Veteran public defender writes quirky bedtime tales

David A. Brooks’ “Foresthill” bears a subtitle calling it a “bedtime reader,” but it doesn’t have the usual assortment of fairies, princes and ogres.

Its stories are instead populated by a transsexual prostitute, a narcoleptic monster-truck driver who backs over a squad car, Alzheimer’s patients who get naughty and an assortment of dimwitted criminals.

“They are hilarious,” said Frederick Reuss, a critically acclaimed novelist who met Brooks in high school.

Brooks, who lives in Fair Oaks, is a public defender with decades of experience in Placer and El Dorado counties.

“That puts me in contact frequently with people who are having the worst moment of their lives,” he said. Last year, that included David Zanon, who was convicted of murder for running over a CHP officer while being pursued by police after a drug binge.

The job provides an ample supply of material for the book, from which Brooks will read today at Avid Reader in Sacramento.

“A lot of times people ask, ‘How can you do this?’ ” Brooks said of the public defender’s job.

Part of the answer is that he’s defending the Constitution every day, not only his clients.

“We (public defenders) do what we can to get the playing field level,” he said. “We try to get the right thing done.”

Sometimes, that’s a pretty quirky job. In one case, his narrator frees a falsely accused man who – despite his anti-social technophobia – finds vindication in a computerized machine.

In another paradoxical case, a defendant’s loud denials that he is dyslexic appear to convince a jury that perhaps he is dyslexic, resulting in a drunken driving acquittal.

John Grisham, it’s not.

“I like to think of David more in the Mark Twain category,” said Reuss, who lives in Washington, D.C. “His humor is original and very infectious.”

Brooks’ stories arose out of an online forum for Buells, which he called “an unusual and quirky brand of motorcycle that had mechanical problems.” One day, one of his fellow forum participants called out for an online bedtime story, and Brooks obliged.

Thus was born “Uncle David,” the avuncular narrator who turns out the lights after each story.

“It’s fiction, but a lot of these things have a basis,” Brooks said.

Most of the tales engender chuckles, but a few reveal a soft heart behind the dark humor.

Those stories reflect what Brooks calls the “collateral damage” or “routine trauma” of the justice system. Often the damage is inflicted on children who are the biggest losers when mothers go to jail.

“We become responsible for those children,” Brooks said. But defenders have to forget the trauma when they go home.

“There’s a risk of not compartmentalizing all the pain you experience with your client,” he said.

Writing the stories became a kind of therapy for him. He hadn’t intended to publish, he said, but was encouraged by reactions to the tales. He wound up working with a Folsom company that facilitates self-publishing – not a road to riches for most authors.

“It’d be nice to break even,” he said.

He’s already won over a couple of skeptics about self-publishing, including Alzeda Knickerbocker, the owner of Avid Reader who set up today’s 2 p.m. event.

“I just think the book itself is interesting,” Knickerbocker said. Plus, the store tries to support local writers.

“I think what this is is a book of decent stories,” Brooks said.

And though his characters are odd, Brooks would have us believe “they’re not so very different from you.” However, they are at the worst moments in their lives, and often don’t recognize their culpability.

“It’s very difficult for them to look inside and see their own personal failings,” Brooks said.

And that doesn’t apply just to drunken drivers and burglars.

Rep. Anthony Weiner’s story would seem to confirm that.

by Carlos Alcalá – 6/18/2011 (via The Sacramento Bee)