The literary bona fides of Pasadena have never been much in doubt. It's a small, sophisticated town with a hunger for words and the people who write them, from the old adventure novels of Zane Gray to the modern hard-boiled fiction of Denise Hamilton. Now, in celebration of that lineage, comes "Literary Pasadena: The Fiction Edition."
The book is a collection of contemporary fiction, mixing short stories and excerpts from novels — some original, some previously published — by authors currently living in the Crown City, who grew up there or who write about the city as if it were their own.
"There's a surprisingly large community of writers in this area," says Patricia O'Sullivan, the book's editor. "We were blown away by the quality of work that we have. We could easily do a second volume."
The book was released in the spring by Prospect Park Books, founded in 2006 by Colleen Dunn Bates and initially from her home, to publish fiction, humor and cookbooks. The first book from Prospect Park was "Hometown Pasadena," and the company now releases 10 books a year. O'Sullivan is also an associate publisher there.
"It's an extraordinarily rich community, but its also a world-reowned community," says O'Sullivan, who is originally from Connecticut but arrived in nearby Altadena in the 1980s, raised her kids there and has remained ever since. "So we have stories that mention the Rose Bowl and the Rose parade and the craftsman homes and things Pasadena is known for, but there are also many lesser known things in the city that come up.
"When you say write a story about Pasadena, it's really not a hard thing to do because you can go in a number of directions."
A key contributor to the book's pages is author and journalist Michelle Huneven, who wrote the introduction and the short story "Interest," which follows the missed signals and missed opportunities between a comfortably retired man and his adult daughter.
In her introduction, Huneven notes of the city and its environs, "If the writing life is grounded in solitude and silence, it helps to have beauty nearby. Pasadena's Arroyo and mountains, its fine architecture and old trees...feed the imagination and the soul."
And, she quickly adds, "Pasadena is no cultural backwater." Not with a rich community of major museums, theaters and two large and essential bookstores — Vroman's and Barnes & Noble — that host full calendars of literary events.
Included in "Literary Pasadena" is Naomi Hirahara's "The White Tuxedo" and Erica Zora Wrightson's "Bel Canto," Denise Hamilton's "The Lady of the Canyons" and Lawrence Wilson's "Old for California," an excerpt. Another excerpt comes from David Ebershoff, an editor at Random House in New York, who grew up in Pasadena and provides a glimpse from his novel, "Pasadena."
"We did it in a shockingly short amount of time," O'Sullivan says of the process of creating the book. "We started in early August and we went to press in November. But I was really working on it full time and taking submissions, reading. Michelle [Huneven] and Naomi [Hirahara] were so instrumental to getting the word out to other writers. They really quickly got to lots of great writers."
One story that captured the editor's attention was "Thunder," by Dennis Fulgoni, which follows the reaction to the arrival of a crowd of bikers rolling into town, who turn out to be employees of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Of the 29 stories in the book, O'Sullivan says, "One interesting thing is the range. We have stories that are very, very dark. When you think of this sunny beautiful place, you don't expect this dark material."
For more information, see prospectparkbooks.com.
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