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“I actually could not put the book down. It is well written and kept my interest. I want more from this author.”
Reader review of Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead on 

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Monday, August 15, 2022

Answering the Musical Question

Now that Last of the Tuath Dé has been released, I can’t wait to write and talk about it, you know, to give you some background and insights into the creation process.

First, though, it’s become sort of a tradition for me to share a Spotify music playlist to go along with the new book. My playlists for Lautaro’s Spear and The Curse of Septimus Bridge were basically collections of selected tracks that I listened to while I was writing those books, you know, to put me in the frame of mind for the time and place and mood. Then with my playlist for Searching Cunégonde I tried to do something clever (so often a mistake in my case) and strive to make the list of track titles match (as closely as possible anyway) the book’s table of contents. That definitely made for some interesting choices. Who knew it would be so easy to find songs called “Toque de queda,” “Querétaro,” “Paperasse” and “Algeciras” but impossible to find one called “Reports of a Murder”?

The following-the-table-of-contents thing was definitely not going to work for Last of the Tuath Dé—at least not for every chapter—so I opted instead for a track list that followed the book’s plot sequentially by including character names, chapter titles and themes—as well as the one song actually mentioned in the book itself. Needless to say, this provided ample opportunity to include a few of the surprising number of tunes out there that deal with the topic of the world ending. R.E.M. and Elvis Costello are just a couple of the myriad artists who have employed Armageddon as subject matter for songwriting. It also allowed me to sneak in a favorite Doctor Who track by Murray Gold.

So without further ado, I give you the official Spotify playlist for streaming while reading your copy of Last the Tuath Dé

Oh yeah, and if you want to try making your own musical playlist based on the book’s chapter titles, here they are…

Friday, August 12, 2022

Today’s the (Tuath) Dé!

It’s finally here. It seems like I’ve been talking about (and more to the point, working on) this book forever. And now it’s suddenly crossed the finish line.

Last of the Tuath Dé, sequel to The Curse of Septimus Bridge, is at long last released and available for your perusal.

You may well have questions, like… Can I read this without having already read The Curse of Septimus Bridge? How the heck do you pronounce the title? Will we find out what happened to Lola Blumquist’s parents? Did Sapphire ever master teleportation?

Some of the answers will be found in the book. Others I will address in coming blog posts. Right now, the main thing to know is that I think this is pretty darn good adventure (if I do say so myself) that will entertain you and maybe even get you involved emotionally with characters. The cast, the scope of the action, and the stakes for our heroes, the world, the universe and existence itself are bigger than ever. Several characters are back—including perhaps ones you may not have expected to see again. There are also some intriguing new characters. At the heart of it all, though, are the last two remaining Demon Hunters, Sapphire and Izanami, and the fate awaiting them.

So, where can you get the book? All the usual places, of course.

Most of you will read it on a Kindle device or app. The digital version is now available in the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia and everywhere else Amazon sells Kindle books. If you don’t find a direct link on this page for your country, just search for the book on your usual Amazon page.

Other online sellers have it too, including Barnes & Noble and Rakuten Kobo. Or if you don’t mind just downloading an epub file yourself for your preferred gadget or app, you can click on the portal at the top of this page and purchase the book from my very own Afranor Books store.

As of this writing, it still hasn’t shown up in the Google Play or Apple Books online stores, but it should only be a matter of time until they appear there as well.

But what if you’re one of those people who prefers to have a real book made of paper in your hand? No problem. Generally, online sellers of books should have it if you search by title, author or the ISBN number, which is 978-1-7331947-6-1. Theoretically, you should be able to get your local neighborhood bookshop to order it as well, although from what I hear, they (the big chain ones anyway) are likely to tell you to just order it yourself from their website.

Online sellers that definitely offer the paperback version right now include Barnes & Noble, and Books-a-Million. And of course, Amazon has it worldwide, including at their sites in the US, Canada and the UK.

