Travels in Berkeley

08/14/2017 at 5:14 pm (Author Updates, Telegraph Ave.)

Last week I had my Book Launch at Moe’s Books on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. What fun! I got to read sections from my novel, as well as pieces I wrote early in the process. Owen Hill at Moe’s was amazing, and I am very thankful to the people who showed up in support of me & the book.

Photos by Urmi Patel / D.M.

Prior to the Monday reading, I spent time trekking around the city with my family, and by myself. I grew up there, but now I live in L.A. I don’t get back up there as often as I like. It’s now both familiar and unfamiliar, but still just a beautiful, beautiful town.

Here are some of the “very Berkeley” sights I saw:

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All Photos by Justin McFarr

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Book Readings in August

05/16/2017 at 9:59 am (Author Updates, Publishing News, Telegraph Ave.)

I wanted to share some exciting, amazing news – Moe’s Books in Berkeley will be the official launch of The Bear on Monday, August 7. I couldn’t be happier and more grateful to have my childhood bookstore – where I spent many, many hours poring through the used book racks and salivating over the new releases – as the spot for my very first book reading and signing. I am beyond excited!

Moe's 70s by Nacio Jan Brown

(photo by Nacio Jan Brown)

And if that news wasn’t enough, I will also be having a reading – along with a Q & A session with my amazing mentor, Gina B. Nahai – in my adopted home of Los Angeles, at Book Soup along the Sunset Strip on Tuesday, August 29. Unreal!

book soup

(photo attribution Unknown)


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The Fads and Obsessions of 1976

12/11/2016 at 12:04 pm (Author Updates, It was 1976, Publishing News, Telegraph Ave.)

With the completion of the design files for The Bear Who Broke The World Advance Reading Copy, it’s time for a small celebration! In January, printed copies of the ARCs will be sent to blogs and magazines for possible review, as well as to a handful of people who I hope to get blurbs from so that I can publicize those when the novel is “officially” published and available to the public in Summer 2017.

Here’s the ARC cover, which makes me insanely happy every time I see it. Hoping people are as taken with the book inside as they are intrigued by the cover.



Because 1976 was such a memorable year for me, the fads and obsessions of childhood lost on the generations that followed, I wanted to revisit some things very particular to that specific time. A few of these get shout-outs in the novel, and others are fondly remembered from my own time as a kid. Enjoy this step back into my old memories of a Berkeley past.



So much great candy growing up – KitKat, the $100,000 Bar, Lemonheads – with most of them surviving the 70’s. Sadly, this one did not. (There is a Nestle “new” version of this, but it’s divided in sections, instead of the big block o’ chocolate that was the original.)



What kid couldn’t resist this precursor to the Garbage Pail Kids stickers? As a MAD Magazine freak, I loved being able to stick these all over my school notebooks and on my dresser drawers.




The place to buy all the new releases and back-issues of Uncanny X-Men, Amazing Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Superman, and all the rest. My personal faves in 1976 – Marvel Two-in-One and The Incredible Hulk.





If you remember the days when there were only 3 networks (ABC, CBS & NBC), then maybe you remember this show. Pitting the “stars” of TV against each other in Olympic-type events, this was one of my favorite shows. Howard Cosell, Lynda Carter, Gabe Kaplan, Farrah Fawcett, Ron Howard … they were all there. Most memorable from the series: Robert Conrad (of “Wild Wild West“ and “Black Sheep Squadron” fame) always trying to prove he was the best on the field, and unbeatable in every event.


This was fun! I’d like to make this little trip down ’76 Lane a regular feature here on the blog. Look for more memories soon.


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Excising the Words

05/22/2016 at 9:17 pm (Author Updates, Novel Excerpts, Telegraph Ave.)

