Inland Empire has the write stuff

NOTE: This is an updated version of an article I wrote for the August 2010 issue of Inland Living magazine.

If the pen is mightier than the sword, the Inland Empire has a standing army of mighty warriors.

It’s true. A host of literary figures have roots in the region.

Acclaimed novelists Barbara Wood, Gayle Brandeis, Kathryn Lynn Davis and Susan Straight all live in Riverside. Straight is on the faculty at the University of California, Riverside, as are noted authors Chris Abani, Christopher Buckley, Mike Davis and Juan Felipe Herrera.

Science fiction and fantasy author Tim Powers, a San Bernardino resident, is author of the 1988 novel “On Stranger Tides,” which has been optioned by Hollywood to form the basis of the fourth “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie starring Johnny Depp.

Another San Bernardino author, Robert Reginald (real name Michael Burgess), has more than 100 fiction and non-fiction titles to his credit. He is a retired librarian at Cal State San Bernardino.

The English department at Cal State includes such literary notables as James Brown, author of “The Los Angeles Diaries” and “This River”; novelist Glen Hirshberg, author of “The Snowman’s Children” and “American Morons”; and poet Juan Delgado, whose works include “A Rush of Hands” and “El Campo.”

Redlands claims novelists Patricia Geary, Jack Lopez, Bruce McAllister and Lynn Flewelling.
Prolific horror novelist Tamara Thorne, whose titles include “Bad Things” and “Thunder Road,” lives in Upland.

Lee Gruenfeld, with homes in Lake Arrowhead and Palm Springs, writes bestsellers such as “Irreparable Harm” and “All Fall Down” under his real name, and sports-themed bestsellers such as “Scratch” and the “The Green” under his pseudonym, Troon McAllister.

There’s another long list of literary figures who are not current residents of the Inland Empire, but who have strong past connections with the region.

Best-selling novelist Joseph Wambaugh once lived in Fontana, where he worked as a fireman at Kaiser Steel.

Dean Koontz lived for years in Big Bear Lake and set his bestselling thriller “Lightning” there.

Charles Phoenix, humorist, stage entertainer and author of such books as “God Bless Americana” and “Southern Californialand,” was born and raised in Ontario.

Kem Nunn, whose novels include “Pomona Queen” and whose TV writing credits include “Deadwood” and “John from Cincinnati,” grew up in Pomona.

Fantasy and science fiction novelist Barbara Hambly lived in Montclair, Riverside and Ontario.

Horror novelist Alexandra Sokoloff grew up in San Bernardino.

Luis Rodriguez, author of the best-selling “Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A.,” worked as a reporter at The Sun in 1980-82.

Screenwriters Les and Glen Charles, creators of the TV comedy classic “Cheers,” both attended the University of Redlands. Les tended bar at the Gay 90s Pizza Parlor near campus, and the tavern’s setting provided much of the inspiration for “Cheers,” he later said.

James Fallows, author and former U.S. News and World Report editor, grew up in Redlands.

David Saylor, who is American art director of the “Harry Potter” books, lived in San Bernardino.

Authors of  yesteryear  with ties to the Inland Empire include Riverside’s Harry Lawton, a longtime professor at the University of California at Riverside, who wrote the 1960 book, “Willie Boy: A Desert Manhunt.” The book inspired the 1969 movie “Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here,” starring Robert Redford.

Mystery writer Erle Stanley Gardner, creator of the “Perry Mason” novels, which inspired the long-running TV series starring Raymond Burr, settled in Temecula in Riverside County, where he died in 1970.

Raymond Chandler, creator of the Philip Marlowe detective novels, lived briefly at Big Bear Lake and set his 1943 novel “Lady in the Lake” there. It’s the only Philip Marlowe story that is not set in Los Angeles.

Harold Bell Wright, one of the nation’s top-selling novelists of the early 1900s, also lived in Redlands. His “The Winning of Barbara Worth” (1912) was the first novel in history to sell a million copies. It inspired the 1926 movie of the same title that starred Gary Cooper.

Helen Hunt Jackson, who lived for awhile in the Hemet/San Jacinto area, set her best-selling novel “Ramona” in the desert regions of San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

Ina Coolbrith, who lived in San Bernardino during its pioneer days, became California’s first poet laureate, appointed to the post in 1915 by Gov. Hiram Warren Johnson. Even though she died in 1928, she still has an ardent fan base to this day (check out the Ina Coolbrith Circle at

  • Tamara

    Seems to me I read a novel and a couple non-fiction books by John Weeks. Don’t leave yourself out!