15Jun/17

Taking Alcatraz, Part 1

The Summer of Love and Monterey Pop aren’t the only anniversaries San Francisco is celebrating. Last night a standing-room-only crowd at the California Historical Society had the rare treat of watching John and Grace De Soto Ferry’s 2015 film Taking Alcatraz, followed by some riveting personal recollections from the filmmakers and the participants.

Around 50 years ago, as Adam Fortunate Eagle tells it onscreen, the Bay Area’s diverse Native Americans yearned for a stronger sense of heritage than they and their children were getting from assimilation. Spurred partly by the Civil Rights movement, partly by the U.S. government’s neglect of its treaty obligations, they started working more and more collectively. When a local Indian center was destroyed by fire, and the feds declared Alcatraz Island and its abandoned prison to be surplus property, they remembered the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868) between the U.S. and the Sioux. That treaty returned to Native peoples all retired, abandoned and out-of use federal lands.

First a few Sioux took a boat out, swam to shore, and claimed the island. The feds contended that if any Indians had any right to Alcatraz, it wasn’t the Sioux. So the next foray included members of more tribes. This time the claimants issued a proclamation:

We, the native Americans, re-claim the land known as Alcatraz Island in the name of all American Indians by right of discovery. We wish to be fair and honorable in our dealings with the Caucasian inhabitants of this land, and hereby offer the following treaty: We will purchase said Alcatraz Island for 24 dollars in glass beads and red cloth, a precedent set by the white man’s purchase of a similar island about 300 years ago. We know that $24 in trade goods for these sixteen acres is more than was paid when Manhattan Island was sold, but we know that land values have risen over the years.

On November 20, 1969, 79 Native Americans began a 19-month occupation of Alcatraz. They wound up living mainly in the guards’ quarters, after water and electricity were cut off to the other buildings. Creedence Clearwater Revival donated a boat; individuals and restaurants donated food. Dr. Larry Brilliant, who offered medical assistance, delivered a baby for John and Lou Trudell when Lou insisted their child be born on liberated Native American land. Herb Caen used his popular column in the Chronicle to keep San Franciscans informed. When he polled support for the occupation vs. the Coast Guard’s persistent attempts to end it, the occupiers won 80 to 20.

The government’s antagonistic response seems to have been softened by Vietnam-beleaguered President Richard Nixon. He halted the objectionable federal policy of removing (by carrot and/or stick) Indians from their reservations to eight designated cities, and met enough of the occupiers’ other terms that they agreed to leave the island. Although some accounts state that they were forcibly removed, participant Sacheen Littlefeather and other speakers at the June 15 joint presentation by CHS and New Museum Los Gatos saw it differently. They accepted a swap: Alcatraz (which suddenly was no longer surplus, but a major potential tourist attraction) for 200 acres of land near Davis, CA. There the Native Americans created DeganawidahQuetzalcoatl University (DQU), a two-year college from which students could go on to complete a four-year degree at UC Davis.

More on this historic turning point coming soon in Part 2.

 

 

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Did not read the book, but LOVE the box!

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12May/17

Coming in May: ANOTHER NUMBER FOR THE ROAD a Cory Goodwin Mystery

Remember the Summer of Love? What cooler way to celebrate 50 years since the Human Be-In, peace love & flowers, and Monterey Pop than with the new Cory Goodwin mystery?

When legendary guitarist Dan Quasi reunites Boston’s top 60s rock-protest band for an upscale exchange program, Cory wants to know why. A free trip to Paris? A new revolution? Or cover for murdering his vocalist?

Boom-Books is rushing the publication date to have ANOTHER NUMBER FOR THE ROAD out in time for the Bay Area Book Festival (Sunday, June 4) and the North Beach Festival (Saturday & Sunday, June 17-18). Come find us there, or pick up a copy after May 19 on Amazon.

 

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04May/17

Escape from Fiction: Lunch at the Beach

Day 3 of a heat wave. Why I love San Francisco, #6: I can clear my head with a long lunch break — set aside book-cover design, music credits, and marketing strategies to zip out to Ocean Beach for a Chino’s burrito and a walk in the hot sun and chilly sea. Three other beaches are closer, but the road to this one runs through a flower-speckled, eucalyptus-scented park, along a clifftop above the Golden Gate, to a wide stretch of sand where there’s nothing but water between me and Japan.

