Noe Valley Voice November 2012

Bountiful Harvest by Local Authors

Books Aplenty for Fall Reading

By Olivia Boler

Noe Valley has always been a hotbed of creative types, with writers and artists forming the core. At least six new books have been released in recent months by authors in the neighborhood. Almost all of the books are available on 24th Street, so after you check out the previews below, run down and buy copies for your bookshelf.

Wendy Bertrand

Photo by Bryant Anderson

Enamored With Place: As Woman + As Architect

Architect Wendy Bertrand bought her 27th Street home in 1975, and the Victorian “worker’s cottage” is a character in her new memoir, Enamored With Place: As Woman + As Architect (Eyeonplace Press).

“I remodeled my cottage into a duplex and transformed my modest cabin in the Smith River National Forest, which is in Del Norte County near the Oregon border, into a cozy summer home with a weaving studio,” she says.

In the book, Bertrand recounts her professional work as an architect for the U.S. Navy and Forest Service, as well as her life as a single mother, her global travels, and her social activism.

“Many of the social issues I faced during my time still linger in the [architecture] profession today,” says the 71-year-old. “It brings to attention the ways in which decisions in building design affect social equity.”

She gives the example of working on the early design stages of a Navy recruitment facility in San Diego in 1975, and having to insist on including a women’s facility for female dentists. The Navy protested because they couldn’t imagine “the existence of female dentists and therefore saw no need to accommodate them.”

The beautiful hardcover volume is filled with 100 color and black-and-white photos from the author’s life, and clearly has a design aspect that is as important as the text. Her years in France and China are vividly captured, as is her yearlong trip around the world in 1960.

Bertrand was inspired to write her memoir when she read Elizabeth Morgan’s The Making of a Woman Surgeon. “It took decades before I started to write the book, but my determination grew with every year,” she says. “I wanted to increase public awareness of the importance of place and give insight into the profession of architecture. I also wanted to encourage women to write their story. Since 1970, only one biography in 10 written in the English language is about a woman.”

Readers can find Enamored With Place at Phoenix Books, 3957 24th St. Bertrand will be there on Tuesday, Nov. 6, from 5 to 6 p.m., reading and signing books.

To find out more, go to




Staci Boden


Turning Dead Ends Into Doorways: How to Grow Through Whatever Life Throws Your Way

Author Staci Boden had a spiritual awakening as a teenager. She noticed that there was an idea circulating in her community that those who were experiencing hardship must be at fault, that they must be doing something wrong, and could control the things happening to them with certain thoughts or spiritual practices. For instance, her mother had gone blind due to a degenerative disease, but someone suggested if her mother had had good karma, her blindness would not have happened. “This belief not only infuriated me, it propelled me to investigate other healing ways,” Boden says.

For years, she trained in earth-based and women’s spirituality traditions, earning a master’s degree in women’s spirituality from the California Institute of Integral Studies.

“I started providing personal and spiritual development to clients unfamiliar with that world,” says Boden, 43, who is a healing practitioner with her own company, Dancing-Tree Consulting. “Some call me a life coach, healer, or teacher.” 

She works with individuals as well as groups in navigating life transitions—whether they be work, relationships, or health—and in accepting that some things are out of their control.

Boden describes her book Turning Dead Ends Into Doorways: How to Grow Through Whatever Life Throws Your Way (Conari Press) as “an atypical self-help book. I think the title says it best. Without lecturing or promising that you’ll meet the perfect love in 35 days or own your dream home outright, I share stories and practices so [readers] can develop their inner guru.”

Boden says there are eight internal “teachers”: fear, awareness, choice, body, intuition, energy, intention, and surrender. The book also chronicles her own “wild, beautiful, and even heartbreaking journey. Ultimately, together [the reader and I] learn how to move beyond control and yet still navigate life with humor and meaning.”

Boden lives with her family in the Sunnyside neighborhood, but returns to Noe Valley, where she grew up. With her husband and two teenage children, Boden often visits her two moms, who live in the 27th Street home where she was raised.

