Gallery MVLitSp2013

Topper Takes a Trip. Gary Topper: photographer.




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Gary Topper, photographer: Point Lobos, Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA in late August.

Gary Topper: Photos in Texture and Landscape

The iconic Point Lobos area is geologically unique and contains a rich and diverse plant and animal life both on shore and in the water. Called the "greatest meeting of land and water in the world" by landscape painter Francis McComas, Point Lobos, at the north end of the Big Sur Pacific Coast, is considered a crown jewel in the California state park system. (Wikipedia)


More Gary Topper photography in Review

Photographer Gary Topper

Born and raised in Los Angeles, I first started traveling with camera in hand at the age of 21, on a 7-month solo journey around the world. This was in the early 60’s when tourism had not really reached most of the planet. The opportunity to see a multitude of cultures sparked a lifelong interest in travel and photography, documenting a mysterious world few had seen. The passion to find places both spiritual and secular led to years of continuous travel, including recent trips to Cuba, Argentina, walking the last 150 miles of the Camino de Santiago, Oaxaca, San Cristobal de las Casas, and Canada.

Some years ago I joined the Marin Photography Club, where I met a community of wonderful photographers, who were open to sharing their knowledge and expertise. The stimulation of exploring a shared interest with like-minded colleagues has continued to refine my “composition eye and photographic techniques.”

Recently awarded the Best Color Photograph at the 2015 Marin County Fair and Best in Show photograph by the Mill Valley photography studio, The Image Flow, my enthusiasm and excitement for photography has fueled a driving passion to capture “moments in time” in a rapidly changing world.

Back to Gary's texture photos in Review.



MillValleyLit: Yes, right, and Emma is his child [in Year of Fog] , not the narrator's, and that's more pressure on the narrator when she loses his little girl. To my point, you have all these interesting men in the books, and your actual husband is in law enforcement.

Michelle: Yes, but we met in a MFA program.

MillValleyLit: Okay, before he knew of the crime fighting, super powers that he was capable of; he was also a deejay. And in your book Golden State, the narrator’s maybe-soon-to-be-ex was deejay.

Michelle: Right. How do you know all this? I should probably have been more discreet. I was pretty out front initially in my career.

MillValleyLit: Yes, I understand, and now your career has taken off, you want to have a semblance of a personal life. But, there's still stuff on the web about how you crawled into the dorm or apartment window of this new crush…

Michelle: Yes, well you can't erase that and we were excited… press interest was a new thing… That was Louise at The Chronicle. She used to do that “On the Couch.” I remember as soon as she left, Kevin said, "I cannot believe we just did that. I wish we hadn't done it." And it was too late because it's online.  

MillValleyLit: Yes, you said something like, "I was drunk and I just crawled into his window…"

Michelle: We were encouraged and he didn't want to do it in the first place and I sort of pressured him into it— I told him, “It's good publicity for the book," and he was just mortified but he did it.

MillValleyLit: I was kind of surprised myself, "Wow, this stuff’s online, so isn’t it fair game?" It was really funny. You said something like, "I want to sleep with you but I don't want to sleep with you." Then he thought, "Fine. Oh. Well, what do I know, this is the South, who knows what they do down here?" That cracked me up.

Michelle: Yes, I don't think he was mortified about the story itself, it's that he's mortified because he - and people in his line of work - doesn’t want to talk about themselves at all. That is not their way…everything is quiet, it's not about them personally. Most of them, if they have like a Facebook page, you would never see it. It was really more embarrassing that he would be in the newspaper at all.

MillValleyLit: Alright, now that I’ve embarrassed you both, again, and The Pact is going to start tracking me, I better ask my next question so I look like I have a literary interest more than a prurient interest. [laughs] So…these like career choices for the novelized spouse, boyfriend, soon to be ex-husbands, whoever they are; is it something you put a lot of thought of in advance or does it just kind of organically come out of you? Like, "Let's see, career choices for cute guys in my books"?

