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Delta College professor writes suspense novels, poetry

Since she was a child June Gillam has enjoyed putting her thoughts down on paper, first in diaries, then poetry and journals before venturing into writing and a career as a professor.

Gillam has written five books, the latest of which came out in July. "House of Eire" It immerses her main character, Hillary Broome, in a haunting journey to Ireland researching her ancestors.

"At first, it was just self-expression," Gillam says. "The reason I love writing is I love the feeling I get when I am writing. It's like being in another world, a special, magical quality like it comes from nowhere else."

To Gillam, writing feels like playing an organ as she savors the feeling of the rhythm. The Auburn-based author has taught full-time as an English professor at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton.

Now on a reduced schedule, she teaches three classes online, creative writing of fiction, world literature and studies in fiction. She plans to retire next May and has given various writing workshops and presentations in the Central Valley.

Gillam concentrates on suspense novels, trying to explore what turns ordinary people into killers. She says in her writing she explores the motivation that gets people off on the wrong track.

"Villains are all ordinary people that went wrong," Gillam says. "I am trying to explore how that happens. It is sort of a 'cozy thriller'. We know who the bad guys are but we don't know how they keep getting away with it."

Gillam's main character in her novels, Hillary Broome, is a reporter and ghost writer turned investigator.

"She's the one who tries to save the day," Gillam says.

In her 2013 novel "House of Cuts" Broome's articles on grisly murders in a superstore catapult her byline from just the region into the national limelight and threaten to expose a secret that could ruin her career as well as bring her to a crazed killer's attention.

In her 2015 novel "House of Dads" Hillary is caught in a network of jealousy, greed and secrets and forced to investigate foul play from disgruntled homeowners, mortgage bankers and family members spiraling into homicidal madness.

Her next book, "House of Hoops" is due out next year. Hillary gets tangled up in more than hoops and nets by some shady characters who don't play by the rules in faraway places like Mumbai and Hawaii.

Gillam says her books take anywhere from a year and a half to two years to complete. She's not sure how many more books she will author. Someday she thinks she wants to write memoirs of her mom.

The Central Valley is great for stories and settings. At presentations she invites participants to take part in "four-color writing" where they develop a way to create characters and plots quickly.

A Sacramento native, Gillam moved to Auburn in 2010. For two years she was the editor of "World Travel New." She started writing poetry after the birth of her third child in her mid-twenties.
Gillam says she loves teaching writing. She adds she gives advice and critiques students with tact and care, giving praise where it works well but also asking questions and giving suggestions how their work could be made better.

Her advice for would-be writers is to take classes and take part in writing groups, building their own support systems.

"Know the thickness of your own skin," Gillam advises. "Your skin gets thicker and now I welcome strong criticism. If you are in a writing group that gets toxic, get out. A person starting out can learn to appreciate feedback."

In 2012, she published a book of poetry, "So Sweet Against Your Teeth." She says her poetry is mostly what's called feminist confessional and her subjects related to love, life, childhood and relationships with men. She says she has a great deal of poetry that has not been published yet.

Early on, Gillam says, she realized most poems want to be stories, they have stories in them. She concedes writing is a very different discipline but urges writers to put pen to paper before their thoughts are lost to time.

In 2003, Gillam earned her doctorate from the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. She just finished a two-year online program in novel writing from Stanford University.
She has bachelor's and master's degrees in English from Sacramento State University. About 40 years ago she joined the National Feminist Writer's Guild and published a book of poetry in 1982.

— Doane Yawger of Merced is a semi-retired newspaper reporter and editor.