Or, usually there isn’t. Today the horizon’s encrusted with a rim of white, as if a glacial island had drifted in to block sea traffic. That’s the famous San Francisco fog massing offshore to invade the bay. Splashing into the shallows below the Cliff House and Sutro Park, I can feel its chilly breath. I look south and see an unexpected vagueness, a blurry octopus-arm of fog reaching across the scorching sand. People stroll into it and disappear.

Tra-la, it’s May! A lusty month for sand crabs, evidently, as well as for songwriters. Desiccated shells and legs spatter the high-tide line. Gulls fly, swoop, dive, and do their flat-footed Charlie Chaplin waddle through the foam, waiting to snatch whatever the next wave brings in. Each wave launches a flurry of scuttling as beached crabs dig for safety, or, failing, roll over and over toward the undertow. When I reach the Disappearing Fog Zone, I look down at my feet and see thousands of tiny semi-transparent baby crabs in the swirling water.

For half a minute I stop walking, to avoid stepping on them. But nature is profligate with life. Whether it’s green grass or wet sand under our bare feet, we’re always squashing something.

Nature also is profligate with beauty. The sand dollar I pick up (is it alive, to be thrown back? — no, let this bleached shell lie, a find for some other treasure-hunter) awes me with the delicately etched five-petaled design on its back; but to the gull behind me, that’s just a wrapper to rip off in search of a meal.

As humans discover that animals communicate, feel emotions, form social groups, make tools, and cross one wall after another that we thought separated us, is our appreciation of beauty the last frontier?

What about creativity? Writing, for instance?

I left my cat curled up in a rocking chair and my characters safely stowed in a French hotel room. Now I can feel someone’s breath on my neck. Not the cat. Two lovers are following me down this beach. She’s recalling something he told her in Paris: It always clears my head to be in San Francisco. Is that happening now? His eyes, hidden by sunglasses, gaze at the green-glass waves rising and then crashing into a champagne froth. Is he thinking of his friend who was bludgeoned to death long ago with a bottle of Dom Perignon? Or wondering why no surfers are out today? They pass a bevy of maidens — as common to beaches as gulls — who pretend to be scared of the water, daring and teasing, shrieking when a wave sneaks up and licks their feet. Across the sand on the inland side, pink flowers cascade down a fake-rock cliff face, under a waxing gibbous moon which floats in the baby-blue sky like a Portuguese man-of-war.

In about two minutes she will pick up a piece of shell sculpted into the shape of a gull, and carry it over to a pool where she can rinse off the sand. He’ll wait for her, until the unforgettable moment when she reaches over a log left by last night’s bonfire revelers and discovers —

 

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27Apr/17

Book Review: Carmen Amato’s Cliff Diver, an Acapulco Mystery

Cliff Diver (Emilia Cruz Mysteries, #1)Cliff Diver by Carmen Amato
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An enjoyable, fast-paced police procedural set in Acapulco, starring the department’s first and only female detective. Emilia Cruz is a workaholic who lives with her charming but slightly confused mother. Emilia’s partner is the only member of the squad willing to work with a woman; a bit possessive, Rico warns off every man who comes near her. That includes Kurt Rucker, the magnetic owner of a luxury hotel where a car scam may have originated which soon links to a kidnapping, a counterfeit money racket, and a possible conspiracy between a cartel and local authorities. Carmen Amato deftly weaves Emilia’s professional, domestic, and romantic challenges into a vivid, compelling mystery. Small personal touches morph adroitly into clues. Unlike a lot of procedurals where police corruption distorts every investigation, this one stays realistic about it; corruption is an obstacle, but not an artificial hobble to pad the plot or turn the characters into victims. At one or two points, plausibility slipped a notch, but on the whole I was sorry when the book ended, and I look forward to reading another one.

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05Apr/17

Of Chuck Berry, JS Bach, Derek Walcott, & Miranda’s Hamilton – Pt 1

I suspect the reason I was named Carol is that my grandfather was born on Christmas. When he and my grandmother had their first child, they called her Jane Carol. And when she and my father had their first child, they switched it around for me.

The good side of that was: Christmas. I loved having a whole genre of music with my name on it. On the not so good side, growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, I was drowned in grim sentimental stories like A Christmas Carol. For some reason they all featured crippled or dying children. The worst one was about a saintly girl named Carol Bird who spent Christmas being kind to the poor and then flew up to heaven.

I was rescued by Chuck Berry. His Carol was no dying angel. “I got my eye on you baby cause you dance so good!” I first saw him play my freshman year of college, in a club-sized venue at an Amherst College party weekend. Talk about dance so good — it was like watching somebody sing, play virtuoso guitar, and do gymnastics at the same time. I stayed for both shows. I went to see him again many years later, a little scared he’d have slowed down. Not a chance.