Michelle: No, I definitely think about it. I mean I think about it when I'm thinking about—when I'm first thinking of the idea for a novel and thinking about who the person is and what their problem is, usually that person is in a relationship or their relationship is ending. So before I write anything, I know what they do for a living but also what their significant other does and like with The Marriage Pact it was—like with The Year of Fog it probably doesn't matter so much that the fiancé is a history teacher but I wanted him to have a job that shows he's kind of a caring, regular guy and he's a teacher. However, this one, having Alice be a lawyer was important in the story to me. It didn't have to be a lawyer but she had to have a career that was more difficult than his, more hard driving, more hours...

MillValleyLit: She had to have more at stake to be skipping court appearances and running down to Half Moon Bay and all that.

Michelle: Yes, she had to be the workaholic, so I always think about career-driven people with unforgiving schedules juggling that with marriage.

MillValleyLit: So once you've decided on a fictional career, do you ever change them midstream?

Michelle: No. 

MillValleyLit: Okay, music is very important to you, you sprinkle your books with musical reference, for example Steve Forbert in Golden State, deejay fiancé’s messages/code for struggling narrator. Billy Idol’s Sweet 16, which you explained in the novel as a long term relationship, not a fling with an under-aged girl, which was news to me.

Michelle: Yes, I love that song.

MillValleyLit: Leonard Cohen and Dylan songs apropos to The Marriage Pact. You've put a whole playlist in the back of the trade paperback of Golden State. Are you a wannabe musician?

Michelle: No, I have no musical talent at all and in fact I don't even know that much about music, but my husband does. Are you very into music?

MillValleyLit: Yes, I used to be in San Francisco 80s punkish\rock bands.

Michelle: Oh, you were?

MillValleyLit: Yes, singer-songwriter, rhythm guitar.

Michelle: Yes, I don't know a lot about music but we have music around the house all the time. My husband isn’t a musician but he just loves and seems to know everything about music.

MillValleyLit: Oh, I think I read that he turns you onto music and you turn him onto good writing?

Michelle: Well, he was a writer when I met him, and in I think in Golden State, Tom Petty's Southern accent is in there. Like there's a reference to Southern accents.

MillValleyLit: Have you heard about Tom Petty?

Michelle: Yes. I think this morning they were quoting that he had died.

MillValleyLit: I loved him. Wonderful lyricist. A poet like Cohen and Dylan. I’m think I’ll do a little homage to Tom in my poetry reading at Mill Valley Depot Bookstore this Friday. [pulls out some CDs]

Michelle: What do you have here? What is this?

MillValleyLit: Leonard Cohen CDs. I'm sure you know this one. Leonard Cohen’s Live in London that you mention in Marriage Pact and that you said you listened to while writing the novel.

Michelle: Oh yes!

MillValleyLit: So I picked them up at the library. Some libraries have great CD collections.

Michelle: That's amazing that they have all that stuff. Dance Me to the End of Love, it is so beautiful, I love that song.

MillValleyLit: Thanks for turning me onto Live because I don't know if you saw in my current MillValleyLit issue I wrote a whole tribute to Leonard Cohen, right after his death.

Michelle: Oh, I’ll have to look at that.

MillValleyLit: Yes, I've got pictures of him when he was young and so handsome.

Michelle: Oh, that's so cool, I have to look. Thank you for telling me.

MillValleyLit: Yes, and then I picked up a whole pile of these other ones.

Michelle: I love power of song too, that's so good.

MillValleyLit: He wrote a lot of poems and lyrics, he was very prolific.

Michelle: Yes, and his voice is so melancholy but inviting.

MillValleyLit: Moving on. Missing people or things, spouses leaving, kids, siblings within fear of loving, marriage, going missing. Did something happen — to precipitate your enquiry of missing, searching, seeking, loss, that feeling of—is there something that does that?

Michelle: Well I'm a middle child, so that probably explains everything. 

[noises suddenly everywhere — N Judah streetcar makes turnaround, garbage truck picks up garbage]

Also funnily enough, both of my sisters were born on odd holidays and I was born on Teacher Work Day. So my older sister is an April Fool’s baby and my younger sister is a Valentine's baby and I was really the Teacher Work Day baby. I don't remember exactly what day it is but teachers didn’t get their birthdays off but I would get my birthday off of school. Oh I'm sorry, what was the question?

