November 23, 2006
by AMY STEWART
Eureka writer Pearce Hansen's first novel, Street Raised, has just been published by Point Blank Press, and he's got two local events coming up to celebrate its publication. Hansen has lived in Humboldt County for 18 years and works as a mail handler at the Eureka Post Office ("You know how any letter that you mail goes through this giant machine the size of a house that cancels the stamps? I'm the guy who runs that machine," he said.) He took a few minutes last week to talk with me about the book and his future writing plans.
NCJ: Street Raised is fiction, but I know it comes from your own experiences. How does your story mirror what happened in the novel?
HANSEN: I grew up in the East Bay. Due to a less-than-idyllic home environment, I grew up pretty much without any positive adult supervision whatsoever. Runaway, dropped out of school, passed-out drunk when I was 8, a lot of violence -- I've seen friends murdered -- and my dad just couldn't manage to stay welcomed in any neighborhood he lived in, so we moved around a lot.
I'm 50 now, and I've got to tell you, the last 10 years have been the best years of my life. I'm happier now than I've ever been, and I don't think I could have written until I was 40, because I didn't have the life experiences then.
NCJ: And it was about 10 years ago that you got into writing?
HANSEN: That's right. My wife was taking a class at CR, so I decided to take something too, and it was a creative writing class with Pete Peterson. That's when I started writing stories about some of the stuff that happened to me. Pete gave me a lot of encouragement to keep writing, even though these stories were kind of wild. When I was young, I had no survival instinct. I was the kind of guy who would seek out trouble.
NCJ: But you eventually decided to write fiction?
HANSEN: Right. This is not a memoir. This is not an autobiography. Some of the characters may be combinations of various people I've known, or events that have happened, but it's kind of like Law & Order: Criminal Intent, you know? It might be based on real life, but it's not real.
NCJ: To the extent that you were thinking back to actual events in your life, how did you deal with the questions of what to leave in and what to leave out to make something a good story?
HANSEN: Yeah, that was a real issue. I've had to be very clear from the beginning that I was writing fiction. This is an adventure, it has to have a story arc, it has to wind up neatly at the end. I've had plenty of times when I wrote this gem of a scene, and then looked at it and said, "It doesn't fit the story." So I had to gut it, even though I loved it. Or I'd think back to something that happened and maybe there were three people there, but two of the three people didn't really do anything. I had to get rid of them.
NCJ: What has the writing process done for you?
HANSEN: Well, at first I was literally transcribing events that had happened in my life. I found it very cathartic. I used to be plagued by nightmares -- I'd wake up screaming, which my wife just loved. But then I started writing it down, and the dreams stopped. I realized I had a tool for myself. So for years, I was just writing down what happened. But over time, I had enough of a body of short stories that I thought it was time to take the plunge and write a novel. The first draft was horrible. I edited a lot.
NCJ: Are you writing another book?
HANSEN: Actually, I've written two novels. I like to have people read the novels before I decide they're ready for publication, so right now I've got the third novel out to readers. I didn't even have an agent when I sold Street Raised to Point Blank Press. I even sold the movie rights on my own. But now I have an agent, and she'll take the second and third novels and see what she can do.
Pearce Hansen will have a book signing at Borders on Saturday, Nov. 25, at 2 p.m. He'll also do a reading at the Morris Graves on Thursday, Dec. 14, at 7 p.m.
Historian Ray Raphael will be at the Eureka Main Library on Saturday, Dec. 2, at 2 p.m., as part of the library's "Afternoon with the Author" series. He's the author of two books on the American Revolution, and the co-author, with Freeman House, of the forthcoming Two Peoples, One Place: a history of Humboldt County prior to 1882. Ray's talks are always lively, informative, and thought-provoking. Check it out.
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