Why I wrote The Berkeley Girl: Rendezvous in London – and other Stories of the ‘60s

Symbol of the worldwide struggle for women’s rights.

Note to readers: If your Bay Area book club, service group or other organization is looking for a speaker and discussion, I’d be happy to present about my books, the late 1960s, current events or any other related topics of interest! I’m available in November, December and in 2018. Please contact me at: elisefmiller68 at gmail dot com.

I’d like be able to say that I wrote my newest book, published by Sand Hill Review Press this September, in response to my utter distress at Donald Trump’s lewd comments about assaulting women, made to Bobby Bush of Access Hollywood and on view for all to hear and see during the run up to the 2016 election.

Truth is, no. The writing, editing and publishing process is a long one. I began this novella in 2015, before Trump was more than an annoying reality TV personality, always out for attention and self-aggrandizement.

Here I am back when my first novel was released, 2012!

When I finished my first novel, A Time to Cast Away Stones (2012), I swore I was “over” the ‘60s! I had wanted to research and understand the era in which I came of age, and to fathom my own feelings and decisions in the late 1960s. I left Berkeley to study in Paris in spring, 1968, albeit under different circumstances than Janet Magill, and I returned to UC Berkeley to graduate in June, 1969. Years later, with titillating and ever-celebratory stereotypes from those years of my youth taking over the mainstream media, I knew that my memories did not match those images and explanations.

So, I buckled down to study my own era. And then I had many satisfactory answers and a novel I felt good putting out into the world. I was done, wasn’t I?

When readers began to ask me “What happened to Janet Magill and Aaron Becker after Paris? Did they ‘get it on’?” – I had no reply! The answer began to gnaw at my brain. About the same time that Tory Hartmann of Sand Hill Review Press decided to give “Stones” a facelift—re-released as The Berkeley Girl, In Paris 1968 in September 2016, I made an amazing discovery.

Ford machinists strike for re-classification and equal pay, June, 1968.

London experienced an historical protest and strike the very week that the fictional Janet left Paris and went to meet Aaron across the Channel. The Ford Motor machinists’ strike for reclassification and equal pay for women is what set me up for Janet’s journey as a woman and a fighter for equal rights. This was something that my protagonist knew nothing about in Berkeley or Paris, and would have learned about only upon arrival in London! I was convinced she would want to sink her teeth into this cause.

Baroness Barbara Castle, the British Labour Party politician who supported the strikers.

So although it wasn’t the presidential misogyny which prompted my plot and the quirky British characters in The Berkeley Girl: Rendezvous in London, the American president’s blatant disrespect for women, and the willingness of so many Americans to ignore it, confirmed my decision to make the feminist cause – needed now as much as ever – a theme in this novella-length sequel.

Aaron’s draft dilemma and Vietnam War protest, along with Aaron and Janet’s future together, are, of course, still the major themes. Never fear, dear readers, you will find out if they made a go of their romance! But my own relationship to the feminism of the late 60s and early 70s played into some of feelings, opinions and reactions of my characters.

Peter Coyote at his 60s Commune.

As I was writing the sequel, other unexplored aspects of my own ‘60s experiences flooded my consciousness and awareness. A visit to a cousin in the Haight Ashbury in 1969 became “Jazz Reflections,” in which a middle aged man looks back on his college love affair and questions the decisions he made. Memories of my own struggles with my loving mother sparked “The Wedding of My Dreams.” And out of my recent genealogy studies and a fascination with Peter Coyote’s autobiographical Sleeping Where I Fall, came “The View from Pond Hill Farm,” a story of a boy’s mixing with clashes between hippie communes and Midwest family farms in the burgeoning civil rights era.

This story collection and its look back at the late 1960s resonate today. Please write with your questions and comments, and I will respond! I hope the book will make people think deeply about all of our divisions and about our common humanity as well.

 

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2 Responses to Why I wrote The Berkeley Girl: Rendezvous in London – and other Stories of the ‘60s

  1. Looking forward to reading the sequel! And thanks for the behind-the-scenes look at what led you to it. I always like getting a glimpse into what motivates writers to choose their subjects (or, in some cases, how their subjects choose them).

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    • Thanks, Audrey. I’d love to hear what you think of the book. BTW, with this book, Tory has changed my genre from “historical fiction” to “literary fiction.” After you’ve read it, I’d value your objective opinion about that decision.

      Like

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