Hope Ellson is from the wrong side of the tracks, but her genius transcends class. When Hope joins FearToShred, a Silicon Valley extreme gaming startup, Hope’s mission is to groom the scrappy company for prime time. Enter Doug Wiser, her very married ex. While the two work in tandem, nefarious forces are at work behind the scenes. Adding to the excitement of this thriller are the stars and heroes of surfing and skateboarding. With a keen eye on women in tech, business ethics and dangerous stunts, “Extreme” will leave you breathless.
Winner of the Cervena Barva and Chaffin Fiction Awards, Joan’s work has appeared in The Huffington Post, Vanity Fair, Rattle, Pank! The Meridien Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Chicken Soup for the Soul and over 200 literary journals, blogs and magazines.
A member of the National Book Critics Circle, Joan has worked for California Poets in the Schools, Poetry Out Loud, Chiat/Day Advertising and other Bay Area companies. She currently coaches writers and teaches in the San Francisco Bay Area.
With a poet’s sensibility and a novelist’s instinct for plot, Joan Gelfand has produced a whip‑smart page‑turner of a book, complete with startup fever, romantic intrigue, and a cast of sympathetic ‑‑ and not so sympathetic ‑‑ characters. Read Extreme and you’ll have a better sense of what really goes on in Silicon Valley, far better than TV shows like Silicon Valley could ever provide.” – Katie Hafner, Author, New York Times and Wall Street Journal columnist.
Check out chapter one of EXTREME below!
After fruitless circling of the Purple, Coral, and Lime parking lots, Hope surrenders. She drives underground, winding four levels down into the bowels of Palo Alto’s small Civic Center garage. She surrenders, but not before considering several vacant red, blue, and yellow spots, as tempting to her as any gooey dessert. Employees only, Electric vehicles only, and Disabled sat empty as a tossed Starbucks cup. It was tempting. But not today. Anything can happen in the five minutes it takes to run into CVS, including a beat cop under pressure to get his numbers up. When did parking in downtown Palo Alto at three P.M. become an Olympic event? Did the student population at Stanford just increase by a factor of ten? WTF?
Leaving the underground lot, Hope steps into daylight as harsh as the brightness after a matinee; a brutal transition from fantasy to reality. Today is very real. Today, Hope’s fantasies are about work, even if FearToShred is its own movie.
Today there are questions to answer: Does the young company have legs? Why did Arthur turn down an eighty million dollar offer to sell it to Datex, his former company?
FearToShred hasn’t gone public yet. That’s a good thing for her as a potential employee, but a fact which had blocked Hope from getting the boatload of intelligence she wanted for the interview. Crunchbase was little help. She could call around, but sleuthing would sound an alarm that she’s leaving Manuserve.
Hope squints. The sun is bright, but that’s nothing new; the sun has been bright all year. She slips on Ray Bans, as integral to her outfit as her Apple watch or Blahniks. All of California has been steamy, smoky, and stuck in an endless summer. Is it November? August? January? Who can tell?
University Avenue and the surrounding roads are an obstacle course rife with a nonstop parade of joggers, cyclists, and mothers and nannies pushing baby strollers.
The fires have been creepy. Hope’s yard has deteriorated to a dusty grey; her showers are bullet short. One dry winter has turned into three.
The water company’s banned watering of lawns; abusers are ridiculed on the front pages of the press. Northern California blames Southern California. Tony golf courses of the wealthy are under civic scrutiny. All while California’s economy shoots into the stratosphere.
With Google and Facebook gobbling up tech veterans, startups were desperate for talent. Which was why Hope wasn’t surprised when Arthur called. Though never as successful as she may have hoped to be, her name was one of the ones raised when recruiters, hiring managers, and CEO’s played the “who’s innovating” game at meetings and cocktail parties. While Hope had been hiding out at Manuserve, collecting a fat paycheck and doing banal B2B, her reputation was still out there, reaching far and wide. What she and Doug had pulled off at Topia had been the stuff of urban legend. Topia was one of the very first companies to break through from geeky to a global audience. Yes, Arthur knew who she was even if she’d been heads down the past year.
Despite the severe lack of rain, today the world was fresh and new. Gardenia and jasmine scent the air; the breeze whispers ‘possibility.’ Through the glass doors and up the wide aisle at CVS, Hope heads for the cosmetics to suss out a chintzy replacement lipstick for the MAC she accidentally left on her desk.
A wall of options waits like a chorus line of Vegas dancers. Hope checks her watch: thirteen minutes to pick out a shade that says, ‘serious, smart, perky.’ She assesses the check-out line – decent. Two cashiers, one auto pay, and only a few customers standing in line. Hope sets her phone alarm for ten minutes.
Five foot eight, Hope weighed in this morning at 136; not her best weight ever but she’s been busy. A thick lock of auburn hair stretches midway down her back. Her legs are long and slim. She woke up feeling good in her skin. A sexy wake-up call from James in bed this morning didn’t hurt. She’ll get back to 129, her fighting weight, soon. Lipsticks. Maybelline, Cover Girl. Hope frets. Her go-to shade is Diva by MAC, but CVS doesn’t carry the upmarket brand. Firecracker. Too wild. Ruby Woo. Milf. Hot Passion. Not for work. Ah, wait. Monte Carlo. Rich. Smart looking. She rubs a sample on the back of her hand. Possible. With a clean Q-tip she swipes her lips. Deep. But wait. There’s American Doll. Looks like Diva’s poor sister. Same shade, cheaper packaging. She wipes off the Monte Carlo with a moistened towel from a handy dispenser, swipes a fresh Q-tip.
