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Literary Roundup: 10 new — and new-ish — books by Petaluma authors

As captured early on in the rich oral traditions of the Coast Miwok who first populated the area, Petaluma’s natural beauty and dramatic human history have made it the perfect place to inspire the imaginations of storytellers.|

As captured early on in the rich oral traditions of the Coast Miwok who first populated the area, Petaluma’s natural beauty and dramatic human history have made it the perfect place to inspire the imaginations of storytellers.

So, it should come as no surprise that the picturesque river town can claim a fair number of authors, poets and novelists who live and write here, along with those literary passersby on whom the city of Petaluma has clearly made a strong impression.

Over the last year or so, numerous books by local writers have been published and placed on bookstore shelves or within clicking distance of online shopping carts. To these can be added others written by authors outside the area, whose work features Petaluma, directly or indirectly. There are also those produced by Sonoma County authors who enjoy visiting Petaluma to write in local coffee shops and walk the area’s winding park trails while pondering the plot-lines of their next work.

In celebration of such folk, here are short descriptions of 10 recent works, ranging from fiction to memoir to poetry to, you know, fill-in-the-blank. Some of these authors even gave us a few minutes of their time to explain what inspires them, what they hope readers will take away from their locally forged wordsmithery, and what they love most about being a writer in and around Petaluma.

‘For the Birds’ by Crissi Langwell

Petaluma romance/fantasy author Crissi Langwell’s latest novel, “For the Birds,” was released in March. In it, a small-town event planner named Cricket has a run-in with her Scottish ex-boyfriend, Sonny, and quickly fakes a new relationship to hide that she is not over him. As it happens, the two must work together on Scotty’s boss’ upcoming anniversary party, and Cricket’s lie begins to unravel. Set in Petaluma, “For the Birds” is a quirky romance about second chances in love and the importance of family bonds.

Oh, and there’s a mysterious parrot in it.

Langwell (“Loving the Wind,” “Come Here Cupcake”) said she was inspired by the Taylor Swift and Bon Iver song, “Exile,” about two people who have moved on from their relationship but have unresolved feelings toward one another. Langwell loves Taylor Swift and Bon Iver and incorporated some hidden details in the novel that fans of the musicians will recognize.

Other inspirations came from her own family and her experiences growing up in Petaluma.

“The story includes a close bond between sisters, growing up in the country, and an epic bee-friendly garden, all things I've experienced in my own life, including my love for gardening that I discovered during the pandemic,” Langwell said.

The author confirms that she loves writing about her hometown and also enjoys reading books set locally. Her goal is to give readers a real sense of home when enjoying her novels.

“I included a few spots and details that locals will recognize,” Langwell said. “Ooh La Luxe and the downtown Mi Pueblo — though I renamed it Ricardo's to allow for some creative license, plus a nod to the historic homes in our town.”

You can find Langwell’s books at crissilangwell.com.

‘Plagios/Plagiarisms, Volume Two’ by Ulalume Gonzalez de Leon (translated by Terry Ehret, John Johnson and Nancy. J Morales)

“I have found Ulalume's blend of scientific, philosophical and sensual language very inspiring, and her experimentation with unconventional syntax and borrowed texts has pushed my own boundaries as a poet and reader,” explains Petaluma poet and teacher Terry Ehret, whose latest work from Sixteen Rivers Press is a translation of Mexican poet Ulalume Gonzalez de Leon’s intensely vivid poetry.

An award-winning poet and former Sonoma County Poet Laureate, Ehret has published four collections of her own poetry, including her most recent, “Night Sky Journey,” from Kelly’s Cove Press. In addition to crafting her own original poems, the Petaluma resident frequently translates the work of other poets.

“I first read Ulalume Gonzalez de Leon's poetry in the 1980s, and I used her marvelous prose poem series ‘Anatomy of Love’ for many years teaching creative writing,” Ehret said. “Ten years ago, when I learned that only a small portion of her work had been translated into English, I knew this was a project I wanted to undertake.”

When Ehret discovered in 2014 that John Johnson and Nancy J. Morales were also engaged in translating the poet’s work, the three decided to team up on the project.

“It's our hope that our translations will introduce more English-speaking readers to this remarkable poet's work,” Ehret said. “Translation involves a very intimate kind of reading, bringing the translator deep inside the writer's aesthetics, language, and world view. Perhaps most important, translation helps us appreciate cultures and languages different from our own.”

Ten Seconds of Boldness’ by Shawn Langwell

Petaluma author Shawn Langwell, who is married to Crissi Langwell, admits that he wrote his new nonfiction guidebook, “Ten Seconds of Boldness,” for one reason: so he doesn’t die with any regrets.