“I grew up eating omelets at the Acme Café and toasted bagels at the Meat Market [coffeehouse],” she says. “Haystack is my all-time favorite pizza. To this day, I exercise, shop, and socialize on 24th Street. Noe Valley continues to be our home base.”

As for her book, it’s available online. To find out more, go to or call 415-828-2527. “I often pick up on the first ring.” 



Scott Hutchins


A Working Theory of Love

There’s been loads of buzz about Scott Hutchins’ debut novel, A Working Theory of Love (Penguin Press). Publishers Weekly named the Dolores Street resident as one of 10 debut novelists to watch, and best-selling novelist Gary Shteyngart called the book a “brainy, bright, laughter-through-tears, can’t-stop-reading-until-it’s-over kind of novel.”Entertainment Weekly gave it an A-, and the San Francisco Chronicle put it in its Recommended Books section.

So, what is the book about? “It’s about a disaffected, 30-something San Franciscan who spends his days inputting his dead father’s journals into what he and his employer hope will become the world’s first sentient computer,” says Hutchins, 38. “In the parallel universe of his nights, he’s navigating love and being single—and not.”

Hutchins found his inspiration for the novel through his own “light” reading. “I sort of backed into the two major concerns of the book. I was doing a lot of reading around consciousness and what it means to be a human scientifically, and so this question of the Turing Test—whether a computer could be intelligent—was fascinating to me. Like computers, our minds are basically complex patterning upon patterning.” 

Pair that with what he describes as the “sometimes frightening romantic life of the city,” and the story had legs. Hutchins says readers of all stripes have responded really well to the book, men and women alike. “Though it should be said there’s a lot of San Francisco [in the book], so probably the most equipped reader would be familiar with the city,” he adds.

Hutchins, who lives on Dolores Street, teaches in the Creative Writing Program at Stanford University, where he is a Truman Capote Fellow. He also has an MFA from the University of Michigan, and he’s been published in the New York TimesEsquire, the Rumpus, and Story Quarterly.

On Nov. 8, he’ll be in Oakland at A Great Good Place for Books. Meanwhile, you can get a copy of the book at Phoenix Books. He welcomes readers to follow him on Facebook




Don McCunn


Revisiting the Classics

Castro Street resident Don McCunn found inspiration in the artwork of the masters to create his own works of art in his self-published book Revisiting the Classics. Taking well-known paintings, drawings, and sculptures from 1600 BC to the 1960s AD, McCunn mixed digital photography images of the art and live models.

With a background in pattern-making and costume design—McCunn, who turns 69 in December, published a book,How to Make Sewing Patterns, in 1973 that is still in print today—his interest in the arts is no surprise. Still, he approaches his new book with modesty.

“I have always had a love of fine art but never the talent or patience to pursue it, other than for my own amusement,” he says. “The art classes I’ve taken over the years always emphasized the importance of studying the classics. So, I thought what better place to explore the art of photography than working with these brilliant masters.”

Many of the models in the book are nude in the classical way. Some of McCunn’s interpretations are almost direct replicas, such as Sir Edward Poynter’s Cave of the Storm Nymphs. McCunn’s version with photographs is calledSiren’s Cave.

Others merge two works of art together, like Michelangelo’s David sculpture with Osmar Schindler’sDavid and Goliath. McCunn’s resulting art piece is calledLast Laugh. In others, McCunn adds his own touch. For example, the painting Spirit of the Night by John Atkinson Grimshaw depicts a flying fairy. In McCunn’s piece, titledFaerie Magick, he adds a seated fairy looking over her shoulder at the one in flight.

“I was concerned that what I was doing might be perceived as painting mustaches on the Mona Lisa,” says McCunn, who has lived in Noe Valley 37 years. “But having spent the majority of my life doing theater, I felt reinterpreting classical art was really no different than doing a current production of Shakespeare.”

