Episode 124A – Charles Degelmen – Rocked in Time

Overview

Charles Degelman is an award-winning author, performer, and producer living in Los Angeles. After graduating Harvard, Degelman left academia to become an antiwar activist, political theater artist, musician, communard, carpenter, hard-rock miner, and itinerant gypsy trucker. When the dust settled, he returned to his first love, writing. A Bowl Full of Nails, set in the rural counterculture of the 1970s, collected a Bronze Medal from the 2015 Independent Publishers Book Awards and Gates of Eden, set during the anti-war movement of the 1960s, won an Independent Publishers book award. Degelman’s screenplay Fifty-Second Street garnered an award from the Diane Thomas Competition, sponsored by UCLA/Dreamworks. A second screenplay, The Red Car, reached finalist status in Francis Ford Coppola’s American Zoetrope Screenplay Contest. In addition, Degelman has written and produced documentary and educational films for TNT, Churchill Films, Pyramid Films, and Philips Interactive Media. He co-founded Indecent Exposure, a Los Angeles-based theater company dedicated to creating original, high-quality, socially relevant work for the stage. Degelman is on the faculty of California State University where he teaches writing in the Communication Studies Department.

His Book

Website

https://www.charlesdegelman.org/

Favorites

https://www.skylightbooks.com/contact-skylight

YouTube

https://youtu.be/wAfqA3DsYQk

Transcript

Today on discovered wordsmith, I want to welcome Charles deman. Charles, how are you doing today?

I think I’m

Charles: doing pretty well. Uh, The sky is blue out here in Los Angeles and LA threatens to be hot, but so far it just looks lovely and blue and I’m up and around and happy to be here.

Stephen: Nice. I live in Northeast, Ohio, and it’s been rainy the last couple days today. It’s not that humid.

It’s not hot. It’s beautiful. Gorgeous

Charles: day. Yeah. We’re yeah, I know. You’ve had some tough weather there. You’ve had some odd weather happening there we have.

Stephen: Yeah. Yeah. We all. We know you live in LA but before we start talking about your book and your trilogy, tell everybody a little bit about yourself and some of the things you like to do besides writing.

Sure.

Charles: Actually a lot of the things that I like to do inform my writing and I’ve always felt that was a a kind of a treasure that I carry with me, which is that in my artistic life however that Motley, they, that may be, and I you had said something earlier before the interview began about people’s other lives and the way they all work.

I, I was fortunate. As a kid to become both a a folk musician and an actor as and actually began later on to, to carry on as a, as both a full-time actor. And this book rocked in time that we’ll be talking about actually takes place in a theater company. The background I have is there, I’ve also been from one time and another as a starving artist in a wayward a wayward Bohemian, I’ve been a carpenter.

I enjoy working with my hands and have actually been able to scuttle by being a carpenter from time to time. And and then I’ve been an educator, which has been wonderful, but certainly in terms of the artistic work or the work, the craft of being a writer I feel very fortunate to have had this fairly deep background in music and in performance of music and in and in theater.

And then some of that has gone across to my writing. I also for a long time I’ve worked in a Both arts commissions in San Francisco and down here doing theater in Los Angeles. But I also then decided to go back to grad school because I wanted to teach at university level.

And nice before that I had been I worked, I had a real office job by God. ,

Stephen: I’m sorry.

Charles: exactly. I went in every day and, but it was a very, I was terrific job. I was working for a small nonprofit that we designed and published educational material and history, us history, world history. And that was terrific.

A lot of social studies work, a lot of curriculum design, a lot of actual procedures and a lot of of informational essays. And that was a terrific training ground for me. I basically I made a living nice salary and I learned all aspects one way or another of both writing and design and development, but also publishing I got a chance to really get my hands on that.

So I’ve been lucky that way, that I’ve been able to set out and find various either jobs or artistic adventures, all of which seem to lead in this sort of weird, mysterious way toward what I now do as Predominantly, I’m not a, an active musician. I’m a writer. That’s nice.

Stephen: And I must say you you mentioned wayward Bohemian.

I think that would be the, a great name for a band. And you said you played folk music wayward, Bohemian obviously sounds folk music, but man, can you imagine a heavy metal band with the tight, with the name of wayward Bohemian? It just I think that would be a wonderful thing.

