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Can a man ever accurately create realistic, legitimate female characters? Palm Springs author David Hamlin thinks he knows the secret.

“I’m a good listener,” he says. “I’m a great admirer of women who break glass ceilings. There are barriers to be taken down and not accepted, so I write about strong women who fiercely fight for what they want. Throughout most of my adult life, my good friends (have been) women.”

Hamlin’s first two works of fiction, Winter in Chicago and Winter Gets Hot, feature a female protagonist, Emily Winter, a clever and determined reporter working for a Chicago paper at a time when women are just beginning to fight entrenched sexism and reach beyond writing about fashion and entertainment.

Born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Bethesda, Md., Hamlin grew up in a household where there was always a daily newspaper, and where dinner conversation included the political realities of growing up close to the center of government.

“We had neighbors who were high up in the military or members of Congress or working in government agencies,” recalls Hamlin. “It was the culture all around us, and I had the good fortune to experience a superior public school system where we learned an appreciation for government and social action. That was a time of the Freedom Riders and the Congress of Racial Equality. I did participate in some demonstrations.”

That grounding led to a stint as an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) volunteer.

“I spent three years at the University of Maryland after high school and decided to take what is now called a gap year,” he says. “The VISTA program was about a year old at that point. I trained in Chicago at a time when VISTA’s focus was poor and Indian communities. When I signed up, they were focusing on urban areas so, I ended up working on poverty programs in Newark, N.J.

“That was a time when groups like Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and activists like Tom Hayden were recognizing the needs in black communities. It became the ‘college radicals’ versus the VISTA volunteers. I trained as a community organizer and ended up in Philadelphia for about nine months.

“I gained a far-reaching appreciation for what the Constitution’s framers had in mind when they wrote the First Amendment. We take free speech for granted. The public conversation needs to be wide open, with all ideas, and with regular citizens able to pick and choose what to listen to and what to say, without interference by government.”

After graduating cum laude in English and government from Nasson College in Maine, Hamlin ultimately got involved with the American Civil Liberties Union and served as the executive director in New Hampshire. He was recruited to Chicago—and the infamous Skokie case happened when he had been there only 18 months.

“From the day I arrived until I left Chicago, one of my driving desires was to use that platform to help people understand more of what the Constitution says,” Hamlin says. “The Skokie ordeal was when the ACLU supported the right of Nazis to march in Skokie, Ill., a community with a lot of Jews. It lasted through 19 months of extreme stress and tension. I did most of the media contact and public speaking, and I finally left soon after, largely out of exhaustion.”

How did the writing career come about?

“I had done some writing for an independent newspaper while I was working with the ACLU, but the big project came when I was asked to write a book about the Skokie case,” says Hamlin. “That led to The Nazi/Skokie Conflict, published in 1980, a first-hand account of one of the most controversial free speech cases in the 20th century.

It was the first time I thought of writing as a profession. My dad had been a publisher and editor and an international reporter for The New York Times. My older brother is an editor. We always had books in the house, and I learned to enjoy reading very early. I discovered mysteries while I was in college.”

Hamlin and his wife, Sydney Weisman, began a public relations firm when they moved to California. “We met when I was with the ACLU in Chicago. I sponsored a conference for lawyers and I needed to get a good publicist. She walked in the door, and we’ve been together now for 41 years.”

What brought them to Palm Springs three years ago?

“We lived in Los Angeles, running our own business, so extended vacations were never an option,” Hamlin says. “We spent time in Palm Springs whenever we could, so it seemed like a natural choice.

“I had written for clients, including a book about the 75th anniversary of the (landmark Los Angeles) Farmers’ Market. I’d written opinion pieces and even a political satire column. But I wanted to take a run at fiction. You need focus and energy to do it well, so we decided to retire.

“When it comes to writing, you just have to start. That’s the only way to learn how to do it—and read good writers. For me, it was authors like Elmore Leonard, John D. MacDonald, Joseph Wambaugh, and Canadian Louise Penny. There are so many, but I never read them while I’m writing—I don’t want to even inadvertently steal something.”

The striving reporter featured in Hamlin’s first two books is being retired for the time being.

“I want to spread my wings a little,” says Hamlin. “I’m in the early stage of writing another book right now.

“The arc of feminism that I experienced made me a great admirer of women. Their voices are different, and their approach to everything from personal relationships to the culture around them is different. At the ACLU, I began when women were banging on the doors of society. I always interacted with strong women demanding equality.

“One of the lessons I’ve learned in writing a female character came from my wife. She goes ballistic at the idea that men always write about the kind of women who are in jeopardy and running for their lives. She says, ‘Why in God’s name would a woman be stupid enough to wear high heels in the jungle?’”

David Hamlin doesn’t make those kind of mistakes.

Hamlin will appear at Just Fabulous, 515 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, on Saturday, March 10, from 2 to 4 p.m.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Many of the Coachella Valley’s larger art galleries tend to hibernate during the summer heat. The (relative) exodus of tourists provides time for them to prepare new exhibitions for the fall.

But the need to experience art doesn’t go on vacation—and this time of year provides art-lovers with a great opportunity to shift focus and find art in public settings and smaller venues that promote local talent.

In Palm Springs, the “Lucy Ricardo” sculpture by Emmanuil Snitkovsky sits on a bench near the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf at 211 S. Palm Canyon Drive, while the “Rainmaker” sculpture by David Morris inspires in Frances Stevens Park at 500 N. Palm Canyon Drive. There are also impressive works called “Monsieur Pompadour” and “Mademoiselle Coco” by Karen and Tony Barone greeting people at the Palm Springs Animal Shelter, 4575 E. Mesquite Ave.

In Palm Desert, you can stroll through four acres of the Faye Sarkowsky Sculpture Garden at the Palm Springs Art Museum in Palm Desert (72567 Highway 111), while the Rancho Mirage Public Library often features exhibitions by local artists and photographers. The “Coachella Walls” mural resides on the side of a downtown building in Coachella and is accompanied by other murals on buildings opposite Dateland Park.

La Quinta has numerous works of art surrounding the Civic Center Campus. In Indio, you can find the “History of Water in the Coachella Valley,” a massive painting by Don Gray, on the south wall of the Indio Performing Arts Center, 45175 Fargo St. Each of these cities has maps that will guide you to the various works of art throughout their communities on their websites.

You can pop in and find original art in various hotel lobbies, like the knotted macramé rope curtain, woven from 1.5 miles of cotton rope by Michael Schmidt, at the Ace Hotel Palm Springs. “A Day in the Life at Saguaro,” by local artist Sarah Scheideman, features dioramas of Barbie dolls at The Saguaro.

Back in Palm Springs, retail favorite Just Fabulous, at 515 N. Palm Canyon Drive, has works by numerous artists displayed on the walls. Smaller galleries like Gallery500, located inside The Five Hundred building, 500 S. Palm Canyon Drive, provide a showcase for emerging artists like Christopher Williams.

“I got into Gallery500 through the Desert AIDS Project. They have a program that helps to find venues and create opportunities,” Williams said. “Responses to my art have been good—a lot of positive feedback. Because of showing at Gallery500, I feel more positive about my work, and I even sold a couple of pieces there.”

The point: Art is everywhere in the Coachella Valley, and it often doesn’t require an admission ticket.

Not all of the big galleries and museums close their doors during the summer. The Palm Springs Art Museum offers free admission every Thursday throughout the summer from noon to 8 p.m. The museum’s Annenberg Theater will show a free film, Paris, Texas, at 6 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 17. Seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Published in Visual Arts