where the writers are
Grotto Dwelling

This month, I’ve been spending time at The Grotto, the famed San Francisco writers' community which is home to such West Coast literary luminaries as Po Bronson, David Ewing Duncan, ZZ Packer, Jason Roberts, Julia Scheeres, Ethan Watters, and many others. One of my favorite parts of making the trek to the Grotto’s offices on 2nd and Bryant Streets is lunchtime, when Grotto dwellers emerge from their offices, where they’ve been tapping away in the dim glow provided by their laptops, to gather in the brightly painted conference room for brown-bag lunches and conversation with other members of the tribe.

The Grotto Lunch in The Grotto
Photo from sfgrotto.org

It’s not unusual for guests to join Grottoites over lunch. On Monday, Van Jones, founder of Green for All and co-writers of a forthcoming book called The Green-Collar Economy, joined us. Van, who lives in Oakland, was recently a guest on The Colbert Report and admitted to having been flummoxed by his host’s comments (including one about “green” love machines and another about “unicorn herding”). That prompted Laura Fraser to share her experience of having to strip down to her knickers while her suit was being ironed prior to her appearance on one of the network morning shows.

Yesterday’s guest was Kevin Smokler, the editor of Bookmark Now: Writing in Unreaderly Times, who was visiting the Grotto in his role as “chief evangelist” for Booktour.com. An online community that helps authors and audiences meet, it is the brainchild of Wired magazine founder Chris Anderson, who, thus far, has financed the venture out of his own pocket. I joined Booktour as an author just after the site’s launch in June of 2007, which was the same month my book, The House of Mondavi, was published. I had also met Kevin through reviewer and book marketing guru (guru-ess?) Bella Stander.

I’ll be updating my page on Booktour.com shortly, since I’m scheduled to go on a seven-city tour for the release of my paperback on May 1st. But, I’ll admit, Kevin’s explanation for why we all should be using the site was a bit humbling: it’s now got 20,000 events listed for some 6,000 authors who’ve signed up so far. So many writers, so little time…I certainly wish I could make it to hear more authors speak.

Despite this promising start, Kevin acknowledged that Booktour.com needs a powerful partner to help “push it over the edge.” He mentioned the company has courted or plans to talk with Amazon, Facebook, Myspace, and the new author’s site that’s generated a lot of buzz, Redroom.com. Which leads me to wonder: What will be the virtual equivalent of a community such as the Grotto? And can online communities for writers ever replace the simple pleasures of sitting around a table, chatting over salads and sandwiches together?