A Writer’s San Francisco

“Maisel has a wonderful voice and A Writer’s San Francisco reads like a gritty, fluent love letter. He moves seamlessly between thoughtful descriptions of modern San Francisco and the San Francisco of the ’60s and ’70s in narratives that bring the city alive on the page. His affection and respect for the city are inspiring to all writers and artists, but also to anyone who has ever spent time in San Francisco and fallen in love with her.” – Chris DeLorenzo, Laguna Writers Workshops

“From Bernal Hill to Washington Square Park, Alcatraz Island to the West Portal Tunnel, Eric Maisel has traveled physically and metaphorically, and in this beautiful new book, he gives the reader a guided tour of heart, soul, and place.

“The physical book is stunningly beautiful. Paul Madonna’s colorful drawings of buildings, streets, interiors, and still-life scenes add amazing depth to the narrative. A center foldout shows a typically hilly San Francisco street full of narrow houses and flats with a view to the Golden Gate Bridge. Quotations by Imogen Cunningham, Dylan Thomas, Mark, Twain, and Oscar Wilde on the reverse side attest to the strength and attractions of the city.

“Those who have followed Maisel’s career, read his books on writing, received his frequent newsletters, and participated in his creativity workshops will be further entranced by this book of reflections, memories, and wise observations, but any author or artist who has fallen in love with a city – or, indeed, any place – will find this ‘Guided Journey of the Creative Soul’ irresistible. Highly recommended. ~Lori L. Lake, Midwest Book Review

“Eric Maisel, described by his publisher as ‘America’s foremost creativity coach’ has written this delightful little book with, it seems, two types of readers in mind. The first is the person who knows and loves the city of San Francisco, and the second is the writer – or would-be writer – seeking to access their innate creativity and conquer writers’ block. The thirty individual short essays profile ‘inspiring writing locations’ in the San Francisco area, a smattering of literary history, and tips and strategies to ‘inspire writers to write’. I confess that the notion of a ‘creativity coach’ did inspire some ‘only in America’ musings in this reader, but I was quickly won over by the author’s warm, friendly tone and his truisms about the creative process that permeate the entire text.

“In fact, I haven’t enjoyed a book on writing this much since encountering Stephen King’s On Writing some years ago. When I got to the end of A Writer’s San Francisco, I actually felt compelled to go back to the beginning and reread it immediately, such is its charm and inspirational qualities. Along with the author’s own musings on the literary (and his own personal) history with various sites around the city – including the Golden Gate Bridge, the famed City Lights Bookstore and the Bernal Heights area – the text is laden with helpful aphorisms for the creative soul who feels ‘stuck’. Quotable passages abound. This, for example: ‘Nature gives us thirty years or a hundred, a quill pen or its equivalent, and odd thoughts that need to settle on paper or else turn to dust’ (p.4).

“In discussing the city’s demographics, Maisel writes that San Francisco – like Paris – ‘is an important, well-marked stop on the bohemian international highway’, and cites the city’s rich history, from the bohemian enclaves of the 1890s, to the rise of the Beat poets, to the Summer of Love, as proof of his claim that San Francisco is home to more intelligent, thoughtful, creative and non-conformist people than just about any other city in the US, a fact made all the more remarkable given the small size of the city (46.7 square miles), compared with, for example, Los Angeles (469 square miles) or Houston (579 square miles). The effect of this is that ‘smart people with ideas are crammed together and stand in line at the same cafes, go to the same outdoor film festivals, … shop at the same farmers’ markets, and frequent the same bars’ (p.46). Essentially, Maisel’s advice to the writer is that this city is a true ‘home’ for the creative soul, and that its bohemian qualities create inspiration and a sense of continuity with the family of creative humanity.

