September 27, 2016

Global Soul: Chilean author Isabel Allende at home in SF Bay Area, 2016

Ever since I read The House of the Spirits in the 1980s I’ve adored Isabel Allende. She’s a natural-born storyteller, warm-hearted and insightful with a wicked sense of fun. I had the opportunity to interview her for my 2004 book of interviews with writers, A Sense of Place. I was elated last year when a magazine asked me to write about her adopted home, the San Francisco Bay Area, and how Allende has found her place so many mile from home. Ultimately this story is about Allende and her remarkable ability to transcend tragedy.

Halfway through an hourlong talk to a group of aspiring writers last August, Chilean author Isabel Allende was asked: “If you were a character in an Isabel Allende novel, where would you put yourself?”

Without missing a beat the petite writer said: “First of all, I would have long legs, I would be beautiful, I would be stunning, and smart, very strong and independent. What was the question?”

“Location: where would you be?”

“In bed with someone,” she shot back. “It doesn’t matter the town.”

Hanging on the beloved author’s every word, the audience in Marin County (just north of San Francisco) erupted in laughter. And just about everyone who asked her a question that day at Book Passage, a bookstore in Corte Madera, addressed her simply as “Isabel” as if they were talking to an old friend.

Yosemite with Ansel Adams, Press Democrat (Aug. 2015)

With Yosemite preparing to celebrate its 125th anniversary (Oct. 1, 2015), my wife and I spent four days there in midsummer seeking new perspectives on the park.

Paul Theroux’s Cape Cod, Inspirato, Summer 2015

I first interviewed Paul Theroux in 2004 for my book, A Sense of Place, a collection of interviews with the world’s leading travel writers. Though some consider him brusque, blunt and — this irritates him the most — curmudgeonly, I found him to be engaging and genuinely interested in me when we met in San Francisco a couple of weeks after the interview. We spoke again in 2015 for this story on Cape Cod and how his adopted home has become so important not just for his personal happiness but for his writing life.

Here’s an excerpt from the story: Theroux said the potential dangers of paddling around the Cape tuned his senses to hazards while traveling abroad. “This complex landscape has taught me ways of measuring the world of risk,” he writes in “The True Size of Cape Cod,” an essay in Fresh Air Fiend. “But the word ‘landscape’ presents a problem on the Cape. I find it hard to separate the land from the water, or the water from the winds.”

In our interview Theroux noted that the “Cape waters, and Nantucket Sound especially, can be dangerous in a small boat – even in a big boat.” The ocean liner Queen Elizabeth II ran aground 10 miles west of Martha’s Vineyard in August 1992, forcing the evacuation of more than 1,800 passengers, according to the New York Times, and knocking the ship out of commission for a year.

Wash Post: Dylan Thomas’s Wales

“Listen to (his most famous poem) from a child’s point of view,” Annie says. “His father wouldn’t give Dylan the words he needed like ‘well done’ or ‘I’m proud of you.’ The work between father and son wasn’t finished.”

Michael Shapiro among authors featured in Best Travel Writing, appears at Book Passage on March 1, 2015, at 4pm

The key to making a travel story – or just about any kind of story – compelling is a convincing sense of place.

Review of Sarah Vowell’s “Unfamiliar Fishes”

Last year I reviewed Sarah Vowell’s book “Unfamiliar Fishes” for the San Francisco Chronicle. It’s an uneven book, but recently I’ve learned of a book by Julia Flynn Siler that appears much more promising: Lost Kingdom. I look forward to reading Siler’s book, “a tale of one of the most breathtaking land grabs of the […]

Burning the devil in Guatemala – American Way magazine

The flames rise 30 feet into the air, casting a lurid glow on spectators’ faces. The burning effigy gives off a villainous stench, its acrid smoke engulfing the plaza. Bomberos (firefighters) watch nervously as thousands of Guatemalans howl and rejoice, stamping their feet and jumping into the air to get a better view of the demise of el diablo.

Anne Lamott on her baby having a baby

When my book A Sense of Place came out a few years ago I got compliments about being a good interviewer. But here’s the secret: I interviewed people — the world’s leading travel writers — who had something to say. I had a similarly delightful experience interviewing author Anne Lamott who recently published Some Assembly […]

Video: Yellowstone with Tim Cahill

A few years ago a producer asked Tim Cahill and me to record an interview at Yellowstone. Here’s the 10-minute pilot that came from that weekend in the snow.

BookTV telecast w/ Cahill, Allende et al

In 2004, the launch event for my book “A Sense of Place” was a conversation in San Francisco with Isabel Allende, Tim Cahill, Jeff Greenwald and Jan Morris. It’s 90 minute long but you can watch it in segments. Click here to watch the video.