I grew up with truckloads of grannies, grandpas, cousins, aunts and uncles in Wasco and Bakersfield, California. My dad came from a family of red-headed field laborers. My mom was a farmer’s beautiful only daughter. My brother was a wrestler, which, in the Central Valley, made him kind of a big deal.
I never was anything special there–not a memorable student or athlete or cheerleader. But I did hold down all kinds of jobs, curating a vivid collection of polyester uniforms. (Der Wienerschnitzel, H Salt Seafood Galley and Wendy’s Old Fashioned stand out in the polaroids.) And I apparently hold the record for most unpaid parking tickets earned in a one-year period in the history of West Bakersfield High School.
I went south at eighteen, just east of Los Angeles, to Claremont McKenna College, where I learned about Izods and penny loafers and met my Young Republican husband (whom I proceeded to turn into a born-again liberal).
Together, we moved north to Silicon Valley and San Francisco for more school and work before finally settling, as people do, in the middle, Sacramento, where we’ve raised two solid citizens who wash dishes, read actual books and help in the vegetable garden–Sacramento virtues, all.
I had worked here in Sacramento for decades, raising these boys, teaching college writing and then coaching scientists and economists and engineers how to write in a plain style, before I ever took up writing my own stories. I do that now, obsessively, in between coaching other writers and editing white papers.
I do like short stories for their more-immediate gratification. But my heart is in the novel. My first, Copy Boy, germinated back in Bakersfield. Set in the Great Depression, it follows Jane, a seventeen-year-old girl who tries to escape her family’s hard, rural life to reinvent herself as a boy in San Francisco. No matter how she scrubs that Central Valley dust off her elbows and knees, she’s inhaled too much. It floats in her blood like spores.
All my Jane Benjamin Novels follow difficult girls. They’re my favorite.