STARRED REVIEW
March 29, 2011

Speaking for myself

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When I get rich, I want my own spokesman. Well, spokesperson. I want to be able to stand next to someone, looking off and smiling dimly, while he or she interprets my every thought and translates them into words.

"Mr. Martinez," my spokesperson will say, "emphatically denies that he stole one word from Angela's Ashes while writing Ethel's Urn. Any similarity between the ashes, the abject poverty or the Irishmen is purely coincidental. He has nothing more to say on the subject." Members of the media will continue to fire questions but my spokesperson will wave them off and lead me to a waiting limo. Then we will have lunch and he/she will order for me, and I won't say a word all day and possibly for the rest of my life. When I die, they will bury my spokesperson with me, just in case.

It is a dream that began while I was hustling my book around Los Angeles. The book is called The Last City Room, and because it is my first novel, I have been pushing harder than usual to make it fly. When I don't feel like a hooker peddling my ass all over town, I feel like a mother bird shoving her baby out of the nest.

Everyone has a spokesman in L.

A., from a strung-out actor caught trying to pick up a transvestite taxi dancer to a celebrated homeless poet who reads for old ladies enraptured by a versifying bum. It is said that when Barbra Streisand was married recently, a spokesperson replied "She does" when asked if Barbra would take James Brolin to be her lawful-wedded husband. "If you really want to be noticed," a fellow novelist advised, "hire your own publicist." That's what I did, and it spoiled me. Her name is Kim Dower. I am a columnist for the L.

A. (by God) Times and already am semi-noticed, so when she went to work I became mega-noticed.

There is both a plus and a minus to that. The plus is that it gets you interviewed by smart people who ask intelligent questions. The minus is, it gets you interviewed by idiots who have never read the book. You know they haven't when they begin the interview with, "Tell us about your book." I was tempted once to respond to a TV interviewer, "Well, it's about a family called the Joads who leave Oklahoma during an economic downturn and move to California to pick fruit and face a lot of difficulties." I didn't because I was warned that the interviewer has a violent temper and, perceiving my mockery, might mash me like an Idaho potato right there on live cable television.

My book is actually about a fictional San Francisco daily that crashes in the 1960s against the calamity of student uprisings. It is ironic that on the day it ceased publication, the San Francisco Examiner ran a highly favorable review of The Last City Room. I thought about asking my publicist if she had engineered the newspaper's collapse to sell the book but I didn't. There are some things I just don't want to know.

I hired her for two months and then it was over. For awhile, I found myself unable to decide what to say when called upon to speak. I thought about handing out press releases at signings and readings, but that probably wouldn't be acceptable. I would have to refer to myself in the third person like Bob Dole. "Al Martinez believes that writing a novel is like having a baby in your 50s. It is possible but not easy." Laughter. Applause. If, upon reading this, you all go out and buy a copy of The Last City Room and call it to the attention of the sheltered Eastern media, who are still not convinced that the land west of the Great Divide is populated, I will be grateful. And then perhaps I will be wealthy enough to hire a spokesperson/ghost writer who will submit works such as this and say, "Al Martinez sincerely hopes you like this, but it must stand on its own. There will be no further additions or rewrites. Thank you and that will be all." Al Martinez' spokesperson tells BookPage that his first novel, The Last City Room, was published by St. Martin's. A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Martinez says he is currently working on another novel, rooted in the Korean War, and finishing up a travel book, I'll Be Damned If I'll Die in Oakland.

 

The Last City Room
By Al Martinez
St. Martin's

ISBN 9780312209018

Get the Book

The Last City Room

The Last City Room

By Al Martinez
St. Martin's
ISBN 9780312209018

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