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.
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.”