‘Meet the Author’ with Clifford Louis Gans | TheUnion.com

‘Meet the Author’ with Clifford Louis Gans

Special to The Union
“The Golden Star of Shanghai,” from local author Clifford Gans, is a western romance novel set against the backdrop of hydraulic mining, which Gans says "is a metaphor for climate change."
Submitted photo to The Union |

Local author, Clifford Louis Gans has recently released a book he has been working on for three years called, “The Golden Star of Shanghai.” We caught up with Gans and threw a few questions his way about his life and his new book.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m a lifelong Californian, working almost 20 years for The McGraw-Hill Education Companies. I was a senior program manager in charge of scoring statewide assessments.

I worked with state departments of education, the Department of Defense, and I was fortunate to also work on an international contract in the Middle East, Qatar and its Supreme Education Council, which provided me the opportunity to see, meet, and work with other people and cultures.

What brought you to this area?

Family. My wife and I have lived in the area for 18 years and before that, I grew up just down the hill in Fair Oaks.

How did you get into writing?

“The Golden Star of Shanghai” is the culmination of 3 years of research and a response to something I’ve heard from many people when talking about books, even with international friends and acquaintances: why aren’t more westerns being written? I certainly agree and had a tale I passionately wanted to tell.

What is your favorite book or who is your favorite author?

Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove and anything by Raymond Chandler.

What is your book about?

It’s a western romance set against the backdrop of hydraulic mining, which is a metaphor for climate change. Many of the challenges of the 1880s are similar to what we face today. The devastation caused by hydraulic mining was monumental and is largely forgotten.

Almost three times the amount of earth moved in building the Panama Canal was washed down just the Yuba River alone. This mud and muck, laced with mercury, buried valley towns and farmland all the way to San Francisco Bay.

Sacramento and Marysville were under constant threat of flooding. They built levees higher every year as the rivers and deltas became choked with debris. It was an enormous problem that pitted the miners against the valley farmers and it took a federal judge, Lorenzo Sawyer, to save California.

And just like the debris that washed out of the mountains, man-made particulate debris, heat-trapping gases, are dumped into the atmosphere, altering our climate through droughts, intensifying storms, sea level rise, wildfire seasons that last all year.

Look at Los Angeles, half of it is ablaze and it’s the middle of December. It’s truly stunning more hasn’t been done. The scientific consensus is ignored, forcing us to stare into the abyss. California is all about its climate. It’s why people choose to live here. Our heritage is as an agricultural paradise. There’s no other place like it in the world.

Tragically, our birthright is threatened by the continued use of fossil fuels. Like those in the 1880s, we need a new Anti-Debris Association. We need to unite and act in order to leave the world in a better place than we found it. We cannot be the generation that stands by doing nothing, while the world gets hotter, less sustainable and prone to weather related catastrophes.

I just don’t know how we can look into the eyes of children, future generations, if we ignore this, when the effects will be far worse due to our inaction. It’s the height of irresponsibility and speaks poorly to this generation’s stewardship of the planet. Time is running out.

What inspired you to write this book?

It’s a great tale that is largely forgotten. I’ve walked the ground — the Malakoff Mine, stumbling through the Hiller Tunnel. I’ve hiked the Yuba River. I’ve stood beside the graves of George Cadwalader and J.C. Boggs and the more I learned, the more I began to feel like the caretaker of their stories, important stories that are largely forgotten.

I’ve become their emissary. I want them to live again. I’m baffled at why the gold country towns of Grass Valley, Nevada City, Auburn and even Sacramento, for that matter, aren’t as popular as other Old West tourist destinations. The history here is so rich and complex.

Old Town Auburn is fascinating and it’s why I set “The Golden Star of Shanghai” in what is now a popular craft brewery, The Auburn Alehouse, and before that The Shanghai restaurant that operated for 100 years.

The Holbrooke Hotel, the Empire Mine, the Northstar Mining Museum in Grass Valley are well worth visiting and Nevada City is a charming town. It even has its own water monitor at the base of Broad Street.

My book seeks to rediscover this past. If we stopped a hundred people in front of the new Sawyer Hotel in downtown Sacramento and asked them why it’s called the Sawyer, I doubt anyone could come up with an answer.

Lorenzo Sawyer created modern California with his decision. It’s one of the most important legal precedents in American history and we should not live our lives ignorant of it.

What do you find most challenging about writing a book?

Historical fiction poses many challenges, integrating all of the history with the fictional elements. Non-fiction accounts of this story exist, but I wanted to tell a rip roaring tale, a western with vibrant characters and dialogue, making this story more accessible to readers today.

The romance between Charles Reed and a Chinese prostitute, Chan, speaks to everyone’s desire to find a true love and a soul mate, in the face of the times, against conventional wisdom.

This is something people can identify with, a love affair set against momentous events. It makes the story even more compelling. Also, I think it’s an entertaining way to learn about history.

What is your key takeaway or message you hope readers find in your book?

Despite the overarching theme, the book is a fun, fast-paced western, a rip roaring tale. The fact that most of this story is true can really get the reader thinking about how history repeats itself and how we fight the same battles over and over, seemingly oblivious to our past struggles, failures and successes, and the choices and solutions people make.

Through these characters, we see people who fight the good fight, who take a stand and, collectively, do the right thing.

Where can people find your book?

It’s available at Amazon as a paperback or as an ebook and, locally, at the Book Seller.

How would you describe your own perfect day?

My wife and I and our two dogs love getting out and hiking the area. The Stevens Trail is great, the South Yuba Park trail. We just did a hike through Donner Pass, before the first snow, walking through the old Transcontinental Railroad snow shed tunnels, seeing the grooves scored into the rock from all the early immigrant wagon trains.

It was a beautiful day that ended with some Pine Street hamburgers and some craft beer. Can’t beat that.

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