Seasons in the Fields is a collection of short fiction set in the farm and ranch country of California where I grew up. This book consists of thirteen stories, nine of which were previously published. I brought out these stories as a collection in the spring of 1998 so that I could promote it along with Black Diamond Rendezvous, a paperback western that came out in May of the same year.
This was the fourth short story collection that I produced under my own imprint. It consists of fiction that I wrote from the mid 1970’s until the mid-1990’s, at the same time I was working on other kinds of short stories as well as scholarly work, non-fiction, poetry, and novels. I wrote other stories set in rural California as well, but I selected the pieces for this collection on the basis of what I thought was their quality or level of seriousness. I considered this collection on a par with Antelope Sky, which I had brought out the year before, and I thought that between the two, I was presenting my best work as a short story writer. As with the previous collection, most of the stories had been published, and several of them had won awards with literary magazines, writing organizations, and the Wyoming Arts Council.
In writing these stories, I drew upon my experiences growing up and working in the fields in the 1960’s. I think of these selections as being realistic and bittersweet, not pieces of nostalgia about the happy days, because people in the hand-to-mouth way of life and consequently in my stories have to struggle to make a living and often have a hard time holding things together. As in much of my other fiction, they also do not find easy solutions to their problems.
One thing that makes the stories in this bunch work is that they are grounded in experience and in the emotion that is related to that experience. For example, in “Daddy and Norma Jean,” there is a kid who works in the crops with his father. They sleep in an old station wagon, and for a while the kid has to go into restaurants and ask for a thermos of hot water so that he and his father can make instant coffee in the car. The narrator, looking back on his experiences, says, “My dad was good about letting me pick the café so I wouldn’t go to the same one two days in a row. That’s when I started drinking coffee, when I was grown-up enough to beg the hot water for it.” That part of the story is based on my own experience, although there is not a one-to-one correspondence. I was a couple of years younger than the kid in the story, as this is a story about his coming of age. He goes on to narrate the rest of his day, which is the day the world heard of Marilyn Monroe’s death. On that day of my own life, I was working in the fields with my father and two of my brothers, and I wasn’t quite old enough to have the other experiences the narrator has that day. Also, as I wrote this story, I went to the library and did some checking of facts, an unexpected kind of historical research, so that I could get everything right in its new arrangement. So, even though I drew upon experience and emotion that I knew as well as anything, I did not just open a vein, as they say; rather, I took what I had and made it work for the purpose of the story.
Many of the other stories have similar transformations. I cite this one because it has content that many people are familiar with and because it has a nice mix of personal and public experience. But the overall principle runs through the collection. I have so much of this material to draw upon that I do not have to let the story follow the original. One of the best ways to liberate the material and the story is to draw freely, form composites from people and events in one’s own experience, and then to let that material take its own life in the story. I hope I have done that all right.
After I brought out this collection, I revisited some of my other material from the rural California setting and developed it into a short novel entitled A Good Man to Have in Camp. Since then I have gone on to write more fiction (from short story to novella length) based on field work and seasonal labor, and I am not done yet. I have plenty of material I still want to write about, and I continue to think of ways of shaping a story, in terms of both narrative design and tone. Hoping not to sound too pretentious, I would say that Seasons in the Fields has its vision. As the back cover copy states, “These people live in a world of young hopes and sad memories, pretty girls and hard work.” There is, as I mentioned above, a kind of bittersweet realism. That is not my whole vision—of fiction, of life, or of field work—and I look forward to adding a little more as I go along.
Seasons in the Fields is available at Amazon.