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 “The Accidental Billionaires”

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).

Movies That Matter – The Social Network

Facebook – love it or hate, but it is here to stay (or at least until the next great innovation), and it is a central part of our lives. The fastest growing age group used to be students (no surprises), now it is the 40-60’s. When someone under 120 tells me that they are not on Facebook (usually followed by a tirade against social media), my immediate reaction is that they are simply not connected. I have, however, learned from experience to keep that thought to myself.

Authors actually seem to complain a lot, but this is, I think, a symptom of the I-want-to-be-writing-not-marketing syndrome. Truth is, while you need to be on Facebook, you are in control of how many times you check it and how long you stay on. Kind of like flossing.

But this post is about The Social Network, the movie about how Facebook came about. I read The Accidental Billionaires (the book about…) and really enjoyed it. I would enjoy this movie even if I wasn’t into Facebook. I have a small library of ‘brilliant students at school’ movies (Dead Poet’s Society, Finding Forrester, Good Will Hunting – you get the idea).

The Social Network fits into this theme. The portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook and Person of the Year 2010 for Time, is amazing (I have no idea if it’s true), but this is a brilliant mind who can’t fathom the everyday realities of dress (he goes to a business meeting in a hoodie – with the hood on his head), with little social talents, and yet his brilliance is a magnet for other brilliant minds.

It is for us too. As the movie continues, you begin to root for Zuckerberg, hoping he will win through. This happens, I think, without the writers compromising on the harshness or incompatabliity of the protagonist.

Tamim Ansary, a brilliant SF author, shares his recollection of a favorite scene. This is the most memorable scene for me too. It is written in Tamim’s words according to memory, but it is just great. In this scene, Justin Timberlake wakes up in the morning in the bed of a Stanford student that he has clearly only just met. He is lying in her bed and she is just getting dressed.

“What do you do?”
“I’m an Internet entrepreneur.”
“Oh,” she sneers, “In other words, you’re unemployed.”
“I wouldn’t put it that way.”
“Well how would you ‘put it’?”
“I’d say I’m an Internet entrepreneur.”
“All right. What have you entrepreneured?”
“I founded a company that lets people share music online.”
“Uh huh. Kind of like Napster.”
Exactly like Napster.”
“What do you mean?”
“I founded Napster.”
“No you didn’t! Sean Parker founded Napster.”
“Yes. It’s good to meet you too.”

I’m going to leave the last word to Mr. Ansary, primarily because it never occurred to me until I read his review.

“Even more fascinating is the understated way the movie conveys that all these plaintiffs are wrong: none of them invented Facebook, and neither did Zuckerberg. Facebook already existed in the world in potentia: the trick was to see it out there, know what it was, and then create the apparatus that allowed it to actualize itself, to materialize.  Facebook invented itself.”

Maybe this is the definition of brilliance. How many times have I read a great novel and thought: “Gosh, I wish I had thought of that plot/character.”


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).

On The Cutting Edge

I’m feeling good, stoked in fact, on the cutting edge. This week I filled out my forms and uploaded my publishers’ Oilspill dotcom files to Kindle. Today I entered the Star Trek dimension – beam me up Scotty!

Only a few weeks ago, I saw a Star Trek Next Generation episode in which (Lt. Commander) Geordi La Forge, the engineer, was preparing to travel to a convention on Reiser (surpassed Hawaii back in the 22nd Century for most popular business convention destination). He told Data (the android) that he planned a few days vacation and recounted the books he had uploaded as he tapped his pad (a Staff Fleet-issued 24th century Kindle).

So I am stoked. It is not often that a Trekkie can reach out where no person has gone before (well, a few hundred thousand perhaps) and enter into that technological plane.

I believe in the e-book. There is no justification for us to cut down forests and then wonder about global warming. The transportation of books, the warehouse, the garbage generated from paper and ink, and all the other related resources that could be saved if we all went wireless.

I do, however, have to admit that I don’t own a Kindle. Furthermore, even if I did (and the male techno-envy part of my ego wants one), I think I would have a hard time completely relinquishing the written book. Touch, smell, even looking at the collections on my shelf as they passively collect dust, these sensory experiences are all part of an overall experience beyond the screen.

But I am excited, even if slightly hypocritically so, that Oilspill dotcom is now available from Kindle. It’s nice to be a part of the future. Now I’m going home to curl up with a good hardback book, The Accidental Billionaires, which I’ve just purchased. I can’t wait to hear that virgin book spine crack!

By the way: did you know that the iPhone has Kindle accessibility too? Not only that, but let’s say you were reading a book on Kindle, for the sake of argument – Oilspill dotcom – and had stopped on a specific page. Then later on that day you had decided to access it via your iPhone, the phone would ask if you wanted to pick up where you left while reading on the Kindle. Cool – Capt. Kirk never had that kind of accessibility!

Good Writing,


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