With a hint of Monte Carlo adhered to her lip she creates an impromptu blend of the two shades. Perfect. Pursing her lips in the small makeup mirror mounted on the wall, wondering if her cheeks have flushed or if it’s the lighting, she catches sight of Doug Wiser.
Hope swings her hair in front of her face, kneels down low to fumble with her Coach slouch bag. She’s searching for her credit card when his warm hand alights on her shoulder.
Hope looks up guiltily, her head uncomfortably level with Doug’s crotch. Unfolding herself to full height, the single button on her pencil skirt pops.
Doug throws his arms around her in a cozy bear hug.
This is Doug? Doug Wiser? In skinny jeans and Nikes? This is Doug, clean shaven, bed hair and cheekbones? This is Doug in CVS at 3:10 P.M. holding a pregnancy kit and a bottle of vitamins? This is Doug who asked Hope (kindly) not to call because he ‘was lost?’ A whirligig of thoughts spin. Her phone alarm buzzes. How is she? She’s tense. And worse, she’s ruffled by running smack into her ex in CVS a half an hour before an interview.
“I’m great!” Hope half smiles. “I’m just on my way—I’m late actually!” Hope nervously juggles the two lipsticks.
Doug’s gaze lingers on her torso, taking in the whole of her. When her eyes finally meet his, he’s looking at her the way a parent looks at a child accomplishing a new feat—a climb up the monkey bars, a ball caught. Or was that condescension? He, calm. She, frazzled.
“Go. We’ll talk later.”
“Totally,” Hope promises, proffering a fingertip touch to Doug’s exposed forearm. “Sorry to rush off.”
At the check-out counter, she grabs a package of safety pins. It’s been over a year. She’s missed him. She thinks about Doug almost every day. Ahead of her on the line, a small woman with dark glasses holds the leash of a service dog, a beautiful short-haired golden that reminds her of Gracie, the first and last dog she owned. She peeks in her makeup mirror, checking the aisle behind her.
Hope exits the automatic doors, hurries toward High Street. Did she really just crash into Doug in CVS holding a pregnancy test? In all of her fantasies, in all the past year of secret dreams and fears, the last place she would meet Doug Wiser was in the lipstick aisle of the University Avenue CVS.
Now, she’s got to rock that interview. Her nerves are jangled, and her button is popped. She suddenly tumbles a notch from Ninja-warrior Hope down to disheveled working woman. She checks her Apple watch—3:25 P.M.
Slipping into Philz, Hope orders a green tea and scoots into the restroom to replace the popped button with a safety pin.
Perfunctorily repaired, she snags a tiny table. Creating lists, a habit she developed in college when she was juggling a late shift at Oscar’s Burgers at night, parts modeling when she got the gigs, five classes, and an endless parade of reading and homework assignments, calms her. It’s a habit she’s never bothered to break.
She taps out a list of questions on her tablet: Arthur rejected an eighty million offer from Datex. Why? Was there a back-up offer? Was he hoping to create more value? Was Arthur passionate about FTS, or was he just in it for the money? She scratches out the last question; too forward.
At 3:35, her pre-Doug equilibrium nominally restored, Hope walks the two blocks to High and Homer. Past Serenity Yoga, Brew News Beer pub, Bucca di Beppo, and the Party Store: Yes, she really did just see Doug for the first time in a year. But it wasn’t a reunion, was it? Reunions are planned. Hope erases the interlude like she’d erased the lipstick on the back of her hand.
Halfway across High Street, her iPhone rings. “Doll?”
“Hope . . . we have that dinner tonight. Remember? John’s out from New York?”
Three forty-six. She hadn’t told James about the interview because she did not want to listen to a lecture on the fallibility of startups.
Outside FearToShred’s frosted glass doors, she sneaks a peek in her tiny makeup mirror. Gone is the high cheek color of this morning; she looks pale, spooked.
Joan Gelfand’s reviews, stories and poetry have appeared in national and international literary journals and magazines including the Los Angeles Review of Books, Rattle, Prairie Schooner, Kalliope, The Toronto Review, newversenews.com, The Sycamore Review and RiverSedge. Joan’s work has also appeared in “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Dreams and the Unexplainable” and “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Dreams and Premonitions”
Chair of the Women’s National Book Association National Writing Contest, a member of the National Book Critics Circle and a juror for the Northern California Book Awards, Joan blogs for the Huffington Post and coaches writers. She is the recipient of over twenty writing awards, nominations and prizes. “The Ferlinghetti School of Poetics,” a poetry film based on Joan’s poem was featured at the 4th Annual Video Poetry Festival in Athens, Greece, the Meraki Film Festival in Madrid and won Certificate of Merit in a juried art show at the International Association for the Study of Dreams. Joan has been teaching at book festivals and writer’s conferences on “You Can Be a Winning Writer” for the past ten years. She coaches writers around the country.
She lives in San Francisco with her husband, Adam Hertz and two beatnik kitties – Jack Kerouac and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.