MillValleyLit: [helicopter noisily circles over the water of Ocean Beach] I don't know. [both laugh] Oh my, now The Pact has a helicopter on us. Oh, they’re searching for someone. Maybe Emma from The Year of Fog. Right on cue, I was asking you about searching, missing…

Michelle: Oh yes, I think it's probably a deep-seated memory. I remember when I was a kid I was obsessed with missing children.

MillValleyLit: Those darn milk cartons?

Michelle: The whole milk carton thing! I was followed by a kidnapper’s white van when I was 12. So like I have…

MillValleyLit: Wait. An imagined kidnapper?

Michelle: No, for real, actual. I mean a white van was following me through an abandoned parking lot.

MillValleyLit:  A white van just went by. [teasing] Probably Vivian from The Marriage Pact checking on us.

Michelle: I think I was just fascinated but also scared of that when I was little, so that's probably where the thought came on.

MillValleyLit: But it turned out that most of those milk carton kids were taken the estranged spouse, right?

Michelle: Yes, it was mostly I think non-custodial parents or something.

MillValleyLit: You know, this is a spoiler alert, but for one of your older stories, that's how it turns out, right?

Michelle: Yes, and that wasn't planned, but it was after I'd done all this research and I realized, if she's going to be alive, really the only way for it to happen. I mean it would be far more likely that it was …

MillValleyLit: Somebody who actually loved her.

Michelle: Yes, rather than…

MillValleyLit: A writer friend or a cowboy…

Michelle: Yes. [laughs]

MillValleyLit: Right. I'll move on then. It seems to me that you do a lot of research. The narrator in No One You Know, the Golden Gate coffee cupper, my wife loved that.

Michelle: Oh she did? That's awesome.

MillValleyLit: Still to this day, I think it was a couple years ago when we read your book…still to this day, she'll see somebody vending coffee at a street fair or making coffee, she goes up to them and demands, "Have you read Michelle Richmond's book?" Then she turns to me, because I’m the trivia guy, "What is the name of that book...?" because I'm the guy who's supposed to remember everything. She tells them, "They have a scene in Central or South America," and then she's orders them, “You have to read it!” She writes down the name for them.

Michelle: Sounds like she’s a real coffee person, we would get along, I'm sure.

MillValleyLit: Yes, You bet. A little insight from my marriage… So, your research for authenticity…

Michelle: Yes, on this one, The Marriage Pact, I did less than I usually do because I had read all these books about cults in the past, so it's just a longstanding interest. So I had all that sort of in my head, so I didn't really do additional research about cults. I did do research about marriage.

MillValleyLit: Right, there were a lot of stats in the book.

Michelle: Marriage statistics and studies on what makes people stay together or fall apart. I read a lot of Psychology Today on marriage and relationships. To me, that keeps it interesting, that keeps it real. How about you? Do you research about the time you're writing about or it's just all in your head?

MillValleyLit: Well, both. I remember a lot, but I also want to verify, because it's important to me to have details and historical accuracy and all that. Bless you Wikipedia! I did see some of The Marriage Pact readers mentioned that they were distracted by the marriage stats. But in No One You Know, your had murder stats and writing tips…

Michelle: Ha, yes, that's right.

MillValleyLit: …tips from the pedantic, creeper writer, and you even put in mathematics puzzles.

Michelle: That's true, yes.

MillValleyLit: My point is that people who've read your previous works would expect, even want, these stats and tidbits. In Year of Fog you talked about memory and forgetting, you told stories of actual memory patients, you quoted Aristotle and so, this “research left on the page” as writing seminars warn would-be writers against — seems part of your writing.

Michelle: It is.

MillValleyLit: Can you comment more on that?

Michelle: I will say a lot of it gets cut, which is a good thing. I mean so even though it seems like there's a lot in there, readers should consider themselves lucky that I've actually cut like 90% of it. [both laugh] But with knowing, and I realize that some people skip over that stuff and I'm fine with that, I love learning something when I read fiction, I like learning about a subject I didn't know about.

