Saturday, July 14, 2007

Brush with Death Release Party

On Friday the 13th of July (such an auspicious date!) 120 friends, readers, and architectural history buffs gathered at the Chapel of the Chimes Columbarium in Oakland for the Brush with Death launch party. The setting was entirely appropriate, since Brush with Death is set in the columbarium and the cemetery next door.
We began with a ghostly tour of the locale, designed by Julia Morgan in the 1920s -- Morgan is the famous Berkeley architect who designed Hearst Castle, among hundreds of other distinctive gothic-romanesque buildings throughout the Bay Area. A columbarium is similar to a mausoleum, but holds the urns and boxes of cremated remains. The building itself is rife with mosaic, murals, stained glass, lush gardens, and gorgeous historical artifacts brought over from Europe.

Here are a few of the motley crew who came out on a beautiful summer night to hear me natter on about two of my favorite subjects: art and mystery! From left to right: Celeste, Mary, Sergio, and Jorge:

And a few more, Debra, Kaye, One-Half of Hailey Lind, Anthea, and Shay. Debra, Kaye, and Anthea came all the way from L.A. for the party! Or maybe it was the free wine...

It looks a lot like I'm leading a prayer service, but in fact the columbarium opens its doors --and the non-denominational chapel-- to all sorts of community events. Today it just happened to be me, reading short excerpts from Brush with Death and answering a barrage of friendly questions from inquiring minds.

The party was a great opportunity to meet new people, both readers and fans of the Chapel of the Chimes. New friends and readers enjoyed the evening, including MySpace pal Brian and his daughter.

Allison Rodman, with Lifemark Group (owner of Chapel of the Chimes and several other lovely sites) supported us throughout the writing of Brush with Death, and served up some delicious snacks at the party (or so I'm told...I didn't manage to get any, myself!) She is a charming tour guide and a font of historical information.

Diane Kudisch, owner of the wonderful San Francisco Mystery Bookstore, came to sell Feint of Art, Shooting Gallery, and Brush with Death. She sold out!

My friend Chris said he felt awkward coming to the party alone, so he brought his stuffed bunny. Only Chris could walk in to a party with a bunny under his arm and not look foolish. Jace tried to make him feel more at home...

My friend (and native San Franciscan fact checker) shows off her "favorite book":

From Brush with Death:
The rooms of the columbarium were lined with thousands of small compartments which, to an apartment-dweller like me, resembled nothing so much as glass-fronted mailboxes. In each compartment were urns or decorative containers –often cast-bronze in the shape of a book, as in “the story of one’s life”-- holding human remains. Here and there larger and more richly decorated “feature niches,” which were glassed in on two sides, created “windows” between the alcoves.
Chapel of the Chimes Columbarium’s labyrinthine floor plan had been designed to create a series of intimate spaces, each unique and elaborately decorated, to allow family members to visit their lost loved ones in solitude. Alcoves and passageways branched off into more alcoves and passageways, some opening onto a cloistered hallway or a courtyard garden, others leading to dead ends. When I started working here I had spent the first twenty minutes of each painting session wandering through the chapels and gardens, turning this way and that, ducking down one blind alley after another until stumbling, seemingly at random, upon the Chapel of the Madonna where Mary and I were restoring two water-damaged lunettes. I now had the route memorized, and only took a wrong turn when distracted.

Brush with Death on sale now at bookstores everywhere! Or try Powell's, Seattle Mystery Bookshop, San Francisco Mystery Bookstore, or Mysterious Galaxy on-line!

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The quiet before the storm…

Forty years ago my parents built --with their own two blistered hands-- a little cabin on twenty acres in the Siskiyou Mountains in Northern California, just about an hour south of the Oregon border. The cabin was meant to be a temporary structure while they built their real retirement home, but plans change. They now live within reach of handy things like electricity and city water, rather than dealing with the vicissitudes of life on the mountain. But some of my happiest childhood memories are of lounging on the screened-in porch with a book, or sitting by the river with a book, or snuggling in my sleeping bag…with a book.

As an adult I can begin to understand the legacy my parents left me: the quiet, the sweet-smelling air, the lack of city craziness. Glimpses of deer, wild turkeys, black bears, quail, fox, rabbits….even emus (residing on a nearby farm). For the past several years I have dragged my hapless son (and some duped friends) along as well. It’s amazing to see what happens to children when deprived of video games, television, and other electronic devices. We swim in the river by day, cook over the campfire, and play cards and board games well into the night. Occasionally there is actually some civilized conversation!

I went this time with my friends Mary and Anna, and we drank a toast to the release of Brush with Death on July 3. It seemed somehow appropriate that I would be in the quiet of the woods when the book came out, since it was there that I developed and nurtured my dearest love of reading.

On our way back to real life we stopped by the charming Yreka Bookstore, in Old Town on Miner Street, but like many sane people they were closed on the 4th of July. Still, we spotted Brush with Death on their rack of new books. I left a note for Mary Ellen Rock, the owner, and she called back to tell me that I have a lot of fans in the small town of Yreka! She invited me to sign later this summer, and I’m really looking forward to it!

How amazing to think that, after all those years of reading paperbacks in the wilds of Jefferson State, our book would be on those very bookshelves!