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On Writing

Filtering by Tag: Fresno Growing Up

"Memortality": Coming in February 2017

Stephen H. Provost

The phone rang. It was my publisher. One of the reasons he was calling was to ask me whether I’d be upset if he delayed the release of my forthcoming book on Highway 99 a few months.

You probably think I was disappointed. The book’s written, the illustrations are ready to go, the contract’s signed, and I’m very proud of the work I’ve done on the project. But as eager as I am to see it in print, the rest of what my publisher had to say made any mild disappointment I might have felt evaporate in the proverbial New York minute.

“We’d like to publish ‘Memortality.’”

“Memortality” is a novel I’d written after I finished work on the Highway 99 project, based on an idea that occurred to me when I was working on my 2015 release, “Fresno Growing Up.” As an author of historical nonfiction, it’s my goal to bring memories to life again. But that got me wondering: What if someone could do that for real, not just through words on a printed page? What if our memories of lost loved ones could literally bring them back to life?

That’s the concept behind “Memortality” (a word I coined by combining “memory” and “immortality”). It’s about a very special woman named Minerva Rus who can use her eidetic memory to put things back the way they were … and even bring people back from the dead.

I’ll be sharing more about the “Memortality” and how I came to write it in the months ahead, but suffice to say I consider this the most original, exciting story that’s ever popped into (and now out of) my head.

I submitted it to Linden Publishing, which released “Fresno Growing Up” on its Craven Street imprint and did an excellent job with the design and marketing. I didn’t know what to expect. But not only did the folks at Linden accept the manuscript, they’re making it their debut release on a brand new imprint. To an author, that’s like being chosen to carry the flag at the Olympic opening ceremonies. It’s quite an honor.

The target release date for “Memortality” is Feb. 1, 2017, and it’s already available for pre-order on Amazon. The Highway 99 book is due to be out just a few months later, so I’ll have not one but two books hitting the shelves in the first half of next year.

In the meantime, I’ll be continuing work on two new projects – both of which are moving right along. But “Memortality” is front and center. I’m thrilled to announce it as my debut novel for Linden/Pace and I’ll be sure to keep you in the loop during the months ahead. Watch this space and my Facebook page for updates on “Memortality,” including the cover reveal, plot teasers, etc.

This is going to one heck of a memorable ride.

Writing out the old year, writing in the new

Stephen H. Provost

It's Christmas night, and I'm reflecting back on the past year, thinking about how lucky I am to be a writer. I get to learn about fascinating people and places, and I get to tell their stories to folks who might otherwise never have known them.

Sometimes, if I'm working on a novel, I get to send characters out of my head into a whole new world - the "real" world - and I get to introduce them to some new friends: whoever's kind enough to invite them onto their nightstand, onto their bookshelf and into their hearts.

Other times, when I'm writing nonfiction, I have the privilege of reintroducing readers  to men and women from times past - people they might have forgotten or perhaps never knew. I get to be the voice of the dead, the singer of lost songs, the teller of old tales. 

And this year, I got to do it professionally. After publishing eight works independently over the previous three years, I was fortunate enough to see the release of my first traditionally published book and sign a contract for the release of a second. To say 2015 was a very good year would be an understatement. To achieve, at the age of 52, something that's been a dream since I first set out to write a novel more than three decades ago is immensely satisfying, to say the least, and I'm grateful to each and every one of you who took the time to let me know you enjoyed "Fresno Growing Up."

I have to admit, it's a little strange - but gratifying - to find myself doing book signings and giving library talks about my work. When I first dreamed of becoming an author, I was a teenager with a few friends, a lot of time on my hand and a fertile imagination. These days, as the editor of a small-town newspaper and a published author, I'm something of a public figure, but deep down I'm not that much different than I was as a teen. I suspect a lot of other authors aren't, either. Many of them, like myself, are probably introverts and dreamers who started writing because they'd already begun creating worlds inside their heads - and because the world "out there" can be a little daunting. 

As an introvert, I find it enormously satisfying to find that some people "out there" enjoy the creative results of my reclusive fantasies and historical investigations. It makes me want to write more.

So that's precisely what I intend to do. My lofty goal: to produce more work in the coming years that you'll enjoy just as much as "Fresno Growing Up" - perhaps even more. I'm setting a target  to write two books a year for the rest of my mortal life and trusting my creativity to keep pace with that ambition. 

Next year promises to be just as much fun as 2015 was. I'll be hard at work on fine-tuning my second historical project, a book on the history of Highway 99 in California, which is set for release late in the year, and I've also finished my second novel, for which I'm currently seeking a home.  I like to think of it as a kitten in a basket that I'll place on the doorstep of the perfect publisher, who'll pick it up and make it purr for the masses. Another ambitious goal, to be sure, but who can resist a cute little kitten?

I'm so excited about this project that I've already started working on a sequel (something you're not supposed to do before you sell the first book, but I've spent most of my career as a writer and editor being conventional - I figure it's time to think outside the book jacket for a change). I don't want to give away too much, but the concept behind this series is based on a principle I took from my nonfiction work: the richness of history and the magic behind memory. It's a paranormal novel without any vampires, zombies, werewolves or any of the other standard characters you've seen before. Intriguing? I hope so. I'll just leave it at that.

Beyond that, I've done some preliminary research, writing and photography for another highway book, which will likely receive my full attention once the in-progress sequel is done. 

Beyond that, who knows? For us writers, the discovery's the best part of the journey.