“Maisel also gets down to the nitty gritty of looking at the kinds of people that become writers. He gives the reader permission to embrace their writerly self, with all its bizarre appetites and creeping paranoias. Some more quotable quotes: ‘There are reasons why writers who write a lot, as Rudyard (Kipling) did, have big appetites. They are dancing bundles of desire. Writers who write crave sex, peanuts, and Nobel Prizes. They crave; they itch; they lust; they are alive. Whether they manage this mélange of desires well is a separate matter. But without this dancing, pressing desire they would sit quietly like old folks lined up in the corridor of a nursing home. Honor your goal to create a world by burning with desire. Be incandescent – or nothing will happen’ (p.88).

“Maisel even has practical advice for the stay-at-home parent writer about how to find the time to write while keeping the kids supervised and occupied. He points out that the writer who has no time to write will be miserable, and this in turn will make his or her family miserable. ‘Writing is a writer’s prime parenting skill. If you don’t write, you get sad, angry, unhinged, gloomy, pessimistic, and morose. By writing first thing in the morning, as your children play or toddle off to school, you put yourself in the mood to smile at them when next you see them. Writing is a tonic, an elixir, even if it goes badly, because even if it goes badly at least you have been writing’ (p.92).

“All writers instinctually know these things, but it’s terrific to see it all laid out in black and white by a ‘successful’ writer, who openly confesses to the same difficulties and anxieties as the novice. Maisel’s text makes one want to write, and to write better, more consistently, more religiously. In acknowledging the free, nonconformist nature of the creative soul, Maisel helps the reader give themselves permission to create, and to create abundantly.

“Each chapter of the book is prefaced by one of Paul Madonna’s lovely drawings of various aspects of the city, covering not only architecture, but also odd views of back alleys, old cars, artist’s studios, roof gables, and webs of electrical and trolley car wires, all of which communicate the city’s unique charm. I’ve never been to San Francisco – although, like most western writers I’ve always been aware of it as a kind of Shangri-La – but after reading this I feel I know the city better and, more importantly, can find ways to harness the type of energy Maisel claims San Francisco emanates for my own creative purposes.”—Liz Hall-Gowns, The Compulsive Reader

“What makes San Francisco special for writers? Eric Maisel may have a few answers. In A Writer’s San Francisco, Maisel, a writer, therapist and creativity coach, discusses the lure of San Francisco for writers and artists who don’t feel quite at home anywhere else – with the possible exception of Paris.

“In this slim volume of beautifully-crafted essays, Maisel covers both the obvious writer highlights – City Lights Bookstore and the bohemian charm of North Beach – and the not so obvious facts – for example, that San Francisco has a highly-educated workforce, second only to that of Washington, D.C. As he puts it, “This passionate, educated, eclectic, dreamy, hardworking, half-disillusioned, half-manic brain trust wanders this hilly town and, like the fog, seeps into its bistros, its Mystery Bookstore, its leather bars, everywhere.” The city is also somewhere between 10 and 20 percent gay, and Maisel further notes that “gay towns are creative towns.”

“Altogether, the unusual mix that is San Francisco – artists, creatives, gays, Asians, Latinos and many others – creates a distinctly tolerant, sometimes radically open society. As much as it is about San Francisco, A Writer’s San Francisco is also about the writing life in general – in particular, the writer’s oftentimes difficult relationship with the world. Maisel talks about the details of being a working writer with great honesty: for example, working on a book he knew wasn’t turning out well (and being less than forthcoming about it to his editor), jealousy of other writers’ success, and similar issues. He describes the writer’s odd passion for sitting in cafes to write, including an amusing story about his “doppelganger,” a fellow writer that he saw at his cafe every day. The two writers never spoke to each other, even when forced to share a table when the cafe was full. Maisel later discovers that his doppelganger is a successful published author, and he muses over the difference between the two of them, who were at the cafe to actually work, and the rather more dilettantish “writers” who frequented the cafe.

“And encompassing all of this is the city itself – San Francisco – a cool, serene muse, whose beauty not only inspires but supports all of its creative children. Maisel isn’t objective about his city and doesn’t pretend to be. Tourists come to San Francisco, he says, because ‘the heart needs a break from its everyday aching’ and the scenic beauty of the city’s waterfront and its artiness are balms for the soul.

