Golden City on Fire

By Sherman Smith

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No one could tell where they were, where they were going, where land was or what threats lay ahead of them…
GOLDEN CITY on FIRE, authored by Sherman Smith, is a historical bone-chilling recount of San Francisco’s most traumatic event, the 1906 devastating earthquake. Brilliantly written, Smith generates his research into riveting sentences sweeping the reader into the midst of hysteria and chaos as a small band of strong minds manage to keep their wits while all others are losing their sanity.
“…sorry I didn’t bring a cake’” is uttered as a simple calming honest birthday wish between two souls while all around them the trembling city explodes unto cinder and shatter, mangle and char falling to heaps of debris in the streets cutting off avenues and boulevards to floating in the bay clogging waterway escape. It’s hard to compartmentalize death and move on as if nothing had happened…
Sentence after sentence, page after page the reader is swept into the scene caught up as a victim, a survivor, a policeman, fireman, giggling children playing a simple kick-the-can game while a hungry man grilles fish on flame as parents stare with frightened little animal eyes…
Maybe you are Lavinia, hurt and seemingly alone… the heat and the smoke caused her vision to waver- a black and white dream with yellowish-orange undertones. All she knew was that she did not want to be where she was and that she really didn’t know where that was.
Sherman Smith vividly paints a portrait of mass humanity overcome to madness yet for a few giant professionals who manage to cling and build on their inner strength as they rise to grasp control in the face of overwhelming disarray. At the heart of this book glows love and compassion as in this scene of a China woman kneeling serenely at Lavinia’s feet applying ancient comfort easing injury.
She closed her eyes not seeing or feeling the tiny needles the old woman inserted into her leg and foot.
A monumental tome of historical value, GOLDEN CITY on FIRE should be in every library.
— Jeanette Skirvin
Smith does a masterful job juxtaposing elemet a nature - human and geographic - in a gripping account of the great San Francisco earthquake and fire.
He mixes the flavors of that time: the sights, smells, sounds, the virulent racism into the chaos of catastrophe ; with a sprinkling of humor throughout. The reader understands that the vices and desires that have always driven man are seemingly eternal. The violence - both mans and natures - is well written. Smith controls the lives of his characters with a sure hand. I do recommend this book to those of us wanting desperate adventure, and just possibly a taste of the future.
— A.E. Dunn
It was April, 1906 when a quirk in the geophysical calendar caused the catastrophic earthquake that rendered the city of San Francisco into ashes and tangled debris. Social order lost footing, chaos was on the wing.

Sherman Smith, the writer of GOLDEN CITY ON FIRE has used intense psychological insight in structuring the fictional characters - the good, bad, and beautiful - in his version of this human drama. Floundering in uncertainties, their actions tell us of the ineptness of leaders, lack of moral standards, within diverse cultures. Under the dark clouds of adversity courage takes hold.

Smith has used the dim history of the early 20th Century as the soil of literature for this remarkable book. Eloquently written and fascinating read!
— Dona Hartley
Just published: Silencing The Blues man. Please scroll down for samples and reviews.

Poets Can't Sing

By Sherman Smith 

Suddenly you are transported to post WWII San Francisco. A vague presence of eucalyptus and mist fill your mind. A sensory overload for the returning service men and woman. All are wounded in some way. All are seeking to heal. You are drawn into this extraordinary story of ordinary people seeking redemption. It’s about how they fail and how they triumph. You are cheering for the good guys and jeering the villains. You pick up this story and you won’t be able to put it down.
— Geoff, Geoffrey F. Hughes, Eugene, Oregon, USA
A great historical novel has the intangible ability to allow the reader to experience that past time and place with endurable characters that make the story live. Smith has created a sensitive timescale mixing music and emotion as healing elements in helping men and women forget the bitterness of war and move on to better times. The author has done a masterful job
— A. Covo, Colorado, USA
Poets Can’t Sing is a story that will suck you in, consume you page after page... then let you out the other side both enter¬tained and wanting more.
— Kent June, Phoenix, Arizona, USA
  • Publisher: Elementá (November 16, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9187751909
  • ISBN-13: 978-9187751905
POETS CAN’T SING is an engrossing and entertaining read. Set in post WWII San Francisco, a motley collection of vivid characters, with three wounded veterans and a caring nurse at the core, are caught up in a series of dangerous misadventures and life-threatening challenges. Greed and cruelty block the way. Of what use, then, are love and compassion
— Bill Bowler, Coordinating Editor, Bewildering Stories
In Post-WW II San Francisco, wounded servicemen struggle to heal their physical and emotional scars and find comfort in an often unkind world.

There is a standard (and rather annoying) convention that “historical fiction” refers to narratives set before 1900. That might have worked fine in 1940 or 1960 or even 1990. Today, though, this rule of thumb is more suffocating than useful. POET’S CAN’T SING is set in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. Firmly set in its period, it captures the flavor of that particular moment—a time when public pride over a hard-won victory too often overshadowed the personal suffering of those who made this victory possible.

