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Julia Dixon Evans
San Diego author Julia Dixon Evans’ debut novel is “How to Set Yourself on Fire.” / Photo by Adriana Heldiz
San Diego author Julia Dixon Evans’ debut novel is “How to Set Yourself on Fire.” / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

There’s a lot to like about Julia Dixon Evans’ debut novel “How to Set Yourself on Fire.”

Early reviews of it, like the one in CityBeat this week, say the San Diego author pretty much nailed it.

Evans’ central character is Sheila, a likable weirdo who says all the wrong things, can’t keep a job and has strange fixations.

“She fetishizes PBS and blogs about people’s diseases,” Evans said. “And she thinks the worst often. She defaults to a dark place of self-centeredness.”

Some of Sheila’s strange fixations are worth following. Two deaths, a box of intriguing letters and an awkward relationship between Sheila, her neighbor and his teenage daughter keep the pages turning in this literary mystery. The book also explores the often turbulent bond between mothers and daughters. And it’s refreshing to see a book use San Diego as its backdrop without playing into the clichés about our sunny city.

“I didn’t want it to feel incredibly vacationy,” Evans said. “And I wanted someone who was maybe not entirely happy to be here, but was also never going to leave.”

The release party for “How to Set Yourself on Fire” is happening 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 8, at Starlite in Mission Hills. A few other book readings and events are also lined up.

Evans is the program director for the literary nonprofit So Say We All. She knows a thing or two about writing, but if you’re the type of reader who likes to feel out authors before you read their work, scan her Twitter feed. She’ll probably make you giggle. She’s also published plenty of short fiction.

Evans said finding a story she thought could fill a full-length novel took her years. She wasn’t sure she’d found a solid narrative until the editing and publishing process finally convinced her of the book’s worth.

“Early on in the process, I wasn’t there yet to say out loud that I love this book and I believe in it,” she said. “But I have learned, and now I absolutely do believe in it.”

• This week, San Diego author Jim Miller is also celebrating the release of his latest book, “Last Days in Ocean Beach.”

You’re reading the Culture ReportVoice of San Diego’s weekly collection of the region’s cultural news.

Another Shift at San Diego Theatres

The board of directors of San Diego Theatres Inc. appointed Carol Wallace as interim CEO. The organization has been leaderless since 2016.

Wallace is no stranger to San Diego Theatres. She’s the former CEO of the San Diego Convention Center Corporation, which oversaw San Diego Theatres until 2014 when it became an independent theater management nonprofit.

San Diego Theatres operates the San Diego Civic Theatre and Balboa Theatre for the city. The nonprofit had been headed in an interesting new direction, but Elizabeth Doran, the president of San Diego Theatres who was behind the radical shift, resigned after just a year and a half on the job.

A 3D model of the Civic Theatre renovation / Photo courtesy of San Diego Theatres

The organization’s board said in a press release it anticipates beginning the search for a permanent CEO following the completion of a strategic plan.

Whoever takes the gig has a big job ahead. In its lease with the city, San Diego Theatres has agreed to spend at least $30 million renovating the Civic Theatre. The project must break ground no later than Jan. 1, 2023.

When I last looked into San Diego Theatres in 2016, the organization didn’t have a lot of money in the bank for the Civic Theatre renovation, nor did it have a fundraising staff in place and the only tangible work toward the renovation had been paying for preliminary designs.

Q-and-A with the New Symphony Leader, and More Arts and Culture News

Rafael Payare, the San Diego Symphony’s new music director, introduced himself in a Q-and-A event Monday. Payare pledged to strive for musical excellence, said he was interested in connecting audiences in San Diego and Tijuana through music, and talked about expanding the reach of the orchestra and drawing in new listeners of all ages. He also said he may gradually add new contemporary works to the orchestra’s repertoire. Here’s the full video of his talk. (Union-Tribune)

Rafael Payare san diego
Rafael Payare, the San Diego Symphony’s new music director, takes part in a Q-and-A with symphony CEO Martha Gilmer. / Photo courtesy of the San Diego Symphony
Rafael Payare, the San Diego Symphony’s new music director, takes part in a Q-and-A with symphony CEO Martha Gilmer. / Photo courtesy of the San Diego Symphony

• I’ve long swooned over the clothing Trista Roland‘s creates. The local designer behind Sugardale clothing was featured on the cover of CityBeat.