“As Maisel puts it, there’s a ‘bohemian international highway’ and San Francisco is one of its well-established rest stops. Writers everywhere sense that San Francisco is one of their natural native grounds, a place where freedom and creation can blend together. It’s a place that some of them do, and many of them want to, call home. Note: A Writer’s San Francisco is beautifully illustrated by Paul Madonna, a San Francisco local artist, cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle and creator of the “All Over Coffee” comic series.– FUJOSHICAT

“I have never been to San Francisco but now I know I’d like to. I can’t imagine a mere travel guide having this impact but Eric Maisel’s warm and lovely book makes me want to save those pennies and book the first flight that’ll take me!

“Eric Maisel, for those not in the know, is a psychotherapist who specializes in creativity coaching. Any kind of creativity, though he is a writer himself. He comes over as deeply humane and great fun, and there isn’t any psychobabble or any other form of waffle in the whole book (or in any others he has written, for that matter.) The book is divided up into little pieces (“essays” sounds a bit dry, which these are not) and in each one he uses a particular locale or aspect of San Francisco as a launch-pad for reflections on such things as: how to deal with the frustration of seeing other writers clinch deals when you have not; how to be a decent parent as well as a writer; the responsibility of the writer to be an ethical human being, not just a producer of fine writing. For these reasons, it is perfectly possible to read this book even if you have never stepped foot in San Francisco.

“HOWEVER, the book is also very much a love-poem to the city. Why does Maisel love it? Partly because it’s home. Partly because it is multi-racial and multi-cultural and has a vibrant book scene and great cafes and a good climate … and is also a city well known for its genuine tolerance of everything bohemian, everything arty. True, it is in an earthquake zone, but Maisel actually finds this helpful as a metaphor for the writing life. Frankly, it would make me a just a teeny bit anxious. But probably not enough to not go. San Francisco is joie de vivre and good coffee and plenty of places for walking and writing and just being.

“Maisel indicates at one point in this book that ‘one day’ he will have to write a writer’s guide to New York. Looking forward to that … In the meantime, this will keep me busy. And his excellent and evocative “Writer’s Guide to Paris”. Oh, and writing.”—Ilonacat

“I opened the book randomly to page 33, where the first line of the chapter read, “For a year I dated a schizophrenic poet– let’s call her Carol.”

“This is a travel guide?!

“This essay was about a woman who hallucinated roses and poked strangers in the midriff and ended up institutionalized for some time, but who also wrote and recited poetry when she was “sane.’ And at one reading, a woman came up to her and said, ‘You are a real poet.’ It’s the validation every writer craves, and it’s the theme of this essay. Sure, the setting is San Francisco, but this is no ‘You must see this fine little café with the lovely murals’ guide.

“Having been drawn in by this essay, I flipped back to the first page and began reading. It’s even more of a niche book than I imagined. It’s written for nonreligious Democrat novelists who consider themselves ‘artists’ and love San Francisco. I am precisely none of these things.

“Considering how far out of his target market I am, I probably shouldn’t have enjoyed this book. But I did. I enjoyed it despite wanting to toss mackerel at his kneecaps a few times. I enjoyed it partly because of that, maybe. What really matters, above all else, is that he’s writing about the lives of writers. And even if I roll my eyes at the idea of ‘artistes’ in coffee houses, we’re going to have a lot in common.

“The experience of walking into a bookstore and finding out someone else has already written the book you were planning to write, for instance. Trying to write even through tragedy and pressures. Missing a fabulous writing opportunity because you were in the wrong place at the right time. Blowing your first public speaking engagement in support of your book. Having conversations about the meanings of words like ‘haberdashery.’

“There are brilliant sentences and paragraphs here, things you’ll wish you wrote. There are experiences you’ll ‘get’ even if you’ve never had them. This is part of the brotherhood and sisterhood of writers. The part that believes, regardless of what we write and where we live and what demographic boxes we check on subscription forms, that the merits of our work are still important. That those who try to belittle the craft should have their noses rearranged. That writing matters.” – Jenna Glatzer

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