07-14-18 Cassandra O’Leary

Saturday, March 16, 2013

WRITING VINTAGE (After You've Lived It)

By Char Chaffin

I remember the year 1966, very well. I was twelve, in complete lust with the Beatles, spent every nickel of my allowance on Fab Four records and hated my new eyeglasses. I wanted to look and dress like Jean Shrimpton, wear Oh! De London perfume (because you couldn’t be a Yardley Girl without it), and I probably drove my poor mother insane with the amount of times I listened to “A Hard Days’ Night.” You could probably say the British Invasion had exploded in my house.
Char Chaffin
Never during that year did I ever think, “Someday I’ll grow up and write a book about 1966.”

Fast-forward to 2013. I’m editing for my publisher, Soul Mate Publishing, and in between working with authors and their manuscripts I’m also writing my fourth novel. At first I fretted over what genre to call it. In my mind I didn’t consider something written in 1966 as ‘historical,’ and yet I certainly couldn’t say it was contemporary, my usual genre. Since almost anything close to fifty years old in an antique store can be labeled ‘vintage,’ I decided to go with that, and call my WIP a Vintage Romance. Works for me.

Whenever an author changes genres, they stretch and grow as a writer. I’m a firm believer in trying new things, branching out. Yet before I began my vintage story, I’d dabbled a little but never seriously written anything set in the past. I’ve always been a contemporary kind of girl. However, the Sixties were my era. The biggest influences of my more formative years occurred between 1964 and 1969, when I suffered the embarrassment of my first bra, then in 1966 made the awkward leap from grade school to junior high, and wore my first pair of fish-net stockings and go-go boots. I knew the music, the hot cars, the fashions and the makeup trends. And Vietnam was barely a blip on my childish radar.

Does that make me ‘vintage,’ because I can actually write historical romance in an era I lived in and recall with fondness? Probably. I have become my own history lesson. Fascinating.

When I first began gathering ideas for what I have (tentatively) titled, “Jesse’s Girl,” there was no set era. Overlooking the obvious Eighties-reference title, I plotted it for 2012, and as I developed my main characters I soon knew they’d thrive much better in a past setting. How far past, I hadn’t a clue. My hero, Tim O’Malley, could have lived in several different eras. He’s quietly passionate, strong, respects his family and loves his community. He’s the kind of guy anyone would be proud to call a friend.

I developed my (sort of) antagonist, Jesse Prescott, next. Charismatic, larger-than-life, a little too slick and not the most upstanding, honest fellow you’d want to trust, Jesse nevertheless drew people to him like flies to sugar. He could project and maintain whatever image anyone wanted to see. And he could make you believe every lie that slipped out of his mouth. He was the opposite of Tim in every way. And yet, Tim and Jesse were best friends. Where Jesse led, Tim, out of loyalty, followed.

Then I created Dorothy Whitaker, the girl Tim has loved since junior high. Modest, endearingly lovely, eager to please and consequently very malleable, Dorothy grew up with obedience first and foremost in her mind. It never occurred to her to rebel, until it was almost too late to reach out for her life’s happiness and grasp it tightly. She wanted Tim but he waited too long to claim her, and Jesse got hold of her first. Did I mention Dorothy’s loyal, too? Once she agreed to be Jesse’s girl, that loyalty kicked in, big-time.

So, I had my three, and where would I put them? For some reason, 1966 felt like just the right year, and a small Midwest town the right place. Once I decided on both, everything else slid into position. And that, believe me, is an amazing feeling that doesn’t always happen.

I wanted a span of eight years in my story, because what’s in Tim’s and Dorothy’s past almost kills their future. So I begin in 1966 but throughout the story I return to a fateful summer night in 1958, when everything changed for my hero and heroine. 

Writing what you know and have experienced is a heck of a lot of fun. Don’t get me wrong; research is fun, too. I always enjoy that part of the writing process. But with this story, I can close my eyes and remember what played on the radio in July, 1966. I can recall the fashions I coveted: geometric print dresses that would hit above my knees, a tiny purse on a slender chain that would swing from my shoulder, chunky bracelets and earrings dangling so long, they’d brush the base of my neck. Double-thick eyelashes and pale, pearly lipstick. Hair I could tease up and flip outward. And of course, the afore-mentioned spritz of Oh! De London. What I actually wore fell more along the lines of shirtwaist dresses for church and pedal-pushers for play. And no makeup. Or teased, pouffed hair. I probably pouted a lot, back then. 