So what are you doing still reading this blog? Go get the book already, read it, and then let me know what you think.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

At Last… the Tuath Dé!

Hey, everyone! I am happy/thrilled/relieved/excited to announce the impending release of my sixth novel. It’s called Last of the Tuath Dé, and it’s a sequel to The Curse of Septimus Bridge.

Here is the official description (as submitted to the various sellers):

The world has changed. Septimus Bridge, greatest of all Demon Hunters, is gone forever. Only two of his former disciples remain to confront hellion invaders from the Netherworld. A far greater threat, however, looms, and the portents are impossible to ignore. Izanami, who has not dreamed in decades, is plagued by nightmares. Her partner Sapphire has gone missing. As hysteria takes over the airwaves and social media, law and order breaks down around the world. In the most worrying sign, the dead have returned to walk the earth. What is the secret of the mysterious crystal that has fallen into Izanami’s possession? Who are the Zen’ei, and what explains their relentless control of so many minds all around the world? Why are ruthless Mercenaries hunting a young boy, who has no memory of who is or where he came from? Can Izanami, alone and on the run, keep him alive long enough to solve the mystery? As the truth is revealed, all hope appears lost. The Old Ones, who held sway long before recorded history, are stirring again—and they want this world back.

And here’s the cover, featuring another wonderful illustration by Tamlyn Zawalich:

The official release date for the paperback and e‑book versions is just a couple of days away. Specifically, it’s Friday the 12th of August, although digital versions sometimes show up slightly earlier than advertised in some places. Epub versions will be available for purchase from Barnes & Noble, Google Play, Rakuten Kobo, Apple Books, and of course, my own Afranor Books site. If history is any guide, though, most of you will be getting the Kindle version from one of the various Amazon sites around the world. The paperback version will be available to order from major online sellers, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million among others.

More information/teasing/coaxing to follow.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Septimus Successor

This is the month!

After weeks/months of promising/teasing, my next book is now scheduled for release. I am just waiting to get a proof copy of the paperback in my hands before announcing the title and release date. If the UK’s Royal Mail, Ireland’s An Post and the Brexit gods are all willing, it shouldn’t be much longer.

In the meantime, here is a teaser detail from the cover.

Nearly time to crack open a new bottle of Writer’s Tears.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Sextus Opus

It’s getting close now.

In fact, it’s so close that it might even be time to announce the title. But I won’t just yet. Once again I’ve settled on a moniker that comes up easily in web searches if people are actually searching for the title, but it has the problem that most people aren’t going to be sure how to pronounce it. As with Searching for Cunégonde up until that book’s publication, I still haven’t abandoned the idea of a better, more marketable, more searchable title. But I have a feeling this is its title. For one thing, I’m kind of attached to it. If the late J.R.R. Tolkien was able to sell a whole bunch of copies of something called The Silmarillion, then maybe I can sell a few copies of my book with Gaelic words in the title.

At this point I’m just waiting for a wee bit more feedback and, mainly, a block of time to do one final pass to find any remaining typos or problems staring at me right there in plain sight. Then begins the pre-press gauntlet where I try to remember all the things I did the previous time I went through it—now coming up on two years ago now—plus deal with all the things that will be different because things change over time. I love that part. If the truth be told, that’s the sort of stuff I’m built for.

Editing, copy-editing, formatting, pre-press prep and publishing are all basically about problem solving. At least in the way I personally view and approach those tasks. You’re taking something that’s been written and removing (ideally all) the flaws and delivering it to the audience. Generally, those are things that can be done right—or not. That’s my comfort zone.

I suppose you can view the writing task the same way: you’ve either done it right—or not. But the rightness of any piece of writing is ultimately subjective, isn’t it? When it comes to the creative process, rightness is in the eye of the beholder. And that’s kind of scary for someone like me whose mostly worked (for pay anyway) in areas where things are done right—or not.

