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By Corrie M. Anders
When he lived in Noe Valley, crime novelist Mark Coggins would often sit on the bench outside Martha's Coffee on Church Street with a scratch pad and a cup of coffee and contemplate the best ways to commit murder and mayhem.
Later, back in his Valley Street home, Coggins would stitch up the plot scenes on his computer and allow his gruff wise-cracking private investigator to unravel yet another mystery.
Coggins will read from his latest whodunit as part of a weeklong smorgasbord of literary events this month, celebrating the reopening of the Noe ValleySally Brunn Library after a two-year renovation.
Mayor Gavin Newsom, Supervisor Bevan Dufty, and City Librarian Luis Herrera will kick off the festivities on March 8 at the 1 p.m. dedication of the branch at 451 Jersey Street. Lion dancers, musicians, and children's entertainers will augment speeches heralding the restored branch, which received $5.7 million in seismic and other improvements.
The Saturday afternoon event also will provide the public with its first official glimpse of 245 commemorative bricks, which library supporters purchased to help the neighborhood raise $200,000 for materials the city's budget did not cover.
The bricks are located on the patio entrance to the 1916 Andrew Carnegie-inspired Beaux Arts building. Kim Drew, fundraising chair of the Noe Valley Library Campaign, says most supporters engraved the $250 bricks with their own names or that of their children, their heroes, and even their pets.
Over the next week, local restaurants will offer special meals called "literary plates," residents will collect and distribute books to homeless shelters, and the neighborhood's three independent bookstores will host readings at a series of Authors Nights.
More than a dozen novelists, poets, essayists, and authors of children's books will showcase their talents and autograph books at the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore, Cover to Cover Booksellers, and Phoenix Books and Records. Guests will be treated to refreshments and many books will be on sale.
The congratulatory string of events is designed "to create a neighborhood spirit and provide an opportunity for neighborhood residents to get together in a fun and casual way," says Mindy Kershner, treasurer of the sponsoring Friends of Noe Valley and chair of the group's "Noe Valley Celebrates the Book Week."
A Dark and Stormy Night
Book Week is a follow-up to last year's popular Authors Nights. The first Authors Night this year, on March 11, will start at 6:30 p.m. at the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore on 24th Street. Four thrill-spillers will read and sign books, including Coggins, 50, who lived in Noe Valley until moving to the Peninsula five years ago with his wife, Linda.
Going to Martha's was a "morning routine," he says. The author also spent lots of time at the Noe Valley Library doing research.
So it's not surprising that numerous connections to Noe Valley show up in his series of four novels starring gumshoe August Riordan. In his first book, The Immortal Game, detective Riordan hangs out at the Rat and Raven pub (now the Valley Tavern) while looking for a paramedic friend, and in Candy from Strangers, he suspects foul play when a female barista disappears from the 24th Street Starbucks.
Coggins will read from his latest work, Runoff, which Bleak House published in November. The San Francisco-based novel features gang turf wars and a Chinatown "Dragon Lady" who hires Riordan to investigate mayoral election fraud.
Russian mobsters, the Chinese underworld, and a female assassin also figure prominently in author Tim Maleeny's two crime novels, Beating the Babushka, which Midnight Ink published in November, and his earlier Stealing the Dragon. In the thick of both is Cape Weathers, a private eye who's not as smart as he thinks he is.
Maleeny, who resided in Noe Valley after moving to San Francisco in the mid-1990s, now lives on the edge of Chinatown with his wife, Kathryn, and daughters, Clare and Helen. And much of the action takes place in and around his neighborhood.
The 45-year-old author says he might unveil portions of Greasing the Piñata, a work-in-progress due out in late 2008 or early next year.
The Mystery Deepens
The Tuesday night lineup also includes Simon Wood, author of Accidents Waiting to Happen, Working Stiffs, Dragged into Darkness, and his latest, Paying the Piper, which Dorchester Publishing brought out in November. Wood's presentation will delve into the nastiness a serial kidnapper wreaks when he snatches the young son of a crime reporter for the San Francisco Independent newspaper.
An English native from a small town outside London, Wood, 39, lives in El Sobrante with his wife, Julie. He recently finished We All Fall Down, due out this summer, and is working on a new untitled novel.
Seth Harwood's writings encompass the high-tech world, even if dot-com success is not in the sights of his protagonist, a down-and-out actor who's barely hanging on in San Francisco. Harwood's novel Jack Palms Wakes Up (Breakneck Books) began as a podcast. Now the Jack Palms Crime Podcast series includes This Is Life and his newest, A Long Way from Disney, which began podcasting last month. The downloads are free at www.sethharwood.com.
"It hasn't been done a lot," says Harwood, 34, who podcasts from a closet-converted studio in the Berkeley home he shares with his wife, Joelle, and Hadley, a chow-lab mix. "Me and a few others...are sort of paving the way with this. We're doing it grassroots and building our own audiences," says Harwood, who's written a dozen short stories and who teaches writing and literature at City College of San Francisco and Chabot College in Hayward.