In November and December, the art from Revisiting the Classics is in a solo exhibit at Castro Tarts, on Castro at 19th Street. McCunn will also be participating in the City College of San Francisco Christmas Art Show at Fort Mason from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2. The book is available at Phoenix Books. For more information, go to




Frances R. Payne


They Make Us Dangerous (Bolivia 1964–1980)

To say that Frances R. Payne has lived a life of adventure is putting it mildly. As a young woman in the 1950s, she entered the convent of the Dominican sisters in Racine, Wis., and became a teacher in the Midwest. A few years later, while working on her doctorate in Latin American Studies at Saint Louis University, she traveled to La Paz, Bolivia, to work on her dissertation. There, she came face to face with an impoverished people and a country in the midst of the Cold War. She documents it all in her new memoir, They Make Us Dangerous (Bolivia 1964-1980), which she self-published.

“For the greater part of the time covered in the book, I lived in La Paz,” she says. “First I was doing my doctoral and missionary work, then later I was a researcher independent from my religious community. It was a time of upheaval and change in the Catholic Church. And there was political turmoil and violent repression in Bolivia.”

Payne, 78, became inspired to write the memoir after losing her human resources job in 2000. Her brother John gave her a box of letters she had written to him during her Bolivia years. The timing was perfect. “It was an invitation I couldn’t resist,” she says.

Another reason to write was her love for Bolivia and its people, culture, and conflict. “I’ve always wanted to share a part of its history that I was privileged to be a part of. Its struggle during the Cold War is not as well known as that of Chile, Guatemala, or El Salvador. It is a story that needs to be told.”

Payne has called Noe Valley her “home base” since 1967, when she visited her father and brother who lived in a house on Sanchez Street. They bought a second house on Noe Street, and that is where Payne would go when she was stateside. After 1980, she and her husband lived in the Excelsior and for five years had a store on Castro and 24th streets called Bolivian Imports. When her brother John passed away in 2000, she and her husband inherited his Noe Street house and live there today.

In addition to writing, Payne is a volunteer coordinator for Experience Corps, which works with adults over age 50 who tutor in four San Francisco schools—Everett Middle School, Sanchez, Moscone, and John Muir elementary schools. “Noe Valley seniors are well represented in the group,” she says with a smile.

They Make Us Dangerous is available at Phoenix Books. To contact Payne, email her at 




David Sweet and Richard May


Ginger Snaps: Photos & Stories

Photographer David Sweet had been shooting a street photography series on “queer gingers”—red-haired members of the gay community—when he met writer Richard May. May loved the idea, and the photos seemed to have stories to tell, so the two decided to collaborate on a book, Ginger Snaps: Photos & Stories, which they published through Blurb.

“What makes Ginger Snaps unique is that it dually looks at the gingers from both the insider’s point of view and from the outside looking in,” Sweet says. “I, a brunette, am a voyeur photographer looking into the ginger world, asking the questions, ‘Who are they? What are they about?’ Rick [May], himself a ginger, answers the questions from a first-person point of view. It opens up a world only gingers would know.”

In both the voyeuristic and the insider stories, the characters in the photo “snaps” emerge as strong and confident, secure in themselves no matter how unconventional.

May adds, “The characters in these stories are the full LGBT spectrum. Redheads come in all sexual orientations.” 

May, who is a former president of Friends of Noe Valley and a current organizer of the Noe Valley Garden Tour, recently started writing full-time. Sweet is a full-time photographer, although he says he wouldn’t mind a job in the tech sector as an account manager. Until that materializes, however, the co-authors, who live together on 21st Street, will meet their readers on an eight-city book tour. Locally, they’ll be at Le Zinc French Bistro on 24th Street on Nov. 4, from 3:30 to 5 p.m., for a book signing. They’ll do a reading, sell T-shirts (that read “ginger” or “gingerphile”) and books at a discount. Complimentary wine and appetizers will be on hand.

On Dec. 13, they’ll be at Cliché Noe Gifts on 24th at Diamond streets from 7 to 9 p.m., with their books and T-shirts. “Dani Sheehan-Meyer [the store’s owner] is offering gifts to the first 13 people who come to the event,” May says.

Phoenix Books also carries the book. For more information, go to their blog,