Not long ago, Steve Kettmann from the Wellstone Center in the Redwoods—which, in addition to providing a retreat space for writers, also publishes the Wellstone Books imprint—talked to me about how one of the things he and his wife Sarah Ringler are most interested in promoting is “California fiction.” That’s not a term you hear too often, but something about it instantly grabbed me. I remembered how I felt, as a native Californian, reading Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose in college: that he was writing about my places, my West. (Side note: I was lucky enough to have his son Page Stegner as my Creative Writing advisor at UC Santa Cruz.) What Kettmann and Ringler have latched onto, I think, is an untapped genre with a lot of potential.
At the time of that conversation, I had completely forgotten about this piece of fiction that GT and other papers had commissioned from William T. Vollmann. It had been arranged through Stett Holbrook, the editor of the North Bay Bohemian, who sent occasional updates on the progress of the project over the course of several months. Vollmann is notorious for being reclusive and loathing technology—two qualities that make it pretty difficult to guess when you’ll actually get the piece you’re waiting for.
But upon reading it, I realized that Vollmann is such a natural part of the California fiction genre Kettmann was talking about it. It makes sense, since though Vollmann is probably most famous for his novel Europe Central, which won the 2005 National Book Award for Fiction, his magnum opus is surely Imperial, his 1,344-page nonfiction study of Imperial County, California, which traces the border region’s history from 13,000 B.C to present-day.
The only criterium for the piece we commissioned from him was that it be set in Northern California. I hope you enjoy it.
STEVE PALOPOLI | EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Letters to the Editor
That’s Not a Bathroom
The article “Flush to Judgment” (GT, 8/31) linguistically, as well as in other ways, stinks. A Porta Potty is neither a “toilet” nor a “bathroom.” Referring to it as such is incorrect and performs a disservice to your publication and the community.
Downtown Santa Cruz has a public restroom which is barely usable. I cannot recommend it for use to shoppers, visitors or tourists who keep the economic vitality of the city intact. What is the city doing about this incredible lack of basic amenities besides “outreach?” Perhaps the “visitor restroom program” has run its course. Yet there is $10,000 for two port-o-johns, which have city signage on them saying “public restroom.” These are not even open during the day, and a “restroom” has a sink and a toilet.
I truly believe that these issues can be addressed and solved affordably, while providing for people’s basic needs being met. Setting the bar so low that a win is when things don’t get vandalized makes it easy to raise the bar. Rather than using Orwellian double-speak calling port-o-johns bathrooms, toilets or restrooms, it might be more valuable to research and write a critically thought-out story, hopefully helping to suss out workable solutions.
Re: Police body cams (GT, 8/10): Capitola has had them for more than a year. Santa Cruz Sheriff’s [Office] is adopting them. Watsonville and Scotts Valley will implement them within two years.
Why is SCPD only just “considering” the use of body cams? Why are they lagging on this important issue?
Re: ‘Saving Lighthouse Field’
Not to take anything away from Gary Patton and his lifetime of notable work and achievements, because I’ve been a fan before, during and after the 1990s when he and I were county supervisors (he for Santa Cruz County, I for San Luis Obispo), but I want to remind readers that the environmental community began stirring in Santa Cruz in the late ’60s, early ’70s, by citing these two examples: After an uproar of protests, a proposed nuclear power plant to be built south of Davenport was permanently shelved in 1971 and never seriously raised again. That same year, after a similar campaign against the state’s plan to expand Highway 17 into a commute corridor, the state removed that highway and those plans from the freeway system, saving the coast from major developmental pressures from the Santa Clara Valley. Both campaigns were led by a group of local citizens working for an organization called Santa Cruz County Council on the Environment (which I had the privilege of chairing in ’70-’71), and without these victories, Santa Cruz County and the coast would look dramatically different today—and not for the better.
And Gary Patton still had a lot of work to do during his 20 years in office in the never-ending battle to save the sense of place of Santa Cruz County and the coast.
— Bud Laurent