I received this book from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review
Published: February 24, 2005
Number of pages: 368
Genre: Historical Fiction
Now available in paperback, James Dalessandro's "riveting account of corruption, greed, and murder in the City by the Bay" (Dallas Morning News) was a best-seller in hardcover and production has begun on a major motion picture. Set during the great San Francisco earthquake and fire, this page-turning historical novel reveals recently uncovered facts that forever change our understanding of what really happened. Narrated by a feisty young reporter, Annalisa Passarelli, the novel paints a vivid picture of the Post-Victorian city, from the mansions of Nob Hill to the underbelly of the Barbary Coast to the arrival of tenor Enrico Caruso and the Metropolitan Opera. Central to the story is the ongoing battle fought even as the city burns that pits incompetent and unscrupulous politicians against a coalition of honest police officers, newspaper editors, citizens, and a lone federal prosecutor. James Dalessandro weaves unforgettable characters and actual events into a compelling epic.
What did I think of this book:
I have not heard much about the the story of the San Francisco earthquake but I enjoy history so I thought I would give this book a chance. I am happy to say that I enjoyed this book. You can tell that the author did his research when writing this book. The story kept me engrossed with the twists in the story line. There was not only history involved but adventure as well. The author did a good job in making the reader really understand what the people were going through during this time. I can't not imagine it. Another thing that I liked was how the story was told through the eyes of a female reporter. A very engaging story.
About the author:
James Dalessandro was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and started writing poems and short stories at age six. He attended Valley Forge High School, studied journalism at Ohio University, and screenwriting at UCLA Film School. After seeing a documentary on the Beat Poets, he packed his bags and hitchhiked to San Francisco, but upon his arrival, was told he was "10 years too late to be part of it." At age 23, he founded The Santa Cruz Poetry Festival, with Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Ken Kesey; serving as its director from 1973 - 1977. At the time, it was the nation's largest annual literary festival, bringing together the likes of Charles Bukowski, William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Michael McClure, and Gary Snyder to the seaside town of Santa Cruz, CA; breaking attendance records, with 2,000+ people gathering at the Civic Auditorium each night. Ferlinghetti later said, "James Dalessandro has given a rebirth to American poetry. He's one of the new breed of populist poets who has something to say, quite clearly, about life on the wild side."
He moved to Los Angeles in 1980 to pursue a career in screenwriting, selling his first screenplay to Motown while still a student at UCLA. He wrote more than 75 trailer campaigns, mostly for Columbia Pictures. After selling more than a dozen screenplays, and his first novel, BOHEMIAN HEART (St. Martin's Press, 1993), an update of the classic Noir San Francisco Detective Thriller, he returned to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1995.
James has published four books: "Canary In A Coal Mine" (poetry); "Bohemian Heart; "Citizen Jane" (true crime), and "1906," a novel about the great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire. In 2005, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution he wrote and proposed, on behalf of himself and historian Gladys Hansen, asking that the "official" death count of 478 people be amended to reflect the factually accurate count of "3,000 plus victims;" an event that made international news. On April 18, 2006, the documentary, "The Damnedest, Finest Ruins," which James wrote, directed and produced, was presented at the 100 year Commemorative, drawing more than 50,000 people to the streets of San Francisco. The documentary was picked up by KQED/PBS of San Francisco, and now airs on their Youtube.com channel, "TRULY CALIFORNIA."
In September 2009, the Hallmark Channel aired "Citizen Jane," a film about the story of Jane Alexander, a Marin County, California woman who spent 13 years tracking down and helping to convict the man who murdered her 88-year-old aunt. Dalessandro wrote the teleplay and served as one of the films producers.
In 2010, "PLAYBOY" Magazine published his 7,000 word article, "PETROSINO vs. THE BLACK HAND," the true story of a NY Shoeshine boy who was drafted into the NYPD, to fight crime in Italian run neighborhoods; beginning what would ultimately turn into an astonishing 26-year-career on the force. James sold a mini-series based on the "PETROSINO" article, to the FX Channel, where he was hired to develop the Pilot episode and Series Bible, with the help of his friend Bobby Moresco, Oscar-winning writer of "CRASH" and "MILLION DOLLAR BABY."