This past week I’ve spent most of my creative-life time finishing a final edit of Bear before I send it out to a professional editor for copy/line editing and proofreading. I have a list of strong editors, and I am in the process of winnowing them down to one I’d like to send a sample five pages to in the next month or so. At this stage, and given the fact that I will not have the guidance of a big publisher’s editor prior to the book being released out into the world, I think it’s vitally important that I get a professional set of eyes on my current draft before I consider it my “final” draft. This will be my only “first published novel” and it’s up to me – and only me – to make sure it’s the very best it can possibly be; I don’t want to skip any steps that I might later regret.

As I do my best to post Bear-related topics each and every week until the release of the novel, I will be sharing reviews of books from the 60’s and early 70’s that my main character Stephen’s mother Rose and her boyfriend Ken would most likely have read prior to 1976. Look for my short reviews from Trout Fishing in America by Richard Brautigan, Charles Bukowski‘s Post Office, The Merry Christian by Terry Southern, and other counter-culture underground classics, as well as various odds and ends (including books that inspired me during the many years of writing my own book). There will also be more small character studies; edited scenes or snippets that won’t appear in the finished version; photos of Berkeley and Oakland; bits of history about the Bay Area; and details of historic events that occurred during the summer of Bear.

This week, in the spirit of all the editing and excising I’ve been doing, I’d like to share a short scene that I cut a few drafts ago. It’s part of a larger scene, where Stephen travels up to Telegraph with his buddy Trevor and Trevor’s teenage brother Art. There, they experience a very “Berkeley” moment.


At the corner of Telegraph at Dwight Way, cars traveled fast up the one-way street, so we waited for the green light to cross. A guy in flowy pants and a t-shirt that exposed his belly swept through behind us and into the crosswalk. As he slowed his gait, the cars suddenly slowed and braked to avoid crashing right into him. Halfway through the street, the light still bright red and unwavering, he slowed his pace even more.

“Defiant asshole,” Art said, “gonna get nailed out there.”

While the other cars had stopped for the jaywalking guy with the head full of unkempt blond curls, a gray van approached him and the crosswalk with nothing but speed. Oblivious, he continued walking at his inchworm pace, still a good five feet from the sidewalk in front of him. The van’s driver blew his horn, but didn’t ease up on his speed, and I was both horrified and mesmerized at what was going to happen next.

The van barrelled through, and the guy disappeared. My body stiffened in the same way it did when I was getting a shot at the doctor’s office. I didn’t hear a sickly crunch like I thought I would, and my hands unclenched. When the back of the van passed through the crosswalk, the guy had reached the curb and was yelling up the street.

“I’m walking here,” he shouted through cupped hands. “I’ve got the right of way.”

The light finally turned green for the three of us, and we crossed together.

“Guy’s seen Midnight Cowboy ten too many times,” Art laughed, speaking loud enough for the guy in front of us to hear him. I hadn’t seen it, but I thought maybe the movie had something to do with a person who jaywalks a lot.

photo by Justin McFarr

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The Avenue

03/10/2011 at 10:48 am (Exercises, Senses, Telegraph Ave.)

As I continue working on the novel, I’m attempting to add physical details that are true to Berkeley and the 1976 setting.  But I’m also concerned with other senses – not only the sights of the time and place, but the sounds, smells, tastes and the tactility of Steve’s surroundings.

This short exercise lists certain scents associated with Telegraph Avenue in the 1970s:

Suds and lemony detergent escaping the laundromat on the corner across from the 7-Eleven, which always smells like Slurpees and beef jerky;

b.o. so strong it makes anyone walking downwind of the aged black homeless man it belongs to gag involuntarily – the smell known notoriously as Bum Scum;

human feces in People’s Park;

poet Julia Vinograd’s musty chapbooks she shoves under the noses of every single passerby who happens to glance her way, only three dollars, plus she’ll sign it for you;

LaVal’s pepperoni pizza — covered with chili flakes — being consumed on the Northside by a study group of bleary-eyed undergrads during finals;

the aromatics of Caffé Med, where the Turkish coffees overpower the Ethiopian blends every time.



photo by Justin McFarr

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04/11/2010 at 8:55 pm (Senses, Telegraph Ave.)

