ğŸŽ¤Interview with Charles Degelman Author Rocked in Time #AuthorInterview

Charles Degelman is an award-winning author, performer, and producer living in Los Angeles. After graduating Harvard, Degelman left academia to become an antiwar activist, political theater artist, musician, communard, carpenter, hard-rock miner, and itinerant gypsy trucker. When the dust settled, he returned to his first love, writing.

A Bowl Full of Nails, set in the rural counterculture of the 1970s, collected a Bronze Medal from the 2015 Independent Publishers Book Awards and Gates of Eden, set during the anti-war movement of the 1960s, won an Independent Publishers book award.

Degelman’s screenplay Fifty-Second Street garnered an award from the Diane Thomas Competition, sponsored by UCLA/Dreamworks. A second screenplay, The Red Car, reached finalist status in Francis Ford Coppola’s American Zoetrope Screenplay Contest.

In addition, Degelman has written and produced documentary and educational films for TNT, Churchill Films, Pyramid Films, and Philips Interactive Media. He co-founded Indecent Exposure, a Los Angeles-based theater company dedicated to creating original, high-quality, socially relevant work for the stage. Degelman is on the faculty of California State University where he teaches writing in the Communication Studies Department.

His latest book is the historical fiction, Rocked in Time.

Website: https://www.charlesdegelman.org/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/CDegelman

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/charlesdegelman/

Thanks for your interview, Charles. Can you tell us what your book, Rocked in Time, is about? 

 Rocked in Time is a work of historical fiction set in the last, intense years of the 1960s. Although it’s a novel, Rocked often reads like a memoir. I wanted to capture what it was like to  be involved in a radical, left-wing political theater during the intense years of the

Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, and the first awakenings of second-wave feminism. If you don’t know what second-wave feminism is, I suggest looking it up.

The story is told from the point of view of a young actor and musician who is also a political activist. He loved acting but didn’t relate much to the classic plays that he performed in college. He also was painfully aware of the injustices of the Vietnam War, not only on the Vietnamese, but on the differences between rich and poor, and black, white, and brown that determined who went to Vietnam to kill or be killed. 

On a trip to San Francisco, the young actor discovers a theater company that has raised hell and high water, gathered the best theater minds and academics, and slapped them together with the most anarchic, street-heavy, low life to produce high-quality, funny, sexy theater that also speaks to real issues, like racism and the war in Vietnam.
The combination of art and political activism seems like heaven to the young actor. He auditions for the company and they like his work and decide to bring him into the company. But the young actor’s dream of doing political theater during the intense years of resistance, rebellion, and love must deal with many obstacles.
Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters? 
 I tried to create characters who were representative of the times and the setting of the theater company. Two of the most important characters I created were Vinny, the theater’s director and visionary, and Olivia, a talented actress who had to endure the sexism and misogyny that was part of the scene. It was important to get Olivia right because the late ‘60s progressive movement suffered from a contradiction — we were supposed to be fighting so everyone could be free and equal, but women were still being treated as second-class citizens, despite their talent, intelligence, and commitment to social justice.

I also wanted to create characters who reflected the free-wheeling but serious nature of the times, and the commitment it took to live on little money and a lot of ingenuity. All the actors in the company were paid $25 per week, mostly made by passing the hat after the shows that were performed in the parks of San Francisco. They succeeded by living collectively. There’s not a lot of romance to living collectively, but it mean you could eat and sleep somewhere safe and comfortable for little or no money.

Several characters also develop love and sexual relationships that cross gender and color lines. The young actor develops a love relationship with a young, black actress and dancer, slipping both characters into a dance around the triple flares of racism, sexism, and misogyny. 

Because of the powerful presence of time and place, I also invited authentic historical characters into the story. Black Panther Party Co-Chairman Bobby Seale and Black Panther Bobby Hutton both figure prominently in Rocked in Time. Other historical figures including Martin Luther King,  Bertolt Brecht, and Italian composer Giacomo Puccini further enrich the tapestry of this novel.

Stage craft also figures large in this story? How do people act? How did they collectively write? How did they move. What were the sets like? How could they be designed and built to be portable, guerrilla style.  
How long did it take you to write your book?

It took me about two and one-half years to complete Rocked in Time. My focus was amplified by the descent of Covid 19 onto our planet,  shielding me from the usual distractions that beset a writer during the course of novel writing. 
Where is your book set and why did you choose this particular location?

Rocked in Time takes place across several cities in the United States. The young actor has completed his third year at Harvard when he first joins his dream theatrical company when he travels cross country to work and play in California during the summer of 1966. 

Circumstances force the young actor to return to Cambridge to complete his Harvard education. San Francisco, with its rich, anti-establishment culture serves as the home base of the theater company. The company’s life blood flows with the energy of diversity, resistance, and hunger for social justice and societal change. 

New York also looms large as a setting for the story when the theater company settles into an off-off-off Broadway theater for a wintry month of performances, political fervor, artistic crossfire, and personal drama in the world’s greatest theater city.

The road also serves as a character. During the course of Rocked in Time, the young actor crosses the nation on its highways, the theater company tours from protesting campus to protesting campus across the United States, and gives the young actor and his colleagues a varied introduction to Americana, circa 1967.
What kind of advice would you give other historical fiction authors?

I consider myself a novelist. As such, I make stuff up.  Not the appropriate claim for a historical novelist. However, I can affirm that historical novels require research. In this resistance trilogy, only volume one is research-heavy.  For volume one of the trilogy, Gates of Eden, I read, notated, and outlined  for six months before I wrote a line of narrative. I was obsessive in my research, nearly drowned myself in it. I loved it. 

Rocked in Time and its predecessor A Bowl Full of Nails (set in the back-to-the-land counterculture of the early ‘70s) have drawn deeply enough from my own experience, that I only needed spot research to clarify my cluttered, clouded memory. 

After the research is done, the characters are lured from the archives,  historical fiction becomes fiction. Write good fiction and don’t fall so in love with your research that you choke your story telling to death. 

As a footnote, I want to paraphrase my mentor, the novelist John Rechy, who contended that fiction writers were the only honest writers. All the others — the historians, researchers, social scientists, the writers of religious tracts — were the liars. They claimed to be writing the truth when, in fact, they were simply shoving data through the jumbled sock drawers of their minds.