In April of 2015, the Digital/Kindle edition of "1906" was released on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes Books. Within two hours, it rose to #1 in Historical Fiction/Thriller/Suspense, and #2 in Literary Fiction. It remained in the Top 10 for several weeks, and Top 100 for more than two months. James is currently represented by David Saunders, co-owner and Head of Literary at the APA Agency in Los Angeles.
Dalessandro has lectured at the Cinequest Film Festival and the Screenwriting Expo in Los Angeles, CA. He formerly taught "Screenwriting as a Pro" at Fort Mason Art Center in San Francisco, CA. He currently teaches Advanced Screenwriting at Academy of Art University in San Francisco, CA.
James is married to the former Kathleen "Katie" Callies and has an adopted son, Jeremy Christopher Katevas. He lives in Marin County, California.
This is a video from a PBS documentary by James Dalessandro
I was obsessed wanted to be a writer from the age of 6, when I started writing poetry and short stories. In college at Ohio University, I saw a documentary on the Beat Poets – Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginbsberg, Jack Kerouac – and soon hitchhiked to San Francisco to join the literary revolution. I arrived 10 years too late. So I founded the Santa Cruz Poetry Festival, invited my heroes, and created what Ferlinghetti called “a new birth to American poetry.” He and Ken Kesey became life long friends.
After a stint at UCLA film school and a roller coaster screenwriting career – lots of sales, few movies made - I returned to my fist love. Literature. And my adopted home, San Francisco.
I wanted to capture the spirit and remarkable history of San Francisco in fiction, the way the E.L. Doctorow had done in New York. My first novel, Bohemian Heart, was a contemporary update of the Noir detective fiction of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. I used the assassination of gay activist/politician Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone as a back story. I tried to do everything detective fiction usually does not. My character, Frankie Fagan, is a long-haired, motorcycle riding, opera loving private detective whose family of honest cops have been fighting a family of Boss Tweed-like power brokers since the Gold Rush. Frankie had a history, a political opinion, a heart-breaking romance – things that P.I. fiction often avoids.
Instead of cranking out numerous adventures for the same character, I wanted to use his family’s long, colorful history to paint portraits of epic struggles indigenous to San Francisco’s ever evolving political and cultural landscape.
Hence I discovered 1906 and the great San Francisco Earthquke and fire, the greatest disaster in American history. The “official story” surrounding it, I learned, was a pile of lies and cover ups that lasted almost a century.
The day before the 7.9 earthquake struck, the entire city administration – the mayor, police chief, political boss and all 18 of the city’s supervisors – were being indicted on massive corruption charges. The plot to nail them was hatched in Theordore Roosevelt’s oval office six months earlier, as test of his ability to end urban corruption in American.
I learned that the earthquake’s official death count of 478 was a lie concocted by city officials to keep from scaring away investors during restoration. The real number above 6,000. Officials claimed the U.S. Army marched in and kept order and used dynamite to stop the fire. They didn’t. Hundreds of soldiers looted stores, got drunk on the job, shot a few hundred innocent people as suspected looters. Every time they dynamited a wood frame building, the fiery debris started hundreds of fires. The city burned for three days.
What was lost – beside the truth – was the wildest and wickedest city in America. One hundred live theaters, three opera house, 17 cable car lines, 29,000 buildings. Enrico Caruso, the Italian tenor who was the Elvis Presley of his generation, sang at the lavish Opera House five hours before the earthquake struck. He had performed with a revolver tucked in his costume in case the city’s rabid fans attacked him onstage. He barely escaped the burning city, 36 hours later, muttering “ ‘ell of a place, I never sing here again.”
But more than a disaster – and correcting the lies of the “official record” – I wanted to paint a story book city that is no more. I love historical fiction that transports us and allows us to walk those streets, hear the sounds and smell the smells. I love the great social novels that help correct a lie or an injustice. I believe in historical fiction. I despise historical fraud. I use fiction merely to fill in the gaps and put the little guys and gals, the over looked ones, back into the story.
In January, 2005, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on my resolution to set aside the aberrant 487 person death count and recognize a figure of “over 3,000.” My documentary film, “The Damnedest, Finest Ruins” – now playing on Youtube.com – carries restored silent film and archival photographs never before seen, and tells what really happened. Research and accuracy are everything to me. That and a good yarn well told.
Historical fiction can not only inform, it can reform. I’ve often been asked how I managed to make an imprint on a story this vast. “No one else did,” is always my reply.
There are stories like this that have yet to be told. I tell aspiring writers to go find them. James Dalessandro