Interview by Charline Ratcliff for RebeccasReads, A Say What? Savannah Mae Company
J B Bergstad includes trucker, firefighter, Guest Relations Department Supervisor for a major television network and thirty years of management and entrepreneurial experience in the field of transport-logistics among his career pursuits. Retiring in 2000, Jim began to seriously consider a new career in the field of creative writing, his interest focused on genre and literary fiction. Jim has since studied with Long Ridge Writers Group and Gotham Writers Workshop among other courses of study.
Article first published as Interview: JB Bergstad, Author of Hyde’s Corner Trilogy on Blogcritics.
J B, I’ve carefully perused your public bio as well as the synopsis/information for each of your books and I must say you have been, (and probably still are), a busy man. Of course, I always like to delve a bit deeper than what’s “commonly” known when I interview someone, so I guess my first question to you is: where do you originate from? Were you born in one location/state and lived there your whole life, or did you move around while growing up?
Before we begin I’d like to thank you, Charline, and RebeccasReads.com for offering this opportunity for my readers and I to connect.
In answer to your first question I was born on the 13th day of March, 1938 in Streator, Ill. My Dad was a structural steel worker and so six weeks after my birth we moved on to another job in another city. We stayed for short periods of time in many different locations throughout the Midwest and western portions of the U.S. and finally settled for good in Southern California in 1945. I grew up in Compton, CA and lived there until my marriage in 1959.
I noticed you have had quite a few career paths. While I’m presuming they were at different times, it also seems to me like there could have been some overlap. How many jobs did you wind up juggling at the same time? And which one, (other than the writing), has been your favorite?
I was always restless, curious, and when I felt I had mastered one job, liked to move on to something new. I was a wild and reckless teenager, never finishing high school and having spurned education in the conventional sense, I juggled bank employee, liquor store clerk, drive-in movie usher and door-to-door salesman to name a few. My first good paying job was as a roustabout for the Tidewater Oil Company. With that connection I talked my way into an interview for a truck-driving job. From that I moved up to a better paying driving job with Texaco. A year after that, I was accepted for employment by the Compton City Fire Department where I was injured on the job. Through a Vocational Rehabilitation Program I attended the Don Martin School of Radio and Television Arts and Sciences in Hollywood. I rode a Japanese motorcycle from our home in North Long Beach to Hollywood each day for school. After a couple of months, I landed a part-time job with ABC Television as a page and that was the career path I fell in love with and wanted to pursue, but due to many circumstances too convoluted to go into here, it wasn’t to be.
You also mentioned that you were a Guest Relations Department Supervisor for a major television network. Am I allowed to ask which one? And if so, what did your duties include, other than ensuring that people were happy/satisfied?
I mentioned The American Broadcasting Company in the last question, but I can elaborate here a bit. After graduation from Don Martin I had my First Phone Operators License which allowed me to pursue a career as a technician in film or television. Because of my age and maturity by this time, I rose from page to other jobs in the Guest Relations Department. My responsibilities were involved in lot and stage security, supervision of a page staff, and as you guessed, making our visitors, in the form of studio audiences, feel welcome, safe and able to enjoy the experience of seeing a television show produced live. I provided security for two Academy Award shows during my time there, an exciting experience.
Wow, three times/tries to successfully retire… *smile* Obviously that didn’t work out so well for you with the first two attempts. What happened?
I retired the first time at age sixty. I fumbled and bumbled my way through various writing attempts over the years and I thought I could learn to write by doing. I soon tired of rejection and decided to go back to work as a courier. After three years of that, and writing on the side, I retired again and got bored again. I went back to courier work, but my Dad died at ninety-four and after that my eighty-eight year old Mom deteriorated quickly into senility and mild Alzheimer’s disease. I retired for the third and last time to manage my parent’s affairs and take care of my mother.
You finally managed to retire, and you “escaped” to South Carolina. Why did you, and your wife, choose that particular state; versus somewhere like…Hawaii?
Yes, escaped is a good word. I hated living in California even before my adult life began. I disliked the disrespectful way people treated each other, the traffic, smog, overcrowding everywhere we went, I could go on and on. I was forced to seek a professional care facility for my Mom, eventually putting her into a nursing home, not far from our home in Concord, CA. I visited several times a week, but she was now in a vegetative state. My visits consisted of talking to her as she sat, slumped in her wheelchair, semi-comatose. In 2006 we sold our home in Concord and left California for North Carolina. From there we searched Florida where two of our daughters live, but found nothing we liked. On the way home, after a Christmas visit; we decided to look at a place called Aiken, South Carolina that sounded promising. It was more than promising and that’s where we bought a lot and began construction of our new home in May of 2007. In the winter of the same year I received word my Mother had passed in her sleep, she was ninety-six.