One of those scents that hook directly into my memory circuits and take me straight back to my childhood in Berkeley: the potent herb.  Take a whiff alongside me:


The smell is unmistakable, no matter what location I find myself: indoors, outdoors, at a house party or walking down Telegraph Ave. late at night.  Skunkweed, marijuana on fire in a wrapped cigarette, its smoke sucked into some stoner or hippie’s throat, then exhaled into the air with most of its pollutants intact.  Into the air with the stench of the smoker toker, the remnants of their own human spray blended with homegrown pestilence and filth, the atmosphere chokes and wheezes, reels and expires.

The vapors that swirl and twirl on the end of the thin paper’s burning edge emit the impotentcy of its mother crop.  Harvested before its time, or past its prime, the crusty green flakes that may have once been leaves or even a tasty bud mix with dead seeds to fill a baggie of ineffectual purpose.  The smell, once enflamed in joint-form or stoked in bong water, is its immediate giveaway.  Bitter, acrid, full of weight and pressure, the smell consumes me, encircles and penetrates my nasal cavities.  If I plug my nose with the tips of my fingers, the traveling vapors parade into the corners of my mouth, and I taste ostrich dung mixed with pepper gum.  If I force my mouth closed, the invisible strands of skunk smoke spray my eyes, coat my retina with liquid sludge and hazardous waste.

There is no escape from this smell that assaults my clean body, my fortified fortress that has smoked the killer weed but has not embraced it as a companion.  The burn is excruciating, but that sensation is reserved to the actual partaking of it firsthand.  It is the second-hand smoke that is the worst: unexpected, utterly familiar, uninvited and unwelcome as guest or acquaintance.  Poisonous and insistent, the scent spreads out in all directions in order to attack and conquer.  My nostrils flare in aggravation, my eyes crinkle with identification and anticipation, and my mouth readies to retch as bile coats my throat and roils in my esophagus.



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Musty Paperbacks at Moe’s

03/15/2010 at 6:17 pm (Senses, Telegraph Ave.)

One of the things I’d like to do here on this blog is tap into some specific senses (touch, taste, smell, sound, sight) about Berkeley as I delve further into my drafts of the novel.  This is an exercise I did a few months back that revolved around scent, in an attempt to bring sense memory onto the page.

Musty Paperbacks / Moe’s Books

Downstairs, in the big little basement that is home to all of Moe’s new books and used paperbacks, was my home away from home.  Whenever I find myself at a rummage sale or library book buyout, inevitably I will press my nose to a mass-market paperback that has seen better days, and the scent of acid-decomposed paper and water-damaged bindings caress me.  It is familiar, not unpleasant, and full of happy memories of trolling the aisles at Moe’s Books on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley for hours upon hours.  Sometimes, if I had my own used books to sell, I’d take a trade slip instead of cash, and my neck would tilt sideways as my eyes scanned the shelves – and metal carts of yet-to-be-shelved treasures – until a title or author caught my attention and the journey would be set on pause for a moment.

Could this be the book that would transport me to another time and place worth my eight to ten hours of nose-between-the-pages intense devotion?  Would the fact that another sci-fi fan had languored in a steamy bath or nestled into a worn-down, comfy base of a Sequoia, dissuade me from taking the Tor paperback out of the shelves for keeps?  Would the moistness of its pages and the battered shape of its jacket cover turn me off to the wonders and promises of secret wishes fulfilled that may lie encapsulated in the black-on-white words within?

Maybe yes and maybe no, depending on the intensity of the permeating odors of the little novel or the level of damage done to the small jewel.  But whatever the choice, the search for more adventure, intrigue, horror or otherworldly excitement would continue, my nostrils filled with foreign smells, ancient scents, and the ticket to more olfactory memories and subconscious future pleasures.

photo by Robert Eliason

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