Charles: Great. I also was in, especially in San Francisco, I played a lot of jazz.

I gotta, oh yeah.

Stephen: I missed that now. Sometimes I, I did that when I was in school and I don’t listen to a whole lot, but every now and then I’ll put it on and I’m like, yeah, I of miss this now that I’m getting older. More so than I did younger. Yeah.

Charles: It’s not it’s hard to find a little bit harder to find these days.

It’s there. Yeah. It’s there, but. It is a little bit less of what’s going on in the world than it was say 50 years ago. It’s anyway, it’s a background that I, that is also part of my artistic work and find it precious to have had those experiences

Stephen: agreed. Agreed. And your experience that with education and teaching and that we’re gonna talk a bit more, that type of thing for the second half for authors.

So there’s a preview. But why I know musician and actor and teacher, why did you wanna start writing novels and fiction?

Charles: I had started actually as a teenager and I was one of those kids who sat around reading Robert Lewis Stevenson and mark Twain. And fortunately my parents were both literal wayward, Bohemians yeah, not quite but close enough so that I could, they could could appreciate some of my madness as having to do with folk music and all the other things that I’ve done, but also during my earlier years.

And we’ll talk about this with the trilogy. I was an, a, an activist. I was an anti-war activist during the Vietnam era and I’ve continued to be an activist but most particularly my, my real mission in life is to create writing now but certainly theater as well that speaks to the times reflects some of the conflicts and contradictions that are, that our lives go through as history drags us in its wake.

Stephen: So well, to, to that point, I live eight minutes away from Kent state and they still have a sculpture on Kent state with a bullet hole in it. When I saw that the first time I was like, wow, that the sculptures here with that bullet hole, and it’s still there to this day with the bullet hole so it’s, that’s weighty.

Charles: That is very interesting because that was of course in, in the experience of sort of university based student protest, that was a very pivotal and traumatic event. That that happened in 1970 is some of you folks may know where the national guard actually there’s some talk about whether they went out of control or whether they were ordered to open fire on these kids who were protesting the war.

And as you’ll see later also protesting the use of the university as a laboratory for developing weapons which to many of us at the time felt like I don’t. My university doing that. I didn’t pay tuition to have you guys develop napalm to, to drop in Vietnam. So

Stephen: definitely interesting times not to say that the last 10 to 20 years, haven’t been interesting times in and of themselves.

Charles: God, no, this this is a very, that would be a very long conversation for us to be comparing what’s going on now with what had been going on in the sixties. Lot of similarities, but a whole lot of differences, obviously. Definitely. So before we do delve in the history, because we’re old guys let’s talk about your book which is the last part of a trilogy the resistance trilogy and the book is called rocked in time.

Stephen: So tell us a bit about that.

Charles: I’ve got. Copy here. It looks like it’s backwards to me, I suppose it is to, I think

Stephen: it’ll flip around when I do the video. Gotcha.

Charles: Genius there. Rock time has a subtitle of confessions of a radical theater artist. So this particular novel, the third of the three in the resistance trilogy is set in a theater company.

And this is where we play with the interface between fiction and real life. So we, the the novel itself and the narrator are part of this company he gets brought into he auditions for and gets brought into this. This rag tag theater company that in the late 1960s actually existed.

So yes, it’s a novel and yes, there are many fictional characters, but there are also an interlay with historical characters as well, including some black Panthers, but and some other interesting folks. But it’s really the story of this company evolving and moving out into from its home in San Francisco, moving out on the road to do a tour of these campuses that had been set.

Earlier so that there’s, we’re basically the story. The first half of the story is set on the road. There’s a mythological for you on the road in America, in late 1960s. With this dinner company going from campus to campus, where they have been expected, invited by a political organization, student political organization that really existed called students for a democratic society.

Now, you and I know about the students for a democratic society, but for those who don’t it, it was, and still is, it doesn’t exist this in this way, but at the time it was the largest student organization in. And they organized around economic issues and they organized around the political issues of the time, such as the war and racism and the big part of what I tackle in rock time sexism.

And so a lot of what goes on in Rockton time in this theater company is the contradiction in the characters between them being considering themselves to be very left wing, very righteous about their political and ethical motivations. But women were still second class citizens. And that was of course much truer in the late sixties than soon thereafter we saw women striking out to, to have their voices heard as feminists.

