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

Archive for the tag “John Putnam”

John Putnam – California Writer

In this last post commemorating  California Writers Week, I want to introduce my friend and local author, John Putnam. John and I have been friends and writing buddies for over four years, meeting weekly at the Berkeley Writers Group. He has written two novels about the Gold Rush. In our critique groups, I would often begin my feedback about his work with the words – This isn’t my genre…

But John’s writing is captivating. He has exposed me to the majestic scenes of Gold Country, sending my family twice on camping trips to Northern California, and his characters seem to follow me around. John’s novels are not just for Westerns enthusiasts, they are for anyone who loves realistic and resilient characters, and anyone who loves an everyday hero. Over to you, John:

JOHN PUTNAM – I Loved My Dad.

John Putnam - Berkeley Author

I loved my Dad.

We spent hours together when I was young, trampling through the woods. He was an experienced outdoorsman and a crack shot. I tagged along behind carrying the same beat up old air rifle he had learned to shoot with, but I couldn’t hit the side of the barn.

We went to the lake a lot and rode around in the boat he built in the basement, either fishing or water skiing. Dad could lift that boat into the back of his 1951 Chevy pick-up all by himself, it fit exactly, no trailer required. It was the most amazing boat I’ve ever seen. Sometimes he let me drive, both the boat and the truck. I was on top of the world.

He was a calligrapher. He could reproduce with a pen or brush any letter in any size or font that you can find today on your computer and do it absolutely perfectly, an artist with letters. Today it’s a lost art.

And all too soon he was gone. I miss him a ton.

Years later I started writing books. I picked a time and place for my novels where men still walked through pristine forests and where the waterways, and the steam and sailboats that plied them, were immensely important. I write about the California gold rush.

But writing is not an easy job. It’s hard, lonely work. Like my Dad’s calligraphy every word must be perfect. Writers need the help, companionship and support of other writers. And so did I.

That’s when I met Alon.

Just like me, Alon needed feedback on his novels and had started a group of like-minded people who still get together regularly and share their work. Over the years we’ve all grown into much better writers, thanks to Alon.

Now don’t get me wrong, Alon doesn’t remind me of my Dad at all. Well, maybe they are about the same height and I’m not counting the deep desire of each of them to shape their words as perfectly as can be, although in a much different way, but, like with my Dad so long ago, Alon is leading the way through the dark and confusing forest of the book world and I’m stumbling along behind.

When he asked me to write something for California Writers Week I was flattered. “Remember, my blog is pretty political,” he warned me.

 I knew he was thinking of my books, the first one happens at the very start of the gold rush. There were few towns and politics was primitive. In Hangtown Creek when a woman flees from a sadistic drunk only the men who have come to love her can help her.

Warning: Side Effects include camping trips in NorCal and gold fever.

 But things changed real fast in California and along with the honest, hard working miners came gamblers, crooks, and every corrupt politician in need of a new job. “Hey,” I said. “Politics in the gold rush was something you wouldn’t believe, except it really seems a lot like today. In 1851 all across California, and especially in San Francisco, people revolted against the corruption and took the law into their own hands. It was years before they straightened things out. I have a lot about it in my blog.”

 “That’s great,“ he said. “I’ll look forward to it.”

 I’ve met all kinds of folks in my life but I’m pretty sure that this would be a better world if more of them were like Alon and my Dad.


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).

California Writer’s Week

Eight years ago, a Joint Legislative Resolution  was passed in Sacramento to recognize California Writer’s Week which begins today. The authors of note include a fine list that we can all be proud of.

Gertrude Atherton (1857-1948) Mary Austin (1868-1934)
Raymond Barrio (1921-1996) Delilah L. Beasley (1872-1934)
Raymond Chandler (1888-1959) Ina Coolbrith (1841-1928)
Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961) Bret Harte (1836-1902)
Jack London (1876-1916) Joaquin Miller (1837-1913)
William Saroyan (1908-1981) John Steinbeck (1902-1968)
George Sterling (1869-1926) Mark Twain (1835-1910)

But I can’t help feeling that this reinforces the old adage that the only way for an author to be successful is to be a dead author. So I want to spotlight several authors who are alive today and crafting their magic in the Golden State.

My list includes (with no significance to order) Christopher Moore, Kemble Scott, Adam Mansbach, Deborah Majors,  Matt Stewart, Seth Harwood, Tanya Egan Gibson, John Putnam and… I’m sure there are many more.

I realize as I am writing that most of them actually share something in common – they write about San Francisco, or at least Northern California. I guess this is important to me. My next three books will be based here because San Francisco is a magical city that I have fallen in love with, so I guess this makes sense, even though I haven’t connected the two in creating this list.

It's in Black & White.

Therefore, I want to share a few of my favorite local authors with you over the next week, all of whom are alive and can be met at numerous author events that they participate in. Meeting inspiring authors remains a thrill for many of us and perhaps this is a flaw of the newly consecrated California Writer’s Week, that it highlights authors from the past.

So it is slightly ironic that California Writers Week follows Litquake, a San Francisco smorgasbord of literature-related events, apparently based on the premise from USA Today, that San Francisco has the highest per capita consumption of both alcohol and books.

Whatever the reason, it is a great event. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to curl up with a good book and a bottle of wine. How I love San Francisco! Who is your favorite Bay Area author?


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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