Writers Abroad, Writers Renewed

Teaching at the Abroad Writers Conference this winter at Lismore Castle, Ireland (and coming up again in late June at Lake Como, Italy), reminds me of just how powerful and energizing the simple act of getting away from the familiar can be. Surrounded by talented faculty and authors both aspiring and accomplished, living for a week in Ireland's oldest castle, did as much for my own writing as for any of our workshop participants. The entire experience was inspiring — great colleagues, new friends both Irish and American, and living in Sir Walter Raleigh's art-filled, sumptuous castle. How cool is that?

I can't wait for my next nonfiction workshop at the upcoming Abroad Writers Conference June 21-28 at the sublime Lake Como, Italy (photos below). Why not join us?

eBook Debut: Over Here, Buried Secrets, Murderer With a Badge

One of the great things about eBooks is the new life and audiences they can bring to an author's work. So I'm pleased to announce the publication today of three of my earlier titles in eBook editions by Diversion Books.

Over Here: How the G.I. Bill Transformed the American Dream, shares the stories of famed filmmaker Arthur Penn, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Leon Lederman, political leaders Bob Dole and George McGovern, and other men and women of the Greatest Generation who shared two things in common: they all fought in WW II, and they all used the original GI Bill to transform their own lives — and an entire nation. Over Here is, in short, the "after-the-war story" of the Greatest Generation. The original GI Bill opened college education to the masses, transformed America from a nation of renters into a nation of homeowners, and enabled an era of middle-class prosperity never before seen in the world.

The LA Times wrote of Over Here: "Deeply moving, alive with the thrill of people from modest backgrounds discovering that the opportunities available to them were far greater than anything they had dreamed of… Vivid… inspiring.. told with such warmth and enthusiasm."

Get the eBook in your favorite format.

Buried Secrets: A True Story of Serial Murder, is my first book, a true-crime tale of drug-running, ritual murder and official incompetence on the Texas-Mexican border. When college student Mark Kilroy, nephew of a senior U.S. Customs official, disappeared during spring break in the border town of Matamoros, the manhunt led to a drug-smuggling cult ruled by a Miami priest of black magic, Adolfo Constanzo. Exposed with him was a cult that committed dozens of human sacrifices, followers drawn from the highest levels of Mexican law enforcement, and years of getting away with murder because U.S. border law-enforcement agencies were more interested in fighting one another than fighting crime.

Wrote the Washington Post: "Chilling… a masterful job." Publishers Weekly called Buried Secrets "one of the best true-crime tales in recent times," while Ann Rule, author of The Stranger Beside Me,  said it was "the definitive book on the most despicable yet fascinating criminal of our time."

Get the eBook in your favorite format.

Murderer With a Badge: The Secret Life of a Rogue Cop, is the true story of the dirtiest cop in Los Angeles. Nicknamed “Mild Bill” for his unassuming manner, William Leasure, a seemingly ordinary traffic cop by day,  ran a ring of luxury yacht thieves and engineered murders for hire in his spare time. His home was a showcase of stolen property and stolen cars. He owned an airplane and a yacht — yet no one seemed to suspect Mild Bill of anything. Only a chance encounter aboard a stolen vessel led to his arrest. In writing this book, I had access to the investigators who made the case, and to Leasure himself as he sat in jail and handicapped his own trial day after day. That allowed me to  bring readers deep inside the story of what happens when the police investigate one of their own,  and into the mind of a cop who thinks he can get away with anything — and almost did.

The Flint Journal said of Murderer With a Badge: "a riveting glimpse of the dark side of human behavior... a fascinating walk on the wild side... Humes recounts Leasure's story with the skill of a master suspense novelist." The Miami Herald described the book as "Rife with vivid description… Disturbing." And Kirkus Reviews wrote: "Fascinating.. . a superbly crafted chronicle of one of the most complex, enigmatic criminals in memory. Far stronger and more compelling than most crime fiction."

Get the eBook in your favorite format.

Wine, trash, talk: Events Round-up

Whittier Meet the Authors and BookFaire: This Saturday, March 15, I'll be talking trash, wine and all things non-fiction, as well as signing copies of my biography of wine mogul Jess Jackson, A Man and His Mountain, and Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash. And yes, I worked on both of these diametrically different books at the same time! Come find out how and why.

Later this month (air time to come), I'll be talking wine and A Man and His Mountain on American Public Media's Splendid Table.

On Sunday April 13, I'll be at the LA Times Festival of Books at USC.  My panel, "Nonfiction: Exploring a Singular Pursuit," will be at the Taper Forum at 2 pm, with authors Tom Bissell, Dana Goodyear and Greg Sestero and moderator Elizabeth Taylor.

