President Kennedy was assassinated. All the adults were distracted and sad. The TV sets in Iowa began to show a war brewing in Southeast Asia. Sue's parents sold the house she had come to consciousness in, a lovely little green cottage with a grove of pine trees perfect for forts and secret gardens. They moved a mile west into a new subdivision where all the trees were so puny they had ropes attached to stakes to hold them up in the wind.
It was lonely in the new neighborhood. Sue was ten and her little sister was only six and therefore boring. She walked two blocks to the new grade school she would be attending. Along the way, any kids she saw stared at her and she stared right back. They were all younger and therefore boring. She thought about the Beatles. They were the only interesting thing in her life. When she had seen them on Ed Sullivan she felt something she had never felt before. It was joy and sadness mixed together and it became hard to breathe. Afterward, on the commercial break, she found she had squeezed her fists so tightly her fingernails had made little cuts in her palms.
By the school there was a house with a girl in the yard who looked about her age. She had wavy long dark hair and she held the collar of a mean looking dog. They looked at each other and knew each other at first sight.
Mare was short and kind of round and Sue was tall and skinny. Mare was Lennon and Sue was McCartney. Jewish and WASP. Brash and funny, reserved and serious. Mare taught Sue how to giggle and Sue taught Mare how to think deep thoughts. They played Beatle music non-stop and spent every minute they could together. They started their sentences with "What if" and then let their imaginations run wild with scenarios in which they would meet John Lennon and Paul McCartney and impress them with their sarcastic wit and maturity. These 'what ifs" became stories, with dialogue, plots with twists and surprise endings. They harmonized to Beatle songs and Mare learned guitar.
They were the Beatles for Halloween, even though the girl who was supposed to be George dropped out at the last minute to be a Chinese ventriloquist with her Chatty Cathy doll. Mare quipped they should still include her and go as the Ed Sullivan show.
Sue and Mare became teenagers. John and Paul were still their counterparts, their examples of creative collaboration. They could brainstorm and talk for hours, astounding their parents, peers and teachers that they never ran out of anything to say. It overflowed into long rambling notes, stories, poems and essays. They kept all of this in a fat Beatle notebook locked in Mare's footlocker.
The war in Viet Nam raged and older kids they knew were dying. The Beatles music became dark and psychedelic, growing up as they did. Mare and Sue wrote about other things now, but still found their inspiration in Lennon and McCartney.
The Beatles broke up but Mare and Sue understood. Paul and John just needed to explore their individuality. They still loved each other, deep down.
Graduation loomed. Sue made plans to attend Nursing school. Mare would go to New York City to learn musical theater. It hurt liked hell, but they understood. It was time to grow up, give up childish things.
They drifted apart, living over a thousand miles away from each other, because it was easier than keeping the feelings fresh. If they let themselves miss each other, it would hurt too much and it would be hard to live these adult lives they were living.
Eight years had gone by without significant contact. Each was married. Sue had a precious two-year-old daughter and a failing marriage she didn't want to admit to. Mare was stuck in Pennsylvania living with her husband and his parents. Each privately wrote sad poetry they shared with no one.
On December 8, 1980, John Lennon was murdered. Mare heard it first and grabbed the phone, desperate to reach Sue. After a couple of calls she got Sue's work number.
Sue was working as a nurse on the evening shift at an adolescent in-patient psychiatric center. The kids were in bed. It was quiet. Time to chart and look forward to going home. The phone rang. Mare was crying, John Lennon was dead.
Sue called Mare back once she got home and they talked all night long. Pouring out their grief, their rage, the truth about their lives. Mare came to New Mexico to visit. They were writing again, long letters with add-on stories to pass back and forth across the country. They visited each other two or three times a year and ran up huge phone bills. They cursed each postage increase, stuffing ten or twenty page letters with their stories into envelopes. Mare fell in love with New Mexico and vowed to live there someday.
Sue got the courage up to leave her husband. Life was too short to live a lie, John's untimely death had awakened her to that. She was a single mom, poor but happy. She found love again, the lifelong kind and remarried in 1986. Mare was struggling with her own marriage but not ready to leave it yet.
Mare and her husband move to Albuquerque. Sue and Mare sat in her new living room. Thirty-five years old, marveling at the power of their friendship. Now that they were finally, after seventeen years, living in the same town again, they would do something together, something big. They tossed around ideas. It would be fun to run a funky junk and antique store together but no start up cash. Writing was free. They would write a novel.