Okay, now I’ve made it sound like I am, in my work life at least, one of those robotic personalities with no imagination. That’s not true. Hopefully, my five books to date demonstrate some level of imagination and penchant for story spinning. But, as I’ve previously confessed on my movie blog, I am not by nature a particularly visual person. My skill gifts were always more in abstract concepts. Having a brain that is attuned to images is useful for, say, filmmakers—and novelists.

The good news is that few if any of us is completely one kind of person or another. Our weaknesses can strengthened. We can learn and can train ourselves to do what we need or want to do.

Okay, that was a pretty major digression. Mainly, my message was going to be that the sixth book and sequel to The Curse of Septimus Bridge is getting very close now. The idea was to get you all excited about it, but now I’ve probably succeeded in putting you off. Did I mention that one of my other skill blind spots was marketing and self-promotion?

Anyway, keep watching this space for more teasers and, ultimately, announcements. I’m very excited about this new book and can’t wait to tell you more about it.

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Fantasy Come True

Yes, I finally got back to work on the new (and sixth) book. I had an extra break from writing because, for Christmas and my birthday, my daughter and wife surprised me with a full pass to the Dublin International Film Festival, which was held in March. So, for a few weeks my film blog got a more attention than my novel. I’m not complaining. Just explaining.

Once I finished writing about the 15 feature films and 49 short films I saw—and recovered from pulling an all-nighter to watch the Oscars and write about those—I threw myself back into the book. This week was something of a milestone in that I now have the manuscript in a form where I am largely happy with the story and am not completely embarrassed to have other people look at it. Much work still remains—the copy editing, fixing, polishing, improving—but this juncture gives me a chance to take another pause from novel-writing and do what I really like to be doing: blogging about novel-writing.

While it may look like I’m just bad at time management, it was actually deliberate this time to take a longer break between finishing the initial rough draft (way back in late September) and beginning the second pass a couple of months ago. The truth is that I kind of envy people who read my books. That confession isn’t intended to be as self-congratulatory as it may sound. What I mean is that my main motivation in writing is to create books that I myself would enjoy reading. The irony is that I am the one person in the world who is not surprised by anything I read in my own books. It seems that it would be helpful in the editing and rewriting to be able to peruse the manuscript with the eyes of a virgin reader. Leaving more time than usual between one pass and another was my attempt to roughly approximate that experience.

Did it work? Kind of. A little. Obviously, when I’ve put so much thought and time into the conception and initial writing of the story, it’s not realistic to think that I’ll easily forget much of what my brain was at. To be real, no plot twist or surprise reveal is going to catch me off guard. This is especially true in the case of the very first chapter and the very last chapter. Those invariably get the most attention because it’s only natural that I want the book to make a good first impression and to leave a good final impression.

Surprisingly, though, there were portions in between those two chapters that did manage to surprise me. In its current manuscript form, the book consists of 31 chapters and runs on for 364 pages. (It will inevitably be shorter in print form.) That’s a lot of narrative and description and text to keep track of. So, yes, in the reading sometimes I was caught by surprise when a certain thing happened at a certain point. A few times I found myself laughing at the comic relief. And something else kind of wonderful happened a couple of times. At two different points I unexpectedly got a bit emotional. I don’t say that to pat myself on the back. After all, as I’ve said, I’m my own target audience. But it was nice to find myself reacting the way I hope other readers might.

The sequel to The Curse of Septimus Bridge has turned out to be a rather complicated story. This novel has more significant characters than I have ever crammed into a book before, as well as more plot developments. Actually, I don’t know if that’s really true since I haven’t bothered to try to formally quantify characters and plot events in this book to compare to say, Searching for Cunégonde, but it sure feels like this one has more of both things.

If you read and enjoyed the first book, then I think you’ll like this one too. On one hand, you could say it’s more of the same, and on the other hand, it’s a lot more than more of the same. I’ve indulged most of my favorite tropes of fantasy literature, comic books and twisty, complicated TV shows. At heart, though, like its predecessor, it’s first and foremost a love story.

