Soda Springs in the media

From time to time, we get media coverage on both Soda Springs and its author, Terry Marshall. We’ll post them on this page as an additional outside source of information on the book. Look here for background on the novel, tidbits about the book and about Terry. For book reviews, go to the Reader Reviews page of the website.

Las Vegas author Terry Marshall
discusses his award-winning book

By Morgan St. James, Las Vegas

Terry Marshall’s book Soda Springs: Love, Sex, and Civil Rights is a juicy, multicultural love story that plunges us into Martin Luther King’s 1963 civil rights campaign in Birmingham, Alabama. It ends as MLK inspires the nation with his “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington, D.C.

Soda Springs won the 2011 Global eBook Award for best “Illustrations in a Fiction Book.” It was a finalist in both “Adult Multicultural Literature” and “Teen Literature.”

Terry, you grew up in a town somewhat like Soda Springs. Tell me about that.

Yes, the town where I grew up is in southern Colorado. I worked for years as a Head Start director and activist. The Robert F. Kennedy Memorial awarded me a full-time community organizing fellowship, and the Denver Post featured me as “Rural Colorado’s hometown revolutionary.”

How did you get the idea for the book?

The main driver for Soda Springs was MLK’s I Have a Dream speech, August 28, 1963. I was already a MLK fan because of his book, Stride Toward Freedom. It laid out an intellectual rationale for non-violence, and inspired me to become a conscientious objector. Although the speech inspired me, the setting seared it into my psyche.

Can you elaborate a bit on that?

Well, I heard the speech on the radio while driving the narrow, winding mountain pass from Ouray to Silverton, Colorado, having spent the day trying to convince a female friend to come live with me in college. (For the record, she didn’t accept. Her lame excuse: her wedding date –- to some other guy –- was two months away and she had already sent out the invitations.)

Both events – I Have a Dream and that tear-laced rendezvous in Ouray –- simmered in my mind for years. Eventually I drew on both for key scenes in the novel.

As writers, it’s amazing how things from our past come back to us in clear detail and wind up in our books.

It sure is. Some years later, after I spent several years as an activist in my hometown, where my wife and I were the only Anglos living in the Mexican barrio, I went back to grad school to analyze our efforts and figure out how best to make change in the world.

For my Ph.D. dissertation, I interviewed dozens of people –- allies and opponents both –- and scoured the files of the local, state, regional and federal agencies we dealt with during those struggles. The interviews took me into “behind the scenes” plots and strategies I was unaware of at the time. The result was a book that wove those events together from the viewpoints of opposing forces in the struggle.

And is that the book that won the award?

No. Years later still, I realized the detailed sociological analysis didn’t capture the drama of real people living real lives. It didn’t show the rich mix of personal interactions that motivate human actions and decisions: turf wars, poverty, family feuds, historical slights, love affairs, lost dreams, the myriad foibles that have nothing to do with the issues at hand –- but which in the end drive success or failure.

I know how that goes. I’ve been there myself, analyzing all of the way a story can be told. So what happened next?

I told the story as “authentic” fiction, drawing from facts, but no longer bound by them. My first few drafts were a young male’s story, written from Rick Sanders’ point of view. It didn’t show how the women, the Hispanics, the farmers, and many others in the novel saw the world.

Back to page one: I looked up three women I knew from high school –- “the girl next door,” the woman I’d courted that summer in Ouray, and a Mexican-American woman I dated –- and used the manuscript as a starting point to explore our own personal romances.

I got an earful of stupid things I did (and said) as a young man. And I quickly realized how little I had known about their lives –- their thoughts and fears and desires and needs and problems. Each woman took me into the mind of a 17-year-old girl. If only I had known back then!

What an evolution from your original idea. Tell me more.

In brief, teenagers Rick Sanders and Ginny Sue Bennett share a fervor for civil rights that pits them against a community skilled at hard-ball politics. Tradition crushes their efforts, but the battles ignite passions that make their coming of age both a joyous adventure and a painful odyssey –- further complicated when Rick gets drawn into the Mexican barrio by Concha Montoya, a budding activist and single mother.

Over the years, I rewrote the novel, weaving in chapters from the viewpoints of Ginny Sue, Concha, Concha’s aunt, Rick’s and Ginny’s parents, farmworkers, a coach, the minister’s wife, a couple of young toughs. It became the story of a community, not merely a single character.

Though inspired by MLK, Soda Springs tells a previously untold story of the civil rights movement of the Sixties: the Mexican-American struggle for justice in a small Colorado farm town. It’s a tale of confronting racism in a no-holds-barred world.

What has been the response to your book from people who lived in that era--the time of Martin Luther King?

One of the most satisfying outcomes of Soda Springs has been reader response – especially Hispanics, women, and people who came of age in the early Sixties. So many have called or written or caught me after a reading to tell how the novel rings true to growing up in the Sixties, or to the pain of racism and poverty.

Another is realizing how contemporary the problems are. Soda Springs takes place in 1963, but today I still hear people denigrate Hispanics with the same words some of the bigots in Soda Springs shout at Concha and her family. Some people today demand we wall off the U.S., and “send them back to Mexico” – even though, as is the case with that Mexican-American girl I dated in high school, her ancestors immigrated to Santa Fe from Mexico City in 1684.

And, now for a little more about you and your background.

I’ve been a reporter, editor, free-lance writer, and Peace Corps country director in the South Pacific. I received many writing awards, including first place in general fiction from the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers for an earlier draft of Soda Springs.

In addition to several published short stories, I’m the author of The Whole World Guide to Language Learning, a text on how to learn unwritten languages, and Carlsbad, a book of essays and photographs of Carlsbad, NM. I studied in Mexico, Spain and Peru, and hold a Ph.D. in rural development from Cornell University. I’ve lived in Las Vegas since 2000.

Thank you so much Terry. I’m really glad we met at the Author 101 University conference when it was in Las Vegas. The best of luck with the book.

For more information about Terry Marshall visit his website

Morgan St. James is the Award-Winning author of six novels, multiple short stories, and over 300 articles related to writing. More information about Morgan and her appearance schedule visit Morgan St. James and Silver Sister Mysteries.

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Click here to read the article on the Examiner's website

For reviews of Soda Springs see Reader Reviews

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