Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Kemble Scott – California Writer

I have already written about Kemble Scott and apologize (only slightly) that I am adapting a previous post. If we are celebrating California Writers Week and I am using this opportunity to focus on authors who write about San Francisco, then I think this post is even more relevant today.

SoMa stands for South of Market area. Riding on the riches of the dot com era, suddenly wealthy young people moved into fashionable lofts in a neighborhood that was known for the darker side of life. Many of the side streets are actually named after the prostitutes that frequented them.

SoMa remains an area of contrasts – one street boasting trendy clubs and organic grocery stores, while another is dark and used to sell drugs. Living and cruising the neighborhood are people who are pushing the limits of social norms, in terms of sexual practices and lifestyles and Kemble captures the atmosphere so well.

A different perspective on San Francisco

But Kemble is more than just your average author. If he has an ego from his gleaned success it was never on show when he addressed the California Writers Club. He took the opportunity to share with us his astonishing success as an ebook author and generously offered advice to other writers in a friendly and humble way. He shared his mistakes as well as his successes and I felt it was genuinely important to him to ensure that when someone asked a question that they got the best answer he could give. 

Since his novel, SoMa, was anything but mainstream, Kemble found it difficult to attract reviews. So he came up with this great idea to post short clips on You Tube of the different areas in San Francisco that the book explores. The 25,000 views of these clips helped create a following so when the book was launched it went straight into the Bestseller lists. Here is Chapter One. Be prepared – you will probably want to check chapter 2, 3 and so on.

Kemble often mentions his writers group helping to keep him real. When he told his group that people advertise in Craigslist’s Bay Area ‘roommate wanted’ section to meet prospective partners, two members of the group admitted that they had found their partners in this way.

SoMa can be hard reading. What keeps you involved is the knowledge that these fictional characters exist, and exist in our city. It is the story of desensitized people who are searching for emotion, and they need to seek this in ever increasingly challenging and dangerous ways. It recognizes that this generation is overloaded with choice, with communicating through screens multitasking and absorbing images and data.

Kemble has another similar novel that challenges our views of sexual practice. The Sower, like SoMa, is really well written, with characters that stay with you long after you finish the final pages. His writing also helps paint another layer in the many textures of the San Francisco tapestry.

Here is Kemble’s speech to Google employees.


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

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