You work next to someone for 20 years and you think you know them, but do you really?

Case in point: Sasha Paulsen, the Register’s features editor.

Responsible for the paper’s arts, food, wine, gardening and travel coverage, she processes a phenomenal number of stories each week while enjoying a lifestyle that someone such as myself, a city editor, can only dream of.

She goes places — wine tastings, new restaurants, art shows. Even theater! And didn’t we read about her riding the Trans-Siberian Railroad on her way to Mongolia?

That’s our Sasha. But not all of our Sasha.

Eavesdropping from two cubicles away, I learned something astonishing the other day: Sasha is a writer of fiction. The rollout of her first published novel is happening this month.

What the hell, Sasha!

Upon further investigation, I found out that while people like me go home after work, pour a glass of wine and vege, people like Sasha go home and tackle personal writing projects.

Readers are always asking journalists if they’re working on a novel. Merely dishing out the news must leave the soul threadbare, they suggest.

Working on a novel? I can’t imagine such a thing. Who has more words to give after a day in the newsroom?

Sasha does, that’s who.

She commonly goes home and writes. She’s written more than one complete novel and chunks of others. Her characters live in her head. They even appear in her dreams.

Her novel, “Dancing on the Spider’s Web,” set in Napa and the Bay Area in the 1970s, comes out June 21 with some high-class blurbs on the back cover.

Sandra Dallas, author of the bestseller “The Last Midwife,” calls it a “funny, joyful story of young love lost and found again in the tumultuous Haight-Ashbury. You’ll adore Sasha Paulsen’s quirky band of misfits.”

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Intrigued? I was. I asked Sasha if I could borrow a copy and interview her. I wanted to know more about this secret life of hers.

It seems that part of “Spider’s Web” was written in the early ‘80s. Sasha used a chapter as a writing sample when she applied to UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.

Then life got complicated. Marriage. Newspaper jobs. Divorce. Move back to Napa, her hometown. Two kids to raise. Novel writing took a back burner. To get back on track, she began getting up at 5 a.m. and writing for several hours before getting her children up for school.

She polished off “Spider’s Web” 10 years ago and went looking for a publisher. One publisher held it for two years, then turned it back. Another held it for one.

She despaired. “Why are you writing this book?” she asked herself. “It’s to be read, not to sit on a desk in a publishing house.”

So Sasha did the logical thing: She self-published.

Friends helped with the manuscript. Her ex-husband, an astrophysicist, made sure the science was correct. Her son, a medical doctor, confirmed the medicine. Her daughter helped create Tempest, her own publishing house.

What does it cost to put out a beautifully edited and designed 459-page novel, thereby achieving a life goal? About $5,000, Sasha said.

Better a novel than frittering a similar sum away on vacation, she said.

In my interview, I learned that Sasha has ghostwritten a famous vintner’s autobiography and teamed up on a book about wine for the Chinese market. A novelist does not live on journalist’s wage alone, she said.

Sasha is planning a talk at Napa Bookmine on June 26 and a signing at Jessel Gallery on July 5.

About now you may be asking, how good is Sasha’s novel? Is it worth $15.99 for the paperback edition?

It’s hard for me to say. I’m not a guy who reads novels.

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Kevin can be reached at 707-256-2217 or Napa Valley Register, 1615 Soscol Ave., Napa, 94559, or kcourtney@napanews.com.


City Editor

Kevin has been city editor since September 2010. He joined the Register in 1973 as a reporter. He covered Napa City Hall and assorted other beats over the years. Kevin has been writing his Napa Journal column on Sundays since 1989.