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New novel born on old Fillmore



Walking down Fillmore Street, I often run into people who have lived here for a while, most of whom know me from my many years here. We’ll chat about the Giants and the weather and then they’ll ask, “How’s the writing going?” Anyone who has spent any time around me knows that I am a writer.

Right now, I get to answer, “Just great!” My new novel just came out, and it’s called The Magic War. If I have one with me, I hand them a flyer with the cover and a link to Amazon. (We’re still working on getting into Browser Books.)

I’ve lived in this neighborhood for almost 40 years. Our first apartments were in the Preston Apartments, above what is now Dino & Santino’s pizza parlor. About 30 years ago, we moved down to California and Steiner.

Before Rag & Bone was at the corner of Fillmore and California — even before it was the much-missed Royal Ground coffee shop — it was a liquor store called Bi-Rite Liquors. I was behind the counter there from the late ’70s to the early ’90s. That was a special neighborhood place that a few of the alumni refer to as the University of Bi-Rite. Long and learned wandering discussions went on far into the night — we closed at 2 a.m. A distinguished painter, the head of a local school’s English department and a librarian-errant emerged from there. I was the literature and beer guru.

After that I spent 15 years at the corner of Fillmore and Sacramento at D&M Wines and Spirits, dispensing Scotch whisky and Champagne lore.

All this time I was writing. I write poetry — I have three chapbooks out right now — and, every now and again, novels. I like telling a story I want to read. The Magic War is my third to get into print. Sir Gawain’s Little Green Book and Knight Prisoner can both be found on Amazon, too.

When the late David Ish founded the New Fillmore in 1986, he put me to work as the book columnist. I spent many years reviewing anything that caught my interest — and, of course, anything by neighborhood residents. David was even kind enough to publish my poems from time to time. One of the things that makes me happiest is that one of my New Fillmore readers told me she kept a poem of mine taped over her sink. That’s the kind of thing that can happen when you live and work in the same neighborhood.

If our conversation goes on past congratulations, people will ask me what my book is about. If they really want to know, I try to tell them.

It’s about the Scopes trial, I say. But it’s not really — that’s just part of the time and place in which the story takes place.

It’s about Prohibition and bootleggers — well, sort of, but there’s more to it than that. It’s about a battle between two magicians, but they’re not the lead characters.

It’s a love story, a coming of age story and an adventure story. It’s about magic and youth.

Oh, and I hope it’s funny.

It’s a story I composed in my head between conversations over the counter at Bi-Rite and while unloading cases of Champagne at D&M. It’s a story that occurred to me as I walked around this neighborhood that has been my home for decades. But it’s not set here. I’ve never been successful in capturing the flavor of this place in fiction, though I have tried. The Magic War takes place in a lost and imagined America.

The story has taken a long and winding path to publication. I wrote it almost 17 years ago. It was accepted by a publisher that closed its doors just before the book reached print. Last year it got picked up by Loose Leaves Publishing, and we spent a lot of time polishing it up. I hope it is shiny enough so that all the Fillmore folks who ask me how my writing is going can enjoy it.

To celebrate, I hope you’ll be able to join me at a book launch party on Sunday, June 11, from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Thomas Reynolds Gallery at 1906 Fillmore.