Monday, August 31, 2009

2 Questions for Doug Dorst

What is your favorite story of death in San Francisco? Warren Harding? Al Jolson? Emperor Norton?

Well, I'd hate to call any death my favorite. The death that grabbed me most, though, was that of Lincoln Beachey, whose plane crashed into the bay during an airshow in front of a quarter of a million people at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Expo. The drama of his death aside, though, Beachey was a remarkable guy, one who lived life to the fullest and entirely on his own terms, and the more I read about him, the more fascinating I found him. There's an excellent biography by Frank Marrero called Lincoln Beachey: The Man Who Owned the Sky, which I recommend to anyone who's interested in finding out more about him.

Which story line came to you first: the one about the ghosts and their world in Colma, or the story of your protagonist's maturation into an adult, amid the allure of San Francisco and the grittiness of cop life. Or did you see them as one piece from the beginning?

The original idea came from a newspaper story that I read while living in Iowa about a kid who'd been duct-taped to a tree in a cemetery on a cold night. He'd been found by a guy who was out walking his dog, and he'd survived. I knew I wanted to work with this somehow, with the rescuer as the main character, and I assumed it would be a short story. It didn't go anywhere, though, and I put it away for a year or two. When I was back living in San Francisco, I picked up the idea again and realized that the rescuer ought to be a cop--in part because I had a friend who'd become a cop, and I was really curious about how that had changed his life. It was only a day or two later that the Chronicle ran a feature piece on Colma (which I hadn't known much about). I knew immediately that I had my setting. Once I decided that, I figured it'd be a shame not to invite some of these dead folks into the narrative. The two storylines evolved in parallel from there.

(For a recent, great story about Colma, check out this article on SFgate about the late famous of Bay Area.)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

KQED's The Writer's Block

Doug Dorst spent some quality time in an Austin recording studio recording a passage from Alive in Necropolis for KQED's The Writers' Block. Enjoy!

The Writers' Block is a weekly reading series featuring stories, essays and poetry by all kinds of writers -- from accomplished beginners to established authors.

Monday, August 24, 2009


Colma, the primary location of Doug Dorst’s Alive in Necropolis, is home to many of San Francisco’s 19th and early 20th century dead – moved from the city starting in 1921 when SF’s powers that be decided land within city limits was too valuable to be wasted as forever-tenancies for the deceased.

The bodies themselves were moved to the San Mateo city – now the area where living San Franciscans flock to Target and Home Depot on weekends. But the rubble? Much of that went to the Marina. First loaded with what remained after the devastation of the 1906 Earthquake, what is now one of San Francisco’s priciest neighborhoods was also the dumping grounds for the remains of the city’s cemeteries. Unclaimed tombstones, mausoleums, cemetery walls, benches, and more, ended up as the breakwater for the pleasure boats of today. Next time you take a trip to the Wave Organ, remember to make your remembrances to our city’s citizens of the past!

Coming soon!
19th century Odd Fellows’ Cemetery Tombstones Display
These Odd Fellows’ Cemetery tombstone fragments were unearthed in San Francisco backyards. The Odd Fellows’ Cemetery was dedicated in 1865. In 1933, the bodies were removed to the Greenlawn Cemetery in Colma. Most of the stonework was used to construct the seawall at Aquatic Park, although some odds and ends were left behind.
September – November 2009
San Francisco Main Library – San Francisco History Center
100 Larkin St., 6th Floor

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Announcing....20+ One City One Book Events!

Here are just a few of the many programs planned for Fall 2009....for the full schedule, including events for teens, a film series, a tombstone display in the History Center and more, visit the Events Page.

“City of Souls” - Colma Cemetery Bike Ride
Co-sponsored by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.
See the cemeteries and gravesites of historic figures that inspired Doug Dorst’s Alive in Necropolis. After the tour, there will be an option to ride back to San Francisco with the group. Tour leader Chris Carlsson is the Director of, a living archive of San Francisco history, and the author of books on San Francisco. Rain cancels (atmospheric heavy fog does not!). Bring weather appropriate gear, lots of water and a bag lunch for this hilly ride! Please RSVP to or (415) 557-4295.
Sunday, September 27 – 12-3 p.m.
Meet at Colma BART Station

Documentary Films - Trina Lopez's A Second and Final Rest: The History of San Francisco's Lost Cemeteries and Justin Schein's Gravediggers
A Second Final Rest exhumes the hidden history of how this modern metropolis managed to systematically relocate nearly all of its burial grounds to make room for the living. In Schein’s Gravediggers we meet the men who have devoted their lives to tending the graves of Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma.
Filmmaker Trina Lopez will appear in person for a Q & A.
Tuesday, September 29 - 6 p.m.
San Francisco Main Library, Koret Auditorium