The 2018 Tony Awards nominations were announced Tuesday morning, and the Union-Tribune’s theater critic explains why this year’s picks with local ties are different than past nominees.

• Raúl Prieto Ramírez, the city’s new civic organist, is starting to show audiences his style and the new approach we can expect from him at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park. (San Diego Story)

• Reesey Shaw, the founder and executive director of Lux Art Institute, is stepping down after 20 years with the organization.

“Nancy Lorenz: Moon Gold” opens at the San Diego Museum of Art. Here’s more about the New York-based artist’s first solo museum exhibition. (Union-Tribune)

• Local makers and food vendors will be setting up in a parking lot in Normal Heights on Saturday.

Opera stars Lise Lindstrom and Greer Grimsley will perform in a joint concert by the San Diego Opera and the San Diego Symphony. (Union-Tribune)

• Check out this collaborative dance and live music event happening in City Heights.

The Committee of One Hundred, a nonprofit that works to preserve Balboa Park, is raising funds to replace historic murals inside the San Diego Automotive Museum.

The Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park has a long list of innovative events and talks coming up.

• The San Diego Museum Council’s annual Big Exchange offer is happening May 1-18.  Members of participating museums and arts organizations get reciprocal admission at more than 30 cultural venues across San Diego County.

• Here’s a list of culturally sensitive Cinco de Mayo celebrations and events. (CityBeat)

Your kids will likely love the “Pinkalicious” musical playing through May 6 at Lyceum Space. (Union-Tribune)

The San Diego Natural History Museum’s “Reel Science” film series screens cult science-fiction movies every Friday in May. A local scientist will be there, talking about the scientific themes in the movies and explaining how close to truth they are.

• “Star Wars” fans have successfully made May 4 a thing. May the fourth be with you. Get it? In San Diego, you can catch the San Diego Sabers battling in a lightsaber tournament, or you and the littles can watch the Lego Star Wars movie at the Kroc Center’s pool.

Food, Cannabis, Beer and Booze News

CityBeat’s Burger Week promotion is back. From May 4-12, over 50 San Diego restaurants will offer special burger deals.

• There are all kinds of myths about what medical marijuana can and can’t do. My buddy Jesse Marx and I explored many of the most persistent “herban legends” in the most recent episode of the Potcast, a podcast series exploring cannabis culture and policy. Also in the show: We talk to folks at San Diego’s first-ever festival celebrating legal recreational weed, and we chat up some of the vendors in the Cannabis Village at this year’s EarthFair event in Balboa Park.

San Diego’s first festival celebrating legalized recreational marijuana / Photo by Vito di Stefano
San Diego’s first festival celebrating legalized recreational marijuana / Photo by Vito di Stefano

• Here are 13 new-ish restaurants in San Diego County. (Union-Tribune)

• Food writers should be morbidly obese, but many of them aren’t. Here’s why. (San Diego Magazine)

• Liberty Public Market just expanded its food offerings. (Eater)

• Beer fest alert. There’s a beer and wine fest this week, too.

• Get your fancy booze here, and don’t let its location in a mall deter you. (San Diego Magazine)

• Eppig’s new Waterfront Biergarten has good beer and great views. (CityBeat)

• For a long time, I’ve been telling anyone who’d listen that North Park needs a good bagel shop. Welp, someone finally went and did it. (Eater)

KAABOO Del Mar announced its culinary lineup for its 2018 festival. (Union-Tribune)

Kinsee Morlan is engagement editor at Voice of San Diego. Email her at with arts and culture news and tips. Want to recommend this culture newsletter to someone? Share this sign-up link. Subscribe to Voice of San Diego podcasts

Kinsee Morlan

Kinsee Morlan was formerly the Engagement Editor at Voice of San Diego and author of the Culture...

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