Posts Tagged ‘Idyllwild Author Series’

‘This River’ Author Bares Family Wounds

July 1, 2011

(from L) Bestselling author James Brown meets a fan at Cafe Aroma

By Marcia E. Gawecki

When he was signing books afterwards, you couldn’t help but notice the large veins in his muscled arms. They stood out like a river’s arbitraries and pituitaries. Then you noticed his eyes, dark and knowing. Like someone who has seen a lot, and not necessarily good stuff. You earn those kinds of eyes.

On Thursday night, July 30, bestselling author James Brown read from his new book, “This River,” on the deck at Cafe Aroma. It was the seventh installment of the popular Idyllwild Author Series, but the first at this venue.

After his introduction by moderator Eduardo Santiago, James said that he came to Idyllwild because of Frank Ferro (Cafe Aroma’s manager/owner). They have been friends for a long time.

“I came because of his nice smile on the poster,” admitted Anna Ancheta, a youth orchestra conductor from Mountain Center.

Others were there because they’ve read his many books, including “LA Diaries.” They mingled in with the diners on the deck, who were chatting at first, but became captivated when James Brown started reading from his latest book, “This River.”

James described the Chetko River, located in Oregon, about 800 miles from his home in Southern California. He talked about fishing with his three boys for the first time, and hearing his father’s voice in his head.

“It reminded me a lot of ‘Big Two Rivers,’ by Hemingway,” Anna added. “Some rivers speak to people.”

Yet, James’ unassuming title, “This River,” doesn’t fully prepare the reader for what lay bare inside. It’s a memoir about James’ dysfunctional family life, his mentally ill mother, and alcoholic father, brother and sister, all of whom committed suicide. In the book, James describes how he put his brother’s ashes into the Chetko River, by wading waist deep and releasing them in handfuls.

“Of course, I didn’t file a permit to release my brother’s ashes,” James read. “This is a river of dreams, and stories of his childhood.”

He then closed his eyes and prayed to no one in particular. He was grateful for having known his brother, Barry, a talented Hollywood actor.

Eduardo Santiago introduces James Brown on Cafe Aroma's deck with bright banners

“Many of you may have known Barry from the film, ‘Daisy Miller,'” Eduardo said. “He had a promising career and was headed for the likes of James Franco.”

According to the IMDb web site, Barry Brown, who died at age 27, was also an author and playwright. Peter Bogdanovich praised Brown’s contribution to the film, describing him as “the only American actor you can believe ever read a book.”

“He was enormously talented. He had an IQ of 170, which includes only about 150,000 people in the world,” James said.”But he was an alcoholic, and when he died, he didn’t kill Barry; he killed the drunk.”

“I’m the last one standing,” James said.

In one evening, James Brown laid bare his own troubled life, including his struggles with drugs and alcohol.

“You may ask me if writing this book was cathartic,” James said. “It wasn’t. I didn’t want to return to those dark places, but they were the most defining moments that shaped my character. I knew that I had to get through it or I wouldn’t write another book.”

Eduardo said that James’ mother also had her share of troubles.

“She committed arson and homicide, but went to jail for tax evasion,” James said.

Yet, he nursed her in her old age, after a series of strokes.

“There was nothing to be afraid of anymore,” James said. “She was old and frail. But we talked and I got to know her better.”

“If you were an alcoholic, how do you know that you’re recording it as it really was?” asked one audience member.

Audience members and diners listen intently to James Brown read from his new book, "This River"

“I can’t recall things that happened 20 years ago sober,” James said. “But in memoir writing, there’s always a distortion, but we write to the best of our abilities. I like to think of it as ‘an emotional truth.'”

A waiter from Cafe Aroma, who had read James’ “LA Diaries”, asked him about forgiveness.

James said that he didn’t want his books to be negative, but redeeming.

“I have to learn to forgive myself for my bad behavior,” James said. “And forgive my brother and sister for taking their own lives. That way, I can love them more fully.”

Afterwards, Anna jumped up from her chair to purchase “This River.” B’s Books, which also sponsors the author series, had them available for sale. Some of the diners added the book to their bill.

“He’s a gracious man with a large vision,” Anna said. “His imagery is just beautiful.”

Next up in the Idyllwild Author Series will be “Deus Ex Machina” by Andrew Foster Altschul on Sunday, July 3rd at 2 p.m. at B’s Mountain of Books. Andrew lived in Idyllwild for some time, but he still returns every summer with his family.

“His new book is called, ‘Deus Ex Machina.'” Eduardo said. “It’s a fancy title for a fabulous novel about the effects of reality television on our culture.”

For more information, visit or call B’s Books at (951) 659-5018.

Copyright 2011 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

Custom Search












Bestselling Writer Conceived Story in Idyllwild

June 20, 2011

Eduardo Santiago introduces Mary Otis, an award-winning short story writer

By Marcia E. Gawecki

“Pilgrim Girl,” earned Mary Otis a Pushcart Prize honorable mention (past winners include Raymond Carver and  John Irving), and today she admitted to writing it in Idyllwild.

