Like Cath’s last post, this one will be a tribute to our friend and Unreliable Narrators co-founder Chris Cornell.
As many of you know, Chris, Cath, George, and I met at the Viable Paradise writer’s workshop in October, 2009. What you may not know is that I first collaborated with Chris months before the workshop, on what became “Revenant Harvest I: The Bitterest Fruit,” and I first met him at one of my favorite bars in San Francisco, the 21 Club, which closed in 2015.
“I spent a year in Vietnam, fighting the VCs, and now we are fighting the VCs here—the venture capitalists, but they are more relentless.” —Frank, former owner of the 21 Club.
The 21 Club, like so much of the “Old California” Chris and I both loved, fell victim to California’s endless boom-and-bust cycle, but it’s that same cycle that’s given birth to so much of the mythology that the Golden State spins around itself—as if it had been born in the Gold Rush and known nothing but exquisite success marred only by temporary, character-building setbacks ever since.
The reality is, of course, both more complex and more interesting—and that brings us to E’ville.
Welcome to Emeryville, California. E’ville for short. A nickname perhaps more appropriate in the last century, or at least more obvious back in the day. The murder capital of the country, or so they used to say. These days it’s all microbrews and Swedish furniture. Chain fajitas served on reclaimed wood. The underbelly of this town has been scrubbed clean. Scratch that, more like scraped and burned off, forgotten. E’ville belongs to a new age now, one with no time for heedlessness or equivocation. No time for a lost soul like me. The feeling is mutual, though despite every impulse I’m stuck here. Have been for almost a century. How that came to be, well, we’ll get to that eventually. Another day. For now I think it best to start at the beginning, when I stepped off the train with two dollars and thirty five cents. February 4, 1927. Alcohol was verboten, and never had it flown as freely as in the card houses and bordellos of that grimy port town. Oakland had a reputation as the heart of the criminal empire, but when they closed their doors to the vices of the day, those vices headed across the street to E’ville. And so did I.—Ross Weeper
E’ville, an eight-part, old-style radio serial, started out as a collaborative, shared-world project. George co-wrote Episode 2, all of us contributed plot seeds and references, and I swear the character I voiced, Cassandra “Cassie” Sharp, will make future appearances in my own work—but Chris was always the driving force behind it. “I wanted a challenge that combined my many creative interests,” he said, “and by god, that’s what I got. Every writer knows that nagging idea that takes hold of your brain and refuses to piss off while you finish that other shiny project on your desk. This wasn’t going anywhere until I delivered, so I did.”
Set in Prohibition-era Emeryville, once known as “the rottenest city on the West Coast,” E’ville drew from deep wells of both California history and myth, and the histories and myths of many of the people drawn to California over the years.
Some call Los Angeles the City of Dreams. Started that way for me, but wound up a nightmare.—Cassie Sharp
Chris was, himself, one of those people. He grew up in the Midwest and Mountain West, and made the Bay Area his home. He never lost his fascination with his adopted state, taking regular, solo roadtrips to visit places that interested him, from the mountains of Northern California to the strange deserts of the Salton Sea. And his clear-eyed love for the place shone through his fiction, as honest about its horrors as it was about its charms.
Chia Evers is a graduate of the Viable Paradise writers’ workshop, and a member of the Codex Writers’ Group. She grew up in Wyoming, spent more than a decade in California, and now lives happily in history-haunted New England.