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Monday, June 1, 2015

An Age of Innocence: A Guest Post by Ron Shannon

Today we have more recent history to share. Ron Shannon, author of Gabriel's Wing, has stopped by to tell us how the zeitgeist of the 1960's inspired the amazing but credible story.

          What if Charles Dickens had written about these years? Would he have proclaimed them to be the best and worst of times? Would he have seen the extreme contrasts? Perhaps, but there is one thing I believe to be true, one thing I will proclaim without hesitation. The times were so unlike now, so different in so many ways to any other time, that a student would be forced to wonder if they really existed.

The year was 1969. It was the year we went to the moon and a nation watched and, arguably, felt more united than at any other time in history. It was the year Woodstock happened, quite by accident. What had been planned to be nothing more than three days of music turned into a historical event that would never be duplicated even when we tried. It was the year Nixon went to the White House. It was the year the Rolling Stones took the stage at Altamont and the tragedy that ensued marked the end of an era. It was an age of innocence and hope and at the same time it was an age of shame and misery. It is the backdrop, the setting, I used for my novel, Gabriel’s Wing.

          Nobody can truly point to any one thing and state it was what made the sixties different than any other decade. Like what made the twenties roar, the social upheaval of the sixties was the result of many things. A race of people stood up and demanded their civil rights. Leading the crusade were such men as Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. Women continued a long fight to be given fair and equal recognition under the law. A war on the other side of the world had been raging on for years. That wasn’t anything new. This war was unpopular and no one quite knew why we were involved. It was on the other side of the world and the ideologies at stake were vague and unrelated to hometown America. But none of that made Vietnam unique. What made Vietnam so different was television. Young people came home from school, turned on the television, and the war was right there in their living rooms. They didn’t have to imagine the horrors of the battlefield; the evening news brought it home live and, if you were lucky, in color.

However, the one thing I think made the sixties so different than any other decade, including the twenties, was the age paradigm. The age of the population was out of balance. Attendance in high school and in college had grown exponentially. The baby boomers of the forties and fifties were becoming young adults. Their voice was heard loud and clear. Their influence on the culture, the music, and the fashion was unmistakable. Television not only gave them access to the war, but it also gave them motivation to dream. Young people wanted a different world than what their parents and grandparents had built before them. They didn’t want to settle for what was expected of them. They had their own ideas, determination, and most importantly their own desires. Many of them didn’t sit and idly discuss the world and its possibilities. They left home and actively sought what they wanted. Unfortunately, the sudden migration of young people, the disillusionment that came with failure, provided predators with an endless reservoir of prey. At least that was a major assumption I made when I sat down to write Gabriel’s Wing.

By 1969 the term “flower child” had expanded to encompass any of the counter-cultures who practiced the principles of peace, free love, and universal understanding. Long hair, colorful clothes, and drug experimentation gained universal acceptance. When I thought of a flower child I didn’t have a preconceived notion of a hippie living on the streets of San Francisco. I thought of any young person with hopes and dreams outside of his or her parents’ influence. That pretty much meant any young person between the age of thirteen and twenty-five.

I once heard a flower child was the east coast answer to the west coast hippie. That notion is incorrect. The terms flower child and flower power had more to do with peaceful antiwar demonstrations than geography, but I liked the concept. Wrong or right, I thought about the young people on the east coast and what destination they would choose to pursue their dreams. Of course, New York had to be my first choice. What if they didn’t make it to New York? Would they end up in New Jersey? Not that I have anything against New Jersey. I live in New Jersey. The northern part of the state is lovely. I have experienced its beauty. I decided it offered a wonderful contrast to the plight I had formulated for the flower children in my novel. They realize the death of their dreams, the shock of disillusionment, and the persuasion of evil.

I have read about young girls falling into desperate circumstances. They do things to survive they would never believe they were capable of doing. What if the victim in this case was not a young woman, but a young man? A nineteen-year-old boy who could pass for thirteen would be an attractive target. What would be the worst thing to happen to him? He suffers the same degradation and fear a young woman would experience. He finds strength in another youth, not a man, but a young woman.

Could this story have a hero? And if it does, wouldn’t it be appropriate for him to be running from the memory of lost dreams? That’s a very good possibility, but what would make it more suitable to the times? Why not a woman? Better yet, a woman with an additional burden. What if she is the daughter of a white father and a black mother? Could she be the hero? Why not?

          In the late sixties more women were entering the work force than ever before. My protagonist, Tillie Thornwhistle, was such a woman. Could a woman in the sixties achieve what Tillie achieved? That question is best left unanswered. What I proposed is that she did and others probably did as well. She is a strong woman in a demanding situation.

In many ways Gabriel’s Wing is a dark tale. It examines what could’ve happened to many of the young adults who left home looking for a new life. However, it’s not completely dark. The story examines components of the sixties that aren’t usually explored. I make assumptions and draw on various what if scenarios. Tillie Thornwhistle does not exist except in my imagination. Her achievements, her job, her place in society are just a bit ahead of her time. Again, I ask, why not?

Ron Shannon's Gabriel's Wing is available at Amazon, as is his The Hedgerows of June.

Find author Ron Shannon on Facebook.