Almanac

Arts & Entertainment - December 4, 2013

Novel: Peninsula reporter enters a strange new world

by Richard Hine

Everything changes suddenly for a newspaper reporter on the Peninsula who lives to chase down police stories. She loses her cherished job in the dot-com bust of 2001 and learns her live-in boyfriend is cheating on her.

Finding herself with no job and no home, she's open to a radical idea. A friend's cousin has an apartment available in Hungary. With no knowledge of the language or culture, and, as she says, knowing no one in Europe, she takes the plunge. She moves to Budapest.

How will this turn out? You can find out in "Smiling at Strangers," a novel by Rebecca Wallace, a former Almanac reporter and the current arts and entertainment editor at the Palo Alto Weekly.

While Ms. Wallace, who grew up in Menlo Park, has been prowling Peninsula newsrooms since the 1990s and did live in Budapest for two years, the fictional account otherwise bears no resemblance to her life.

That hasn't stopped Ms. Wallace from playing the role of the protagonist, Catherine Giotto, on a Twitter account, @reporter1999, and tweeting from Catherine's world 12 years ago.

You can follow Catherine on Twitter as her life changes and a new world opens up in Hungary. Many of Catherine's tweets contain photos that Ms. Wallace took while living in Hungary from 2001 to 2003.

Followers have played along, reliving earlier days of journalism, from the 1990s boom to the early-2000s bust.

A couple of the admiring tweets:

• "#FollowWednesday: @reporter1999. A crime reporter in Silicon Valley tweeting as if it were the year 1999. Contextual history at its best!" @winguero (New York Times online editor).

• "There may be no more brilliant commentary on the state of newspapers today than @reporter1999." @jbonne (wine editor, San Francisco Chronicle).

"Smiling at Strangers" is out in paperback (234 pages) and e-book (Amazon and Nook); details at ballyhoopress.com. The paperback is also on sale at the Mountain View General Store, 705a W. Dana St.

Ms. Wallace, a longtime journalist and sometime actor, is author of another e-book, "The Assassin's Brother: The tragedies of Edwin Booth," a fascinating story of 19th century America's most respected actor, and the brother of John Wilkes Booth.

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