MillValleyLit: Researched, plausible sci-fi, like The Martian is popular. Historical novels…

Michelle: Yes. With No One You Know, the way it ended up having some stuff about writing, is I was reading Graham Greene's The End of the Affair. A colleague recommended the book to me when I was teaching at California College of the Arts.

MillValleyLit: Oh, I was just talking about that with my own DJ friend.

Michelle: That book?

MillValleyLit: Yes. It was made into a movie with Ralph Fiennes. Julianne Moore was Oscar nominated.

Michelle: Yes, I just love that book and there's a lot about writing in there.

MillValleyLit: I don’t remember that, just the obsessive hopeless love, and the London Blitz of course. Is there?

Michelle: There's a lot about storytelling in the book so I quoted the Graham Greene book about the story has no beginning and no end, arbitrarily when to determine the moment. I'm misquoting here but where the story ends and where the story begins.

MillValleyLit: Yes. That Thorpe character kept quoting it like it was his own quotes, but they weren't!

Michelle: Yes, they weren't his! He was stealing them. The idea came from the Graham Greene book and so that was really fun. Especially…a lot of people didn't want the math stuff but not every book is for every person. It's not that I would never make different choices if I were to go back and there's nothing that I would take out, but to me, it keeps the writing fun.

MillValleyLit: Some readers must find it really fascinating in Marriage Pact. Like, "Oh, that's what she's talking about. That makes sense, if all of these marriages fail, then joining this group of successful and successfully married people is a great thing." I have ambivalent feelings about some of the “telling not showing” which can pull one out of the plot. Did you have an editor that said, whoa, hold on here? I know you run stuff through your husband first, he's your first line…

Michelle: Yes, he's my first reader, and then my agent.

MillValleyLit: Was he or your agent saying, "Maybe we should cut some of this out?"

Michelle: Oh, God yes. So I have my editor at Random House—she puts me through the paces. On this one she put me through the paces for probably a year after they had accepted it.

MillValleyLit: Was it much longer?

Michelle: It was much longer, by a lot. For example, there was one scene that was really hard for me to lose that was between when the narrator goes to Ireland, and there was a whole scene that I thought was very important, but it ended up getting cut. There's a lot of stuff that gets cut and a lot of it we agree on.

MillValleyLit: I love the Ireland part.

Michelle: Yes, I'm glad. That part was more in depth and when it was edited, I lost what I felt was really a scene that I wanted in. However, with the publisher you are working with and the editing— and my editor is very hands-on— in a lot of ways that's very good. I mean she's definitely straightforward about how she feels about things and we disagree on a lot of stuff. Then we sort of debate through it until we get to something that we can both agree on.

MillValleyLit: Because there was a chapter just down the beach here at the Cliff House, the old Camera Obscura, about family and teacher relationships with a young person, that was just so emotionally lovely, like the old Michelle Richmond that I know and love, but it “didn’t move the plot forward” as one of my editors likes to remind me.

Michelle: I didn't know I was writing a thriller, so it wasn't my plan. When they said it was a thriller, "We're going to market it as a thriller," they just started chopping stuff away. But I knew a lot of stuff had to be chopped away.

MillValleyLit: And that's always the hardest part but it still hard on a writer, like: "I love this part, I spent a week making this part perfect," and an editor says, “Off with its head!” right?

Michelle: It's true, but most stuff I don't get very married to. Pardon the pun. I'm pretty unemotional about cutting stuff, so I always write with the knowledge I'm going to cut a couple hundred pages and I don't have a problem with it. I normally don't have a problem with cutting stuff I love but it was this one scene that I felt was important for the character that got cut and that was painful. I don't mind cutting paragraphs to streamline, even chapters and my editor just loves to line edit to shorten stuff, especially dialogue, which is fine. I don't mind.

MillValleyLit: Understood. Oh, have you ever read any Karen Joy Fowler?

Michelle: Yes. I had a little dinner with her before going to an event.

MillValleyLit: Oh did you? I've met her, and your style reminds me of hers or vice versa but she's so darkly funny. She has a way in which I wish I could write, where you think it's very serious and dramatic and emotional and suddenly she or the narrator says or does something perfectly silly, yet pithy. I mean you have funny parts, but her dark humor is always underlying and even though the reader knows it, it pops up unexpectedly…

Michelle: I remember her talking about being one of those writers who probably gets put in a category that may limit her market.

