J. D. Kleinke

J. D. Kleinke

My new one is out! That Golden Shore, the sequel to Dudeville, was published in March 2021. I wrote That Golden Shore while living, surfing, teaching yoga, and playing music in Half Moon Bay and Encinitas, California, finishing it after my wife and I re-located to Portland, Oregon. Here's my Author's Note for the book, written from Cannon Beach, Oregon, while much of California and Oregon were on fire last fall... It gives me no satisfaction – two years after starting That Golden Shore while living in the surf and yoga mecca of Encinitas, California – that its first plot twist would be so painfully prescient. Consistent with the impulse behind the entire book, I wanted to a write an anguished love letter of sorts to Big Sur, one of the world’s most spectacular coastal landscapes. Two years earlier, a huge swath of this reclusive jewel of the California Coast had been consumed by wildfire, and the rains that followed swept the top of a mountain and a whole stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway down to the ocean below. Stuck “back East” for the first 30 years of my life, Big Sur was the site of my first adventure west of the Mississippi, the first place in the American West that ever mattered to me, and a frequent refuge since moving to California. Friends who homesteaded up one of its rugged, redwood-filled canyons had lost everything in that fire. And all of it was suddenly cut off, from the north and the south. So when I sat down to write That Golden Shore, I wanted to memorialize Big Sur’s transcendent beauty and anachronistic cultural history, to mark the size and scope of those natural disasters on a human scale, what it felt like measured against an idyllic sunset surf in one of its isolated breaks on an oddly hot evening. Two years later, as I prepare That Golden Shore for publication, I’m writing from another surf mecca far to the north. We have been evacuated to a hotel on the Oregon coast, under a blood-red, mid-afternoon sunset sky, after smoke from down in California – along with our own fires – has forced ten percent of the Oregon population to flee their homes. So far, wildfires have consumed four million acres of the Golden State this year, double its next worst year, an area the size of entire states “back East.” What has turned the midday sunset sky out over the Pacific such a menacing color isn’t just the particulate ash of ten million trees: it’s what has become of five thousand homes, schools, barns, and businesses, the California dream, gone literally up in smoke. We moved up to Oregon a year ago, our own version of the California Dream finally succumbing not just to the fires, landslides, droughts, and maniacal traffic, but to the soul-crushing extremes of wealth and poverty; the raging river of luxury cars that rush past shantytowns lining the crumbling freeways; the great voids where communities ought to be; a populace consumed by long commutes, financial stress or striving, and lost to self-absorption, youth-worship, and the latest shiny spiritual object. That Golden Shore is the measure of my disappointment, a bittersweet love letter for a place that has been breaking my heart since I first pitched a tent in Big Sur 30 years ago. It is a work of nostalgia for everything California used to be, or at least pretended to be, an examination of all the false promises it ever made and the countless other hearts it has been breaking not just for the past few decades, but for centuries. I wanted to capture that collision of history, culture, and spirituality that have seduced people to California for centuries, and memorialize its fragile, vanishing, impossible beauty. Because like its namesake, Calafia – the mythic warrior goddess in a popular 16th-century European romance who ruled the vast, wild, golden island north of Spanish-held Mexico – California seduces with her raw, physical beauty. With the back roads through the Sierra Nevada, the fog rolling in through a redwood grove up north, the transcendent power of standing on an empty beach and watching the sun set. In That Golden Shore, I wanted to capture the emotional power of all that, of a place so beautiful and ephemeral, it is almost painful to behold. I have been fortunate to spend much of my life running around the most spectacular landscapes in America – Alaska and Hawai’i, the Rockies and Desert Southwest and Pacific Northwest – and I can say without hesitation that there is no greater compression of raw physical beauty in America than what you will find California. Half a day’s drive takes you from Yosemite Valley to Napa, from Pismo Beach to Joshua Tree, from the Marin Headlands to Mendocino. These are not only the most beautiful places in the country; they rival the most beautiful places in the world. But those half-day drives will also make you insane: the mind-numbing traffic jams in the middle of nowhere; the grinding poverty and garbage lining the roadways; the stench, depletion, and mono-cultural desolation of the Central Valley; the hair-trigger road rage of every guy behind you in a jacked up truck or day-glo muscle car. California wasn’t like that 30 years ago. Yes, there were slums in L.A., San Francisco, and Oakland, and miles of migrant camps lining the agricultural valleys, and the Central Valley was well on its way to a desiccated oblivion under a relentless sun. But there was still room, rolling farmland up north, actual orange groves down in Orange County, empty country roads laced through the foothills of the Sierra. You could still view the mountain from Mountain View, before Silicon Valley filled it with traffic and smog and so many people that its wage workers, teachers, and nurses had to commute from two hours away, before Stanford grad students and entry-level computer programmers were forced to live in their cars for miles along El Camino Real. I watched San Francisco go from storied hippie and gay bohemia, to dotcom start-up boomtown, to tech giant monolith, from a town of funky, edgy neighborhoods to a fortress of extreme wealth girded against Lord of the Flies streets drowning in lost souls, used needles, and human waste. Was all this just an historic inevitability? Is this what happens when a place so naturally seductive seduces so many, too many, for so long? That's not the California I grew up hearing about, not the one that drove my narrator there on his classic journey west. For him, and me, and so many in my generation, California was endless summer, where time stood still, and you would never have to grow old. It was a blank canvas for re-imagining yourself, the chance to write and play your own script, a place to pretend at agelessness, re-invent not yourself, start a religion, re-imagine the entire cosmos. No place in the world has made bolder promises of personal liberation and transformation, unleashed such creativity, or inspired so many freaks and fools. This is why my narrator Jack ends up here, fifteen years after he fled back East for Colorado and Dudeville. (That Golden Shore is the sequel, the second in a planned trilogy.) Because I’d originally conceived of Jack as Huck Finn let loose in the modern world, where else would America’s original rebel road-tripper end up, after “lighting out for the territories,” but on a beach in California, watching the sun sink into the Pacific? The California Dream has always been the American Dream, in overdrive, free from the baggage of history, class, or concern for the commons. No place denuded its landscapes faster in the mad quest for money; or slaughtered its indigenous people with the same speed or fury or viciousness. No place in the world has drawn so many foreign cultures to one place, not to co-habit in adjacent ghettos, but to collide into a socio-economic free-for-all, a cultural battle royale, to mix and mutate into a wholly new culture that would in turn impose it fantasies about itself on the rest of the world. The California Dream, from the Gold Rush to Hollywood to Silicon Valley, has always been a fairy tale, with a great soundtrack of road trip songs playing on radios around the world for half a century. And for the duration of its slow-motion apocalypse, its self-absorbed masses will keep spinning that fairytale, for themselves and the rest of the world, because they have to believe that it is only one more freeway exit, or one more pitch meeting, or one more spiritual awakening away. In That Golden Shore, I wanted to capture the madness of all of that, of the desperate, manic musicality of California in one sprawling story about a place I have come to love, and hate, and love. It’s a literary working-through of an intense personal conflict, of running around California’s mountains, and surfing its waves, and sleeping every night next to the amniotic pull of its ocean, with your eyes and your heart wide open. I wanted to state for the record the mad frustrations of trying to live in a place collapsing under the weight of its own mythology, and see what might happen – what it would feel like – to puncture that dream, reach through it and see what it might feel like when the road reaches its end, on the cliffs looking out over the Pacific Ocean, and catches on fire.
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