Huntington Beach-based writer Chris Epting walks into AoSA Coffee on a sunny Monday morning and shakes our hands. He removes his shades, and we feel like we're meeting an old friend for coffee. What we already know about the HB Independent columnist is that he's interviewed some of the biggest names in music, he's penned roughly 25 books, and his new book, "Huntington Beach Chronicles: The Heart of Surf City," recently hit shelves. What we don't yet know is that the activist before us is ignited by a relentless passion for justice and storytelling. And he once spent an afternoon with Stevie Nicks—his lifelong music crush.
We're meeting with Epting today not only to connect with a fellow local writer, but to learn more about his new book, which he'll be discussing and signing alongside his son on Sunday, June 8, at the Bella Terra Barnes & Noble. Our voices battle neighboring construction while seated outside the new Huntington Harbour Mall cafe, but even the deafening sounds of jackhammers can't distract our ears from the native New Yorker's tales.
Before us sits a man who spent nearly two decades of his life in advertising and who has dedicated the last eight to uncovering and masterfully telling the stories of HB locals. About 70 of these accounts are housed within his new 171-page work, a collection of some of the most unique stories from his HB Independent column "In The Pipeline." Flipping through the fresh pages, black-and-white photos—most snapped by Epting—command our attention, telling stories even without the help of his accompanying narrative. The adventures are arranged into seven chapters, and we're especially excited to read "Animals."
More than 400 "In the Pipeline" stories already exist, and selecting a small chunk for the book was a careful process. Says Epting, "...if you live in Huntington, they're pertinent, but also I wanted stories that if you don't live in Huntington, there's some universal truth about life. It's about some person that's very inspiring or some bit of history that resonates beyond the walls of Huntington."
Why the HB community and anyone who loves a good story (which is everyone) should be excited about "The Heart of Surf City" is its award-winning storyteller, a curious historian and sleuth who relentlessly digs until all questions are answered.
"I write nonfiction," says Epting, "So for me it really comes down to verifying and uncovering and unearthing things that people will find interesting and that they don't know."
It's also the people who've let down their guard and shared their stories. "They're the ones that are the real storytellers," says Epting. "I just sort of help them funnel it and channel it into something formal."
Epting is the type of diligent journalist who meets every subject in person and joins them, for example, at their home (yes, we're referring to Nicks) or for a walk to the scene of story—some which reach back through the decades. He's covered stories on numerous music legends, like Steven Tyler, Jackson Browne, Alice Cooper and KISS, he's written and produced countless commercials, and he even used his HB Independent platform and voice to challenge the removal of HB's beloved fire pits in 2013. His allegiance to integrity also shines in his recent interview with Karen Morehouse, the mother of Kelly Blue Morehouse, who was killed by a drunk driver in HB last year.
The fire pits controversy remains one of the most poignant moments of his HB writing career, so much so that he dedicated "The Heart of Surf City" to the people who rallied against the removal. Inside the cover reads: "This collection is dedicated to everyone who banded together during the summer of 2013 to fight the Southern California Air Quality Management District (AQMD), which tried to ban beach bonfires in our city. We showed the scoundrels what happens when you pick a fight with us, but still, let's never take our eyes off them. For all of the heart so many of you showed, thank you."
Also found inside the cover is a prologue by Dean O. Torrence, the musical man behind the hit 1963 single "Surf City" who, along with the late William Jan Berry, pioneered surf music.
You may know Epting from his more than two dozen published books, including four Huntington Beach-centric nonfictions, "James Dean Died Here: The Locations of America's Pop Culture Landmarks," "Hello, It's Me: Dispatches from a Pop Culture Junkie" and "Roadside Baseball: The Locations of America's Baseball Landmarks." Or you may recognize his voice from "music," a weekly syndicated radio show hosted and produced by Epting on Internet Talk Radio. If you live and read HB, you absolutely know "In the Pipeline," and some of you wanderlusters may have caught the widely published author's travel work in Westways and Travel + Leisure.
Thanks to a short attention span, Epting typically pens two or three books at a time, moving between stories to keep sharp and focused. His newest music read, the autobiography of Def Leppard's Phil Collen, comes out later this year, and his challenging piece on Theodore Roosevelt's campaign tour of the West in 1903—particularly the California segment—will release in the summer of 2015.
Despite all of his published works, Epting tells us, "…nothing means what the column does to me."
We're lucky to have an inquiring mind like Epting's right here in HB, a place he's called home since 1999. He and his wife raised their two children here in Surf City, and Epting's own penchants for history and writing have certainly inspired those of his 20-year-old son, Charles Epting.
"It's the coolest thing because my son, since he was 5 or 6, he would go to every book event I did," says Epting. "I always let him get a book that day for helping out." Charles just published his second book, and Epting notes, "I stay out of his way."
On Sunday at 2 p.m., the two will interview each other about their new books, then sign copies for the crowd. Young Epting's book, "The New Deal in Orange County," takes readers on a tour of the local infrastructure that was revitalized by agencies under Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. Father/son events like this are rare, and this is surely one not to be missed.
We walk slowly through the parking lot after the interview, and before we part ways, Epting offers us some golden life advice. Our recorder has already been powered off, so to paraphrase him: Find that story you need to tell and never let it go.
What's your story?