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Local Writers Meet, Mingle at UCI Event : Friends of Library Reception Salutes Wide Mix of Authors

Times Staff Writer

As an annual literary salon, it is probably as diverse a group of authors as might be assembled under one roof.

It’s an opportunity for Elizabeth Chater, author of “Runaway Debutante,” to meet K. Kit Sum, author of “Switch Mode Power Conversion,” and for Maureen McClintock Rischard, author of “The Centennial History of Tustin Presbyterian Church,” to meet T. Jefferson Parker, author of “Laguna Heat.”

The unusual meeting of these and 18 other Orange County literary minds occurred Wednesday afternoon at the former UC Irvine chancellor’s residence in Newport Beach, which now serves as the university’s hospitality house.

The occasion was a champagne reception sponsored by the UCI Friends of the Library for Orange County authors who had books published in 1985. The 22 authors who attended the gathering--and 28 others who were unable to attend--will be honored April 27 at the Friends’ 21st annual Orange County Authors’ Recognition Dinner at the Regency Hotel in Irvine.

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Opportunity to Mingle

The informal reception in the spacious home overlooking upper Newport Bay offered more than 60 patrons of the annual dinner (mostly members of the Friends group) an opportunity to meet and mingle with the county’s twinkling and full-wattage literary lights.

It also offered the fiction and nonfiction authors a chance to break away from their typewriters and word processors and meet their fellow scribes over hors d’oeuvres and cookies.

For first-time honorees like M. Davis Stephens, a Laguna Hills fourth-grade teacher, recognition by the Friends for her book, “Orange County: A Book for Young Students,” is the icing on the cake of being published for the first time.

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Sipping a cup of coffee on the large patio, Stephens noted that she spent “all my free time for a year or more” writing her book on the history and geography of Orange County.

‘Gee, It’s Wonderful!’

“I don’t know how they (the Friends group) got my name; I don’t know who submitted my book,” she said, enthusiastically adding: “It’s real exciting, though. . . . Gee, it’s wonderful!”

When the newly formed UCI Friends of the Library initiated the author’s recognition dinner in 1965, only 17 books were submitted, and awards were given to what was considered to be “the outstanding book” in each category, explained Claude Brown, president of the group.

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But over the years, as the number of submissions grew to 70 or more, Brown said, the Friends stopped giving awards to individual writers and instead began honoring Orange County writers as “a group of people whose hard work and dedication have resulted in their publishing a book. We consider that to be a major triumph in itself.”

Brown said that of the nearly 70 books submitted for recognition this year, the Friends selected 50 that met their criteria: The book had to have been published in 1985, and the author either must live or work in Orange County.

This year’s crop of honored authors, whose works range from poetry and novels to technical tomes and history books, are in good company.

Brown said, for example, that two years ago “we recognized two people who between them had three books on the New York Times best-seller list"--Joseph Wambaugh (formerly of Newport Beach) and the Rev. Robert Schuller.

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This year, the undisputed “name” Orange County author being recognized by the Friends of the Library is T. Jefferson Parker. Indeed, as one patron inquired at the start of the two-hour reception, “Is our celebrity here, Jeff Parker?”

Parker, whose first novel, “Laguna Heat,” has generated considerable publicity, was cornered while getting a glass of champagne in the dining room.

National Recognition

Since the novel was published last summer, Parker has been featured, complete with a full-page portrait of the author, in Saturday Review magazine. “Laguna Heat” also was reviewed by the Washington Post and Newsweek magazine.

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“The Washington Post said it was a California classic,” said Parker. “Newsweek was more guarded: They said it was a good book, but that it had the faults of a first novel.”

Parker also has sold “Laguna Heat” to Home Box Office to be made into a television movie. New York newspaper columnist and screenwriter Pete Hamill has written a first-draft screenplay, which he currently is rewriting, said Parker.

With the money from book sales and the HBO sale, Parker said, “I’m solvent for the year, and I should finish the second book before then, so I can still float for a while.”

New Mystery Novel

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The second book is a mystery novel called “Little Saigon.” “It takes place half in Laguna Beach and half in Little Saigon--in the Westminster-Garden Grove area,” explained Parker, whose research has involved “a lot of time with the cops up there” and visits to nightclubs.