By then I wasn’t listening for “Carol” as much as “Roll Over Beethoven.” Looking back, that was an early warning shot from my generation to my parents’ generation: The times they are a-changin’.

Johann Sebastian Bach’s birthday was three days after Chuck Berry died on March 18, and I couldn’t help thinking, Bach was kind of the Chuck Berry of his time. The pioneer who mastered the musical form of the day so brilliantly that it looked easy, and people thought, Oh, yeah, Bach, until other musicians realized how good he was and started stealing his chops. In Chuck Berry’s case that was the Brits, who weren’t blinded by the same prejudices as Americans. Two young Englishmen met on a train because Keith Richards saw that Mick Jagger was carrying a Chuck Berry album. It was like a signal. They’d both been listening obsessively to this radical new American music, figuring it out, teaching themselves how to play it. Once they got together, they recorded some of it and copied some of it, and got rich and famous. So did the Beatles. That made Chuck Berry more rich and famous, and helped keep him not just a star but a working musician to the age of 90.

So you could say, Chuck Berry launched the British Invasion, which launched the full-scale American musical revolution  — and swiveled the spotlight back to where it started, with unforgettable moments like this one, when Chuck Berry and Keith Richards join forces on “Carol.”

Part 2 of this post, which originated as the April 2 meditation for the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, appears on my publisher’s website, Boom-Books.com.

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30Mar/17

2 Reviews: The Last Days of Night (electricity) & Axeman’s Jazz (mystery)

The Last Days of NightThe Last Days of Night by Graham Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

How did America get electrified? Moore’s fictionalized account of the battle between Thomas Edison & George Westinghouse for control of what’s now a cornerstone of our lives is fascinating, & evidently sticks as close to the facts as is feasible for a commercial novel. We start at the point where Edison has made himself the Steve Jobs of his day, not just by inventing new things but by following the old cement-truck motto, “Find a need & fill it.” He’s brilliant, & he’s ruthless. Westinghouse is more old-fashioned, seeking to create the best gadget for a task. Yet it looks like he’ll be steamrolled, despite his own brilliance & his considerable fortune, as Edison applies a form of Henry Ford’s mass production to the inventing game. We watch all this through the eyes of lawyer Paul Cravath, whose future will be made or broken by navigating his client successfully (or not) through this clash of titans. Meanwhile, Paul is continually distracted by an alluring & enigmatic opera star — & by the erratic immigrant genius Nikola Tesla, who’s pivotal to the titans’ campaign to wire & light the nation, but seems not to care.

The author is a screenwriter: his sense of drama is terrific, but his prose is so clunky at times that I wish he’d partnered with a coauthor. If the writing were better, I’d have trusted the story more. It helps that Moore provides documentation at the end, showing the DMZ between what really happened & what needed to happen for this chronicle to make a good novel.

Axeman's Jazz (Skip Langdon, #2)Axeman’s Jazz by Julie Smith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This police procedural has nothing to do with jazz; instead, the killer is hunted in New Orleans’s self-help programs. No doubt there’s some overlap, but given the title it felt like bait-&-switch. Good narrator, good plotting; I stayed interested all the way through, mainly thanks to the main POV character, detective Skip Langdon, the one really likeable person we meet, & strong descriptions of local scenery, as well as some insightful & funny observations about Southern manners & mores. The climax was a bit too talky for me, but that may be inevitable when everybody’s in a 12-step program.

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22Mar/17

Hamilton Opens in San Francisco: Yes, But . . .

Hamilton’s audience starts gathering outside SF’s Orpheum Theatre an hour before the show.

Here’s the #1 thing to know about Hamilton:
http://www.luckyseat.com/hamilton.html
That’s where you can enter daily to win 2 seats @ $10 each for this ludicrously expensive, totally sold-out, absolutely unmissable 21st-century celebration.

Yes, a mostly rap musical about the Founding Fathers probably clashes with your idea of the most fun you’ve had in years. But, surprise! Whichever direction it stretches your comfort zone, it’ll leave you feeling expanded and illuminated.

Yes, every ticket for the show’s entire 6-month San Francisco run was snapped up long before Hamilton hit town. But you still can — and should — see it.

