TO THE OTHER SIDE
Sex, Drugs, and Rock 'n Roll was only the beginning
Chris, a pacifist frustrated by the continuing death count in the Vietnam War, is asked by a former girlfriend to help a group of Black Panthers escape from San Quentin. His best friend Kevin sheds his past as an over-achiever and jock to revel in the free-wheeling times. Then Kevin falls for Jill, a community-centered musician with little tolerance for male post-adolescent fantasies. While Chris is trying to find the most effective way to stop the war, Luther is plotting the San Quentin escape.
To The Other Side is about characters who follow their ideals and crash into the wall of reality. It captures the on-the-ground turbulence and color of the Vietnam era, with its political passions, rock concerts, utopian fantasies, ecstatic experimentation, and free love. The story shows the fervor of the people immersed in the times, with their intense and over-the-top idealism. The Vietnam era is gone, but political idealism (WTO protests, Occupy, et al.) remains, thank heavens, and people will always push against its limits to make the world a better place.
I began To The Other Side a day after starting a corporate job in Cape Town, South Africa. Working in business made me cranky, but it was the only job I could find. Opportunities were limited for people of my status, similar to having a green card in the U.S. My wife suggested that I begin to write, since I’d talked about that a lot. At the time I was trying to reconcile my anti-corporate ideals with the practicalities of living in the real world with its many constraints, so I decided to write about that struggle.
A couple years earlier, I’d met a San Quentin guard whose throat had been cut in George Jackson’s escape attempt. The guard made a big impression on me, in ways that will be clear from To The Other Side. I used that encounter as the germ of the novel. (Many years later, doing research for the novel, I got past that big dude with the big gun, on the left. And all the way inside. See Researching To The Other Side, for that story.)
It took a lot longer to finish the book than to resolve my personal struggle with ideals, but because I’ve found that struggle recurring in different forms at different phases of life, I thought it would be a good thematic core. The novel grew to become about many other things as well.