Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Legends of La Honda: Limey Kay

Limey Kay was a gun-toting, hard-drinking, motorcycle-racing stonemason.  All around La Honda and the Santa Cruz Mountains you come upon samples of his masonry, usually with a whimsical touch. Often he mixed abalone shells among his bricks.

Limey's old house, built on a steep hillside between Laguna and Redwood Drive, is an eclectic mix of brick and stone reflecting different stages of his growth as a craftsman.

It's a small house, but it has six chimneys.  According to Debbie Kay, Limey's daughter-in-law, "The reason there are six chimneys and not the same amount of fireplaces is that Limey had built five or six chimneys for Neil Young's place and Neil shouldn't have more chimneys than Limey!"  No two of those six chimneys are alike.  Consistency and symmetry were of not much interest to Limey Kay. Neither were foundations, so some of his work hasn't held up particularly well.

In his day, Limey's work was in great demand, but you had to know how to approach him.  A six-pack of Coors was generally the cost of getting an estimate - or doing any kind of business with him. Joan Baez hired him by showing up at Apple Jack's with a pickup truck full of bricks and beer.  When he worked, he started the day (at 6:30 in the morning) mixing mortar and drinking Coors, even in the cold of winter.
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Besides Neil Young and Joan Baez, Limey was hired by another local celebrity: Ken Kesey.  This particular job ended unfinished after Kesey invited Limey to join in a Fairy Circle, a regular event at Kesey's in which various Pranksters sat in a circle under the redwoods behind Kesey's cabin.  In the Fairy Circle people would drop acid, hold hands, be quiet, and tell each other "where they were at."  Limey (and a few other locals) couldn't quite adapt to this hippie custom and stomped out, never to return.
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Limey had a series of vintage motorcycles.  An old Bonneville of his can still be seen around town.  With Hells Angels hanging out at Kesey's, and with Limey's history of racing motorcycles (which were not equipped with brakes),  along with Limey's fondness for guns and alcohol, trouble was bound to happen.  One day Limey held a gun to the head of a Hells Angel. For weeks thereafter Limey was on the lam, hiding out as the Angels sought revenge. Meanwhile Nancy Kay, Limey's wife, asked for mercy from her old friend Sonny Barger, who was head of the Oakland Hells Angels. Eventually Sonny called off the manhunt, and Limey came out of hiding.

For a while Limey carried a pearl-handled .44 Magnum revolver.  He had only one bullet, which he kept in his pocket.  Local residents still remember Limey laying the gun on the bar at Apple Jack's and demanding a beer, or Limey with a rifle threatening a neighbor's dog, or Nancy waiting until Limey passed out from drink and then tossing his gun in the lake. But here's the thing: Nobody has a story in which Limey ever fired a shot.
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Hubert Allan Kay was born  in December 1929 in Menlo Park, where he lived until 1961, when he married his first wife.  According to James Adams, "The name 'Limey' was supposed to have been because he raced English flat-track motorcycles on no-brake bikes. The real reason for 'Limey' was because his Mom was English and he would go to England with her in his youth."  Moving to La Honda, Limey built the two-story brick house on the hillside from the ground up, with his bare hands, in the early 1960s. The current owner of the house is working to preserve the house with all its eccentricities including, of course, the abalone shells.

On his 50th birthday, Limey married Nancy, who was 29 years old at the time.  They had a daughter five years later named Jody Rose.  Nancy says, “I had already had three kids and he had four from a previous marriage.  Jody was number eight and pulled the whole extended family together. Those were some of the best times of our life together.”

According to James Adams, "Limey had, at one time, 22 feral cats. [Descendants of those cats still hang around the woods near his cabin.] The cats knew they could trust him. He'd take Jody, his infant daughter, out with him to feed them in the mornings. He'd spend more money for huge bags of cat food than he'd spend at the bar, which was a lot."

Limey had a long-standing feud with the town of La Honda.  Rather than pay his water bill, he poured concrete over the water meter box. Eventually, with the aid of a backhoe (and police backup), the town got a reading of the water meter, and got paid.
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Limey didn't always have the firmest grasp of finances. One day he walked into a local realtor's office and said, "I hate to do it but I'm broke and I'm gonna have to sell my house." The realtor replied, "Limey, I'm sorry to tell you this but I already sold your house for you - three years ago."

Limey seemed to have a soft spot for animals and children. If anybody drove too fast up our little roads, Limey would flag them down.  People were scared of Limey because he was gruff. If he spoke, he mumbled. And yet he often showed kindness. If your car was stuck in a ditch, Limey without being asked would pull you out with his monster jeep-like vehicle which he called The General.

Limey died in 2005, but his spirit lives on in La Honda, as well as examples of his craft. He was a folk artist, a pain in the butt, a one-of-a-kind stylist, and a local legend.

(The photo of Limey as a young man is by Susan Friedman in the book A Separate Place by Charles Jones.)

