Friday, 6 July 2018

#Aye, Ken it wis like this...with Wendy Teller

Dunkeld Cathedral
My Friday historical series continues...
where guest authors are invited to share a post with us about the historical background to their writing. 

If you've been following the series, you'll have gleaned that every author's story is so personal and very different, all affected in some way by the author's life journey. Wendy Teller is visiting today to give us the background to her entry into the sphere of publishing. 

Welcome to my blog, Wendy. I confess to having difficulty with novels being classified as 'historical' when they are set just outwith the '50 year' era. For me, that was within my lifetime! It doesn't matter the setting - US,  Scotland, or wherever - I find it very hard to conceive that writing about the 1950s, or 1960s, is actually now considered to be historical. 

I had similar issues when teaching back around 2005. As a primary teacher, I was expected to teach my 11-12 year old pupils all subjects. Around 2005, the planning for the 'history' element changed. Normally, I was expected to teach The Victorian or WW2 eras, but the new plans across the region introduced the 1960s and 1970s as a topic! Teaching a historical topic (then integrating all subject areas where possible) for a whole term of 10 weeks  on the 1960s and 1970s was effectively intruding into my life! Once I got over the initial shock of it (at just over 50 years old the concept made me FEEL really old), I found during my research and pre-planning of the lessons that some aspects seemed to have passed me by. And that's what history is all about really- what happens to someone might not be happening to another person who lives in a different location. 

Wendy has a slightly different story regarding that last statement. Please give us your background, Wendy...

Wendy Teller

When I started writing my debut novel, Becoming Mia, I did not think of it as historical fiction; I was simply writing a story based on my experiences as a young woman. True, the story took place more than 50 years ago, but, frankly, I was a little shocked when people called it “historical.”
Fair enough. At least the story takes place in Berkeley, California, in the colorful 1960s, when the flower children played, whiffs of pot mingled with the odor of tear gas, and students demonstrated for free speech, civil rights, and against the Vietnam War. I was there. I knew this time and place.
Nancy says: I was driven around the 'Berkeley' area while on a visit to California about 1989, but that was well after the era you write about! 
Or did I?
As I started talking to my friends about various events, I discovered all kinds of details that I missed.
I discovered the Free Speech Movement, which I only vaguely remembered, was initially a dispute with the university over where and how students could organize their support for the civil rights movement. Originally the Free Speech Movement was not about the Vietnam War.
I discovered Berkeley’s schools were not really integrated in the 1950s and 1960s. It was true there were no laws that segregated the schools, but in fact there were two school systems, one for whites and one for blacks, based mainly on the housing patterns. By the time a child got to Berkeley High School, if he were black, he would almost certainly be placed into the lower, non-college preparatory, technician track.
I discovered that the black community was far from unified. There were blacks who had settled in Berkeley in the late 1800s. They were the families of the porters employed by Southern Pacific Railroad, a porter being an elite job for a black man. This black community had lived with the Berkeley whites for decades, and although they were discriminated against, they felt they were able to make progress toward equality by working with the white community. During World War II, large numbers of blacks from the South came to the Bay Area to work at various wartime jobs, for example ship building. These blacks stayed after the war and more blacks from the south joined them. These blacks had experienced Jim Crow in the South and were much more militant in their push for change. Relations between these two groups of blacks were strained and this complicated the blacks’ efforts to gain equality in Berkeley.
I discovered shades of the anti-war movement. Veterans told me that they were attacked while off-duty in the US, but in uniform. These attacks included physical violence. I had heard that such attacks took place during the riots at the Democratic Convention in 1968, but I did not know military personnel were attacked at other times. Members of the SDS told me of infiltrators from groups they called “Maoist,” who orchestrated violence in a demonstration which was supposed to be peaceful. Other SDS members reported government spies who reported on the group’s activities. Both Maoist and government spies might well have been present, clouding the anti-war movement’s activities.
Publishing a historical novel which is still in living memory has its delights. People will tell me of their experiences during those difficult years. I’ve heard stories of being swept up in a demonstration, of working the tables of the Free Speech Movement in Sproul Plaza, of discussions of going on an anti-war strike, of enlisting in the army. This connection to my readers is a benefit I had not expected, but it makes me believe that I have portrayed the era realistically.
Now I am working on my next novel, Ella, based on my maternal grandmother’s life in Hungary in the late 1800s and early 1900s. I long for the days when I knew details about the times, like whether Ella had indoor plumbing. These details are important to give the story authenticity, but the details of attitudes and actions are even more important. I learned from Becoming Mia I must look at all sides of the controversial issues of the times. These differing perspectives give my story depth and make it more realistic, which is what I am after when I write historical fiction.
1964 to 1970 were turbulent years in the United States. The U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War was ramping up, as were the protests against it. Both became more violent as the sixties wore on.
In the fall of 1964 Mia Brower left her hometown of Berkeley, California, to begin her freshman year at Harvard University, determined to become an outstanding architect.
But her freshman year was a disaster.
Her dreams shattered, her confidence destroyed, can Mia find within herself the determination and strength to succeed on her own terms, even as the culture tears itself apart around her and puts both her friends and her family in danger?

A bit about Wendy

Wendy Teller received her AB from Harvard University and her MA from the University of California, Berkeley. She was a systems and software engineer in the process control and telecommunications industries. Now that she is retired, she writes fiction, memoir, and history. Her stories have appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul, The Naperville Sun, and Rivulets. Her story Dusting the Towels received the Richard Eastman Prose Award. Wendy’s debut novel, Becoming Mia, which takes place in the 1960s in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Berkeley, California, was published May 1, 2018. Her next project, Ella, takes place in the early 1900s in Hungary. Wendy and her husband live on a cliff in the woods near Bloomington, Indiana.

Click the following link to read more about the novel: including an interview, historical documents, reference books, and pictures of locations in the book. HERE

Thank you for contributing today, Wendy. My historical series is intended to cover as many eras, and locations as possible and to date I'm absolutely delighted with the range of posts, including this one which is at the opposite end of 'history' from my own. My very best wishes with sales for Becoming Mia and with your future writing projects. 


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