Fourteen years, three novels, a screenplay, successes, failures, deaths, divorces, and weddings later, they are finally publishing a novel, Sunlight and Shadow , a book about friendship and hope.
Each has a husband that she is crazy about. And the husbands are also friends. Sue's daughter is beautiful and smart and all grown up. Mare has goats, chickens, dogs, ducks and cats. And they have each other, forty years later. And yet, it feels like just the beginning.
Life is sweet. Dreams do come true, if you work hard enough and never give up. Magic happens in the alchemy of collaboration. Taking the best each has to offer and combining it to make something neither could have created alone.
Friendship doesn't seem like a big enough word for all that Mare and Sue have shared and will share. There is still so much to talk about. So much to say. One lifetime just won't be enough.
When we first wrote Sunlight and Shadow, we had no idea it would be followed by A Growing Season. And then, after those two were out in the world, along came the idea for Long Night Moon, and we realized it would complete the arc that began with Sunlight and Shadow. It ended up taking three novels to tell the story of these two fine families determined to overcome adversity and thrive in rural New Mexico on the banks of the Rio Grande.
Our latest novel from UNM Press, Hungry Shoes, was born from our decades of work with abused and neglected children and adolescents. Both of us had the good fortune to work at an inpatient psychiatric center that was conceived as having at its core principle, milieu therapy, meaning that the environment itself afforded the opportunity for therapeutic intervention 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to compliment the individual and family sessions with their therapists. A structured milieu that rewarded positive behavioral choices with the empowerment and support to make those choices while learning conflict resolution, anger management, appropriate expression of feelings, personal responsibility, repairing self-esteem, and developing increased empathy for others. We saw it as a toolbox for kids to take with them after their stay, that obviously took time to internalize. In those early years, we had the luxury of time without insurance companies or ability to pay dictating length of stay, due to our own line item funding from the state legislature.
That investment of time is what allowed kids to grow to trust adults again, learn new ways of expressing themselves, begin to heal some of the past pain, and discover the power of believing they deserve to have better lives along with the necessary tools to build those better lives. It took a village of onsite muti-disciplinary team members—art and music therapists, speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, recreational therapists, special education teachers and assistants, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists—all of whom worked closely together to design individual treatment plans within the overall milieu program. It also required intensive work with each child’s family so that the home milieu could support their continued positive growth after discharge.
Obviously, this is a subject we are passionate about. When we decided to use fiction to present these issues, Hungry Shoes began to evolve. First as a screenplay that garnered some awards in national competitions and then as a novel that has evolved over time to become the version now published. We set Maddie and Grace’s hospitalization in 2002 for purposes that support the story but represent the milieu as we experienced it in the early 1980s through the late 1990s, what we consider to be the heyday of milieu therapy. We hope Hungry Shoes inspires conversations about how best to help our young people with their mental health challenges, while entertaining readers with a compelling and ultimately hopeful novel.
When sharing our own unique story of becoming best friends and writing collaborators at age ten after becoming creatively awakened by the explosion of Beatlemania in the mid-1960s, the most common response has been, “You should write that story!”
Since we are fiction writers and not memoirists, we took the essence of our life-changing connection at the dawn of Beatlemania and completely transformed it. In And Your Bird Can Sing, Maxwell Murphy and the girl next door, Sadie Elliott, are thrown together because their parents are best friends. Along with the rest of the nation (73,000,000) on February 9, 1964, they watch the Beatles’ first performance on Ed Sullivan and are transformed.
In the opening scenes, their friendship quickly evolves into self-described soulmates and then as powerful first loves. After a family tragedy, Sadie’s mom abruptly takes Sadie from Iowa to New York City to recover with mom’s family. Due to a broken promise and a hidden agenda, they are not only physically separated by over 1,000 miles, but they are also now traumatized and estranged.
We then follow their separate attempts to navigate adulthood, despite their persistent love and longing for one another. After Max and Sadie learn some hard-won wisdom along the way, in 1994, at age forty, fate deems them finally ready to meet again. Spanning thirty years from the opening scene in 1964, And Your Bird Can Sing is a sweeping love story set to Beatle music as it follows Max and Sadie’s tumultuous journey back to an astonishing second chance.
It was tremendous fun to write and we’re eager to share it with the world!