(I wrote this article for the La Honda Voice, where it originally appeared.)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

An Interview

I was just interviewed by Liana Burnside for a research project at Brigham Young University.  The questions were interesting...

 1. What first prompted you to distribute some of your material for free online?
In March 2008 I read an article in the NY Times about podcasting novels, and I instantly loved the idea.  All literature has its roots in oral storytelling.  Somehow we have come to believe that only printed works are true literature, but they are merely an imitation - and sometimes a poor substitute - for oral storytelling.  My own writing has always been geared toward the sound of words, especially the extensive dialog.  I'd been writing podcast-ready novels for 40 years and hadn't known it.

Or is the question about doing it for free?  Well, initially I thought a free podcast of the novel might entice listeners to buy the printed book.  I was wrong.  Most of them are happy just to listen.  But the podcasting process turns out to be exactly what I like about literature, so I'll continue even without making any money from it, although - ahem - I appreciate the occasional donation from the occasional grateful listener.

2. When writing your novel Clear Heart, did you know you were going to turn it into a podiobook? If so, how did that affect the writing process?
I had completed Clear Heart just before I discovered podcasting, so the writing was intended for print.  Reading aloud, of course, is a great editing tool, so the writing became better as I prepared the podcast.

Currently I'm producing a podcast novel that is strongly influenced by my podcasting experience.  It affects the story in several ways - most obviously in my use of music which I incorporate into the plot.

3. How have you promoted your work? In addition, what sort of online networking have you participated in?
I suck at promotion.  It doesn't fit with my personality.  I have a blog and a website.  Sometimes I comment on other people's blogs.  I do a few internet radio interviews.  That's about it.  Eventually, the podcast itself is my best promotion.  Without any publicity, my downloads increase every month.  People find me through word-of-mouth recommendations.

4. You offer a few of your books in both audio and print versions. Do you feel like the different versions offer different experiences? Is one superior to the other?
I want both versions to be good, and I try hard to make it so.  And yes, of course the experiences are different.  Listening to a podcast is an incredibly intimate experience.  My voice is literally inside the listener's head - inserted through ear buds.  People won't allow that kind of intimacy for long unless they really like you - so I have to be as good as I can be.

5. What is your primary motivation for writing?
Creating characters and bringing them to life.  Creating my version of the world.  A kind of birth.

Thank you again for assisting me with my research.

Interesting questions, Liana.  A pleasure.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A nice review of Clear Heart

I've been taking a break from blogging while I concentrate on preparing my next novel/podcast.  But somehow, in spite of my absence, the internet keeps on going...  I just became aware of a new review posted on Amazon by a reader/listener:

Clear Heart by Joe Cottonwood, is a story about life. Just that, life. There are no car chases or gunfights or deadly diseases, although there is one race with death that had me praying for a positive outcome.

Wally, a building contractor is just existing, each day a struggle to overcome the death of his wife as well as her betrayal. His highest hope is to create a house that is as close to perfect as possible for an impossible client, while his own life and home are in chaos.

His best friend, Juke, is a misfit with no responsibilities and seemingly no cares except to do his best work for his boss, Wally.

A fateful accident introduces Opal, the force that causes a catharsis, the healing and growing that takes place in this tale of life.

Abe, Opal's son, an immature high school grad who was accepted into Princeton until he pulled a trick on the wrong man.

And last but not least is Frog Girl, Amanda, a pregnant, seventeen-year-old run away.

Throw all these personalities into a pot and stir, add a few side characters for spice and the race to finish the perfect house as the fire. Let it stew. With these ingredients, it simmers, boils, and simmers again. Just like life.

As a member of the audience, allowed a peak into the life of these people, you are shown all the imperfections of Wally and watch as he was able to say good bye to his wife and fall in love again. Watch as Opal realizes she does not need the perfect man, a banker or lawyer for a partner. Watch as Abe and Juke both mature into men who, after being tossed around the water, floundering a bit, learn to grab hold of life and realize what is important. Watch as Frog Girl discovers the mystery and bonds with her unborn baby and makes better and stronger decisions as her life continues.
There were times I did not like the characters, just as in real-life. Some decisions were made that would not be the decisions I would have made, but usually, after some learning and searching, things got back on course again.

I did not like Opal very much, all the way through. I thought she learned the least and did not really understand the minor miracle that was happening in her life. But that is just like real-life, too.

Joe Cottonwood is a carpenter. The details are sometimes overwhelming, but embellish the story and add a "scent" (I could smell as well as feel the redwood).

All in all, when I finally got the very end and looked back, I was amazed at the depth of this book. A story does not always need a car chase to be an excellent tale. I really liked Clear Heart. 

The reviewer is Arlene RadaskyShe's a writer/podcaster herself.  Her story The Fox is available as a podcast here or as an ebook here or as a printed book here