Parallel lives 

A political protagonist from the Vietnam War era makes a clear impact on her creator

click to enlarge SHARI REGGENBOGGEN
  • Shari Reggenboggen

While it's unlikely that Boulder's Janis Hallowell will protest outside the Democratic National Convention in Denver this August, she says writing her recently released novel, She Was, did give her a new perspective on politics.

Hallowell's modern-day protagonist, Doreen Woods, carries a hidden past everywhere she goes. In 1970, she was Lucy Johansson, a student radical raging against the Vietnam War. She participated in a militant protest, and even though Lucy had the best intentions, the results were life-changing.

The idea for the evocative story came to Hallowell as she grew interested in a similar real-life situation in the news. However, as she got deeper into writing the book, she saw correlations between her character's circumstances and the political environment of the United States during the early 2000s.

"It's weird," she says. "This book politicalized me sort of like Vietnam politicalized a whole generation of people."

Hallowell sees many similarities, particularly between Lucy's world and the conditions of today's Iraq war. But it's the differences, for her, that stand out.

For one, people aren't as vocal as they were in the late '60s and early '70s.

"Back then, everybody under a certain age was protesting the war by putting their body out there in the street," she says. "Everybody knew somebody that went to Vietnam, because there was a draft."

Hallowell adds that another difference was the Vietnam War's in-your-face presence on TV.

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"I was a little kid at the time, and we saw horrific scenes from Vietnam. It was the first time in history that that had really been done," she says. "In Iraq, the press agreed with the government to not show those things, so people are more isolated, I think.

"They're not marching, and boycotting. And setting bombs if they're radicalized not that setting bombs was ever a good thing. It just hasn't gone that way, even though [the war] is a very serious situation."

Today's younger generations are more likely to be found on the Internet than talking face-to-face or physically gathering.

"I think it makes a huge difference in how you approach issues of the day," she says. "Blogging is good, but I don't know that it's stopping the things that people want to have stopped."

One modern-day activity Hallowell finds hopeful is people reading in book groups. When trying to figure out how to market She Was, Hallowell says, she realized book groups select their works via a very word-of-mouth process.

"Book groups are really this grassroots political force, I think, because they don't seem to be controlled by the industry," she says. "They seem to read what they want to read, and they seem to be kind of uninfluenceable past a certain point."

Of course, Hallowell hopes book groups will pick up She Was (and her first book, The Annunciation of Francesca Dunn) but she also hopes they'll just continue to read and discuss fiction in this post-9/11 world.

"I think we need our "imagination treats,'" she says. "I think people are always going to like to read and hear stories. Because we need it, we crave it. There's something in the human mind that needs to have the metaphor."


She Was
Janis Hallowell
HarperCollins, $24.95/hardcover


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