But this is right on the cusp of that that rock in time takes place. So there are quite a few interactions there about women not taking any crap from the from the supposed radical leaders of the of the left wing. So there’s a lot of character stuff going on there, but it’s it was very exciting to write because it really did allow me to go across the country from one university to another, in my own fictional world here.

Where we had set up these performances that were part of big demonstrations. So I’ll probably read a little bit about that as it goes on. Yeah. And it just then takes looks at what it’s like to be in a small theater company that is creating its own material. This is a company that wasn’t taking from Shakespeare.

It was it was writing its own material. So it was it was an original endeavor of very innovative nature. So you wrote a book about a theater company that’s writing play essentially, that’s very meta that’s right.

That’s right. We, I, yeah, that’s right.

Let

Stephen: ask this kind of a double question. What other authors out there are similar to your style that someone may say, oh, I like that author. I’ll read Charles. And then also your book, what other books out there might be similar to that book? That people would say, oh, that sounds interesting.

Charles: Good, good question. I have a very hard time coming up with favorite authors and so on. But people who I think wrote articulately in, in in historical settings like this who I like would include let’s see. Oh dear. A man named John Nichols. Who wrote several novels in the seventies and eighties set during this period.

He wrote about he wrote about the, the revolutionary movements that were going on strangely enough in New Mexico. And and with people who were moving back to the land and with people who were interacting with with the local folks who grown up there. So John Nichols is one wow.

it’s a, it’s it I really am not strong on taking models now, strangely. During the time I wrote this I did, I was reading very avidly. I was reading Doris Lessing. Doris Lessing is a British novelist who who wrote in the in the fifties and sixties, but she wrote about she wrote about the political movements in great Britain after world war II.

And so there was a great deal of very animated interaction in her book, the golden notebook okay. That had to do with what might what might sound, oh God, we’re gonna listen to a political argument. Oh God. But he had that gift of turning these ideas and these struggles.

Into dynamic animated interactions often quite sexy because that was certainly a part of our time it was sex drugs and RO rock and roll, but rock and roll other stuff too. So

Stephen: right. So why did you choose, why did you choose to write a fiction book based on this time period and the conflicts instead of something else like sci-fi or whatever why this particular subject matter for your book?

Charles: I, because because I’d had such an intense experience myself in doing this kind of. That I wanted to try to capture that not by remembering exactly who said what to whom or how all how all of that the numbers of people came, who came and went. I’m still in touch with many people I worked with in that theater.

But I would have to say that I really needed the distance of creating characters. So I’m not me as the narrator. I’m slightly different person. Although it’s done in the first person And many of the characters, although they approximate real life characters that I had these experiences with are not because it just gives you the freedom to.

To move dramatically through a work and keep it rolling. Regardless of there’s always this old question about writing was I is it’s not really about what really happened. so right. It

Stephen: it’s, yeah. It’s to give you that feel and it’s to have a good narrative.

Also, it’s gotta be an interesting story. But the narrative has to lie on the page. It can’t be so often when I’m in say workshops with kids or even with contemporaries they would say about a time, oh, it wasn’t really like that. That’s not the point. The point is how is the story?

Charles: What is the world you have created on the page and how does that world make sense and how does it move? It’s not about what really happened, but it’s in the, it’s in the ballpark.

Stephen: Exactly. So in the, you got that, you’ve had couple books out on the trilogy. What’s the feedback from readers been like?

Charles: They people are very appreciative of it goes two ways, actually, I’ll say and I’ll try to be brief about this, but one, one. Clump of readers people who take the time, which we all appreciate when people will take the time, say on Amazon to write a review or on good reads to write a review, because they’re in a certain way more important than any critics review it’s what people are seeing in your book, right?

Or just folks who are reading this stuff, not trying to get it in print but, and so there’s one, one group of people who talks about this period and says, thank goodness for you bringing some of this back to me or. Saying, thank goodness. I never really knew what happened then I was too young.

I didn’t really know what was going on, but I’ve always been curious. And somehow you, Charles deman have managed to give me a sense of what was going on in these worlds of resistance of the resistance movements in those days. So there’s those that bunch. And then there’s a bunch that says, ah, you guys didn’t do anything.