The obvious question posed by the book—and one I myself cannot answer reliably, no matter how much amnesia I try to artificially induce in myself—is this one: does the book stand on its own or is it absolutely necessary to have read Septimus Bridge first? Personally, I tend to think Septimus was confusing enough and didn’t have a previous installment to help explain things, so maybe new readers will get through the confusion the way readers of the previous tome did.

Of course, the win-win solution to this conundrum is just to read The Curse of Septimus Bridge and then to read its sequel. In fact, according to a couple of comments I’ve already heard, you might want to read the two books with little or not interruption in between.

Friday, December 31, 2021

The Year of Izanami

Happy New Year! May the things we all wished for 2021 actually happen in 2022.

If you landed on this page deliberately, it may because you’re wondering how progress is coming on the new book. Hard as it is to believe now, there was actually a time when I thought it might be possible to have the sequel to The Curse of Septimus Bridge out by the end of 2021. This was because the pandemic and the resulting lockdowns and enforced isolation in 2020 ended up making me so productive that my last book, Searching for Cunégonde, was done sooner than I could ever have expected.

As the pandemic refused to go away, I thought perhaps that level of productivity would continue. It didn’t. Despite new variants and subsequent waves of virus, life has insisted—in fits and starts—on returning to some kind of normal. I have simply been distracted and occupied with other things that I had previously gotten away with ignoring or postponing. I suppose that’s a good thing, though not necessarily for the book-writing assembly line.

Actually, I’ve just crunched the numbers and have spotted an interesting coincidence. On New Year’s Day (i.e. tomorrow, as I write this), exactly the same number of days (459) will have passed since Searching for Cunégonde was published as passed between the publication of that book and the publication of the previous one, The Curse of Septimus Bridge. That is indeed a record for the briefest interval between any two of my books—66 weeks.

For the sake of comparison, 105 weeks passed between the appearance of Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead and that of The Three Towers of Afranor. There was an interval of 68 weeks between Three Towers and Lautaro’s Spear. A full 91 weeks passed between Lautaro and Septimus Bridge. That means my average gap between books is 83 weeks or, more precisely, 577 days. So I guess I’m not doing too badly with this latest book—at least so far.

As I told you in September, I took my customary break after reaching the end of the first draft. As it turned out, that break has gone on a bit longer than anticipated. A couple of weeks after that last blog post, during a routine eye exam I was informed by a very competent and concerned optician that the retina in my left eye was detaching. Immediate surgery was advised, and there was a bit of a challenge finding a surgeon and hospital to take me on short notice during the pandemic, but fortunately everything turned out fine. It did mean, however, that I have not returned to my manuscript since. Once we got into the extended holiday season, I knew there was no point trying to carve out time.

I will get back to it sometime after the official end of the Christmas period. In Ireland that’s January 6, which is the Feast of the Epiphany on the Catholic calendar, also known as “Little Christmas” or Nollaig na mBan (Women’s Christmas). When I lived in the States, by that date Christmas was but a distant memory. Not so here.

This extended break from novel writing actually has me rather excited. My goal—or hope—is always to come back to the second round with fresh eyes, and this time my eyes will be fresher (in so many ways) than they’ve ever been for a second pass. Will it actually be like reading the words for the first time? No, not exactly. I’m not exactly an amnesiac—at least not yet—but it will be the closest I can come to that experience without locking away the files for several years. Will I read them and surprise myself at how good it is? Or, probably more likely, will I be gobsmacked at how I thought any of it was any good the first time around?

Not least of the strangeness of the experience will be the concurrent passage of time out there in the real world. Every so often during the past several weeks, I have been jolted by a geographical name in the news. The adventures of Izanami and her comrades take them to several far-flung places around the globe, some of them quite obscure. And yet a couple of those places have found their way into news reports for completely unforeseeable reasons. Readers will surely suspect that I slipped them in as part of an effort to seem timely when the truth is that I chose them in large part for their exoticness and relative obscurity. Similarly, given the apocalyptic nature of the storyline, I suspect that some will think they discern some sort of allegory about current world events.