Because he’s now able to write full time, Parker said his second novel, now half-finished, is getting done much faster than the first. “I’m good for five hours a day behind the word processor. Then I kind of get mush-headed,” he said.

Surveying the crowded room, Parker, a former Orange County newspaper reporter, noted that “I used to cover this thing (the authors’ reception). I always looked forward to it.”

Noting the irony that he is now one of the honored authors instead of a reporter covering the event, Parker acknowledged, “It’s a complete reversal. It still feels weird not to to be asking questions and taking notes.”

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During an hourlong session, master of ceremonies Vick Knight Jr. introduced each author to the more than 60 patrons jammed into the living room and dining room.

The authors talked briefly about either their books, themselves or their insights into writing and publishing. Some highlights:

- Doug Muir (“American Reich”) said he wasn’t sure which was the better title for his second novel, a World War II saga due to be published in the fall: “War Song” or “Drums of War.”

“Would you like us to take a vote on it?” interjected Knight, asking for a show of hands for each title. (“War Song” appeared to be the favorite.)

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- K. Kit Sum (“Switch Mode Power Conversion”) recalled that when he sat down to write his technical book for the electronics industry, he thought the project would be easy. But, he said, “when I sit down and start writing, I realize you need inspiration just like any other (writer).”

- Pat Wallace (“The Children’s Ward”) said before writing a book, she lets it “stew” for a while, then writes it “very fast.” And if the writing “stalls,” she added, “I just pound my head on the wall.”

- Beverly Bush Smith (co-author of “Change for the Better: Preparing for the Freedom of Menopause”) said one publisher turned the book down because he thought “it was kind of a narrow market. And I thought, ‘Well, it’s only half the world. . . .’ ”

- Parker noted that “Laguna Heat” is now being sold in Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Holland, Britain and Japan. “That’s super, and you’ve earned the right to dress that way,” joked Knight, noting Parker’s penchant for dressing a la “Miami Vice.”

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- John Weld (“Young Man In Paris”), looking sartorially resplendent in a red-and-white checked sport coat, pink pants, a white shirt and red tie, said, “I decided this was going to be quite a party, so I dressed up like a strawberry soda.”

At 81, Weld noted, he has been writing for 74 years. “I made a little money with it,” he said, but added: “To really get rich, you’ve got to go out and buy real estate.”

- Suzanne Forster (“Undercover Angel”), who has a three-book contract with Simon & Schuster, said she does her writing in bed because “I wrote the first one in bed and got superstitious.”

And then there is Elizabeth Chater, a retired San Diego State English professor now living in Irvine, who told the gathering she has written 23 books “so far.”

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“Actually,” she said in an interview, “I’m working on the 23rd now and I have four more coming up. I can hardly wait!”

“They’re all romances,” she explained. “One or two are modern, and one is deeply historical. I used to write a lot of science-fiction short stories as a young woman, and I’m 75 years old and still going strong!”

Chater wrote her first romance novel in 1978, a year after she retired. “I had to be busy,” she said.

Hero Is Husband

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Asked why she chose to write romance novels, she smiled and said, “Well, I’m so crazy about my husband.” Although she said they had planned to “spend their golden years together,” her husband died shortly after she retired. “I thought I’d write love stories because I love him so. All the heroes (in her novels) are him--or he.” She laughed: “I’m afraid I’m a romantic.”

Chater said she writes eight hours a day, six days a week. Some of her novels, she said, “I can write in a month or a month-and-a-half. Others take a year. It just depends.”

She laughed again: “I have a word processor. Isn’t that marvelous! A romance writer to have a word processor! . . . I have an awful lot of fun.”

Chater said the Friends of the Library “have me every year. They didn’t hear about me until three years ago. I feel sorry for them having to ask me over and over again.”

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“I love this group,” she added, “It’s just nice. They give you recognition. They are very warm and gracious. I think the first-timer coming here would get not only strokes, but inspiration to do more. They really make you feel you are an important part of the community and they are supporting you, which is always nice.”


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