Next up is the very cool Bay Gourmet Event on the evening of April 21 for A Man and His Mountain at San Francisco's Commonwealth Club, where I'll be "in conversation" with the most powerful woman in the wine industry, Barbara Banke, chairwoman of Jackson Family Wines (and wife of the late winemaking legend, Jess Jackson, the subject of my book).

I'll be in Lake Como, Italy, June 22-29, for my second tour of duty at the Abroad Writers Conference, where I'll be leading an intensive nonfiction workshop geared to professional and published writers. It's not too late to sign up now!

And in August I'm off to Orlando to speak at the convocation at University of Central Florida, where the freshmen are kicking of their First Year Experience with Garbology as their campus common read. I was recently at the FYE conference in San Diego, where I spoke to college representatives from all over the nation on Garbology.


The Word from Wine Country

Edward Humes & Barbara Banke (seated)
The Santa Rosa Press-Democrat has a great feature about A Man and His Mountain, wine magnate Barbara Banke, and the rise of the Kendall-Jackson wine empire from humble beginnings: "Humes recreates scenes from when Jackson, a San Francisco lawyer, was looking for a vineyard retreat. He drove around Wine Country in a Cadillac nicknamed the “yellow banana” — given to him by a client who couldn’t pay cash for his legal services — with his first wife, Jane, and children Jenny and Laura in tow, knocking on the doors of esteemed winemakers to learn about the trade."

Next take a look at this great rundown on the best wine books of the season, which I'm happy to say includes A Man and His Mountain. Reviewer Virginie Boone calls it "the kind of story movie directors covet. It starts with a 'street-smart farm boy' buying his first vineyard and ends with a self-made billionaire owning some 14,000 acres of vineyard land and the most popular Chardonnay brand in the world."

P.S. Join me Saturday December 7 at 3 p.m. at Apostrophe Books in Long Beach for a book chat, signing and a glass of wine.

5 Surprising Facts About Jess Jackson

Jess Stonestreet Jackson was the only lumberjack turned cop turned lawyer turned winemaker to work his way onto the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans — with his greatest accomplishments all coming after age 50.

Jackson, founder of Kendall-Jackson Wines and a pioneer in the rise of California wine country, is the subject of my new book, A Man and His Mountain. Here are five surprising facts about Jess Jackson:

1. If not for Jackson, Chardonnay might still be unpopular and called “White Burgundy.” Kendall-Jacksons’s first-ever wine persuaded American consumers — most famously the Reagan White House — to start guzzling Chardonnay.

2. Jess Jackson never intended to get into the wine business. He bought a small mountain retreat and planted grapes as a diversion from a busy law career. He sold the fruit to local winemakers. One year a glut left his harvest unsellable, so he launched his own winery as a last resort. It nearly broke him.

3. Jackson married the woman who set fire to his house on their first date. Barbara Banke's plan to impress Jackson with a home-cooked meal nearly gutted his home, but the relationship ignited anyway.

4. Jackson owned the first filly to win the Preakness in nearly a century. He defied the odds, genetics and the horse-racing establishment with Rachel Alexandra’s last-minute entry in the Preakness Stakes. She won the prestigious second leg of the Triple Crown starting from the 13th post position — from which no horse, male or female, has ever won the race.

5. Jackson inspired multiple Pixar movie scenes and characters. Pixar founder John Lassiter credits his friend Jess’s poetic waxings on the origins of winemaking with inspiring him to include historical backstories in Cars, Up and other films. He also draws on their adventures together, such as Jackson’s spur-of-the-moment helicopter drop-off of Lassiter at Pixar Headquarters, which has no helipad. “Can we land here?” the filmmaker asked, gaping at the parking lot where the chopper alighted. Grinning, Jackson replied, “You can land anywhere. Once.”

Introducing A Man and His Mountain

My new book, A Man and His Mountain, will be published in a few weeks. It's a bit of a departure for me -- my first biography. I could not have asked for a more compelling subject than Jess Jackson, the self-made billionaire entrepreneur who put Chardonnay on America's tables.

Here's what Booklist has to say in one of the book's early reviews:

"Whatever Jess Jackson touched seemed to turn to profit, whether lawsuits, grapes, or horses...  Passionate and even ruthless, Jackson sought out the best talents and finest vineyards in California’s emerging wine business and made Chardonnay a household word in America. Then he turned to owning winning racehorses. Triumph came not without personal costs—a shattered marriage and agonizing brushes with business failure. Humes makes his charismatic subject’s every venture vividly and intensely dramatic. This book will attract readers of diverse interests, from the law to wine-making to business to horse-racing."

I'll be posting regular updates and upcoming events on Facebook.