I assure you that is absolutely not the case. Or is it? It’s not. At least I don’t think so.

Monday, September 27, 2021

The Return of Izanami

My blogs have sadly languished—some more than others—during the past while. As the world emerged in fits and starts from various pandemic lockdowns, distractions multiplied and time for writing became scarcer. Unlike 2020, which provided lots of quiet, uninterrupted time for clicking on the old keyboard, the year 2021 has provided somewhat less. I ended up prioritizing novel writing over blogging.

I reached a milestone last week. Only a few days shy of the first anniversary of the release of my fifth novel (Searching for Cunégonde, in case it’s slipped anyone’s mind), I finally reached the end of my rough, first draft of the sixth book. Don’t get too excited. That only marks more or less the midpoint—effort-wise if not exactly timewise—of the work involved in producing the novel. As much effort again will be involved in rewriting, polishing, correcting, adjusting and refining.

Having said that, there’s no small amount of relief in typing those (for now) final words on Chapter 31. It means I can—actually, have to—put the story out of my mind, do my best to forget it and think about other things. The idea is that, when I go back to it, I will be seeing it with fresh eyes and will read what I actually typed rather than what I hoped or thought or imagined I did.

The first pass of the manuscript and the subsequent work are very different experiences. Up till now the work has been creative (or so I hope), i.e. plotting the thing out, conjuring up characters, trying to make it all fit together so it makes some kind of sense and yet come off seeming like all things just sort of happened. The next phase is easier in the sense that the creative decisions have mostly all been made but harder because, well, because the creative decision have mostly all been made. It takes a bit of mental stamina to go over what you’ve written over and over and over and then over again.

So what’s the book about? I think I may have already mentioned in this space that it is a direct sequel to The Curse of Septimus Bridge. What else can I tell you? Well, it mostly focuses on the demon hunter Izanami. We see most of the action through her eyes and point of view. We get to know her a whole lot better than we did in the previous book, including her history and how she came to be a hunter of hellions. We explore her relationship with Sapphire, the main character of the previous book, quite a bit.

Do other characters from the Septimus book return? Yes! Not all of them, obviously, but several of them. Some appear only briefly. Others feature more prominently than you might have expected. Quite a few new characters turn up, including some only mentioned or hinted at in the previous tome. There is fair bit of building on and expanding the lore and mythology of Izanami and Sapphire’s world. The action jumps around to many different far-flung points on the globe.

If The Curse of Septimus Bridge was my heartfelt homage to the TV series Dark Shadows, then its sequel is something of an attempt to indulge in my fascination for the work of H.P. Lovecraft, and I’d be lying if I tried to deny that it is also influenced by the mood and fantasy and craziness of Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese’s marvelous 2017-2020 German series Dark. Like that series—and also the original Septimus book—it is at heart a love story. Most of all, though, my aim is to entertain (myself, but hopefully readers as well) and have a bit of fun.

What else can I tell you? Probably nothing useful. After all, this book is still a long ways from being released into the wild. In the meantime I promise to try to share snippets, hints and teases from time to time of what you may expect.

Monday, August 9, 2021

Cwazy Wabbits

   “Do you hunt, Dallas?”
   “Not for years, Father.”
   “I called earlier to Eamon Geraghty. He’s not been well, poor man. He was a great one for shooting hares, but I think that’s all past him now. I asked him for the loan of his gun. I told him you might have a hare problem up your way. He said you could keep it a while.”
   “Father, I don’t think…”
   “Just have it in the house. You never know.”
   “Well, okay, if it makes you happy. I haven’t done any rabbit hunting since I was a kid. My friend Lonnie and I used to go out in the scrubland and shoot at jackrabbits.”
That exchange is from Chapter 32 (titled “Rabbit Hunting”) of Searching for Cunégonde. Just to clarify for those who have not read the book, Dallas did not have a hare problem—or a rabbit problem either. His problem had to do with human beings—and maybe his own mind—but that is another story.