MillValleyLit: Like maybe “chick lit,” which it kind of is— mostly female characters, little masculinity, and so relationship oriented. But, because the relationships are so intricate and strained, with so-familiar yet unique characters, it’s also literary literature.

MillValleyLit: Is using Bay Area locations part of the fun for you?

Michelle: Yes, it's so fun. I would say especially when I was writing The Year of Fog because that was my first book set in San Francisco. When I was writing that we lived first in Westlake in Daly City and then I think when my agent sold it we were living in Outer Richmond. I just spent so much time at Fort Funston and Ocean Beach and in Golden Gate Park. My husband's family grew up in the Richmond and the Sunset, so I just think it's amazing here, so that is so enjoyable. And the new book, The Marriage Pact was fun to figure out locations.

MillValleyLit: Like here, at Java Beach café.

Michelle: Yes. Moreover, I had never written anything set in the Peninsula before and so where he goes to those parties that was kind of fun. It was a little tongue in cheek with the exclusivity of the parties but it was kind of fun.

MillValleyLit: That's where the big fancy parties were, maybe Hillsborough?

Michelle: Yes, there was one in Woodside and one in Hillsborough. Also, when I was writing Golden State and the narrator takes that trip from one end of the city to the other that was fun because I actually rode a cable car and then a bus for a long way down California Street. That was a long time ago, but I was researching the book and that was a blast. It caused me even though as you say, in my head from living here, but a lot of it about this place. It forces me to find out things that I didn't know before about San Francisco. Like about the sea wall at Ocean Beach having gravestones in it, that's really bizarre.

MillValleyLit: Really? I know a lot about the City, as I was a transplant, like you, and just fascinated about the places that natives can take for granted. You certainly did put a lot in. I love it that you embed all these little “SanFranciscophile” places, which make your books seem more real and personal. Even, oh, Ben Fong-Torres, you've put him into a book.

Michelle: When I was writing No One You Know, I had gotten to a point where I couldn't figure out what happened next. There was this event at the San Francisco Public library, and they do it every year, an annual author's dinner. You bring your spouse to the thing and they do a photo with all the authors in the theatre. When I came out from the shoot, my husband was talking to this lady. She was super nice and it turned out it was Ben's wife, so we became friends and then we started doing stuff together.

MillValleyLit: Was that while you were still living in the Castro? Because that's where he “lives” in the book. I think maybe in real life.

Michelle: That's when we were living in the Richmond. It occurred to me that I could have a character that was very much like him, which sort of turned the story of No One You Know and I wrote it. I asked him, "Is that okay and is it okay if I kind of use your house?" And he said, "Yeah, that's fine," and then I said, "Can I use your name?" And he said, "Yeah, that's okay." and then he actually came to the book launch and read with me.

MillValleyLit: Oh, that's so cool. He read his part? You did you a dramatic reading?

Michelle: Yes, he read his part.

MillValleyLit: I love it.

Michelle: And he did an interview with me and I don't know where that is now, it was an audio interview but he is great and super nice and he was very sporting about it.

MillValleyLit: So, southern writers, Patrick Conroy. Have you read much of his?

Michelle: Yes, when I was in high school, that was the first book that I ever read that wasn't the sort of the books you read in high school. I had this great creative writing teacher, Anne Inge, and she assigned The Prince of Tides.

MillValleyLit: Back then, pretty strong stuff for a teen.

Michelle: And it was so creepy and so riveting. I don't know how I would feel about it now but I remember at that time, just thinking, "Wow, this is amazing." 

MillValleyLit: Really damn good.

Michelle: I had never read anything like that before and then the movie too, with Nick Nolte in the movie.

MillValleyLit: Right, and Barbra Streisand.

Michelle: So yes, I read that way back.

MillValleyLit: Because he wrote South of Broad, which was kind of so-so for me, but he did a lot of gorgeous, poetic descriptions of San Francisco settings, which inspired my writing…. and even Herb Caen makes an appearance!