“Having learned something that worked for me and not sharing it would feel selfish,” he said. “Yet, like 85% of us, I suffer from issues of low self-esteem, or some form of fear, doubt, and insecurity — some call it impostor syndrome — that we aren't good enough.”

Subtitled “The Essential Guide to Solving Problems and Building Self-Confidence,” Langwell’s book, published in July, is designed to be more than just another self-help guide. With more than 35 years of sobriety and multiple media sales awards throughout his career, Langwell has time-tested a series of techniques that originated with four words written in Sharpie on a Post-it note: “Four Seconds of Boldness.” The book, which describes Langwell’s five-step method for achieving imposing personal goals through small, achievable steps, is carefully designed, he said, to inspire action.

“And to make it easy for those who may struggle with doubt, decision-making, and belief or lack of belief in themselves in some area of their lives—personally or professionally, to find the courage to start,” he said.

Information about Langwell’s book can be found at ShawnLangwell.com.

‘1912: Poems of Time, Place & Memory’ by Kary Hess

“Memories are art,” writes poet-writer-artist Kary Hess in the prologue of her new collection, “1912: poems of time, place & memory.” Appropriately enough, many of her memories, and her art, revolve around Petaluma.

Though she has lived in Paris and Provo, Utah — each of which receives a handful of poems in the sweetly observational, sometimes achingly personal book — it is Petaluma, where Hess grew up in and later returned, that occupies the majority of those pages.

It won’t be too hard for Petalumans to guess the locations she describes in her short snapshots of memory from around town. One poem, “The Plaza Theater,” is a youthful recollection of long days crumpled together with friends in the “creaking wooden seats, dirty from decades of use” of what is now the Mystic Theatre.

In “The Apple Box Cafe,” the name of the downtown eatery where Riverfront Cafe is now, Hess describes drinking a latte outside in the ‘90s as “grinding metal cars glide over the trestle“ just a few feet away.

Another poem, “The Bookstore,” primarily takes place inside Aram’s Cafe, another vanished icon of Petaluma’s past. Nostalgia, when overused, can feel weighty and dense, but Hess uses it sparely here, like foam atop the lattes that pop up in some many of these light and lovely poems.

Hess also contributed the illustrations.

“1912” is available at Copperfield’s and other local bookstores and galleries, and can be found online.

‘The Write Spot: Musings and Ravings From a Pandemic Year’ by Marlene Cullen

The latest in local writing coach Marlene Cullen’s popular series of collections, “The Write Spot: Musings and Ravings From a Pandemic Year,” is another smartly curated compilation that covers a wide range of responses to the COVID-19 quarantines and resulting sense of isolation and turmoil.

The book features essays, poems and other narrative acts by local writers Brenda Bellinger, Cheryl Moore, Christine Renaudin, Dave Seter, Deb Fenwick, Julie Wilder-Sherman, Karen Handyside Ely, Kathy Guthormsen, Lynn Levy, Mary Dooley, Nona Smith, Patricia Morris, Su Shafer, Susan Bono and Susie Moses.

Though this is a collection of pieces composed during the pandemic, not all of the writings here are directly about the pandemic. Many are brief, while some take a deeper dive into their topic. Some are sad; some are funny. And because this is a Write Spot book, there are, of course, a number of writing prompts for readers to use in penning their own musings and ravings.

Available at local bookstores and online at TheWriteSpot.us.

‘Her Men’ by Abe Levy

Primarily known as a writer and director of movies (“The Aviary,” “Deep Dark Canyon”), Abe Levy shows a filmmaker’s eye in his novel “Her Men,” a fictionalized recollection of his late older sister, and how her sexual awakening in the age of AIDS and clashing cultural values of the 1980s informed his own view of the world and himself.

Set in Northern California, Levy’s book is rich in atmosphere and period detail. Attentive readers will recognize certain Petaluma landmarks — Old Chicago Pizza, The Plaza Theater — though most are left unnamed. But the actual landscape Levy is exploring here is an internal one, the turbulent terrain of the narrator’s rapidly maturing heart and soul.

As much as this is a book about growing up, it is a book about sex. And in describing the numerous sexual encounters his characters take part in, Levy maintains a refreshingly documentary-like viewpoint, giving plenty of close-up detail while also staying objectively distant. These moments — and there are many of them — are strikingly well-crafted, aiming more for truthfulness than titillation.