You have mentioned that once you settled in South Carolina you then began a serious study of the art of creative writing. Why at this time period? Had you kicked around the idea of writing your whole life, but never found the time? Or was writing the surprise desire that showed up once the hectic pace of your career life had finally vanished?
I played at writing from the age of seventeen. I had hundreds of ideas for stories based on some of my experiences and on things my Dad told me, later in his life. He described what it’s like to grow in the depression with twelve brothers and sisters. His life on the bum and things he did to survive as a kid and young man. I attended all the writing schools I could find as long as they provided Internet classes. I studied with the Long Ridge Writers Group, Gotham City Writers Workshop, several college courses in creative writing and slowly over the years from 2004 through 2011 my writing developed into something I could publish and better yet, sell. I hear a lot of writers say they write because they have, too. Personally, I think that’s something they say because they’ve heard that’s the thing to say. Perhaps they think that reason defines a writer. In my opinion, nothing defines a writer like his or her writing. The more unique and imaginative your phrasing and story structure, the more noticed you’ll eventually become. I write not because I have to, but because I love to write. Because I love to write, I never submit something I haven’t had scrutinized by people with critical eyes several times over.
Moving on to your books… I see you have written a trilogy, (Hyde’s Corner), as well as two other/separate books: Doors to Perdition, and Screwing the Pooch; each a compilation of short stories. Did you find writing the shorter stories a challenge?
Short stories are a wonderful way for writers to learn structure, plot, theme and character. But there is a trick to writing short stories and that is to learn to put all the elements of a novel into a capsule of 3000 words or less. Granted some of my shorts run over that limit, but those are stories that actually come from novels I’m working on. Pooch is a good example. All those short stories are from novels I’m either working on or considering for development. In Doors, some of those stories are common to what I just discussed and others are expanded flash fiction pieces I did for Zoetrope and several other ezines earlier in my writing development.
Tell me about your trilogy: Hyde’s Corner. What was it that prompted this literary series? I’m also curious if your experiences as a trucker played any part in the locale/storyline? I’m presuming you saw a lot of the countryside during your travels – no doubt it could have been fodder for your writing. (And yes, pun intended).
Hyde’s Corner began for me in or around 1997 with one phrase running around in my head: You can’t stop a pack of fools from doing foolish things. That phrase begot a two-page character development piece which in turn begot a five-page short story which over the years turned into a novel. I finished the first draft in 2004 and finally considered trying to publish a monster of 159K words and almost 500 pages in 2011. I had the manuscript professionally edited twice and was advised both times to cut it drastically. Luckily, a very good cyber-friend of mine who is also a terrific novelist and short story writer suggested I break it up and the Trilogy idea came to pass. I have D J Swykert to thank for that idea. I picked the Oklahoma panhandle because of Edna Ferber whose novel and film “Cimarron” fueled my imagination.
What about Screwing the Pooch, or Doors to Perdition? Were there any real life experiences that prompted the various tales?
In Pooch I simply set out to create a compilation of stories unique in design and flavor. I’d never seen, or heard, of a compilation based on a mix of genres, i.e., drama, mystery, thriller, horror, coming of age, romance and suspense. I searched through my glut of story starts and ideas and came up with shorts that fit the bill. I had to write a horror story; I’d never tried one in my life. The Puppy Murders is based on a true event that happened to me as I grew up. Stories that deal with alcoholism are snatches of experiences I’ve had personally with the disease. All are dramatized to the nth degree, but I can write those with some authority. In Doors all are excerpts of novels in progress with the exception of Odorless and The Wake.
And finally J B, what writing projects do you have in the works for the future?
At present, I have nine novels in progress with a few barely fleshed out. Book III of the Hyde’s Corner Trilogy is now under construction. I have the story plotted out in my head, but the progression of the personality of the main character Tom Burks is still a mystery to me. How does a man do a complete 180 in his attitudes and his basic character? How does a man assume the persona of another without losing his own identity? These and other dilemmas I won’t bore you with here are questions that have to be reconciled, but off I go until That Man Upstairs decides He’s had enough of me.
J B Bergstad