Yes, the list price for tickets in the 2200-seat Orpheum Theatre ranges from $100 (partial-view balcony) to $868 (orchestra). But who cares? since (1) there’s hardly any tickets for sale, and (2) there’s a daily lottery (see above).

Yes, the high prices shut out a lot of potential audience members, most critically in the young and non-wealthy brackets. But today’s the first school matinee. From the theater’s website:

“The Gilder Lehrman Institute is proud to partner with HAMILTON and The Rockefeller Foundation to offer a limited number of tickets to 10th and 11th grade students from Bay Area High Schools as part of the Hamilton Education Program. For more information, please visit to gilderlehrman.org/hamilton.”

And, yes, that ticket-sales tsunami means a bonanza for a few lucky people. But it’s also how 35 actors of multiple colors and body shapes, plus a 10-member orchestra, plus a full crew and staff, are able to support themselves while utilizing their gifts, skills, time, and labor to do the work they love.

Intermission at Hamilton: the Orpheum’s carved wooden ceilings, plaster castle walls (L), Moorish lamps, and diverse, elated crowd are an apt set for the show’s 2-level Gothic-rustic set (R), multi-ethnic American heritage, and buoyant creative energy.

Yes, Alexander Hamilton is a far more intriguing and complicated man than he looks on the $10 bill. So are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr, the Marquis de Lafayette, and King George III. So are the remarkable Schuyler sisters, Hercules Mulligan, John Laurens, and others who looped in and out of Hamilton’s orbit. But how would we know that if not for this show’s brilliant creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda (book, music, and lyrics), and his collaborators Alex Lacamoire (music supervision and orchestration), Andy Blankenbuehler (choreography), and Thomas Kail (direction)?

Yes, Ron Chernow’s massive, comprehensive biography Alexander Hamilton, which Hamilton is based on, has been eclipsed by Miranda’s musical version. But nobody’s complaining.

Yes, there will be school essays, doctoral dissertations, magazine features, and blog posts written for decades to come about the ingenious diversity of Hamilton‘s music, its incisive thumbnail analyses of American history, its mind-bending approach to choreography, and much much more. But if you plan to be in the SF Bay Area in the next 6 months, this is what you need to know.

http://www.luckyseat.com/hamilton.html

 

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10Mar/17

A cool tool and a legal win for writers; a bad idea from Amazon

When I worked in an office, my colleagues kept me up to speed on tech, jargon, and TV shows. Since I became a freelancer, I’ve had to rely on magazines in doctors’ offices. Thus I’m a year late discovering the Battop Folding Keyboard. This inspired pocket-size device folds up as small as your phone, and when opened, not only lets you type in semi-comfort with your phone as a screen, but provides a stand for it. I saw it in a “gifts for under $30” spread and fell in love instantly.

There are plenty of others on the market now, naturally, but none that I’ve read about is quite this ingenious.

From the copyright front comes excellent news this week from UK solicitor Jonathan Westwood. Have you ever worried about winding up broke and/or in jail if your novel quotes more than three words from a popular song? Westwood researched this issue for his own work in progress. He concludes: “I don’t believe the use of one line of a lyric will ordinarily be considered any more unfair than extracting 300 words from a book.” Here’s why. And here’s the frosting on the cake:

“…Music publisher Warner/Chappell coerced people into giving it £1million each year to use “Happy Birthday To You” on the basis of a non-existent copyright it claimed to own. Warners had the deepest pockets with which to instruct the nastiest lawyers to bully lesser mortals for 25 years – until documentarian Jen Nelson challenged Warners’ demand that she must pay $1,500 to use the song in a film she was making. After a long legal battle Warners conceded, accepted the song is in the public domain and was forced to pay $14 million to people it had extorted.”

This week’s bad news comes from Amazon. In an e-mail which ironically declares its aim to be “Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company,” Amazon informs me that, no, it can’t change the order of books shown on my Author Page. Why are three out-of-print 1990s textbooks from second-hand dealers (one with a phony cover) displayed on “my” landing page, but not my latest in-print mystery novel or memoir? Don’t blame Jeff Bezos or CS rep “Daniel B” — blame algorithms:

“…The order of the titles that appear on your bibliography is determined automatically and based on many factors, such as past sales history, current availability, and length of time the items have been listed on our site. It’s not something we are able to manually alter.”

What that says about Amazon’s definition of “customer-centric” — and Amazon’s definitions loom very large for those of us writing and publishing books — I find troubling. I’m hoping to make more headway in Round 2 — at the very least, badger them into showing the real cover for that out-of-print secondhand textbook.

 

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