Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “Hangtown Creek”

John Putnam – California Writer

In this last post commemorating  California Writers Week, I want to introduce my friend and local author, John Putnam. John and I have been friends and writing buddies for over four years, meeting weekly at the Berkeley Writers Group. He has written two novels about the Gold Rush. In our critique groups, I would often begin my feedback about his work with the words – This isn’t my genre…

But John’s writing is captivating. He has exposed me to the majestic scenes of Gold Country, sending my family twice on camping trips to Northern California, and his characters seem to follow me around. John’s novels are not just for Westerns enthusiasts, they are for anyone who loves realistic and resilient characters, and anyone who loves an everyday hero. Over to you, John:

JOHN PUTNAM – I Loved My Dad.

John Putnam - Berkeley Author

I loved my Dad.

We spent hours together when I was young, trampling through the woods. He was an experienced outdoorsman and a crack shot. I tagged along behind carrying the same beat up old air rifle he had learned to shoot with, but I couldn’t hit the side of the barn.

We went to the lake a lot and rode around in the boat he built in the basement, either fishing or water skiing. Dad could lift that boat into the back of his 1951 Chevy pick-up all by himself, it fit exactly, no trailer required. It was the most amazing boat I’ve ever seen. Sometimes he let me drive, both the boat and the truck. I was on top of the world.

He was a calligrapher. He could reproduce with a pen or brush any letter in any size or font that you can find today on your computer and do it absolutely perfectly, an artist with letters. Today it’s a lost art.

And all too soon he was gone. I miss him a ton.

Years later I started writing books. I picked a time and place for my novels where men still walked through pristine forests and where the waterways, and the steam and sailboats that plied them, were immensely important. I write about the California gold rush.

But writing is not an easy job. It’s hard, lonely work. Like my Dad’s calligraphy every word must be perfect. Writers need the help, companionship and support of other writers. And so did I.

That’s when I met Alon.

Just like me, Alon needed feedback on his novels and had started a group of like-minded people who still get together regularly and share their work. Over the years we’ve all grown into much better writers, thanks to Alon.

Now don’t get me wrong, Alon doesn’t remind me of my Dad at all. Well, maybe they are about the same height and I’m not counting the deep desire of each of them to shape their words as perfectly as can be, although in a much different way, but, like with my Dad so long ago, Alon is leading the way through the dark and confusing forest of the book world and I’m stumbling along behind.

When he asked me to write something for California Writers Week I was flattered. “Remember, my blog is pretty political,” he warned me.

 I knew he was thinking of my books, the first one happens at the very start of the gold rush. There were few towns and politics was primitive. In Hangtown Creek when a woman flees from a sadistic drunk only the men who have come to love her can help her.

Warning: Side Effects include camping trips in NorCal and gold fever.

 But things changed real fast in California and along with the honest, hard working miners came gamblers, crooks, and every corrupt politician in need of a new job. “Hey,” I said. “Politics in the gold rush was something you wouldn’t believe, except it really seems a lot like today. In 1851 all across California, and especially in San Francisco, people revolted against the corruption and took the law into their own hands. It was years before they straightened things out. I have a lot about it in my blog.”

 “That’s great,“ he said. “I’ll look forward to it.”

 I’ve met all kinds of folks in my life but I’m pretty sure that this would be a better world if more of them were like Alon and my Dad.


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

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