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Author Bart Schneider, back in Sonoma, sets books here


Bart Schneider may not be the first writer to set foot in the Valley of the Moon, but he's certainly one of the most tenacious of the digital age.

The author of five novels, a handful of plays and countless poems last year launched his own small press, Kelly's Cove, to publish local writers such as poets Terry Ehret of Petaluma and Mike Tuggle of Cazadero.

"There are not huge audiences for these books, but there's a lot of talent around here," said Schneider, who spent two decades as a literary editor in the Midwest before moving to Sonoma in 2008. "It really feels good to get published."

Kelly's Cove is named after a stretch of Ocean Beach in San Francisco, where Schneider grew up as the son of long-time San Francisco Symphony violinist David Schneider and Geri Schneider, a trained opera singer.

Music plays a big part in Schneider's work; his dialogue reveals a keen ear for rhythm. He plays the soprano sax and his tough-minded temperament is more aligned with the grittiness of jazz.

"Dialogue is music," said Schneider, 60. "I hear snatches of it, the rhythm and the way they bounce off each other. It's like six chess moves at once."

Schneider's return to the Bay Area arose from a bittersweet convergence of events. In 2005, he got divorced from his wife and both of his parents died. That difficult time resulted in a new book of poems, "Morning Opera," published in memory of his parents, who lived in Oakmont for 15 years.

The book was inspired by his childhood as well as his new life in Sonoma, where he lives up the street from a cheese factory and a pair of Clydesdale horses. His poems are earthy and lucid, delving into subjects as varied as baseball, Van Morrison and foreign films.

"We don't need to make poetry obscure," he said. "Poetry has enough problems as it is."

Poetry figures prominently in Schneider's new novel, "Nameless Dame: Murder on the Russian River," released this month by Soft Skull Press. The writer's outrageous nature is readily apparent in the plot, which involves the Russians returning to the river to build a casino in Monte Rio.

Two detectives from his last novel, Bobby Sabbatini and Augie Boyer, are brought back for an encore. Boyer visits Sabbatini on the river and ends up investigating the murder of a local woman who's fallen prey to drugs. Meanwhile, Sabbatini opens a poetry karaoke bar in Guerneville. Along with fictional hijinks, the book is peppered with real-life events and places, from the 2004 murder of a young couple in Jenner to the Hemp and Chocolat<NO1><NO> shop. Marijuana smoke swirls on nearly every page.

"Like dreams, every character represents a part of you," Schneider said. "Even the ones who do the unsavory things."

In high school, Schneider was an underachiever who played music and skipped class but found redemption in the fact that he could write. An English teacher helped him get into St. Mary's College in Moraga on the basis of his poetry, and he landed in his element as an English major. He went on to get a master's degree in creative writing from San Francisco State, then wrote plays.

In 1986, Schneider moved to the Midwest to edit the Hungry Mind Review, a national book and culture magazine in St. Paul, Minn. In 2000, he became director of the non-profit Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, where he launched another literary magazine.

By this time, he had switched to writing fiction, which provided a broader canvas for his ideas.

His first novel, "Blue Bossa" (1998) was a fictionalized account of jazz trumpeter Chet Baker, set against the Patty Hearst kidnapping in 1974. His third novel, "Beautiful Inez," (2005), was set again the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and involved a female violinist in the San Francisco Symphony.

More recently, Schneider republished the "Civil War Stories" of San Francisco newspaper columnist Ambrose Bierce and pruned back Bierce's satirical masterpiece into "The Best of the Devil's Dictionary."

He's working on another novel and planning a new catalog of local authors to publish.

"I think people want real craftsmanship," Schneider said. "Whether you read it on a Kindle or not, the craftsmanship has got to be there."

You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com.