April 30, 2013 — When I graduated from the ninth grade at Washington Junior High School in Fresno way back in June 1965, they put together a yearbook of sorts in which they asked every student what they wanted to be when they grew up. I cheerfully responded I wanted to be a novelist, and I was the only person in the whole school who expressed any literary ambition, but my writer dreams got put on hold.
You see, five months earlier I’d gotten my first guitar as a Christmas present — an $89.95 sunburst, two-pickup, solid body, mail order beauty made by Harmony from the Sears and Roebuck Catalog, a very playable knockoff of the much more expensive Fender Jazzmaster. (The vintage pickups from that guitar are highly collectable these days.) After watching the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, the music bug bit me hard, just like it had millions and millions of other teenage, wannabe, moptop guitarslingers all around the world. The first incarnation of my first band, the Ravens, had five ninth-grade guitar players. That’s right, just five guitarists. No bass. No drums. We were terrible.
The Ravens played a very strange rendition of the Beatles’ cover of the Shirelles’ hit “Boys” at a school talent show that spring, and a few girls even screamed at us during our very first public appearance. Now that’s real motivation for a gang of 14-year-old posers, let me tell you.
Later in the show, as part of an impromptu duo, I backed up a girlfriend who sang Mary Wells’ “My Guy.” Sadly, my limited skills produced a noise that was much stranger and far more incomprehensible than the band’s act had been. I didn’t know it at the time, but I’d started down a long and winding road I’d follow for the next 15 years.
My parents pretty much demanded their kids go to college, but I wasn’t interested. Still, I promised if I wasn’t rich and famous by the time I was 30, I’d go back to school, and that’s exactly what I did.
Although I’d been writing songs for years, I had no training as a writer. I took a couple of poetry classes at Fresno City College from one of my favorite poets, DeWayne Rail. He also taught a magazine production class, so I took that one, too. The student newspaper office was right around the corner, so soon I was writing for the paper. I got an internship at the Fresno Bee. I worked for the daily student paper at California State University of Fresno and took a number of journalism and English classes, finally earning a degree in 1986.
Almost immediately I got a job in the public information office at Fresno City College, and I started a desktop publishing business to take advantage of the capabilities of the new Macintosh computers and the first laser printers.
A few years later I got my first reporter’s job at a paper in Los Banos, went to another paper in Hollister and then came back to Los Banos to launch a brand new paper that still survives today.
In April 1999, the Times hired me as a feature writer. That was 14 years ago this week — about a third of my adult life.
While my big city friends can’t understand why I would want to live here, those of us who call Lassen County home wouldn’t question my decision.
As I celebrate this anniversary of sorts, let me say it’s been my pride, pleasure and privilege to have written something like 5,000 stories for the newspaper’s readers across Lassen County over the years.
I want to say thank you to all of you for giving me something to write about. And I also want to say thank you to all of you for reading my stuff. I may not have become a novelist as I hoped all those years ago, but I did stumble on to a way to make my living as a writer in a place I love. I guess that really was the dream.
Again, thank you Lassen County for the past 14 years.
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