Friday, November 13, 2015

Local author tackles press in latest novel

(Originally published in the 11/13/15 edition)

   Past Bookshop Benicia Author Events have featured local writers with ties to the area. The author featured for next weekend’s event, Delfin Vigil, is as local as they come.
   The 1993 Benicia High School graduate’s new novel, “Death of a Newspaperman,” is loosely based on Vigil’s experiences working for various newspapers, particularly the San Francisco Chronicle where he worked as a copy assistant and reporter for 10 years. 
   The book tells the story of a reporter named Desmond De Leon who works for the fictional San Francisco Call in the 1980s. De Leon is fascinated with the history of San Francisco journalism, particularly that of 19th century publishing tycoon and Call founder Charles Sansome, who was shot to death in an editorial dispute. De Leon becomes dissatisfied with the deteriorating moral character he comes to view in newspapers and tries to figure out what Sansome would do.
   Vigil describes the novel as “a love letter to San Francisco and a breakup letter with newspaper journalism.”
   He has had a long history of working with newspapers, dating back to when he wrote stories for Benicia Middle School’s student paper The Viking Press. After graduating from high school, Vigil got a job at the Contra Costa Times shortly before the paper was sold to Knight Ridder.
   “I got a pretty early glimpse of a fading era of newspaper journalism when it was shifting from family-owned to corporate-owned,” he said. 
   In 2000, Vigil got a job as a copy assistant at the Chronicle and became a reporter covering everything from features to breaking news. He held the job until 2009.
   “It was a dream job,” he said. “I knew from sixth or seventh grade that’s what I wanted to do with my life.”
   Vigil described his experiences at the Chronicle as mostly good, but over time he began to see a change in the values of newspapers.
   “I pretty much grew up in a newsroom,” he said. “I was surrounded by people who told me ‘You gotta question authority. You gotta challenge. Don’t be intimidated, you stand up and you challenge.’ As I slowly saw the career that I really valued become devalued and become less of an honest way of making a living, I was really sad to see most people weren’t using that same mentality to our own authority.”
   One thing Vigil enjoyed about writing the book was the freedom to use his own voice.
   “I wanted to do it in the form of literature as much as possible because in journalism you have to be objective,” he said. “When I think of journalism, I can’t be objective. I have very strong feelings about it.”
  Vigil used this voice to channel the need for journalists to question authority in his book.
   “There’s a lot of books about journalism that are the woe-is-me-laid-off-newspaperman-trying-to-figure-himself-out type, and I really didn’t want to write that,” he said. “ I wanted to write a book that says ‘This is not OK’ and that certain authorities should be held accountable.”
   Although his experiences in newsrooms inspired the premise of “Death of a Newspaperman,” Vigil’s experiences in Benicia inspired the creative process.
   “Benicia is very close to my heart,” he said. “For me, it felt like an environment that was very welcoming to writers and musicians. All my memories of growing up in Benicia are of creating something, whether being a part of a band or a record label or performing in the Industrial Park.”
   Vigil also wrote parts of the book during visits to Benicia and even recruited longtime friend and fellow Benicia graduate Scott Bradley to provide the illustrations. Bradley will be joining  Vigil at the Author Event to answer questions and sign copies of the book.
   “It will be something of a homecoming for both of us,” Vigil said.
   Bookshop Benicia owner Christine Mayall praised Vigil for how he captured an era, and she believes that having two speakers will provide a good look into how the book came together.
   “He’s a real renaissance of a man,” she said. “It’s always interesting to hear about the creative process and how they come up with a subject.”

   The Bookshop Benicia Author Event will be held at 6 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 21 at 636 First St. The event is free and open to the public. For more information, contact the store at (707) 747-5155.

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