Michelle: I have to read that.

MillValleyLit: He had a whole chapter. Herb Caen talking as one of the main characters, I don't know if it's a narrator or not but the main character is negotiating with Herb Caen to publish something in his column to help find his missing twin sister brother, something like that. But it was - well I guess if you're a somebody, especially a somebody like Patrick Conroy, you can get away with that, but that was impressive. So I thought of that when you inserted Ben Fong.

Michelle: Did you ever meet Herb Caen?

MillValleyLit: I have, yes I did. Another writing inspiration. I love him. Let's see, how about Jennifer Egan?

Michelle: You know, I'm on a board with her so I've met her and I liked A Visit from the Goon Squad. She has a new book out that I haven't read yet, Manhattan Beach.

MillValleyLit: Oh, I’ll have to read that. Last I checked on her she did a futuristic thriller, Black Box.

Michelle: Oh yes, I'm not as familiar. Was she from back East?

MillValleyLit: Chicago, but she grew up here. That's how she met Steve Jobs and they were an item. She was in the same private school, Burkes, as my wife, only a year behind. In MillValleyLit I printed a picture of them from the Burke’s Yearbook, in their little schoolgirl skirts. You're on a board with her?

Michelle: It's the Author's Guild.

MillValleyLit: Did you ever read Invisible Circus? Oh my God, it's like you two were separated at birth on this one.

Michelle: Really? I have to read it. No, but I will.

MillValleyLit: I think Goon Squad was kind of overrated, I mean a Pulitzer? and I’ve read all her novels and short stories, but I liked the ambitious concept, and especially the Mabuhay punk rock scene because I lived through it. My favorite is Invisible Circus and it is similar to your No One You Know. Two San Francisco sisters, one is gone, the older, cooler sister is gone and the little sister goes off to Europe and retraces her steps, her life, searching for what happened to her.

Michelle: When did it come out?

MillValleyLit: That was Jennifer’s first book, so it's been a while. Mid-nineties?

Michelle: That's so interesting to hear because you never know what similarities people are seeing or like what similarities and subject matter because there are a lot of books, right?

MillValleyLit: Right, there are, thankfully. I can’t imagine life without books. Books kind of saved me from a misspent youth. [laughs]

Michelle: So, even if you've read one book by an author, you would never, unless somebody specifically points it out to you, you might not see it.

MillValleyLit: [looking at iPhone] 1995, it came out in 1995. That was before your time, you were still a little girl.

Michelle: Well not quite, I was 25 to be precise.

MillValleyLit: Okay, speaking of San Francisco settings, how about Vertigo, have you seen?

Michelle: Yes. I love Hitchcock.

MillValleyLit: Oh great! Here we go, in No One You Know, Lila, the cool math sister, tells the story to her little sister, Emily the narrator, about Orpheus and Eurydice.

Michelle: I really don't remember why she tells her that story.

MillValleyLit: Because she's cool. She's cool and intellectual, and it’s an allegory to the plot. She talks about Orpheus, whose love of his life, his wife, dies.

Michelle:  Right. Orpheus goes to Hades and plays his lyre and negotiates to get Eurydice back. And Orpheus is allowed to leave with her, only if he does not look at her on the way out of the Underworld. But he can’t resist looking at his beautiful wife, and he tragically loses her again.

MillValleyLit: Yes, I just reread that scene, and it parallels Vertigo, based on a French novel, translates to something like Between Two Deaths. Hitch just adapted it and instead of Paris set it in San Francisco, like your novel. The translated book is available. I’ve seen Vertigo more than ten times. But it was your book, No one You Know, that made me realize that Scotty, in Vertigo, losing his love twice, is just like Orpheus! It’s a classic allegory. Like the narrator sister in your book, and Jennifer Egan’s, who kind of lives through losing her sister twice.

Michelle: You really are so thorough; it's really pretty great.

MillValleyLit: Yes, it's a sickness. [laughs] Sorry, my extrapolations get away from me sometimes.