Mary was the sixth California author to be featured in the “Idyllwild Author Series” held at B’s Mountain of Books. Like the others, Mary is a friend of Eduardo Santiago, an Idyllwild resident, who started the series in May.

To date, the series has covered the novel, the memoir, the non-fiction narrative, and the short story.

“‘Pilgrim Girl’ is the first story in the collection, and I wrote it in a week in Idyllwild many years ago,” said Mary Otis, about her collection, “Yes, Yes Cherries.” “I’d work on it all day, and one night, I remember going to watch a Gene Hackman film in someone’s garage while eating peanut M&Ms.”

Some locals in the audience tried to recall if they were there at the time.

“Pilgrim Girl” tells the story about a 14-year-old girl’s crush on a married guy next door, and her far-reaching attempts to get his attention. She puts on her mother’s frosted wig and tries to impersonate a traveling saleswoman; only that she has no products to sell.

The crowd on Father's Day was captivated by Mary Otis' humorous stories

It seemed like everyone in the audience could relate to Mary’s humorous collection, which included stories about a drunken therapist and a fistfight on a first date.

Mary said that all of the events in the stories didn’t actually happen to her, but were pieces of her life. Some of them happened to someone else and she changed the stories around a bit.

“The fist fight on the first date happened to my friend,” Mary said. “She was taken to a bar-b-que at his ex-wife’s house, and then a fight broke out.”

Eduardo mentioned that Mary Otis started out as an actress, and wondered if her characters may have come out of that experience.

She started out acting in a neighborhood playhouse in Boston that actress Diane Keaton had also attended.

“They’d make us do everything, including ballet, jazz and fencing,” Mary recalled. “But it was such an intense program, that if you weren’t cutting it, you’d get cut. It was almost like improv, and it helped me immensely.”

Mary said that her short stories focus on family, relationships and are set partially in Los Angeles.

She said that living in Los Angeles for the past 20 years, has been rewarding, and the longest she’s lived anywhere. She grew up in a small town outside of Boston.

“LA is a strange, intense town,” Mary said.

In her first novel, she treats LA as a character itself.

Mary read an excerpt from her new novel, "Flight"

“It’s tragic, desperate and gorgeous all in one,” she added.

She’s only written the first 50 pages of “Flight,” but read an excerpt anyway.

“My mother had two speeds,” Mary said. “Drunk or driven.”

She recounted a car ride in which her mother was playing “chicken” with another motorist in the passing lane on Route 3 in Cape Cod.

“Fucking hell!” her mother said in frustration, while she began hallucinating from fear. She remembered random answers to her junior high test questions and tried to breathe from her elbow.

Throughout the reading of “Flight,” the audience was laughing heartily.

“I know that I sound self-centered,” Eduardo said afterwards. “But I feel like you were talking to me. I’d like to buy that book.”

Mary said that she wasn’t sure if the manic driving excerpt would be at the beginning, middle or end of her book.

“It’s different from a short story,” Mary explained. “I don’t write in any particular order. Everything just comes in pieces.”

She admitted to writing the novel after being prompted by her agent to develop her writing beyond short stories. According to her web site, Mary Otis is an award-winning writer whose short story collection, “Yes, Yes, Cherries,” was published in 2007 by Tin House Books. She has had stories and essays published in Best New American Voices (Harcourt), the Los Angeles Times, Tin House, Berkeley Literary Journal, and the Santa Monica Review, among others.  Originally from the Boston area, Mary is a fiction professor in the UC Riverside Low-Residency MFA Program where she is part of the core faculty.

(from L) Jeffrey Taylor talks to Mary Otis afterwards. He asked if she had any interest in her stories from the film industry.

Some of the questions from the audience asked about when her novel is due out, what she’s reading now, and if she could recommend a good writing book. Yet, it was a guy in the back who asked the best question.

“Have any of your short stories been picked up by the film industry?” asked Jeffrey Taylor, Green Cafe, who has hosted a weekly film series in Idyllwild for the past 14 years.

“Not any so far,” Mary said. “But my agent said there was some interest in one, but it didn’t go anywhere.”

“I would think that ‘Next Door Girl’ about a seamstress and a Russian hair model would make a good screenplay,” Eduardo interjected.

“That’s the one they were interested in!” Mary exclaimed.

Jeffrey said later that most movies are based on short stories.

“The people in the film industry don’t have time to read novels, but a short story they can get through quickly,” he said.

His father wrote mystery novels and later worked as a PR man for Warner Bros.

(from R) Mary Otis and Eduardo Santiago pose with the owner of B's Mountain of Books, Lauren Devore

After the discussion, Mary signed copies of “Yes, Yes Cherries,” while others mingled, drank lemonade and ate Bing cherries.

Eduardo said that there wouldn’t be an Idyllwild Author Series event next Sunday because he’s graduating from UCLA. The next author, James Brown, will be featured on Thursday, June 30th, at a new venue, Cafe Aroma. He will read from his book, “This River.”

All Idyllwild Author Series events are free and open to the public. For more information, visit, or call B’s Mountain of Books at (951) 659-5018.

Copyright 2011 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

Custom Search