Oh, you did just sit her out and smoke dope and get laid part. And it’s just not true. There was a tremendous amount of activity and people either are going, nah, that didn’t happen like that. Or they are saying, thank you very much for. Either reminding me or showing me something that I didn’t have the chance to experience.

Stephen: And I love that you said that’s pretty powerful to me and understanding about your book because when I read Harry turtle, Dove’s guns of the south it’s about the civil war. And if the south got machine guns and what would happen. It’s like a history version of a Michael Criton book where what’s in there the history facts are what’s there, but then he makes it a narrative and changes it.

Yeah. And I learned, and he really tried to explore different thinking of people on the whole civil war, on both sides and good, bad, and more than just the slavery point of it. And I learned more about the civil war reading that book than I did in school. School was what numbers were so I love books like that.

That can bring that out. Very good. So you should be very proud of that. I think that’s wonderful.

Charles: That’s, that, that is you make a good point there that oftentimes the vehicle of say a fiction vehicle that has some compelling plot to, it can bring a tremendous amount of information along with it that you’re not even like having to memorize the dates but you’re learning, and that’s to say everything in like that book that Lee said, that’s exactly what he said. No, I understand that you gotta weigh that a little bit, but it’s like the Michael Creighton Jurassic park they talked about the blood from the Amber at the time, that was a theory.

Stephen: They thought they really could get DNA from the blood in mosquitoes caught in Amber. Great. But it came to be not true, but at the time it, it was a cutting edge theory. And I love that about his books too.

Charles: So yeah. Yeah. That was an interesting moment. I remember that. Yeah. But yeah for example, gates have Eden.

It, again, it’s fiction and none of the characters are real, but I draw from there the, a couple of kids who are college students, who you see them coming of age and starting to understand, wait a minute, what’s going on out here. This is in the early and mid sixties what’s going on out here and you’ve got, so you’ve got people who were middle class college students.

You have people who were a couple of characters or just working class folks who were drafted into the war and came back with a different kind of education than I left with in terms of their abilities to understand what was going. That created that war and they are become characters.

There’s a there are a couple of feisty young women in here who are, there’s a black couple who are involved in the civil rights movement along with a lot of white people as well. But it’s a very broad scope, but I’m trying to bring all these elements in to say this. These are the people who came together from very many different directions to put up the resistance that we recognize as either the fight for civil rights or the anti-war movement in during the Vietnam

Stephen: era.

And that’s important. I love that. Charles, your series, if you had a choice, would you rather see it as a couple movies or as a TV show? And I say TV, but streaming more, more so than TV.

Charles: It’s a fun topic to deal with because there’s so much material out there that people are needing so much material it’s I’ll take I’m in.

So I see some of this did I’d say there’s one, one of these books of all full of nails is set in a little mountain town in Colorado. So that would make a really good film just from the fact that what happens is after the protagonist sort of has to leave California has to get outta town.

He ends up in, in in a little crazy little mountain town in Colorado, and that would make a great little feature film it would be. Just practically speaking. Okay. We got one site, all we have to worry about we’re not right. The larger ones I think rock in time would make an interesting episodic say six, a six episode piece where you’re watching this company come together, go across the country and then recover.

right from

Stephen: these, I think you’re right on that. That would, it definitely would not work as well in a two hour movie.

Charles: No it, some of this is just thank goodness for this new streaming format yeah. In the popularity, because you really. Tackle what normally are such difficult projects to try to get war and peace into a movie.

Oh

Stephen: man. Oh, geez.

Charles: so how do you do that?

Stephen: They did ass foundation. So that one hat’s off. Yeah, definitely. Do you have a website and where can listeners find your book?

Charles: It’s all the usual suspects have it. The new, the, these two have been out for a while. So they’re at Amazon.

They’re at Powells they’re they’re at bookshop Barnes and noble they’re around, they aren’t necessarily on the shelf. But you can always order them. Amazon of course is sadly the principle place. I do have a site of my own quite simply Charles deman, one word. And again, I can looks like that back backwards charles deman.org. OK.

Stephen: I’ll make sure have a link in the show notes, right? Yeah.

