Today's New York Times casts a spotlight on the literary scene in San Francisco, with nods to the legendary, the up-and-coming, and the hidden secrets. There's even a quote from yours truly in there, where I come off sounding like a cheerleader for the home town team.
“The longer you are in San Francisco, the more you realize it is just one big scene with a lot of different ways of making itself known,” said Mr. Soehnlein, whose own novels, like this year’s “Robin and Ruby,” live on the gay lit shelf. “In S.F. people ask more questions. In New York or L.A. it’s like crickets out there, even if they are very attentive. Do they think they’re too cool to ask questions?”
It's a kick to get quoted in the NY Times, which seems to be the paper that everyone reads, even 3,000 miles away. But it's funny how wrapped up my reputation is with this city, because even though I've lived here for seventeen years (!), I never meant to stay. The initial lure was grad school. I figured I'd finish up my MFA and go back to New York, where I had been before, but then I got a boyfriend, and then I joined a band, and then I got another boyfriend (who eventually became my husband) and a rent stabilized apartment and...
But I’m deeply connected to NYC, and when I visit once or twice a year, I feel my heart beating at a faster, and what seems like a more natural rate. New York is lodged under my skin, forever. So it's ironic that I'm dissing New Yorkers in that quote as "think[ing] they’re too cool." The context for that was a discussion about book readings. I'd just finished my book tour for Robin and Ruby, and I'd noted to the writer how many questions came from the audience during the Q&A in San Francisco, compared to how difficult it was to get folks to ask questions after the reading in NY. (Same was true for LA, when I read there.)
But I don't think "coolness" is really the issue. There's something in the literary culture of San Francisco that invites more dialogue between author and writer. Without the infrastructure of the publishing industry here, as in NY, the center of a writer’s world is not the book deal but the public reading; not the author-agent-editor triad but the author-workshop-bookstore.
Being a writer in San Francisco means, I think, getting close to your readers, feeling like you know them. There are so many opportunities to read your work in public that you can be a very visible author here having published very little, or to little renown. True, away from the deals and the publishers, SF is not the most viable place to earn money for your writing. But it's possibly one of the best places to be a writer if you want your art to reach an engaged audience, and, in return, to hear what they have to say about it. And that’s pretty cool.