Wednesday, April 01, 2015

The Annotated "Saving the Planet & Stuff" Part One: Finding Characters In A Specific Place And Time

It's the first day of April, people. April means...Earth Day! I will celebrate it all month with excerpts from Saving the Planet & Stuff and other STP&S-related material. The excerpts will include additional information, links, and sometimes pictures. Think of it as being like those DVD commentaries.

Don't like DVD commentaries? Original Content will be carrying other material this month, too.

We're getting started today with a piece from Chapter One. Our hero, Michael Peter Racine III, has just arrived in Vermont with two much older environmentalists he's known for less than twenty-four hours. They're not people he met on the street but friends from his grandmother and grandfather's (Poppy) youth. One of Michael's first acts upon arriving in Walt and Nora's 1970s-era solar house is to call home and voice his second thoughts to his mother.

     "Somehow I got the impression that Walt was going to be a fun guy," he complained. "But believe me, it was not fun having to listen to him drone on and on about this solid-waste crisis that I'd never even heard of and the number of pollutants emitted by gas-powered lawn mowers. It was like being with Poppy, if Poppy cared about solid waste, which he doesn't. What is it with old men? Walt did flip off a bunch of truck drivers who were working for companies he doesn't approve of, though. That
would have been fun if I hadn't had to concentrate so hard on staying on the road. And then Nora got going on fluoride for some reason. She says the Chinese believe it lowers IQ, and then there's been some kind of study with rats' brains …"
     "Your grandmother says they live their values," Ms. Racine said. "Some people like to talk about saving the planet. This Walt and Nora supposedly live their lives in such a way as to actually do it. You did bring your own toothpaste, didn't you? You know your father believes fluoride was one of God's greatest gifts to mankind, and if they don't use it—"
Nora Blake and Walt Marcello, the two environmentalists Michael takes off with because they offer him a summer job, come out of 1970's Vermont counterculture. The Vermont Historical Society is presently doing a series of forums on the decade and its impact on Vermont. According to an article in a recent Seven Days (my favorite newspaper when visiting northern Vermont), VHS curator Jackie Calder "says the changes initiated in the '60s received institutional expression in the following decade." Meaning that the changes of the '60s actually were changes because they became part of the norm during the '70s. From things I've read elsewhere, that is probably generally true, not just in bobo Vermont. The '70s aren't remembered for great fashion or music, but they had an impact historically.

Saving the Planet & Stuff was written as YA. But the very nonYA characters, Walt and Nora, were crucial to the book. For many years all I had was an idea for a situation--a young person thrown in with much older strangers. As I am sure I have said before, it wasn't until Walt and Nora came into the picture that an actual story began to evolve.

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