Charles: Cause I’m there. And then I’m, I’ve been working lately with a with a publicist I’ve never worked with a publicist before, or I have a couple of times, and hasn’t, it’s been not as fruitful, but I am being taught social media.

got it’s. Yes, you I’m sure. It, it is a whole new world. And so I’m getting out more on social media with these all three of these books now. And but the most recent one, and this one rock in time that we’ve been talking about is coming out September 13th. So nice. You can reorder it now, but it won’t come to you for a while.

Stephen: I think that’s the same day. I’m actually releasing my book one in my middle grade fantasy. Yeah. So we’ll have to call each other out and see how things go. Absolutely.

Charles: Yeah. Yeah. Great. Congratulations. Yeah.

Stephen: Charles, what’s your plans for your next book? Oh, dear.

Charles: I’m not sure I’m still recovering from from finishing this lap.

I literally yesterday but in the final Post you’re probably familiar and some of your listeners may be familiar with the difference between an arc, an advanced reading copy that goes out. And then the book itself that goes out, the advanced reading copy goes out a few months ahead of time for for reviewers to take a look at, see if they wanna review interviewers such as yourself.

So on. . But in between that time, I also had a wonderful copy editor go through the book and she found all kinds of horrifying glitches and things in the advanced reading copy. So I just literally yesterday finished going through and integrating all of her changes into the manuscript. Very wow.

That’s the other part? Young readers should know this is hard work. You guys .

Stephen: Yeah, it can be, but it’s enjoyable. Just like playing music, everything. Yeah,

Charles: exactly. That’s I sat here working on this script yesterday and had some music on it’s just great.

Stephen: Nice. So we were talking some of books earlier.

Do you have any long time favorite authors or favorite books of

Charles: your own. I do, but again, I’m so terrible at thinking about this, but I would say pivotal to my writing. I would say and I was introduced to him very early on by my father. Mark Twain, Sam Clements. I love Twain the intelligence and the humor and one thing that I’ve always been fascinated with mark Twain about is mark Twain is a celebrated liar.

He sees lying as like the stuff of fiction come on. It is right, you’re lying all the time. At least you’re being honest about it. Right. Yeah. And he’s a good case study because we know of him and think he’s wonderful, but he still at times had to go on a book tour to promote a book. So he’d have enough money that he wouldn’t be bankrupt so

yep.

It this is not instant hit time. And it’s, there have been, there are times when wonderful things can happen. But for the most part, he like pretty much everybody who is actually seriously writing is working hard to make ends meet. It’s not always that lucrative a profession.

Stephen: And so Charles, where do you live? Do you have a favorite bookstore you like to go to?

Charles: I do. There are a couple around here, but my favorite I live in in basically in Hollywood but a little bit east of us is skylight books, which is in a neighborhood called silver lake which is still part of the larger sort of Hollywood world.

And it’s been skylight books has been around for a long time. They made it through the COVID disaster Bravo for them for doing that along with a number of other bookstores. But I like them. They’re very community oriented. They’re very much about bringing in authors to speak of an evening.

And now that COVID has died down somewhat, they’re back to doing that. So you can crowd in there and somebody will read, and then we’ll have a discussion, very similar to what we’re doing right now. And and sign books and so on. And it’s just a it’s it’s emphasis and why I think it’s important.

And is representative of a large number of books towards these days that aren’t part of a chain is that they are connecting themselves to the community in many ways as they can. Yeah. I love that. And it’s.

Stephen: Oh, I’m sorry. I was just gonna say so before we move on to talking about author stuff, which I’m very excited on our topic of working with kids if somebody came up to you and said, Hey, Charles, I heard you wrote a book.

Why should I get your book and read it? What would you tell?

Charles: Have a good time

entertainment then there you there, right?

Stephen: yeah. Very good. All well. Charles, thank you for sharing the book. I appreciate it. And I hope awesome readers and listeners find it exciting and fun to read.

Charles: I, one to add one post to that, the thing that I think is most valuable to me is when somebody says, oh, I loved your book and I didn’t wanna leave it.

I didn’t wanna leave. In other words, they’re saying I have created, you have created a world. And I like your world and I wanna stay in it. And that, to me agree, just that feeling sometimes you get with the book, it’s oh man, let me get back into that world. Let me climb back in there. Yes. Yes.

That’s our favorite. Yeah. Yeah. It’s to me, that’s oh, thank you. That’s wonderful. I just feel like that’s what I’m trying to do.

Stephen: Good. Great. All right.

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