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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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