 

The Story Behind "Fresno Growing Up"

Stephen H. Provost

"Fresno Growing Up" was, like most books we authors write, a proverbial labor of love, and all the more so than most because of its subject matter. It's about the place where I grew up, a city that happened to be growing up itself at the same time (hence the title). The postwar Baby Boom era defined the Fresno for tens of thousands - even hundreds of thousands - of residents. It was what many consider the city's golden age, when it was growing not only up but also out, stretching its wings northward and learning to fly along new freeways and buy at new shopping malls.

As I write this, Fresno may well be entering a new golden age, with downtown redevelopment proceeding at a pace not seen in decades and the city reclaiming some of the vibrancy that marked the era covered in my book, roughly from 1945 to 1985. 

I no longer live in Fresno, and in fact, it was my departure from the city that planted the idea for this book in my head. In 2011, I found myself without a job due to downsizing within print journalism: For the first time in more than 25 years (all in the San Joaquin Valley and 14 of them at The Fresno Bee), I wasn't working at a newspaper. Ironically, I'd chosen journalism so I could write for a steady paycheck - something a career as an author couldn't promise - and I had spent the majority of my career in newspapers as an editor rather than a writer.

After a year as a substitute teacher at Fresno Unified, an opportunity arose to get back into journalism with The Tribune in San Luis Obispo, so I left the Valley for the first time since age 15. It was then that I started to write books. My wife, Samaire, can take a good deal of credit for this: She'd always wanted to be an author herself and had what seemed like a hundred stories swimming around in her very creative brain. I said to myself, "If she can do this, why can't I take a stab at it?" I'd gotten into journalism to be a writer, so why not write?

My primary job at The Tribune was as a copy editor, but I also started producing an occasional column on language and communication. Meanwhile, I was self-publishing a series of books under the name Stifyn Emrys (see the Works section of this website). I wrote about ancient history, mythology and philosophy; I produced a children's story, a dystopian novel and a companion novella. Then there was a book called "Undefeated," a series of stories about individuals who had overcome prejudice and bullying. 

This last project served to whet my appetite for delving into recent history, and Fresno seemed to be the ideal topic. Despite having moved to an area (California's Central Coast) that's pretty close to paradise, I was, in some ways, homesick for Fresno - not necessarily the city that it had become, but rather, the place where I grew up. According to the old saw, you can't go home again, but I decided to try anyway, and I chose writing as my means of transportation.

I'd read a few works on the early history of Fresno, but I hadn't seen a book dedicated primarily to the postwar years - the years I remembered from my youth - so I decided to write one.

Writing nonfiction is, for me, a process of exploration and discovery. I'm not the sort of author who sets up an outline, accumulates folders full of notes and gets "everything in order" before I start on the actual text. I research and write as I go, because it keeps things interesting. Each new revelation leads to another line of inquiry, pulling me along like the passenger on a scenic tour of some wondrous land who never quite knows what's around the next bend. As the journey continues, an outline takes shape on its own.

In the case of "Fresno Growing Up," the work evolved into a three-part project: the first part dealing with Fresno's postwar growth, the second revisiting the city's pop culture during the period, and the third focusing on sports and recreation. Plenty had been written on local government and civic leaders, so I turned my attention instead to the people who built Fresno's movie theaters and shopping malls, who scored the goals for the Fresno Falcons or the touchdowns for Jim Sweeney's Bulldogs, who made and played the records we all heard on KYNO and KKDJ.

Starting with my own experience as a base, I consulted books on Fresno and books the Baby Boom era, looked up hundreds of newspaper articles and conducted phone interviews with some of the folks who helped shape that era - people like Dean Opperman (who graciously agreed to write the foreword for the book), Roger Rocka and Dick Carr. Some of those I tried to contact didn't return my calls, and in a sense, I couldn't blame them: I hadn't written any books under my own name at that point, and my newspaper writing for the previous decade and a half had consisted largely of headlines and photo captions. Bylines? They were practically nonexistent. 

Besides, I didn't have a publisher. I didn't even considered looking for one until the book was finished, assuming that I'd just publish it myself through CreateSpace (Amazon's self-publishing platform), as I had done my previous works. But then, this project had something those earlier books hadn't: a large number of historical images, along with a collection of photos I'd taken myself. I'm a writer by profession, but I've always enjoyed photography, and to be honest, I got as big a kick out of taking pictures for "Fresno Growing Up" as I did writing the text.

Bottom line: I knew I couldn't create the kind of presentation I wanted for these images within the constraints of CreateSpace's platform, so I decided to test the waters with traditional publishing by contacting Linden. The Fresno-based publisher had a great track record (nearly four decades in the business) and had published just the sort of regional history book I was producing. Among its titles: Catherine Morison Rehart's series on "The Valley's Legends & Legacies," illustrated books by Pat Hunter and Janice Stevens, and volumes showcasing Pop Laval's vintage photos of Fresno.

I had heard one horror story after another about authors papering their walls with rejection notices and unagented authors not even being considered for publication, so I was ecstatic when I heard back from the folks at Linden that they were interested in publishing my book on their Craven Street label. Now, with the book scheduled to hit the shelves in just over two weeks, I'm just as excited as I was then - if not more so. The quality of the book's presentation not only met my high expectations, it exceeded them, and I believe provides a fitting tribute to Fresno during the era covered in the work. It's my hope that those who grew up in Fresno during the postwar period will agree with me, and will join me in the concluding that, contrary to that nettlesome old saying, sometimes you can go home again.