you go.

Loved the profiling line about dreadlocks and farmers markets.

Storm damage [updated]

Everyone seems to be OK. However, I took a glimpse at the harbor and it was very scary to watch (from higher ground, of course.) Here are a few videos taken at the harbor that day.

The human scale was missing; boats were getting tossed into each other, barrels and whole chunks of the pier were bobbing around. I saw three helicopters flying low, and the Coast Guard trying to keep people off the docks and the boats. Boat owners kept scrambling toward the docks, trying protect their stuff.

There were some bad surges still hitting the harbor as of early afternoon-- and they seemed to be getting worse for some reason.

Several vessels are still knocking into each other -- and I saw a boat sinking right in front of me. Seems like they managed to evacuate just about everybody out of that area.

The bottom line is that it was frightening to witness even though the damage barely registered compared to the devastation in Japan. It was also scary to think about the fact that it only took 12 hours (!) for those swells to reach our shores. There were a few people hooting and hollering and trying to have a "tsunami party" near the steps going up to Frederick Street Park but it seemed like false bravado to me; I think everyone who saw it was thoroughly creeped out.

I wish people would take emergency warnings and safety procedures more seriously around here, considering the incredible amount of damage in other parts of the globe. In light of all that, it seemed like people were taking unnecessary risks. I just saw about a thousand people standing right in the middle of the splash zone, paddle-boarding, taking millions of pictures, shooting videos of sea gulls and eating corn dogs while staring at the water. I even saw someone standing on the viaduct over the San Lorenzo River, assuming a body-boarding stance in case the water swept over the bridge. (not good.)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Tobias Wolff

Tobias Wolff wishes he could say that reading Thomas Mann started him out on the road to becoming an author. He remembers reading an interview with Susan Sontag in which she talked about reading Mann and Kierkegaard when she was still in grade school.

"She was very precocious," he said, drily, during his opening remarks at the first night of the Humanities Division’s Living Writers reading series, which drew a capacity crowd to the Humanities Lecture Hall on Thursday.

Every one of us has an author like that, said Wolff, author of the novels The Barracks Thief and Old School, the memoirs This Boy's Life and In Pharaoh's Army, and the short story collections In the Garden of the North American Martyrs, Back in the World, and The Night in Question.

"You look back and think about who it was that made you store up extra batteries in your flashlight so you could stay up reading, and put towels under the doorway so your parents couldn’t see the light shining in the room."

For Wolff, a creative writing and English professor at Stanford University, that man was Albert Payson Terhune, a writer and dog breeder who surrounded himself with collies, which he described as a "tawny swarm." Terhune found fame writing genre fiction about his dogs – with many of narratives told from the point of view of the dog.

On Thursday night, Wolff talked about the way an author can store up readings, encounters and experiences over time and how these things can make their way into a creative work years later, taking the writer by surprise. Terhune’s books were the first "reading binge" Wolff ever went on.

Though Wolff now thinks Terhune was "probably certifiable," he found himself drawn right back to those collies with one of his latest stories, "Her Dog," in which a man has a prolonged conversation with his dead wife’s dog. Together they converse about fidelity, marriage, mortality and friendship, and have a funny standoff with a vicious dog and its thuggish – and curiously litigious – owner.

"I could not have written this story without Albert Payson Terhune," he said.

All those childhood reading binges finally paid off, more than five decades after the fact.

Wolff’s observations should encourage aspiring authors who feel sheepish about their early influences.

But he also offered encouragement to writers whose stories or books have run into dead ends. Sometimes, there is a missing ingredient that is just waiting to present itself and help you finish the story. That was the case for one of his most famous short works, "A Bullet In The Brain," about Anders, a self-satisfied book critic who is caught in the middle of a deadly bank robbery.

Wolff, responding to the request of a young student, read that work out loud on Thursday. The story starts out linear and straightforward, and seems to stop dead about halfway through. "But wait, there’s more," Wolff told the audience at the moment when the story goes from point-by-point to a more associative "dream time" structure.

It took years for the story to find its ending. The bank robbery scenario – and the doltish language of the robbers, who seem to have learned every one of their bank-robbing moves and speech mannerisms from television crime shows – was inspired by a friend’s account of a real-life Wells Fargo bank robbery. Wolff, digging for details, was "deeply disappointed … From the way my friend described it, it was one cliché after the other."

On reflection, Wolff was glad he wasn’t at that bank that day. He wondered what would have happened if he was standing in the line, snickering helplessly and making "ironic judgment" about the robbers’ speech and mannerisms. "Anders is modeled on some aspect of my own character."

But this was not enough to complete the story. Wolff "followed it up" by doing some research on the human brain. "Somehow, the completion of the story had to wait until I had the thing that would give it life. It was a long way around the barn."

Joaquin Mayer, a 22-year-old creative writing major and UCSC senior, was honored to introduce Wolff on Thursday night.

"The short story ‘Bullet In The Brain’ showed me how to incorporate significant detail and back story," said Mayer, who described the story as a creative writing master class. "The story’s words and images stuck in my head long after I finished it. I still have the original copy. The edges are disintegrating."

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Peeeyew: Stinky fish on my hometown beach

Disturbing things are happening on the beach where I used to boogie-board and search for sea shells when I was a kid. Surreal and upsetting news. (and I bet it smells so bad there right now.)

Tuesday, March 08, 2011


I just called one of my colleagues "Oprah" by accident. (Seriously. In an email, no less, as in "hi, Oprah." And the thing is, it was a guy, and his name doesn't look or sound anything like Oprah.)

Monday, March 07, 2011

Sonoran Desert trailhead dedicated to Gabe Zimmerman's memory

This just in: the Board of Supervisors in Pima County, Ariz., have voted unanimously to rename an Arizona desert trailhead after Gabe Zimmerman, the hard-working, socially conscious UCSC grad who died in the Jan. 8 shootings at a "Congress On Your Corner" event in Tucson, Arizona. The trail travels from the Cienega Creek Natural Preserve to the Arizona Trail. The supervisors also voted to rename the Cañada del Oro linear river park for Christina-Taylor Green, the 9-year-old girl who also died in the attack. Markers along the Zimmerman trailhead will also honor other victims of the attack. Read more here. [Photo courtesy of Ross Zimmerman.]

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Thank you for a memorable event held at dog park/play area

Thanks to everyone who showed up for Saturday's grand event. I couldn't have hoped for more. Sorry I lied about serving chocolate cupcakes. Technically, it wasn't a deliberate untruth; I just changed my mind at the last minute. (See previous blog entry about cupcake imbroglio.) Anyhow, we lucked out on the weather, the bench and everything else. Hope to see you all again soon.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Dozens of baked goods squished in Welsh cupcake stampede

And meanwhile, here's a really important news story you might have missed because it happened in Wales, a place where people take their baked goods seriously.


Tomorrow's big event

Thank you for all the "Yes" responses. Keep in mind that we'll go indoors if the weather does not cooperate.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Literary Orange is almost upon us

One month and counting. I've booked my travel plans, made lodging arrangements and ordered the chicken. Everything is set in place. There is still time for you to register for Literary Orange... but you'd better do it quickly. The spots are starting to fill up. T. Jefferson Parker will speak there. So will Ron Hansen, me, and many other folks. The conference will, unfortunately, not take place in a building shaped like a giant orange. (see photo.)

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

I think I've figured it out

Problem solved. The robot shall rise again soon. I think I typed the wrong stuff into the "TEMPLATE" function on my blog. Somehow, stuff got scrambled. It is almost unscrambled now. Stay tuned for a Q and A with an award-winning fictioneer, a Literary Orange update ... and more.