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A Dinner in San Francisco

I didn’t see much of San Francisco, despite all the great ideas offered up by Twitter friends, but what I did see I certainly liked. And that was, of course, because I was seeing booksellers – a room full of them at a long table in the swish private dining room of Absinthe. Neither traffic nor flu can keep a good bookseller down!

It was lovely to be back in my home state. After the warmest of hellos (and a big howdy from Twitter pal and fantastic blogger, Nick) we were straight in to Amity & Sorrow, with a spirited conversation about our shared California stories, particularly the rich history of California cults that have so influenced the creation of the dark faith at the heart of my novel. Zachariah’s faith, a fundamentalist, polygamous one made of his fifty wives, was created from scratch, in the great tradition of handmade American faiths, as well as drawn from my own 70s childhood, its darknesses and fears, of Charles Manson’s Family of shell-shocked hippies and the Reverend Jim Jones’ tragic Eden in the jungles of Guyana, of serial killers and child snatchers in this heaven-on-earth, this Golden State.

It was amazing to hear all these California perspectives on the doomed faiths I remember, the remnants of which are still found in San Francisco, a city where runaways still come in search of freedom and enlightenment, and are easy prey for charismatic leaders and their promises of salvation. As one bookseller quoted from a recent book on Jonestown, “No one joins a cult”. No, people join faiths to belong to something, convinced they can make new Edens and new families, even as every attempt ends in disaster. Our state’s, our nation’s history is filled with it, this awful hope.

But I won’t have you thinking it was a whole evening of massacres and horror. There was a lot of laughter (and quite a lot of gossip), as well as more detailed and technical conversations on structure in writing, how stories evolve, and my own transition from playwriting to fiction and where the two forms meet. I’d like to thank last night’s booksellers for their precision and enthusiasm, their passion for books, their time and attention. I do so hope we’ll have more opportunities for chats in the future! Many thanks to area sales rep Tom McIntyre for his hospitality, and to Little Brown and Hachette for organising these marvellous evenings that are all about books.

San Francisco and the Bay Area are chock-full of fantastic independent bookshops. On your next visit, do visit one of these fine stores – or find them online!
Books Inc.
Book Passage
The Booksmith
Copperfield’s Books
Kepler’s Books
And grateful thanks, also, to Pacifica Radio station KPFA for joining in on the fun!

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