Some days I feel I’m living in a parallel universe, as if the decade of the 1960s is repeating itself. That sense of déjà vu is one of the reasons I wrote my first standalone novel, Born Under a Bad Sign.
But it is not the only one.
The Sixties were a time of hope and conflict, of great promise and greater uncertainty. When I came of age, the Vietnam War hung over our heads like a bloody sword. Its protests tore the country asunder. Racial and economic inequity threatened to finish the job.
I grew up in a rural area with its own conflicts, chief among them the fight over the Tocks Island Dam, a project that saw the government condemn homes and evict their owners, only to rent those properties to people seeking an alternative life to the mechanized grind of the city.
For the youth of that small Northeastern Pennsylvania town, the Sixties were a struggle against personal injustice, too, against the conformity and abusiveness of the 1950s. It was a battle to find our own voice, to choose our own path.
The Sixties weren’t all protests and riots. There was peace and hope and goodwill. Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti, Kennedy and King, Beatles and Stones, Leary and Burnett (Carol, that is).
There were festivals like Monterey and Woodstock, and music that offered an outlet for the raw passion of youth.
There was the beauty of nature, the view from the Appalachian Trail of the Delaware Water Gap and the flow of the river below, holy and bright.
And then there was first love and the great firestorm of emotion lit by that first kiss.
Twenty years ago I decided to write a novel about those experiences. It has taken this long to realize that dream. Am I trying to relive the days many see as carefree? Or am I sifting through memories like an archaeologist, digging for clues to how we became the people we are today?
That and more. I wanted to capture the spirit of the time in a way that, as a journalist, I never could. I wanted to reimagine those years through the eyes of two young people, Elizabeth Reed and Hayden Quinn, who embody the chaos of the late teen years and the excess of the era. They have many decisions—stay or leave, tradition or adventure, comfort or uncertainty. Yet like so many considered wild in their youth, they manage to hold fast to their values, to honor their families and, against all odds, to fall in love.
Writer Anne Lamott says it best. “You’re going to feel like hell if you wake up someday and you never wrote the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves of your heart: your stories, memories, visions and songs—your truth, your version of things—in your own voice. That’s really all you have to offer.”