The main character in the new novel by Kevin Brass is a trendy, smart writer who gravitates towards TV cameras and celebrity-tracking websites like a gambler to a poker game.
But Brass’s novel, “The Cult of Truland,” is also about places — Del Mar, Solana Beach and Los Angeles, the stomping grounds for Brass, a longtime journalist, as he grew up, attended Torrey Pines High School and worked in print and broadcast media.
“The setting is very much a character in this book,” said Brass, who divides his time among San Diego, Miami, Barcelona, and other places where his journalistic works takes him, such as the Middle East.
A Del Mar native, Brass said, “I love the politics, the conflicts and the drama” of the seaside town. “I love that it attracts characters.”
The novel, published in 2014 by a company Brass launched, called Glowing Sand Media, chronicles the adventures of Jake Truland, who writes sensational novels as a way of attracting attention to himself.
“The books are a tool for a larger goal, to be the most famous guy in the world,” said Brass, during an interview at an outdoor table at the Pannikin coffee house on Coast Highway in Leucadia on a warm, bright February morning.
North County readers will recognize the descriptions of local hangouts, and appreciate Brass’s nod to the area’s laid-back vibe.
“Del Mar was his escape hatch. It was a two-hour drive south from Los Angeles but technically out of the Hollywood sphere of influence. Several Hollywood types had homes scattered across the coastline. For years Ravi Shankar owned a house a few miles up the road, which is how Jake found himself discussing Mongolian meditation techniques with George Harrison one night, long ago.
“But there was more to it. The lifestyle was part of him now — the beach, the early morning volleyball games in the cold mist, body surfing at sunset. It had changed him, altered his focus, his rhythm of life. There was always a single fin tossed in the trunk of his car, just in case the waves were up. He had a special app to track surf reports,” Brass writes.
Early in the book, Jake’s life is upended when his Del Mar beachfront house burns down in an apparent arson fire. Amid the official investigation into the mysterious blaze, the celebrity media machine cranks into high gear because of the main character’s status as a regular on talk shows, tabloids and gossipy websites. Jake schemes with his agent to make the most of the media attention headed his way.
The book is meant to be a fun read, while also allowing Brass, a former media critic and commentator for the Los Angeles Times, to examine today’s celebrity-obsessed media, from TMZ to Buzzfeed to Access Hollywood, where he also once worked.
“I do feel like I bring an insider’s perspective to this world,” Brass said.
Another thread running through the novel is the way that the lines of demarcation between traditional media, such as newspapers and television news, and their celebrity- tracking brethren, have become less defined.
“That line is blurring. You’re seeing the style and tone and thought process of celebrity coverage seeping into the traditional media,” he said.
When Brass isn’t working on a novel, he covers such issues as development, urban planning, architecture and real estate trends for a variety of publications and websites, including the International New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Urban Land Institute and OZY.com. He recently spent a year and a half living and working in Dubai.
“The Cult of Truland” was something he’d been thinking about for a while.
“This was a book I felt I needed to write,” he said. “It’s been gestating for many years.”
Brass will give a talk about celebrity journalism and his book at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 25, at the Del Mar Library, 1309 Camino del Mar, Del Mar. Admission to the event is free.