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Pages From Recent History : Local Writers Tap Experience and Imagination to Fill Shelves With Words of Warmth, Wit and Wisdom

THE YEAR IN REVIEW: Orange County's vital literary scene produced dozens of volumes


It's been a year in which a San Juan Capistrano incest victim wrote about the dark family secret she had kept hidden for four decades, a Lake Forest woman chronicled the enduring popularity of "The Sound of Music," and a retired Irvine history professor eloquently described regaining his sight after years of blindness.

It was also a year in which Orange County lost one of its brightest literary lights, the county's best-known author had his fifth suspense thriller in a row reach the No. 1 spot on the New York Times bestseller list and a transplanted Australian author's 11-year-old, fact-based novel about an unlikely hero of the Holocaust was finally translated to the big screen by Steven Spielberg.

Orange County has been a vital literary scene for more than a decade, and 1993 was no exception, with literally dozens of books pouring forth from local writers. Among the highlights:

* "Cry the Darkness: One Woman's Triumph Over Tragedy" (Health Communications; $11.95) is Donna Friess' account of two generations of female family members being molested by her father. The book's publication resulted in Friess--a professor of communications at Cypress College--appearing on nearly 100 radio shows and receiving numerous letters and phone calls from readers who identified with her tale of incest.

"I'm getting a lot of 'it changed my life' stories," says Friess, whose book is also being used by therapists and in college classes.

* Julia Antopol Hirsch's "The Sound of Music: The Making of America's Favorite Movie" (Contemporary Books; $19.95) told fans everything they ever wanted to know about the 1965 Julie Andrews musical based on the singing Von Trapp family.

Among Hirsch's fan mail: a letter from George Von Trapp--grandson of Maria Von Trapp--who runs the family's ski lodge in Stowe, Vt. He ordered 200 copies to sell during the Christmas season and invited Hirsch to do a book-signing at a "Sound of Music" festival at the lodge next year.

* Robert V. Hine's "Second Sight" (University of California Press; $20) chronicled the retired UC Riverside professor's 20 years of failing eyesight, his 15 years of total blindness and the near-miraculous restoration of his sight in one eye after a dangerous operation in 1986.

"Second Sight" not only generated glowing reviews--from Library Journal to the New York Times Book Review--but was selected by the Book of the Month Club and attracted the attention of the "Today" show, which filmed Hine at his Irvine home.

* "Summer of Fear" (St. Martin's Press; $19.95) is T. Jefferson Parker's fourth Orange County-set mystery since "Laguna Heat" in 1984. It's also the Laguna Beach author's most autobiographical novel: Like his protagonist--ex-cop-turned-crime writer Russ Monroe, whose wife is battling a malignant brain tumor--Parker's wife, Catherine Anne (Cat) Parker, died in 1992 at age 34 after a two-year struggle with brain cancer.

Parker, who is working on his next Orange County mystery, says "Summer of Fear" has been optioned by a production company interested in turning it into a two-part mini-series.

* Jo-Ann Mapson's debut novel, "Hank & Chloe" (HarperCollins; $20), a contemporary Western romance set in Orange County, was condensed in the March issue of Cosmopolitan magazine and attracted the attention of Annette Bening and Warren Beatty. The Hollywood couple didn't bite, but an option on the book was snagged by a producer who is now looking for a screenwriter.

Now teaching creative writing and composition full time at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, Mapson says she "barely" has time to write. But she did manage to finish her second novel, "Blue Rodeo," another contemporary Western set this time in the Four Corners area of New Mexico. It's due out in May.

* "Schindler's List," Australian Thomas Keneally's 1982 prize-winning novel about a German industrialist-Nazi Party member who secretly saved 1,300 Jews from dying in the death camps, is in the news again, thanks to director Steven Spielberg.

Keneally, who joined Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton at an invitational screening of the film in Washington in late November, has been on a yearlong unpaid leave of absence from his teaching job in the graduate Program in Writing at UC Irvine in order to devote time to Australia's political Republican Movement. But he has stepped down as the movement's chairman and returns to UCI in January.

* Dean Koontz of Newport Beach, who normally has only one best-selling novel published a year, had two in 1993. "Dragon Tears," which is about two Orange County detectives on the trail of a serial killer "with extraordinary powers," swept to the No. 1 spot on the New York Times bestseller list early in the year; "Mr. Murder"--an October release about a Mission Viejo mystery writer stalked by a nameless psychotic--is moving up the New York Times' Top 10 chart.

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