The adage that truth is stranger than fiction certainly applies to the extremely colorful life of author Glen David Gold, who attained worldwide smash-hit success with his 2001 debut novel “Carter Beats the Devil” and its 2009 follow-up, “Sunnyside.”.
Those two works of historical fiction — with “Carter” based loosely on the life of underrated master magician Charles Joseph Carter and “Sunnyside” imagining an alternate history for Charlie Chaplin’s rise to Hollywood stardom — have been translated into 14 languages and continue to sell.
Yet Gold’s own Dickensian childhood, with his father disappearing after his parents divorced when he was young and then finding himself abandoned in San Francisco when his mom abruptly moved to New York City when he was 12, forms the basis of what might be his most riveting work yet: the memoir “I Will Be Complete.” Gold will be discussing and signing “Complete” at 7 p.m. Monday at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena.
“The reason I decided to do it now is I tried to tell people my life stories as fiction and no one would believe them,” explains Gold. “I kept running into people with weird-ass stories themselves, or made things happen for themselves that were outside the realms of normal human behavior. When I’d share mine, they’d feel a little less alone in the world and there’s something beneficial to that.”
Gold recently moved to Los Angeles after spending most of his 54 years in San Francisco. He first developed “Complete” by writing incidents from his life as short stories, which he would then test on live audiences for their responses to his improbable tales by performing at slam-poetry open mics.
Gold’s childhood started off well, as his father pioneered the use of cassette tapes as a means of purchasing and listening to music and won a huge deal to create and market tapes for the most popular American band of the early 1960s: Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. But when Alpert noticed that numerous cassettes were jamming inside their players, he pulled his support and left Gold’s “over-leveraged” father to lose nearly everything he had.
After his parents divorced and his mother took Gold to San Francisco, she “moved in with a bunch of con men and one day while I was at school, she moved to New York City.” Now fending for himself, his decision to apply to the Thatcher boarding school in Ojai saved his life.
“I finished middle school first and got myself into Thatcher, because it’s co-ed and had a lot of outdoor activities and I wanted to challenge myself,” recalls Gold. “I wanted to find a place to make my own family. The boarding school had the worst application process because I didn’t know what an essay was. They asked what books you had read and I’d only read comic books for a long time.
“But this guy I knew only as Peter Charming, which was a pseudonym because his real name was even more ridiculous than that, got my mom to move to San Francisco and to invest in Pong video-game machines in 35 restaurants all over the city,” Gold continues. “He threw constant parties and knew Joni Mitchell, and he would hand me piles of books like ‘Even Cowgirls Get the Blues,’ books by Irving Wallace and Yoko Ono’s ‘Grapefruit’— all these counterculture books that taught me you could live a different way and that was a reason I applied to Thatcher and how I got in.”
Gold takes readers through a colorful array of bad jobs, including a summer spent separating frozen chicken parts at a Pioneer Chicken location for $15 a day while being yelled at by his bosses, and colorful relationships. Perhaps his strangest was with a “femme fatale who loved R.E.M.” while living in a house with five other people after finishing college at Berkeley in the 1980s. He also writes of an epic Ecstasy trip they took that he claims left them with the ability to read each other’s minds to good and bad effect for an entire summer.
“I grew up in a household of chaos and I told stories to myself to understand my point of view of it,” says Gold. “There is a lot of laugh out loud stuff in the book, but over and over again I get touched to the point of being weepy from therapists for people with shitty families. When I say I don’t love my mother, it’s not that I hate her or wish her ill. I hope she has a satisfying life, but I have compassion from a distance and am not in her orbit anymore. It’s a dissolution of a relationship that should never dissolve.”
Glen David Gold discusses and signs “I Will Be Complete” at 7 p.m. Monday at Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Call (626) 449-5320 or visit vromans.com.