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Susan Miles Gulbransen: Santa Barbara at Home in the Works of Local Authors

In the eyes of beholders, the Newbery Medal award for the most distinguished children’s book each year is akin to an Oscar for moviedom, Tony for Broadway or Emmy for television.

Named after a British 18th-century bookseller, John Newbery, the list began in 1922 as a superb guide for family reading and gift choices. My own all-time favorite children’s book, King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry, was the 1949 winner among other years of favorite books.

Up until now, winning book covers displayed the award's bold gold seal, a top priority and honor above all others. Not anymore, it appears.

After 18 years of efforts, the 1994 Newbery Medal winner, The Giver by Lois Lowry, is now a movie. The media have covered it with reviews and interviews in recent weeks. In a good marketing move, a movie tie-in book edition came out. The cover features star and backer of the movie Jeff Bridges, with his young counterpart in a utopian-becomes-dystopian drama set in the future.

Instead of the big familiar gold Newbery Medal above or next to the title, a gray circle catches your eye. It saysm “Includes exclusive Q&A with Taylor Swift and others!” Swift has a cameo role in the movie, not a major one. One small line at the bottom states, “Winner of the Newbery Medal.”

Author Lowry, winner of Newbery Medals in 1990 and 1994, stated her pragmatic attitude in a Los Angeles Times interview: “I’m kind of sorry we have to have Taylor Swift label instead of the Newbery Medal, but that’s OK. I think it’s an appealing cover. I think in a bookstore someone will gravitate to it and pick it up.”

Do you know any of these men: John Crowe, Michael Collins, Dennis Lynds, William Arden, Dan Fortune, Mark Sadler, Carl Dekker? If you say yes and name the late Dennis Lynds, then you know the real name. The others were some of his pseudonyms, except for Dan Fortune, one of Lynds’ fictional characters written as Michael Collins. By the way, Fortune ends his days in Summerland.

The other popular series has been John Crowe's Buena Costa novels. The William Arden in Lynds wrote children's series. He also published some short stories under other names. Why pseudonyms? When you’ve published more than 80 novels and who-knows-how-many short stories, writing under other names is a way to market and separate the books.

All of this is to say that Lynds was a prolific author, outstanding teacher and lived a good portion of his adult life in Santa Barbara. When I failed to mention his name among other outstanding local authors in a recent column, I twisted and turned over the omission.

Our community has historically been home to creative literary minds and does not lack for numbers. Just ask Steve Gilbar, editor of several books on local authors and/or Santa Barbara stories. My arbitrary favorite is Red Tiles, Blue Skies, second in his collection. Gilbar also founded Speaking of Stories, the series produced each winter at Center Stage with professional actors reading stories. These evenings make for dramatic and effect entertainment as you sit in the darkened theater losing yourself in excellent stories, the kind that stays in your head and heart a long time.

The other brain expert on numbers of Santa Barbara writers is book freak and former publisher of Noel Young's Capra Press, Robert E. (Bob) Bason. For several years, he had a hobby of collecting books by local authors. I visited his house once when the garage door was open. Instead of the usual closed cupboards, tool kits and workshop benches, the garage had loaded bookshelves — so many that one car had to be out on the driveway. He eventually compiled a paper titled "The Robert E. Bason Collection of Santa Barbara Authors and Books About Santa Barbara."

The project started in 1980 took off like a giant’s beanstalk. "The collection definitely outgrew storage space in my house and I was faced with 'marital discord.' When it reached over 1,000 (not even counting the tomes from UCSB professors), I realized that there was no end to this collection and gave up. I donated the whole collection to Special Collections at UCSB. They now maintain it — and the list is HUGE. It turns out that everyone in Santa Barbara is writing a book!"

By the time he called a halt to the project, he had 1,186 books, manuscripts and other related items. It ran from Michael Ableman's From the Good Earth to David Wyatt's Thrifty Gourmet. The catalog of books itself was 144 typed pages long.

He says, "Collecting Santa Barbara authors is an occupation that can easily take up your remaining time on this Earth. I had been at it for years and only cracked the surface."

While creating his hobby, Bason came across several ways writers refer to Santa Barbara in fiction, an entertaining sidebar. Perhaps the most famous was Ross Macdonald, one of the country's earliest mystery authors with his Lew Archer series. He called it Santa Teresa. Sue Grafton in her "alphabet mystery series" used the same name as a tribute to him but added Montebello to the east and Colgate to the west. Sound familiar? Her books are full of other named references.

Ron Ely and Tony Gibbs kept the real name Santa Barbara. William Campbell Gault called locations in the area San Valdesto, Montevista and Slope Ranch. Lynds (also as John Crowe) used San Vicente and Buena Costa County to describe our town.

Were you an author, what names might you use?

Noozhawk columnist Susan Miles Gulbransen — a Santa Barbara native, writer and book reviewer — teaches writing at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference and through the Santa Barbara City College Continuing Education Division. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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