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Gerald Haslam Gives Us a Respite By The River
This Thursday at 7:00p.m., Valley icon Gerald Haslam will be reading from his work at the River Center off Old Friant Road. His appearance is a very important part of the wonderful Respite the River series, whose goal it is to preserve the stories of the San Joaquin Valley.
Gerald W. Haslam has published eight collections of short stories, including That Constant Coyote and Condor Dreams. His publications include Haslam's Valley and Workin' Man Blues: Country Music in California, 2nd edition, Straight White Male, Jack London's Golden State: Selected Stories and Manuel and the Madman and most recently, a compelling new novel out his month called Grace Period. A recipient of the Western Literature Association's Distinguished Achievement Award, Haslam is Professor Emeritus of English at Sonoma State University.
Community journalist Annie Scott caught up with Mr. Haslam via email:
AS: You have written in such depth about California's Central Valley, its
people, and its cultures. What continues to inspire you to write about
GH--The Valley is a gripping, complex and understudied locale. Everything
from its geomorphology, to its social dynamics, to its history has interested
me, as I hope I demonstrated in my books "The Other California" and
"The Great Central Valley." I'm particularly drawn to its heterogeneous populace,
which is to say I like Valley folks and I find their lives stimulating
subjects for my writing. I also have deep roots in the Valley (on my
mother's side) dating from the 1850s. It's also true that I found out
only after I left the region and gained some perspective how much I loved it.
AS: You have written in a variety of literary forms, including personal
essays, memoirs, short stories and novels. As a writer, how do you decide
whether your next project will be fiction or nonfiction? Are there
separate kinds of inspirations for each form? Or do the ideas come to you
in a particular way every time, and then you decide how you want to
present those ideas?
GH--Actually, I'm always working on at least one fiction and one
non-fiction project at any given time. Sometimes one book is finished well
before the other, but at other times they are completed nearly
concurrently (thus pairs like "That Constant Coyote" and "Coming
of Age in California" or "Straight White Male" and "Workin' Man Blues").
To the extent it's possible, I let the subjects and my feelings about them,
dictate what I write. Occasionally I'll write both fiction and non-fiction
about the same subject (caring for aging parents, for instance, or cancer);
I find that fiction usually cuts closer to truth than non-fiction because
it is not limited to facts.
AS: Can you relay an experience of your early career that led you to truly
identify yourself as a writer?
GH--When I was about thirty, married and just beginning my career at
Sonoma State University, I began arising at five a.m. on work days so I
could write something each day. This was before I was being
published much, and I knew then that I'd continue writing with or without
recognition because it was necessary for me. I realized was a writer.
AS: Your new novel Grace Period, published this month as part of
University of Nevada Press's Western Literature Series, tells the tale of
a Sacramento journalist who is forced to confront his own morality, as well
as his relationship with the Catholic church. Can you tell us what may
have inspired you to write this character's story, and whether you
approached the structure of this novel differently from others you have
GH--I try to approach each writing project with in an original way; I
don't want to repeat myself. The triggers for Grace Period
were my own struggle with obdurate prostate cancer, my unhappiness over the way older
people tend to be portrayed in much current fiction, and the turmoil in
the Catholic Church. Grace Period is the story of a Sacramento
journalist with prostate cancer, Martin Martine, who meets a physician
with breast cancer, Miranda Mossi. Both are divorced Catholics in their
sixties. They fall in love and decide to marry over the objections of
some of their children and of their church. Along the way, Marty
paradoxically becomes a much better Catholic just as he begins covering
the pedophile-priest story. I also intend the book to be as true as I'm
capable of making it of the Valley, principally Sacramento and Merced.
AS: Fresno is very fortunate to be on your calendar this month. On August
24, you will be reading at "Respite by the River" at the River Center
off Old Friant Road. How did you come to be involved with this project's
GH--I was invited to read at the River Center couple of years ago, and had
a fine time. I stayed with the Hallowells, and got to know them a bit,
liked them very much, so was delighted when the opportunity arose to read
and once again visit Coke and James. Over the years, Fresno has been most
supportive of my work and I'm grateful...especially since I four times
played football against San Joaquin Memorial as a Garces High School Ram
and managed only one tie and no wins. (There went my pro football career!)
AS: Thank-you Mr. Haslam for giving us a glimpse of how your vivid descriptions of the land, people and spirit of the Valley make it to the page.