WALNUT CREEK -- Sex, lies, secrets, legends and a year of free downtown parking -- you'll find them all at "Authors, Artists & Adventures," the Walnut Creek Library Foundation's fifth annual "Authors Under the Stars" gala Saturday, March 8.

Between the covers of featured authors' books or during the opening reception's silent auction, anything is possible.

The gala offers 20 award-winning Bay Area authors, original works from five local artists and a long list of experiential auction "adventures." With a "who needs more stuff, anyway" attitude, the emphasis is on flights of fancy and trips to Tahoe. After the reception, dinner will be served by Grace Street Catering, with wine from Charles Creek Winery.

This year's authors come to the table with a literary menagerie -- California wine titans, war veterans, fog, polar bears, Hawaiian sugar barons, firefighters, bicyclists, Southern Italian desserts, Mount Diablo and other topics.

They tell stories of walking, sailing, sleuthing, sculpting, and being stranded on desolate islands, both real and imagined. They answer questions about why, when and possibly even what they wear when they write. For bookies, it's like Heaven.

For gala co-chairs Peter Magnani and Catherine Leutzinger, it's an opportunity to support the library and celebrate the city's Centennial. In an interview, Magnani pointed to the 18-plus local businesses supporting the fundraiser.

"There'll be lots of Walnut Creek in the room," he said. Committee brainstorming sessions and the help of Jacque Smith, a Walnut Creek art consultant, led to something new this year -- invitations to five visual artists.

"They each agreed to donate a work: you could say some of our guests (will take) home a piece of the library," Magnani said. He could have added "and a piece of Walnut Creek art," because all five artists have work on display in the library or in the city.

A modest preview of three shining "author stars" lends credence to Magnani's assertion that "with 20 prominent Bay Area authors in attendance, we don't need to plan surprises to know there are going to be some!"

Harriet Scott Chessman creates counterpoint in the voices of a Vietnam vet and a Benedictine nun in "The Beauty of Ordinary Things." Like her other novels, an inexorable tug-of-war between deeply understandable characters weaves together their otherwise disparate lives.

Unspoken love and unprinted images drive her book's "courage comes from some wild source" message.

Marin-based Julia Flynn Siler follows an internal tag line ("write a page-turner, not an academic tome") while constructing narrative nonfiction like "The House of Mondavi."

Her exploration into the family wine dynasty left her "susceptible to falling in love with my own research," she admitted in an email. Applying her mantra, the book's evocative details and the subject's vast history are carefully curated.

"Space trumps time," author and Salon.com cofounder Gary Kamiya writes in his "Cool Gray City of Love." It's a disingenuous statement, applying only to the book's chronology, considering what he discovers during 49 walking explorations of his hometown, San Francisco, and its surrounds. After all, events over time -- earthquakes, world wars, urban decay and restoration, immigration, migration -- shape the bite-sized history lessons Kamiya delivers.

But the resounding impact of his jaunts across bridges, through parks and along city streets isn't pedantic; instead, exquisite vignettes, described in metaphoric, often poetic language, invite the reader to see the city as he sees it.

"To paint a place in such a way that people remember it, you must love it," Kamiya said in an interview.

With writers (and libraries) deeply immersed in the digital age, the authors reflected on how computers and the Internet influence their research process. Siler is grateful for digitized documents, but she said obscure letters and diaries are often not digitized.

She enjoys digging through historical archives or consulting with scholars and wonders how "research serendipity" can happen in an all-online world. Kamiya said the digital age's only downside is overdependence on Google searches. Online, one forms only virtual images of a physical location.

"My book required me to be constantly out wandering the city, so that wasn't a big problem," he said. Chessman was inspired and informed by online discoveries, but cautioned that sorting kernels from chaff amid so much wheat is difficult.

And nothing can match lived experience, she said -- adventures like sitting elbow-to-elbow with a writer, jawing over favorite books in a library.

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