“Her Men,” ultimately, is a story of love and acceptance, with a bittersweet conclusion as unforgettable as it is brutally wise and achingly honest.

You can find “Her Men” online, or order it from most independent bookstores.

‘The Lost Coast & The Golden Ceiling: The Jeff Taylor Mysteries’ by Scott Lipanovich

While Santa Rosa author Scott Lipanovich admits there aren't any Petaluma angles in his Northern California-based mystery novels “The Lost Coast” and “The Golden Ceiling,” he worked hard to make the books resonate with all Sonoma County residents.

He counts a number of Petalumans as fans of the page-turning books (part of a planned four-part series) about Jeff Taylor, a 20-something former basketball star (he lost part of a hand in a threshing machine accident) who works as a private investigator.

With his medical school ambitions cut short by the hand-severing incident, Taylor finds himself specializing in politically connected cases.

In “The Lost Coast,” Taylor’s case involves a state senator accused of vehicular manslaughter. In “The Golden Ceiling” he digs into a mystery regarding an inventor with a scheme for recovering Gold Rush-era treasure. The books are fun, breezy and full of tangible detail.

“There is an important — in terms of plot — sequence that takes place at night in Bodega Bay,” Lipanovich wrote in response to in inquiry following the release of “The Lost Coast.” “Oakmont, Sonoma and Santa Rosa — the airport — are mentioned. There's an afternoon in a Ukiah trailer park.

“At the same time, I'm confident most Petaluma readers will identify with the settings.”

Information about Lipanovich’s work can be found at EncirclePub.com.

‘The Story of Jazz and Vihar’ by Kathy Guthormsen

The narrator of “The Story of Jazz and Vihar” is Poe, a half-blind raven who resides at Sonoma County’s Bird Rescue Center, where poet-author Kathy Guthormsen regularly volunteers.

Jazz and Vihar are a pair of lost owls who also live at the Center, and whose story inspired Guthormsen to guide their tale into the form of a children’s picture book. With illustrations by Karen Phillips, the book relates how the three raptors ended up in their current home, and their interactions and birds-eye view of the humans who care for them there.

Available online.

‘Almost Weightless’ by Matt Reischling

Petaluma author and musician Matt Reischling’s new book, “Almost Weightless,” is a collection of personal essays. The local musician performs frequently in the area and shares an assortment of transformative life experiences through the essay format.

His experiences follow a loose linear timeline, sometimes jumping several years but consistently keeping to his internal journey throughout the book. The book addresses Reischling’s early adulthood as he navigated self-created narratives about his sexuality. He includes various topics such as depression, the paranormal, graffiti art culture, immigration and Mesoamerican mythology to describe how he has learned to live an emotionally balanced life.

Readers will experience Reischling’s recollections of studying abroad as a young adult, discovering a love for Mexican American culture, his struggle with depression and his newfound appreciation for life over the years.

Through these stories, he describes how his adventures across Italy, Northern California, Cuba, Belize, Guatemala and Mexico opened his eyes to self-acceptance, and the many internal and external discoveries that form his life story.

“Almost Weightless” can be purchased on Amazon. Learn more about the musician and author on his website, almostweightless.com

‘Comeuppance Served Cold’ by Marion Deeds

At the age of 65, author Marion Deeds has just released, “Comeuppance Served Cold,” a historical fantasy, through MacMillan Books.

The story is part caper and part mystery, and is described as being similar to Dashiell Hammett’s work, but with magic and a female protagonist. The story takes place in 1929 Seattle and includes prohibition, shapeshifters, rum-running and drug-running. This clever novel addresses corruption, hypocrisy and power.

Since the age of 5, Deeds has lived in Sonoma County, or as she calls it, “Book Bounty,” a place that supports storytelling and the arts. The author has a large fan-base in Petaluma. One of those fans is Ross Lockhart, the owner of Petaluma’s Word Horde Emporium bookstore (which just moved to new digs at the Petaluma Premium Outlets) and the publishing company, Word Horde Books, for which the store is named.

“It’s a delightful read,” said Lockhart, who adds that he has signed copies on hand at the store, where Deeds will be meeting and greeting locals at the Emporium’s official grand opening at 4 p.m. Aug. 27.

“Comeuppance Served Cold” has received a starred review from Booklist and was one of Buzzfeed’s most anticipated March releases.

Deeds is proof that success with passion projects is possible at nearly any age. The author volunteers her time at a second-hand bookstore in Sebastopol.

“Comeuppance Served Cold” can be purchased at Copperfield’s Book, the Word Horde Emporium of the Weird and Fantastic, and on Amazon.

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