Wait a minute. I might have that phrase backward. Isn’t it ‘Everything Old is New . . .?’ I guess it depends on perspective.
From my perspective, I’ve just gone backward. Earlier this month I released my third full-length novel with Soul Mate, Jesse’s Girl. Starting with three characters and a song title, I jumped back into first the Eighties, then fell even deeper into the past and landed in the mid-Sixties. But before I regressed, I tried very hard to set my characters in the present.
It didn’t work, and for a reason that made decent sense to me: my characters weren’t new.
Oh, I don’t mean to say I had written them before. And I don’t want to suggest I swiped them from somewhere else. It’s just that I quickly found out their personalities, their conflicts and emotions, wouldn’t fit in 2014. I puzzled over where to dump them: my hero, Tim O’Malley, misunderstood, much-maligned and looking to start over with a clean slate and no more shadows. Dorothy Whitaker, my lovely and put-upon heroine, eager to begin her own life but straining under the yoke of Christian duty and daughterly responsibility. Jesse Prescott, whose rash and selfish actions one hot July night changed the lives of more than just his.
Overlaying all of that was a dusty coating of innocence and doubt, of emerging inner strength and wild passion, all contained within the kind of small-town mentality that would drive all three of my characters crazy. And suddenly, 2014 didn’t work anymore. It was too new.
So I went for old, and they fit right in. Opting for 1965, I closed my eyes, sat back in my chair, and thought of what I remember from that era.
I remember being madly in love with the Beatles, spending every nickel of my allowance on their records and playing them until I wore grooves in my favorite tracks. I yearned to dress like Jean Shrimpton, with masses of hair teased to perfection, gliding around my room smelling deliciously of Oh! De London perfume as ‘A Hard Days’ Night’ repeated on my record player. Maybe I’d meet a guy who looked just like Paul McCartney and he’d sweep me off my feet and into that hot ’65 Mustang convertible I’d spotted in front of the Woolworth five-and-dime down on Main Street. Maybe he’d sing to me as we went cruising; a lyric or two of ‘And I Love Her.’
I was eleven in 1965, old enough to know there were bad things happening in the world but too young to care. 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.
All of this ran through my head when I made the choice to go backward instead of forward. Turns out it was the right direction, for my three main characters thrived in that setting.
Tim 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.
Jesse was the opposite of Tim in just about every way. Too slick, too wild, self-destructive and smart enough to cover up his behavior. Even so, Tim and Jesse were best friends. Where Jesse led, Tim, out of loyalty, followed. And as he followed, he worried what would become of Jesse.
Dorothy was actually the easiest to write, because I knew a girl in school just like her. Modest, endearingly lovely, loyal. Eager to please. Dorothy grew up with obedience first and foremost in her mind. It never occurs to her to rebel, until it’s 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. Once she agreed to be Jesse’s girl, her course was pretty much set.
Until Tim came back into her life, and their story truly began.
Setting my trio in 1965, small-town Ohio was the absolute right place for them. Everything else slid into position as soon as I did. And that, believe me, is an amazing feeling that doesn’t always happen.
I needed a span of years in my story, because what’s in Tim’s and Dorothy’s past almost kills their future. So throughout the story I returned to a fateful summer night in 1958, when everything changed for my hero and heroine.
I think the best memories are the ones that make you smile and suffer mortification in equal measure. I rediscovered all of it when I began writing Jesse’s Girl. And I could relive so many of the emotions that boiled inside me when I was eleven and simply not old enough for the fashions, the makeup, the music . . . and, oh, yes, the boys. I could relive it, and I could embellish it, since I was now dealing with older characters that 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.
Though for the most part I’m a Contemporary-romance kind of writer, I might just have to go back in time again. Another era, another story. How far back is hard to say. After all, I haven’t written it. Yet.
Char Chaffin is the author of PROMISES TO KEEP, UNSAFE HAVEN, JESSE’S GIRL, and co-author of A SOULMATE FOR CHRISTMAS, all with Soul Mate Publishing. She is currently working on her fifth novel, MADE FOR EACH OTHER. She is also an Acquisitions Editor for Soul Mate Publishing.