Because the book is narrated by Dallas, I felt free to let him mix up rabbits and hares the way a lot of people do. In my case—and Dallas’s—the confusion may be more pronounced because of where he and I come. In that part of California hares are called jackrabbits. But a jackrabbit is not technically a rabbit. Hares and rabbits are different species, though they both belong to the family of animals known as Leporidae. In that way, their relationship to each other is analogous to that of goats and sheep. Hares are larger than rabbits and have longer ears and bigger hind legs. Unlike rabbits, hares are born fully developed with fur and open eyes. Also unlike most rabbits, they do not burrow and so live above ground and not in warrens.

I am by no means an expert on these animals, but I do observe hares at fairly close range in the spring and summer. In fact, this year they have been particularly conspicuous in our garden. I think they are doing this to punish me for being so lax in describing them in my novel.

One in particular has nearly become a pet. I first spotted him (since he is not in a position to communicate his preferred pronouns, I have assigned them to him myself) one morning in the front garden. He was just a brown furry mass in the middle of the grass. I didn’t know what it was and approached close enough to verify it was an animal. Since it did not move or flinch no matter how close I approached, I assumed it was dead. After I had opened our gate, I went back to the house for my phone to snap a photo. That is when he decided he’d had enough and bolted.

For a couple of months we would see him out there at all hours, chewing on grass and weeds. He was strangely defiant and would hold his ground when I got near him. He was different from other hares who usually take flight at the slightest unexpected sound. Sometimes we wondered if he was extremely trusting of humans or just deaf.

Hares are actually quite entertaining to watch, especially in the spring when they jump every which way as if they’re totally flummoxed by everything. I guess that’s where we get expressions like “mad as a March hare” and “harebrained.”

He was not the only creature of his kind around. We spotted others, sometimes seeing as many as three at a time, but it was only our special friend who was regularly and prolongedly visible. For a while he was reliably positioned every morning in front of my dressing room window, as if waiting for me to raise the shade. Sometimes, when we returned home late at night, he and a friend would dart back and forth in the light of the car’s headlamps as we drove around to the back of the house.

In literature hares and rabbits are sometimes portrayed as pests. Think Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit or, more relevant to my generation, Bugs Bunny. In fact, when I wrote about old Eamon Geraghty above, I sort of pictured him as an Irish Elmer Fudd. We ourselves would never contemplate violence toward our cohabitating hares. They usually don’t bother the flowers, and only once was one caught chomping on the strawberries. The hares are certainly much less destructive than the cattle or sheep that sometimes break through the fence to visit our garden.

Interestingly, as sometimes happens on the internet, there has been a longstanding debate going on as to whether Bugs Bunny is a rabbit or a hare. It would seem obvious since he has a cotton tail, lives underground and is frequently called “a wascally wabbit.” On the other hand, the color of his fur and the speed at which he runs suggest a hare. Moreover, an awful lot of his cartoons, going all the way back to the first one (depending on your view of which cartoon features the first true Bugs, it is either “Porky’s Hare Hunt” or “A Wild Hare”), have the word hare in the title: “Hare Brush,” “Fallin’ Hare,” “Bill of Hare,” “Lighter than Hare.” On one occasion he could be heard crooning, “I dream of Jeannie, she’s a light brown hare.” Come to think of it, Warner Bros. has a lot to answer for when it comes to rabbit/hare confusion.

Come to think of it some more, life growing up in the San Joaquin was sometimes not unlike living in a Warner Bros. cartoon. When driving the hot desert back roads of the eastern valley, one not only saw jackrabbits but also roadrunners.