But here’s the Fun Thing: my heroine is a young adult and I can dress Dorothy in all the clothes I wanted to wear, myself. I can slip Tim behind the wheel of that ’66 Mustang coupe I fell in love with the very instant I saw one in the parking lot of the five-and-dime in my home town. I can gear up his radio with the beloved tunes I remember from that summer: “Paperback Writer,” “Eight Miles High,” “Rainy Day Woman,” “Hanky Panky.” Most of all, I can recreate the longing, the need, the often-agony of unrequited love in all its painful glory, because later that fall I sat next to my very first crush in seventh grade study hall, and he didn’t know I existed. Maybe if I’d worn my hair in a teased flip and had some mascara and pale pink pearly lipstick to slap on . . . maybe then I’d have caught his attention. Or not. Seventh-grade boys are notoriously fickle, you know.  

I’ve decided that in some form or other, it’s all going into my story. Because 1966 was home to a confusing, awkward, amazing summer for my twelve-year-old, babyish self, and sometimes the best memories are the ones that make you smile and suffer mortification in equal measure. I can relive it, and I can embellish it, since I’m dealing with older characters who have the capability to French-kiss, undress each other and have sex. All while they still retain a gloss of innocence left over from the Fifties, and those strict “dating rules” their church-going parents would have burdened them with.

Ah, the guilt. The furtive secrecy. I can hardly wait.

Char Chaffin is the author of PROMISES TO KEEP, UNSAFE HAVEN, and co-author of A SOULMATE FOR CHRISTMAS, all with Soul Mate Publishing. She is currently working on her fourth novel, JESSE’S GIRL. She is also an Acquisitions Editor for Soul Mate Publishing.

SMP Authors’ Blog: http://smpauthors.wordpress.com

Book Trailers:
PROMISES TO KEEP:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wx2IhlZJf0
UNSAFE HAVEN:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJieck3U17Y

More About Char: Char Chaffin started reading romance, science fiction and horror at a very young age. Her love of books is directly responsible for her overflowing bookcases, and the bounty stored on her new Kindle threatens to eclipse her entire paper collection. Char currently writes mainstream and contemporary romance filled with family, rich characters and engaging plots. For her, it all comes back to the love.

Char began her writing odyssey as a poet, crafting Victorian-style poetry, then went on to writing short stories. She found her niche when she began writing longer and longer short stories, until she wrote her first novel. It might never see the light of day, but writing it taught her a lot. Over the years she worked a variety of jobs, from farm hand to costume designer to fiscal accountant, before deciding a writing career was her true focus.

A native New Yorker, Char lives Upstate on a sixty-acre farm with husband Don, rat terrier Daisy Mae and two barn cats who constantly slack off on the job of keeping the barn free of varmints. The Chaffin extended family is scattered all over the United States and Alaska.

When she’s not pounding away at her keyboard or burying her nose in books and Kindle, she tends a huge vegetable garden and helps Don maintain a sixty-acre farm. 


Judith Ashley said...

Char, Love your post as it brought back many memories. When I first saw your post, I was astounded - 1966 is not historical - and yet, in many ways it is. The world and my place in it has dramatically changed. 1966 was a tumultuous year in my life, thanks for reminding me of some of the good things.

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Char,
Fabulous blog. It certainly brought back memories for me as I was a teenager during the mid sixties, got my first job, wore mini-skirts (had slim legs in those days). I have two novels published that were written during the sixties. And like you say, no research was needed, all I had to do was delve into my memories.



Debby Lee said...

Hi Char, I wanted to leave a comment because I also write romance set in the 1960's. I also wonder what to label my stories, historical or contemporary. I was born in 1966, and wish like crazy I could have grown up in that decade. I would have "loved" to have marched with Martin Luther King, and attended Woodstock. I hope to read Jesse's Girl when it comes out. I love romance set in the 1960's and 1970's but it's so hard to find. Ecstatic to connect with somebody else who writes it. BTW, I remember hearing it called Vintage once before, but I don't remember where. Good luck with Jesse's Girl.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Ladies! It was a fascinating era, for sure. I'm anxious to get back to writing, so I will probably take the summer off from editing and finish Jess's Girl so I can publish it this fall. Sometimes I can close my eyes and smell the popcorn from the very first carnival I was allowed to attend without parental supervision. In 1966, of course. All the mystical, frenetic and yet magical stuff began that year.

Debby, you mentioned Woodstock: I wanted to go, most of my friends found ways to get there, but my older brother kind of caged me inside the house and I lost out. In retrospect I'm sure he did me a favor!

Thanks again -


Naomi Baltuck said...

Great post. We are of an era, and i could picture it all. Sounds like a great book.

Sarah Raplee said...

I love the idea of vintage romance! The sixties were a tumultuous, multi-layered, often tragic but wildly-optimistic period.

Do I remember correctly that the best-selling women's fiction book that included an interracial romance, THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES, took place in the sixties? That story certainly had a sixties feel to it, right through to the happy ending. Loved it!