An Interview with R.Z. Halleson

Where did you grow up?

When I was a small child, I lived with my parents on a two-family farm near Westby, Wisconsin, similar to the one in my book The Origin of Fear. When I was about eleven, my parents and I moved to the small farm next door, which I used as the setting for my book What Happened to Clara?


Are these true stories?

Yes and no. The settings are as authentic as I could remember them, but the crimes are fictional. In truth, I wanted to explore how the people of that time would behave in the face of circumstances that were out of their control.


These are Norwegian-American communities. Are you Norwegian American?

Very much so. I am still receiving comments on a blog post that I wrote a few years ago about being Norwegian American. Like most ethnic groups, we have our unique characteristics too.


Tell me about your collaboration with Chhalith Ou in your book Spare Them? No Profit. Remove Them? No Loss. 

I had administered a sponsorship program in the 80s bringing Cambodians out of refugee camps and into the United States after the Viet Nam war ended. Chhalith was seventeen years old when he came with his family and almost forty when he asked me to help him tell his story. It took us seven years to complete it.


What were some of the problems that you encountered in writing this book?

I would say that, at first, getting into the mind of a teenage boy living in a third-world non-English-speaking country during a time of war and unconscionable brutality, as told by himself as an adult was a challenge. His and my cultures were different, our worldviews were very different, and we had some language barriers.


Do you feel that you overcame these?

Yes, because we took our time. I encouraged him to debrief himself randomly, telling me incidents as they occurred to him with me probing for details. When it seemed that we had gotten everything that he could remember, we had to put it all in chronological order, and this was harder than I had anticipated. I couldn't do it, so he had to.

   In the meantime, I was reading everything I could get my hands on about this war to check the accuracy of Chhalith's recollections. I also found a set of sixteen videos that compiled English, French, and Khmer Rouge filmed resources, everything from raw communist photos and videos to television documentaries. Chhalith and I watched these together, and they were priceless.

   I'm very proud of this book, and I'm convinced that Chhalith's recollection and analysis of how the Khmer Rouge work groups functioned is the only detailed record of these that exists.


The book is out of print now, but I am hoping to republish it through Gjerda Media.


You also wrote a book about a gay man. How did that come about?

I had just lost my husband, and "Rick" was one of my helpful listening ears. By the time I found out that he was gay and had issues of his own, we had become friends. The first part of the book Ambiguous is his story, much of it in his own words. The second two parts are extrapolations of what might have happened with two other characters in his story.


What are you working on now?

I was once a foster parent and learned about the terrible situations in which some foster children find themselves in. I want to tell that story highlighting an aspect that nobody, I believe, has yet written about.


Will you continue to blog? I understand that your blog was well-received.

I plan to begin a new blog which will talk about the incidents that take place within a life-plan retirement community. Stay tuned.


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