I have already shared my love for San Francisco on this blog. It is a city of so many different aspects: a city that can be described as eschewing the alternative. There is nothing more alternative, more San Francisco than SoMa, the novel.
I first met Kemble Scott when he addressed the California Writers Club about his astonishing success as an ebook author. He was one of the first authors to be sold by Scribd. He is a generous man who is happy to offer advice to other writers in a friendly and humble way. He edits the SoMa Literary Review that helps promotes writers in the Bay Area.
Since his book was anything but mainstream, he 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 that the book explores. The 25,000 views 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.
SoMa, by the way, is South of Market area. During 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 named after the prostitutes that frequented them.
It 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.
Kemble often mentions his writers group as a source 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 sensation, 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 www.alonshalev.com