Earl, Brooks, and Ivory have all been left shattered by their war experience. They cross paths at a veterans’ hospital run by corrupt administrator Victor Mann and his psychotic orderly, Elroy. As Mann pretends not to notice, Elroy uses intimidation, blackmail, and violence to control the patients and staff. The only individuals not under his thumb are Nurse Stella Tate and Henry Akita, a Japanese-American former army medic, now an orderly. Despite Elroy’s menacing presence, Stella and Henry are determined to do what they can for the men under their care. They use Earl’s and Brooks’s musical talents to get these two blind men to both reengage with the world and to help other patients.

The author’s writing is top notch. He moves seamlessly from point-of-view to point-of-view and from past to present. We get to know his characters in all their messy humanity. Smith does a great job showing us the profound sadness that lives in the gap between what these men intended to be and what life and the war has made of them. We watch as they struggle to get better and be better in spite of their own self-destructive tendencies and the cruelty and incompetence of those around them.

There’s a good dose of humor to balance out the darker scenes. Which is good, because Elroy is like a cancer that spreads from chapter to chapter. I don’t know that I could have dealt with him all the way to the end if not for Earl and Brooks’s amusing interaction. As for the resolution, things take an interesting turn for the main characters after their time at the hospital. Yet the question of whether such damaged souls as Earl, Brooks, and Ivory can ever learn to live with their scars and build decent, worthwhile lives is left open.

POETS CAN’T SING is an absorbing and emotional work of literary-historical fiction.
** received a copy of the book in return for an honest review.
— Carrie Ann Lahain Writer and Book Reviewer

 

The Honeysuckle Rose Hotel

 (The sequel to Poets Can’t Sing)

 

  • Paperback: 340 pages
  • Publisher: Elementá (June 1, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9176370267
  • ISBN-13: 978-9176370261

 “Silencing The Blues Man” - 

                                                                                                   Just released  

Silencing The Blues Man

June, 1950

                  

San Francisco, 1950:  The residents of the Honeysuckle Rose Hotel - musicians all - are a quirky bunch each with his or her own secrets, addictions, sins of their own making, traumatic issues the world has seen fit to weigh down upon their shoulders, nightmares from the past, or dreams of things the way they ought to be. Earl Crier, a blind, bluesy crooner is their heart and soul until one day when a policeman sees a tall black man mugging a blind white man on the front step of the hotel this house of cards begins to fall. As the blues man falls silent can the Honeysuckle Rose survive?

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Poets Can’t Sing hooked me. The Honeysuckle Rose Hotel brought my heart back to San Francisco. Silencing The Blue’s Man is pure Sherman Smith at his best. Great story, and  I encourage you to read them all.
 

                          -J.R. Wells, Denver, Colorado

 

A Sample from the book:

 

HOW DOES ONE PREPARE HIMSELF TO GO TO WAR FOR A second time; one which he knows with certainty shall end his life?

Henry Akita had once saved Ivory’s life—not on the battle- field, but from the nightmares that haunted his hospital bed pushing him to the edge of the suicide cliff. Ivory had suffered for three years, nine months, and two days as a prisoner of war of the Japanese Empire. Japan lost the war. Ivory lost his will to live. He was a defeated man physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Unless he somehow rediscovered the desire to live, no matter the nightmares and pain, the doctors could do nothing more.

Ivory was sent to the veteran’s hospital in San Francisco as a wait and see patient. What the doctors could not do, an angel, a blind man, and a Jap did. Henry Akita had been the Jap— Japanese American, Nisei, war hero, and friend.

Ivory had many nightmares. Surprisingly, the one that shook him the most was the memory of his first meeting Henry. Now it was Henry who was in trouble and Ivory had no choice but to try to help.

Ivory’s nightmare always began the same way, waking on a hard earthen floor, drenched in a fever sweat, exhausted, his joints aflame, and skin screaming from the fire ants that fed on the lice that swarmed across his flesh. This is the way Ivory Burch woke most of the days he had been a prisoner of war of the Japanese.

Now his nightmares ended with his screams as he struggled to wake, his heart pounding, remembering pain so great that he

wished he were dead, fearing that on the other side of life, there is something so horrific, that he is afraid to die. There is no heaven, only hell for both the living and the dead. The Japanese had been the doormen.

The Jap soldier, outraged, smaller, though stronger than he, pinned him to the ground with a hobnailed boot, as he raised his bayonet above Ivory’s heart. There was pure hatred in his enemy’s eyes as the bayonet descended . . .

Ivory had thrashed wildly in his bedding.

“Wake up! It’s only a dream,” a voice from the other side of his nightmare said. “Wake Up!” Strong hands held him down as he fought for his life.

The bayonet raised, he could see his own reflection, his own terror, glistening in the blade.