Michelle: You know, you forget because after a while, because some of my books came out so long ago, you sort of forget, like things start to run together because you never reread your own book after it comes out. It's great to be reminded of those things that have kind of gotten lost, and then I lose more.

MillValleyLit: Well, you have a lot of books out. I have that same fear, I'm pretty sure my second novel is going to get published. I'm going to try do a book deal and get the first one published, too but I have the same fear, like somebody's going to ask me some arcane question and it was something I wrote years back and I'm going to not even know what to say except, "I'll get back to you."

Michelle: You just wing it. I'm so glad you noticed that.

MillValleyLit: Oh, In Cold Blood. In No One You Know, you talk about In Cold Blood. I keep going back to this book— I know you probably want to talk more about your new book, but I’m a fan of all your work. The creepy writer Thorpe in your book, titles his book, A Tale of Two Sisters, which I like better than your title, No One You Know.

Michelle: Yes, I liked that better too, I didn't like that title. My title was A Beginner's Book of Numbers but they wouldn't let me use that title.

MillValleyLit: Interesting. I get it because there's a lot of math in there, right? My In Cold Blood influence, I just wanted to tell you, it came out in 1966, but it was one of the first grown-up books I bought as a pre-teen.

Michelle: Oh really, did it scare you to death?

MillValleyLit: It had a big impact, yes.

Michelle: Did it inspire you to write or it just scared you?

MillValleyLit: Probably just scared me, because it was so real. It was real. I grew up in a small, Midwestern town, not Kansas, but Illinois, so… But later, I wondered, is this the same author who wrote Breakfast at Tiffany's? Is this the same guy? What happened to him?

Michelle: You know, right now I'm watching, and I say I'm watching continuously because I only watch it when I'm on the elliptical, every few days I'll watch a few minutes of the Truman Capote movie, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman.

MillValleyLit: Oh, pardon my sidetrack, but speaking of cults like “The Pact” in your book, Hoffman was also excellent in that Scientology inspired movie, The Master.

Michelle: Yes. Scientology. I won’t go there right now. Anyway, the movie Capote is good, about Truman writing In Cold Blood.

MillValleyLit: Right, and he became sucked in and became obsessed with one of the killers. He went native. [laughs] Capote must have been a real hell-on-wheels in Manhattan and those society people underestimated this Southern boy and his “dumb” drawl, jus’ like The Prince of Tides character, Tom Wingo. Then Capote turned it into his own Truman show, and did a tell-all of all the society ladies and even though it was bitchy thing to do, it must have been pretty funny to the “common folk.”

Michelle: Yes, Capote had some issues. In Monroeville, Alabama, where both he and Harper Lee grew up as childhood friends, they have this annual Harper Lee Festival that I went to a few years ago to speak. They do To Kill a Mockingbird, the play, every year in the courthouse.

MillValleyLit: Oh really, they re-enact To Kill a Mockingbird? I would like to see that.

Michelle: Yes, it's really interesting. Yes. I'm going to go back again for a Truman Capote event.

MillValleyLit: Yo Ho, Yo Ho, it’s a writer’s life for you! This has been an outstanding conversation. I could talk to you for hours more, but I know you have to go finish your next bestseller. Thanks so much, Michelle Richmond.




* Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö are the married authors of a series of ten novels, collectively titled The Story of a Crime. Martin Beck is the fictional Swedish police detective who is the main character in the stories which are are frequently referred to as the Martin Beck stories.

The Talented Mr. Ripley, 1955 psychological thriller novel by Patricia Highsmith. The movie starred Matt Damon and Jude Law with a standout performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman.

The Master is a 2012 American psychological drama film starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, and Amy Adams. The film was partly inspired by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. It tells the story of Freddie Quell [Phoenix], a World War II veteran struggling to adjust to a post-war society, who meets Lancaster Dodd [Hoffman], a leader of a religious movement known as "The Cause". Despite its oddly mixed pedigree of being based on Hubbard, as well as early drafts of the There Will Be Blood movie—inspired by Upton Sinclair, drunk Navy stories that Jason Robards had told to the writer, Paul Thomas Anderson, and the life story of John Steinbeck, it received critical acclaim.

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All uncredited photos: J. Macon King

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