As we enter autumn (according to the farmers here, August is the first month of autumn), we see less of our furry little friend, but he is still around. You just have to get up earlier in the morning or else watch for him in the dusky evening. He’s bigger and more mature now. Not the little wild hare he was in March.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Heartland’s Voice

Because I have long fancied myself a writer, my late, lamented cousin Trudy would sometimes send me short story collections for my birthday. She often sought out ones with some connection to the part of world where we were both born and grew up—California’s Central Valley, or more specifically its southern component, the San Joaquin Valley.

One year it was a 1996 book, edited by Stan Yogi, called Highway 99: A Literary Journey through California’s Great Central Valley. Its 428 pages were chock-full of stories, essays, and poetry by writers who were from the valley or else had connections to it. Some choices were obvious: Fresno’s William Saroyan, Pulitzer Prize winner for The Time of Your Life; Salinas native John Steinbeck, who chronicled the 1930s Dust Bowl migrant influx in The Grapes of Wrath; 19th-century explorer and trader Jedediah Smith; Scottish-born naturalist John Muir. Others would be best known regionally, like Fresno poets Jean Janzen and Gary Soto. Some were surprises to me, like Sacramento-born Joan Didion whose roots, as it turns out, go back five generations in the Central Valley. One of the most haunting inclusions: the lament “I Am the Last” by the historian Yoimut who, until her death in 1933, was the last full-blood survivor of the Chunut Yokuts.

Among those thanked by Yogi in his acknowledgments is the writer Gerald Haslam, whom he calls the “valley’s unofficial prose laureate.” Among Haslam’s many works was a similar project (with James Houston) in 1978: a collection called California Heartland: Writing from the Great Central Valley. Another was a collection of Haslam’s own stories published in 1990, That Constant Coyote (another gift from my cousin).

I was reminded recently of Haslam and of these books when I learned of his passing in April at the age of 84. Like me, he was born in Bakersfield. The son of an oil worker, he grew up in Oildale, a community across the Kern River from Bakersfield, and his early life was nearly a perfect representation of what it means to be from that place. A neighbor was future country-western legend Merle Haggard. He attended Garces High School. He worked as a store clerk and also as a roustabout and roughneck in the oil fields. After a stint in the army, he attended Bakersfield College.

In his mid-20s he married Janice Pettichord. By his own account she brought discipline and order to his life. A friend suggests she saved him from being a scoundrel, and his life’s course shifted to academia. He earned a B.A. and M.A. from San Francisco State, then attended Washington State University, and received a Ph.D. from the Union Graduate School in Ohio. For three decades he was a professor of English at Sonoma State University. He was also a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle’s Sunday magazine and a contributor to the Los Angeles Times and The Sacramento Bee. Listeners of public radio station KQED in San Francisco knew him as an on-air commentator. His prolific writing output included biographies of U.S. Senator S.I. Hayakawa and of an ordinary migrant during the Great Depression (Leon Patterson: A California Story).

In a front-page tribute in The Bakersfield Californian, Sunday columnist Robert Price wrote of how Halsam never lost his connection to his hometown. “He would drive the 320 miles from Penngrove to Bakersfield several times a year,” wrote Price, “sometimes for an event but often just to see his old buddies.”

Bookseller Mike Russo, a friend of many years, said, “He put a magnifying glass on the valley but also a mirror. He really spotlighted this part of the valley for the rest of the state and the rest of the nation to see and understand, but he also made us look at ourselves in ways maybe we never had done before.”

While I made a stab in my own tinpot way at capturing a particular time and place in the San Joaquin Valley in my first novel Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead and the place continued to have a presence in the subsequent two Dallas Green books, I would never expect to be seen as any kind of voice or evoker of what the valley is about. It takes a writer of Haslam’s caliber for that to happen. Indeed, a review actually called him “the quintessential California writer” in an article titled “Gerald Haslam, the Heartland’s Voice.”

He was the kind of writer that writers like me study to be better writers.