Monday, February 05, 2007

Keeping it Real

by Pat Hart
It seems all writing advice and axioms include: Write What You Know, and yet so many fantastic books are about times and places the writer could never have been. I marvel at writers who can write about Vienna in the 1890s, or Ancient Rome, or Japan during the age of the Samurai. Creating a science fiction world is different;the writer can make up the whole thing, and claim: it’s so, because I say it’s so. Not true of real places and time. Everything I’ve written is set in a time and place that is familiar to me. I guess I fear that the expert of the place and time I tried to write about will harrumph, slam down my book in disgust and declare that my work is total “poppycock!”

In my current WIP a portion of my book is set in suburban U.S., late 1960 thru the early 70s and the main character is a 14-year old girl. I’ve forgotten (seriously, totally forgotten) more about that era, time of life and place than most people ever knew, so, even though I lived it, I need help finding accurate “telling” details.

For example, my main character is a devoted TV watcher and could easily recite the times, premise and whether the show is new or a repeat for every night, every station. This is not information I still have from own sit-com infused childhood, but I found it online. By the way, does anybody else remember The Rookies, The Bold Ones, Love American Style, and Room 222?

What about clothes? In the early 70s, my style was Peanut jeans, wide belts, and earth shoes, but there was also qiana blouses, platform shoes and big, big, big hair.

And wasn’t there something going on that pre-empted “The Guiding Light” for weeks on end? Perhaps the Watergate trials? I do recall Nixon’s little wave as he boarded the helicopter and that my mother was very upset though she hated Tricky Dick. She said it all reminded her of listening to Edward’s abdication as a child in England and, though it had nothing to do with it, how her family emigrated shortly after and then lost her father to booze in America. Ohhhkay, Mom…that’s nice, but when do you think we’ll get back to normal life and find out who is really the father of Reba’s baby?

Who out there is writing about a world of which they have no first hand knowledge? How do you begin? How do you connect with the characters? How do you defuse the harrumphing experts?


Rob Carr said...

I remember the Rookies; Love, American Style; and Room 222. I can whistle the theme for 222 and had a crush on Karen Valentine. The Principal was Seymour Kaufman. I forget the black teacher's name. He was black, not African-American back then. I wondered if the students would ever graduate.

Never heard of The Bold Ones.

Bell bottom jeans were popular around '73. Guys tended to wear jeans, t-shirts, and "running" shoes that were different from Keds.

I remember some of the girls wore very short skirts with pants (hot pants?) under them to remain decent. Halters and shirts that left a slight gap between the shirt and the pants were popular -- the gap was around the belly button -- not as far low as it is today. Braless was a popular style, but bra straps were NEVER visible, leading to some bizarrely designed bras -- cantilevers, straps that would disconnect and adjust, and things to hold straps in. At least that's what the advertisements said -- I never got any second-hand experience with bras in the '70s and obviously had no need for them myself.

As for the braless thing, parents then got upset about "nipple bumps" showing, whereas today parents get upset about bra straps. I used to listen in on girl talk when I could -- it's how I learned the fingerspelling part of sign language. The girls learned it because (as they read the book on Helen Keller), they realized they could talk without the teacher or the boys hearing.

Mothers fought over "bikini" panties with their daughters, preferring "granny panties." That bit I got from either Dear Abby or Ann Landers, where a mother snuck into her daughter's room, threw out all the bikini underwear, and replaced it with granny panties.

I spent an amazing amount of time watching girls and trying to find out about them, didn't I?

I remember the "Love, American Style" where the doctor keeps trying to get this woman's shirt off and she won't let him. She winds up with a medical problem -- a cought of some kind, and he tells her to take her shirt off -- he listens with the stethescope very professionally, tells her it's ok, she puts her shirt back on, and he's back to trying to get her shirt off.

Another episode of "Love, American Style" may have been later spun off into "Happy Days."

The Partridge Family and the Brady Bunch were important shows for kids, obviously. Were the Monkees in the late '60s or early '70s?

Rob of UnSpace

Joyce said...

Pat, I loved this post! I, too, am a 70s girl (graduated high school in 1975--yes, I am OLD). I remember all those shows.

I think it's really funny to see that all those fashions (if you can call what we wore fashion) in the stores right now. I was in Payless the other day and saw the exact same platform sandals that I wore in high school. I'd probably break something if I wore them now!

The book I'm working on now requires a lot more research than my previous one. This one takes place in modern day Gettysburg, but there is a historical subplot involving spies, secret dispatches and burial pits. Fortunately my older son is a Civil War expert! Another good thing is taking frequent trips to Gettysburg--all tax deductible.

Oh, yeah--wasn't Josh the father of Reba's baby?

pat said...

Hi Rob, thanks for commenting, I checked out your UnSpace, very cool. It was edifying hearing the boy POV of the 70s, especially (as I always suspected) the fascination boys had with all things breast related. The Bold Ones was a Doctor show with EG Marshall. I think there was Lawyer Bold Ones as well.

Joyce, I'm a bicentenial grad, class of 76, we're not that old! And it was Josh and Reba all the way...

Annette said...

OK, first of all it's REVA, not REBA. Reba sings country music. Reva still gets into all kinds of trouble on GL.

But I don't remember the Bold Ones (doctors OR lawyers) either. Sorry.

I loved TV in the 70's. I'm not sure about the time frame for the Monkees. I watched and loved the reruns of it. Davy Jones still makes my heart go pitty pat.

As for researching, I am hooked on Yahoo groups. There is one or more for every subject under the sun and most of the participants are very willing to help a struggling writer. Of course, you still need to consider your source and double check some of the details. I was directed to the real life trainer who is helping me with my current WIP by a friend of hers on a Yahoo group for Thoroughbred racing enthusiasts. Great resource.

Class of '77 here.

Tory said...

"Spirit of '76" high school class for me, too! Do you remember, Pat, the bicentennial year? I remember youth orchestras groaning over having to play another performance of Copeland's, "Hoedown."

I also remember being really angry that the Watergate trials disrupted my afternoon "Bonanza" viewing every third day. Adam was my favorite character, and I was particularly miffed when they pre-empted an episode where the TV guide mentioned him.

Anonymous said...

Pat, I've always wanted to write about the Victorian era, but I've been too chicken to do so in fear of not getting the details correct.

As for the '70s, I can't help you there. I was still in diapers. :-)

Annette said...

Oh, my, Tory. Adam Cartwright and those dimples.

Excuse me while I swoon...

lisa curry said...

I graduated in '81, so I remember all those shows except The Bold Ones. I especially liked Room 222 and Love American Style. I detested the Monkees -- then and now. I was a great fan of Bonanza, but my heart belonged solely to Little Joe, not Adam. I have a vague recollection of Reva and Josh from GL. And I saw espadrilles in Macy's the other day that looked just like the ones I had in 7th or 8th grade. As for writing about a historical time period, I say from experience that you just jump in and go for it. If you read fiction set in that era, you get a good general feel for the time/place, and there are plenty of online and printed resources for the rest. I used to drive the librarians nuts with my interlibrary loan requests, and then I'd have to beg assistance from friends of friends who knew Latin for translation assistance half the time! What a hoot.

Pat said...

So, I'm the only who liked Hoss?