100 Larkin St.

Notable Figures of San Francisco: Free Cemetery Walking Tour in Colma - Co-sponsored by the San Francisco History Association
Joining the tour, led by Monica Williams of Holy Cross Cemetery, will be Doug Dorst, author of San Francisco’s One City One Book 2009 selection Alive in Necropolis, a remarkable and original novel set primarily in Colma’s cemeteries. For more information visit SF History Association.
Sunday, October 11 – 11 a.m.
Holy Cross Cemetery - 1500 Mission Road, Colma

Spirits, Tarot & the Page …One City One Book One Bar
Help the San Francisco Public Library fĂȘte this year’s One City One Book pick. It’s only fitting that we’ll be celebrating this can’t-put-down supernatural thriller with custom “Necropolis” cocktails, free Tarot card readings, and a live reading from Dorst himself. The Page Bar inspired a bar on the pages of Alive in Necropolis – have you spotted it yet? Book sales by Green Apple Books.
Monday, October 12 – 6–8 p.m.
The Page, 298 Divisadero St. at Page Street, San Francisco; 21 and over

One City One Book and Litquake present: Doug Dorst in conversation with Adam Johnson, with special guests foolsFURY
Join us for an insightful discussion between our One City One Book author and local author and Stanford University lecturer Adam Johnson. foolsFURY Theater Company, under the direction of Ben Yalom, will open the evening with a staged reading of an excerpt from Alive in Necropolis. After the conversation, there will be lots of time for audience questions and Doug Dorst will sign books. Book sales by Book Bay.
Tuesday, October 13 – 6 p.m.
San Francisco Main Library, Koret Auditorium – 100 Larkin St.

Complete schedule available at the One City One Book Events Page.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Colma's Molloy's Bar: For Wakes of the Irish

When I was attending UC Berkeley in the late 1980s, a friend introduced me to the splendors of Colma. She and I were both interested in photography, and as righteous members of the artistically-minded-Bauhaus-listening set, we fell prey to the lure of the iconography of the cemetery.

We took semi-regular trips across the bay, down the 280, and past the looming Toys R Us giraffe sign to wander around taking pictures of Colma’s elaborately sculpted crypts and memorial stones and imagining the lives of those there entombed.

But none of the photographs that I took during those trips to Colma are as evocative as this image of “Molloy’s Bar” from the SFPL’s San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection. Although the photograph is ostensibly an image of the wall in a bar, the mirror that centers the composition reveals the forlorn-looking backs of bar patrons hunched over their drinks. The back of the photo is marked, “For Wakes of the Irish” and one can only imagine these bleak backs are connected to hands holding glasses raised in the honor of the dead.

Especially significant is the fact that the image is caught in a mirror, something that shows us the world in reverse and that, for many, has a touch of the “other” world, whether the world of the future, the dead, or Alice’s upside-down through the looking glass world. This image, of backs and mirrors, certainly sums up at least part of the living’s experience of Colma.

-Elise Proulx, Litquake

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What do you want to know??

We are seeking your questions for Doug Dorst! Curious about his historical ghost research, writing process, recent favorite reads? Or...?

We'll be publishing his answers in our October library newsletter and here too.

Here are a few ways to ask:

-Leave a question in the comments section
-Tweet questions @onecityonebook or with #necropolis
-Post on the One City One Book Facebook discussion board

And you could even just send it by plain ole email to

So many options! What do you want to know?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

What's Creepier than Schoolyard Rhymes Sung by Little Girls?

Nothing, that's what! You must listen to this, which KALW re-aired in June.

Doug Dorst guided radio producer and all-around cool guy Roman Mars around the sprawling, perfectly manicured cemetery that provides the backdrop to the opening scene in Alive in Necropolis.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Casting Necropolis

I'm always tickled when Google Alerts gives me a new blog to read and explore. My "Doug Dorst" alert signaled a potentially cool post at Romancing the Tome: All for the Love of the Literary Adaptation. One of my dream jobs as a kid was casting director -the power!- and it's still a fun game to play.

What do you think of Romancing's suggestions for Alive in Necropolis? I'm on board!:

"Officer Mike Mercer is a confused young cop with a Colma beat (pop. living: 1,200 pop. dead: 2 million) whose life is spiraling out of control. Then he starts seeing ghosts. Author Doug Dorst keeps the plot zipping along without sacrificing character and there's something here that feels coming of age, in a good way. It's the sort of coming of age familiar to us Gen X and Yers who are forever hovering over the line between childhood and adulthood--just like Colma's ghosts hover between this world and the next.

Alive In Necropolis
certainly has what it takes to cross over into film: cops, ghosts, drug overdoses, car crashes, romance, and for a backdrop, the haunting streets of San Francisco. My casting picks: Casey Affleck, James McAvoy, or Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Michael Mercer, Giovanni Ribisi as "Doc" Barker, Ryan Gosling as optimistic aviator Lincoln Beachey, Peter Sarsgaard as Toronto, Jesse Eisenberg as Jude, and Lili Taylor as Fiona. Read it and let us know what you think. --Kim"

Remember you can find a copy to read right now at San Francisco Public Libraries and bookstores! We'll be announcing the fall event schedule later this month.