He tried to run, his amputated leg useless as he opened his eyes, his fear beyond measure.

“Easy, fella, it’s only a dream. I’ve got you.” Henry Akita had said. Ivory’s eyes went wide as he shrieked at the sight of Henry’s Nisei face.

“Easy Ivory, it’s only a dream.” 

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    Silencing the Blues Man

    reviewed by Alison McBain in Bewilderingstories.com

 

I grew up in the Bay Area listening to the stories from my Japanese grandmother about our family’s internment during World War II. So it was with great interest that I picked up Sherman Smith’s book, Silencing the Blues Man. It is the third in a trilogy, following Poets Can’t Sing and The Honeysuckle Rose Hotel. The book focuses on the perspective of several characters who have survived the atrocities of WWII, and it explores how Americans from different races and cultural backgrounds cope with the aftermath of war once they return to civilian life

The novel is set in San Francisco, beginning about a decade after the end of the war and concluding near the beginning of the Korean War. From after WWII, the characters started out as strangers to each other, but there are several things that bring them together. Aside from the female characters, they are all veterans, and they are all misfits in one way or another, whether it’s because they were different prior to the war or changed because of it.

They live in the Honeysuckle Rose Hotel, and they love music. Some of them are extremely talented musicians, maybe the best in the entire city. Some of them simply love to listen to the others play. But all of them are drawn together to support each other and make up an impromptu family, since most of them no longer have any family of their own.

Although there is a fair amount of backstory, the main meat of the book really starts on one exceptional night when the tensions between the main characters come to a head. Two of the band members have been called back to war, and this is their farewell night. They make music like they never have before, but the evening is not conflict-free, nor is the morning after. When events go really awry, only the strength of the characters and their connection to each other, shared through their music, will help see them through the tragedies brought to light during the day.

The story contains a diverse set of characters. Among them is blind Earl, who owns the hotel and is like a father-figure/hero to most of the tenants. Then there is Henry Akita, a Japanese-American man who has to face prejudice because of the anti-Japanese sentiment from the war but is accepted wholeheartedly into the group. And Les, a black man who plays trombone better than any other musician in the district.

Rosemary plays bass and cello, but she is jealous that she’ll never be the band leader even though she knows, in her own heart, that she’s the best player in the quintet. And Michael, who is callously nicknamed “Beauty” because he’s been ugly from birth. Another prominent character is Sy, an old Jewish man who lost his home when his wife died, but plays his violin like a gift.

Although there are many more individuals in the book, there isn’t space enough to list them all, the people portrayed are well-rounded, containing quirks and foibles enough to make them feel like more than stock characters.

There was some beautiful description throughout the narrative, and I always enjoy reading a novel that contains a lot of historical detail. The characters have multi-layered relationships that draw the reader in.

Some of the writing is quite beautiful. For example:

She looked up from a sheet of music and smiled, not at an old man dressed in rags, who looked as if God might have forgotten him. No, she saw an old man, with special gifts, whom God was allowing to live just a little longer, his gifts too great to be taken away from this earth one second too early. She whispered one word. It was please, and was as welcoming as the best dawn he had ever risen to, and as hopeful as the first moment he had first seen his wife, the love of his life, and she him. (p. 55)

Also:

Until that moment Oscar’s poetry had always been separate from the music. Occasionally Mollie had dusted his words with her piano notes as soft as tiny raindrops on a forest floor. When Oscar first heard Sy’s violin he heard each note and knew if done right the poet in him would finally sing. (pp. 60-61)

I liked the characters and the struggle they go through, and the ending was bittersweet enough to complement the complex people found within the book. I found myself wondering what happens to the characters after the book ends; the outlook at the ending is positive, but not necessarily conclusive, nor does it have to be. I always enjoy stories that don’t spell out a “happy ever after,” but give the beginnings of one and allow the reader to fill in the gaps.

I haven’t read the first two books, so I’m looking forward to picking them up and seeing how the story begins.

 

Publisher: Elementa

Date: August 28, 2016

Paperback: 259 pages

ISBN: 9176372480; 9789176372487

 

 

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Earl could taste the change in weather but couldn’t quite determine the storm’s direction. His voice softened, his fingers lighter on the keys, as he continued to sing: That’s Stella by starlight, And not a dream, My heart and I agree, She’s everything on this earth to me.

After a moment he stopped singing. As the storm blew close he continued to play bits and pieces at random. The music moved like a spiderweb stirred by a sudden breeze, it changed like a leaf twisting as it fell to the ground. And fell silent.

 

   - A stunning read!

      Charles Hartley - Ca.


"Shortly after "Silencing the Blues man" was released I wrote an additional chapter allowing one of the characters to find closure. 
A gifted author and fan, Jeanette always liked Oscar best, so I wrote and sent a copy to her - and to my surprise she recorded it.
Here it is."

- Sherman Smith