Nevada City author up for California Book Awards prize | TheUnion.com

Nevada City author up for California Book Awards prize

Nevada City resident Josh Weil's latest book is a finalist in the California Book Awards.

"The Age of Perpetual Light," a short-story collection released last fall, is one of five in the fiction category. Winners will be announced June 1.

John Steinbeck won three of these for novels in the 1930s, and Nevada City author Jordan Fisher Smith won second place last year in the nonfiction category for his book "Engineering Eden."

Other winners have included Jared Diamond, Kay Ryan, Adrienne Rich, Michael Chabon, Galen Rowell and Kenneth Starr.

Weil's book reflects 10 years of work, much written between rewrites of "The Great Glass Sea," a nationally acclaimed novel with space mirrors reflecting the sun during the night at its heart.

"When I first heard about them, their prototypes are actually real, I didn't write the novel," Weil said. "I wrote a short story: 'Angle of Reflection,' which is part of 'The Age of Perpetual Light.'"

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The stories in the collection all concern light, in some cases metaphorically.

"It's so elemental," he said. "That both allowed me to try to approach it from as many various angles as I could and to tap into all kinds of concerns I'd been wanting to explore, and also pushed me to make the stories go beyond the expected, since elemental can also lead to cliche."

Ten years, though. Isn't that a lot of time? This is a yes and a no. Weil was writing novellas and novels in this period, as well, turning to stories between drafts.

"I find they're good for re-invigorating my creativity, forcing me out of a rut, just getting my head somewhere else," he said.

All three of his books are acclaimed. "The New Valley," three linked novellas, earned National Book Foundation and Sue Kaufman prizes, among others, in 2010. "The Great Glass Sea" won several, including the Dayton Literary Peace Prize in 2015, ahead of that year's Pulitzer winner.

Now, as a California resident, his latest is vying for a California Book Award.

"Once the work is done, and it's out in the world, I do think awards are important," he said. "They have been to me."

But when he's working, he aims to ignore all that. "That's not always easy," he said. "But it's essential. Anything else takes you out of the work itself and so makes the work less honest."

This is hard work, writing, especially writing as art.

"There are a lot harder things," he said. "Coal mining for one. But mentally it can be pretty grueling. A writer friend of mine once said to me that we novel writers are the salt miners of the arts."

Long hours and loneliness with long odds for publication are just part of the deal for most.

"But, really, it's just what I love doing. And so I do it. Which is awfully bad for earning a living. You gotta either be a best seller, and churn out books, which is pretty unlikely — or use your experience to earn a living in other ways (teaching, etc.). Or just resign yourself to a life of living alone in a cabin in the middle of nowhere eating cans of soup — as I did for years. And you know what? It was a pretty good way to live."

June celebration

On June 11, The Commonwealth Club of California will gather book lovers in San Francisco with a program and reception recognizing the winners in various fiction and nonfiction categories. For tickets, call 415-597-6700.

"The California Book Awards boasts several stellar features," said the award jury chair, Mary Ellen Hannibal. "The first, of course, is an array of outstanding works by historians, novelists, poets, illustrators, and storytellers who reflect our world back to us in creative and new ways. Another amazing attribute is the jury itself."

The jury is made up of published authors, award-winning editors, librarians and college professors who spend the better part of five months reading and studying the entries.

"Our jury is proactive, as well," Hannibal said. "We go out of our way to seek offerings from small presses that may not have heard of the award."

Since 1931, the California Book Awards have honored the literary merit of California writers and publishers. Eligible books must be written while the author is a resident in California and must be published during the year under consideration.

Founded in 1903, The Commonwealth Club is the nation's oldest and largest public affairs forum, with more than 25,000 members. The club hosts speeches, debates and discussions on topics of regional, national and international interest.

To view the 87th annual California Book Award finalists, go to https://youtu.be/MHsqcAUjOik

Don Rogers is the publisher of The Union, Lake Wildwood Independent and Truckee Sun. He can be reached at drogers@theunion.com or 530-477-4299.