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Charles Monroe Schulz Jr., son of the world's most famous cartoonist, is coming home next week to Sonoma County, where he grew up.

Monte Schulz, as everyone knows him, is 60 now and an author in his own right. He'll visit Santa Rosa next week during his promotional tour for his newest novel, "The Big Town."

When he came to town two years ago to talk about his earlier novel, "This Side of Jordan," Schulz drew an audience of 100, the biggest book-signing crowd he's had so far. Those two books, and last year's "Last Rose of Summer," are part of a trio of loosely related novels scheduled to be republished as a single, 1,100-page volume titled "Crossing Eden" in 2014.

So far, the books have sold "a few thousand" copies, and drawn mixed reviews, Schulz said.

"To be honest with you, I've been a little disappointed," he said by phone from his home in Santa Barbara. "I realize, now that people are reading these books, that a lot of it goes right over their heads."

Set in the summer of 1929, the books endeavor to capture the feel of America in the Jazz Age.

"It's the time of my dad's youth," Schulz said. "Dad was 7 years old that year."

Charles M. Schulz Sr., the creator of the phenomenally successful and still popular "Peanuts" comic strip, was the son of a barber in St. Paul, Minn. The cartoonist settled in Sonoma County in 1957, and lived and worked here until his death in 2000.

Monte Schulz said he enjoyed freedom from any economic pressure, thanks to his father's worldwide commercial success.

"Let's say I don't need the money. I wanted to write my great American novel. I have been given this great gift to write the books I wanted to write," Schulz said.

On the other hand, his father's fame hasn't brought the son's books much attention.

"In that case, the advantage of being Charles Schulz's son has added up to a big zero. It has made no difference at all. My books have come and gone," Schulz said. "At the same time, I will tell you that it doesn't make me feel any differently about them at all. I love these books, and they are exactly what I wanted to write, and my publisher loves them."

Schulz's publisher is Fantagraphics Books in Seattle, which primarily publishes graphic novels and comics-related books, including a series of collections of "Peanuts" comic strips.

"This is what Dad wanted me to write. He didn't want me to write a commercial novel. He had a commercial career, but he was dedicated to his art," Schulz said. "He loved literary fiction, and he wanted his son to be able to write the things he could not write, but wished he could."

Schulz, who holds a master's degree in American studies from UC Santa Barbara, owns and operates the annual, week-long Santa Barbara Writers Conference, which presents speakers, workshops and panel discussions on writing.

Schulz's three books draw on some of the history of past generations in Schulz's extended family, but are not a fictionalized account of his father's life.

"My dad is actually mentioned in a very subtle way in &‘The Big Town,'" Schulz said. "The main character, Harry, is in a barber shop. It says, &‘Back in St. Paul, he'd gotten his hair cut in the Family Barbershop on North Snelling Avenue by a cigar-smoking German fellow, whose young son drew funny little pictures.'"

"The Big Town" follows fictional failed businessman and unfaithful husband Harry Hennessey on a quest to find his place in society. Schulz chose the 1920s setting partly for literary reasons.

"My favorite writers were writing in that period — Carl Sandburg, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ring Lardner. I wanted to write a book that sounded like theirs did," Schulz said.

For his next book, due out from Fantagraphics next year, Schulz is working on a crime novel titled "Naughty." It's based on the trial and conviction of Iva Kroeger and her husband, Ralph, for the murders of Santa Rosa motel owner Mildred Arneson and her ex-husband Jay in 1961.

Schulz's first novel, "Down by the River," was published in 1990.

With two years of editing and revisions ahead of him on "Naughty" and the complete "Crossing Jordan" epic, Schulz isn't making long-range plans.

"After I'm done with these, I don't know what I'll do next," he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at 521-5243 or dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com. See his ARTS blog at http://arts.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.