500x500_3180178_fileA few years ago when I was reading nonfiction almost exclusively, I tended to get book recommendations via the magazines I read. Reviews in publications like Outside, Orion, etc. always lauded books about adventure and the environment, stuff like that. Then I took a couple fiction workshops and got interested in novels again — and short stories really for the first time ever — which coincided with my introduction to social media. I dove into that, followed a bunch of writers, made some writer friends, and my TBR pile exploded.

Then it got kind of boring and started to feel like a massive time sink. Follow a lot of people in the same circle and you soon find yourself wading through a lot of conversations and flirtations and all that that you may prefer were going on more privately. Or a writer’s book comes out and you hear about it over and over again, every review, every appearance . . . it gets tedious. And a lot of writers (not all, I’ve met some fantastic folks) just want to talk about books and writing, or how many words they wrote that day, or give advice, or pontificate about the latest change in publishing, etc. I find that tiresome.

Jeff McElroy isn’t one of those writers. In fact I don’t know if the dude even has a twitter account. I discovered his book Californios, a collection of short stories, because a picture came up in the Instagram feed of a surfboard maker I follow that is based in Ventura, CA, advertising the book’s availability, release, or something like that. It interested me, because the stories are billed as “surf noir.” A couple bucks for the Kindle version wasn’t much of a risk, so I grabbed a copy. Saw McElroy had an Instagram account and followed him. For some reason he followed me back, then a couple days later commented on one of my pictures. When I replied, I mentioned I had his book and was looking forward to checking it out. Then I got around to actually reading the book.

And really friggin’ liked it.

Californios is a self-published collection of 17 stories that capture the vibe of California like few others. Don Winslow does a good job of that too, but this isn’t Winslow. These stories are more about the down and out, the regular folks just trying to get by while spiritually and physically attached to the ocean. Surfers, old timers, migrant workers . . . the whole picture. What makes the stories so vibrant is that this is the world McElroy lives in, and like any writer worth his salt has spent a lifetime with his eyes open and his mouth shut, just soaking it in, because it really feels like this world feels. I’ve spent a very limited time in Southern California, and Ventura, but the stories took me right back there. I could see the beauty, and the ugliness, and it made me pine for the salt air and sound of waves; for good Mexican food served with tequila and Pacifico.

Often self-published books, or even books published by smaller indie publishers, are riddled with errors both editorial and technical. This one is not. I don’t recall any little glitches or typos in the Kindle version, and my wife, who read the hard copy, doesn’t recall any there either. She liked the book as well, and we spent a good 20 minutes last night discussing its merits, disagreeing over what a couple of the stories might have been about, etc. I also love the physical version — it’s small, a little bigger than a mass market paperback, and slips easily into the pocket. Aesthetically, I dig it.

Photo Jul 11, 9 13 09 PM

Californios is highly recommended. I ordered a hard copy from McElroy, and he sent me two. I’m keeping one for myself, but if you are interested in the other one (it’s signed!) then leave a comment on this post and I’ll randomly select one of you to mail it out to.

I urge everyone to check it out. I really enjoy McElroy’s work.

Author: Chris

Chris La Tray is a writer, a walker, and a photographer. He is an enrolled member of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians and lives in Missoula, MT.

22 thoughts on “Californios”

  1. Funny, but I think you posted a picture of that book with a magazine and a beer. Because I don’t take your reading choices lightly, I put the book on my wish list. Glad to hear it’s a winner!

    1. I think I’d feel overwhelmed with the cultural history of Southern California if I decided I wanted to “know” it. There are so many distinctive periods to it! If you kind of squint out all the people and sprawl there now, you can really see why folks moving there from the East considered it paradise.

  2. Sounds like an interesting read. I really like this phrase from your review: “like any writer worth his salt has spent a lifetime with his eyes open and his mouth shut,” Good advice!

  3. I swear I’m not commenting because you are going to pick one of us to receive the book (but I’m stoked that by writing this I might be that lucky someone!). I’m replying because I’ve been debating whether or not to buy the book because it’s self-published. I’ve bought a lot of self-published books lately, often because I know the author, and with one exception, I have been disappointed. They have all the things you mention in your review – screaming typos and grammatical errors, spelling mistakes that any decent word-processing software would pick up. So I’m pleased to hear that Mr. McElroy didn’t make the same mistake as these others. The other reason I didn’t buy it was because of that label “surf noir.” It sounds contrived to me. But tell me it’s gritty stuff about people living near and on the beach, then I’ll pick it up. I’d like to know more about it honestly. Care to expound on the types of characters and gist of some of the stories?

    1. Wow, Dawn, thanks for the thoughtful reply. I’ll try and do it justice.

      Bottom line: The stories are pretty much gritty stuff about people living near and on the beach.

      Heh. The “surf noir” description isn’t really “noir” in the sense that the majority of crime writers I know that endlessly debate what noir actually IS is. This isn’t crime writing, though if I recall at least one or two of the stories do have a “crimey” element to them. As for the flubs and things, I’m sure it isn’t 100% clean. Even mainstream books have the occasional flubs. I was just happy to not encounter typos every third page, and really can’t remember there being any. None that took me out of the story, which happens when stuff is a mess.

      The first story, “The Old Dude,” reminds me of the day I spent sitting on the beach in Ventura, watching the surfers and assorted other people. It’s about an older guy, kind of a day in the life thing, the relationship he has with his girlfriend, etc. It is just a quiet little story, no real plot, but it really shows the lifestyle through his eyes. There is a story about a guy going surfing again for the first time after his older brother was killed in a surfing accident. One about a guy who goes to a camping area to be first out for a swell the next morning and a creepy encounter he has with an older guy there. Another about a guy who befriends an older guy who wanders the beach with a metal detector, and their relationship.

      So yeah, I hope that gives you a little more information. I really enjoyed it.

    1. I like social media quite a bit, most of it. I don’t like to sound judgmental; people should use it however they see fit. I’m still astounded by how ubiquitous it is, though.

  4. I have a book by Kenn Nunn, which I have been meaning to read. I liked THE DAWN PATROL a lot but haven’t got back to him.

    1. I’m not familiar with Kenn Nunn, Patti. Winslow wrote a sequel to The Dawn Patrol, which I think I might have, but I haven’t read it.

    2. If you’re referring to Tapping The Source, it’s one on my TBR list as well. It won the National Book Award and inspired the film Point Break. Kem Nunn also went on to do quite a bit of TV work, including Deadwood and Sons of Anarchy. Seems like an interesting fellow.

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