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In last October’s Time Magazine cover piece entitled “Great American Novelist,” Jonathan Franzen said that when he writes, he does so in a small, barren room, facing a blank wall, with no phone, no music, no internet access, not even a window. It’s almost as if he were a monk, channeling lofty words and thoughts rather than God’s spirit.

In contrast, Ernest Hemingway was famous for inhabiting the larger-than-life worlds of his stories. Fishing for marlin, hunting lions, running with bulls… not to mention fighting in World Wars, drinking magnums of fine French wine, and bedding truckloads of exotic babes. God bless him, Ernie was no monk, that’s for sure.

Polar opposites, the ascetic and the immersive. Is it those extremes that allowed these two writers to create such acclaimed and enduring work? I ask myself this, as I go through my daily paces of cleaning up dog poop, paying bills, shopping my little indie-film projects, and making my billionth batch of grilled-cheese sandwiches for my sons and their pals – not exactly hotbeds of literary inspiration – while also trying to drum up interest and support for my own debut novel, Golden State, and maybe conjure up a paragraph or two for my next one.

Did Hemingway gambol about the Serengeti with little plastic baggies to pick up stray rhino droppings? Somehow, I think not.

Does Franzen break from his Zen-writer state to whip up little afternoon snacks for the adorable urchins from his own suburban Minnesota ‘hood? “Hey, kiddies, Uncle Johnny’s got chicken nuggets for ya!” Again, a resounding “no” echoes in my mind.

Of course, the grass is always greener. Hemingway, looking like a debauched department-store Santa from all those years of hard living, committed suicide with a self-inflicted gunshot to the head at the relatively young age of 61. As for Franzen, his one brief marriage ended years ago in bitter divorce, he has no children, and his reputation as an arrogant douchebag is apparently well deserved. Would I willingly accept those fates for the chance to write something as great and enduring as theirs?

No, probably not. I love my family way too much to put that at risk. And the fact   is, most of us mere mortals have our fair share of bland obligations and nausea-inducing messes to deal with, as well as the occasional larger catastrophe. That’s called life.  And I like to think that these things – okay, maybe not in their initial throes, but at least in retrospect – provide valuable perspective and big-picture clarity.  And maybe that’s the sort of storytelling I’m best suited for. Regular people, in all their endlessly fascinating variations, facing everyday struggles in relatable, sympathetic ways, with perhaps a little sociopolitical irony in the background to add some spice.

Now that I think about it, Hemingway often got criticized for his work being too overbearingly macho, and Franzen has the rap for his being emotionally distant.  Whatever flaws I may have (laziness and impatience somehow leap to mind), I am neither of those things.

So, we all have our own crosses to bear. And if mine are not nearly as monastic and martyr-worthy as Mr. Franzen’s, or far less worldly and bombastic than Mr. Hemingway’s, perhaps this simply means that the stories I am trying to tell, and the characters whose lives I am trying to portray, will have a little more resonance for you, my friends and neighbors and fellow American Dreamers. And if that’s the case, then all those bags of poop – in both their literal and figurative forms – will have been well worth their while.

January 3rd, 2011 was Inaugural Day in Sacramento, California.  This was true not only for Jerry Brown, who is returning to the capital city for his second spin in the Governor’s seat, but for me as an author.

Since the backdrop of my newly-published novel, Golden State, is the 2003 recall election season featuring the state’s previous governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, I thought it only appropriate to start here, on this day.  Sort of a bookend to an era.

Of course, when I concocted that plan, I had no idea that a massive snowstorm would close the only major road (Interstate 5) that led from my hometown of Los Angeles to the capital city, 350 miles to the north.  The result is that I had to wake up my poor family in the pre-dawn hours of that day, so that we could load ourselves into the car and make a huge, unavoidable loop around the closed mountain passes, through the coastal towns of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, and back toward the state’s northern interior.  It turned an already long drive into a Homerian odyssey.

By the time we got to Sacramento, it was late afternoon, and we were beat – not the ideal conditions to prepare for one’s first reading.  Indeed, groggy as I was at the wheel, the only thing I wanted to “read” was the inside of my own eyelids.

Fortunately, upon arriving, our luck quickly changed.  For starters, we had stumbled into a night’s booking at The Citizen Hotel, a gorgeous boutique hotel right at the center of town, which has an old-fashioned, Art Deco grandeur that immediately put us back in a positive frame of mind.  Slipping into the comforts of our elegantly appointed corner suite, the hardships of the road were suddenly a thing of the past – we were back on track!

Also helping was Allen Pierleoni at the Sacramento Bee, who wrote a front-page article in the Arts Section (with photos, no less!) to trumpet my appearance that night.  Even though I am new at this game, and thoroughly unproven, I felt welcome.  This was true as well at Time Tested Books, the venerable indie bookstore that was hosting me. The store’s owner, Peter Keat, went out of his way to accommodate me, and help me publicize the read – a much-appreciated effort, since I had no friends of my own in the area to bolster the numbers.

But let’s not fool ourselves.  This was no U2 stadium show.  There were no lighters waving in the air.  This was a novice novelist reading from a book that had yet to garner significant reviews.  There were maybe two dozen in attendance, including my wife, two sons, and Rob, a junior associate at the PR firm I’m working with, who happened to be available because he lived in the area and was still home for the holidays.

That said, the reading went great.  Yes, my sons crawled all over me and blurted out non sequiturs during Peter’s intro.  And yes, the dreadlocked man with the crazy Fu Manchu in the back row slumped in his chair and leaned his head back in agony as if enduring some sort of backroom torture.  But by the time I had finished my chapter, Fu Manchu had sat up and laughed several times, and the others in the crowd had responded at all the right moments, too.  And they followed the reading with questions – smart questions, engaged questions.  People who had glanced at my book then set it back on the shelf to listen to the reading returned to that shelf to grab copies for me to sign.  I had won them over.  I had proven myself worthy.  My crucible, which had begun in the pre-dawn hours of suburban Los Angeles at the cold wheel of my family’s SUV and finished in a stiff-backed chair at the back of a small Sacramento bookshop, was passed.

The road was still long ahead of me.  But one thing was indisputable: I was now a novelist.

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