In his Jack Wakes Up narration, Harwood will reveal the crucibles that his recovering alcoholic faces with a 24-hour deadline to help police track down a gang of Eastern European drug dealers or get thrown into the clink himself.
What Kids Read Cover to Cover
On Wednesday, March 12, Cover to Cover Booksellers, on Castro near 24th Street, will feature local residents Vivian Walsh, a veteran children's writer, and newcomer Leslie Crawford during its 5 to 7 p.m. presentation.
Walsh and former husband J. Otto Seibold have collaborated on nine picture books for children, including the hugely popular Olive, the Other Reindeer, about a dog who hankers to become one of Santa's sky-borne hoofers. Walsh, 47, has two other books awaiting publication and is working on her 12th.
A 25th Street resident, Walsh has been delighting neighborhood children with stories for 15 years. She plans a special treat for youngsters at the literary event: she'll involve them in creating a story fantasy on the spot.
"I'll make up a story with the kids, based in Noe Valley," says Walsh, who has three children of her own: Thea, 15, Amelia, 13, and Uli, 10.
Crawford, who's lived in the neighborhood for 13 years, is a magazine freelance writer and the co-author of City Walks with Kids: San Francisco, a boxed deck of 50 cards that map entertaining walks parents can do with their kids (Chronicle Books 2007). Her co-author and researcher on the project was her 10-year-old son, Sam Fox.
The discussion at Cover to Cover will center on "the best way to inspire kids to go on a walk," says Crawford, 45, who lives on 24th Street with her husband, Steve Fox; plus their son Sam and his sister Molly, 2.
Writers for the Environment
For two hours starting at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 13, Phoenix Books plans to spotlight nature writers from the magazine California Coast & Ocean as a nonfiction salute to local writers. (The 24th Street bookstore also will celebrate its 23rd anniversary, and will offer discount prices during the entire week.)
The magazine's editor, Rasa Gustaitis, 73, a Jersey Street resident since 1973, will lead the group of seven scribes who have written for the quarterly journal, which publishes articles, stories, interviews, essays, and poems on a wide range of subjects related to the California coast.
Gustaitis, who took over the magazine less than a year after Don Neuwirth, another Noe Valley resident, launched it in 1985, says she will read and talk about a couple of her columns in the magazine.
Gustaitis has written three nonfiction books, Turning On (1970), Wholly Round (1973), and A Time to Be Born, a Time to Die: Conflicts and Ethics in an Intensive Care Nursery (1986), as well as several children's books and dozens of magazine articles and guides.
The Phoenix Books appearances also will include senior associate editor Hal Hughes on The Fractal Coast; associate editor Eileen Ecklund with selections from Mapping Past and Present Creeks of San Francisco; freelance Noe Valley writer Jim King on The Canyons of San Diego; nature poet David Schooley, an Abe Doherty coastal wildlands slide presentation, and several short pieces written by young people jailed at Juvenile Hall. Those stories express feelings such as "what the beach means when you can't get to it."
More Food for Thought
The "literary plates" are a bonus feature in Friends of Noe Valley's Book Week and library celebration. Participating restaurants on 24th Street and elsewhere will have a poster in their window describing their special offering--a dish named after a literary work.
"I'm pretty sure most local restaurants are going to participate," says organizer Mindy Kershner. A complete list will be available at the library on March 8, and posted on the community bulletin board in the parking lot on 24th Street between Noe and Castro.
Kershner also encourages residents to donate new and "gently used" books--especially ones for children--as part of the weeklong event. The books should be delivered on either Saturday, March 8, or Saturday, March 15, to the information booth at the Noe Valley Farmers' Market, open 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on 24th Street near Vicksburg. After the two-day collection, the Friends will deliver the books to several family shelters. For more information, call Kershner at 415-377-3890.
A Literary Feast
Here is the lineup for the dedication of the Noe ValleySally Brunn Library and related Book Week activities March 8 to 15. Also, look for "literary plates" to be served at local restaurants all week long.
March 8: Grand Reopening Noe Valley Library, 451 Jersey St., with lion dancers, refreshments, and crafts for children.
* 1 p.m. Mayor Gavin Newsom, Supervisor Bevan Dufty, and City Librarian Luis Herrera officially open library.
* 2 p.m. Library services begin.
March 11: Authors Night featuring Mark Coggins, Tim Maleeny, Simon Wood, and Seth Harwood. San Francisco Mystery Bookstore, 4175 24th St., 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
March 12: Authors Night featuring Vivian Walsh and Leslie Crawford. Cover to Cover Booksellers, 1307 Castro St., 5 to 7 p.m.
March 13: Authors Night featuring editors and writers from California Coast & Ocean. Phoenix Books and Records, 3850 24th St., 7 to 9 p.m.
March 8 & March 15: Book Drive, a collection of new and "gently used" books for distribution to family shelters. Noe Valley Farmers' Market, 24th Street near Vicksburg, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.