DAYS OF RAGE: America’s Radical Underground, the FBI and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence by Bryan Burrough (all rights to cover image with current holder) is an exhaustive look at the radical left from the birth of the Weathermen at the end of the 1960s through the Black Liberation Army, Symbionese Libertion Army, FALN (which I’d remembered as a 1960s group instead) and various other groups of lower profile, along with the FBI efforts to stop them. This is impressively detailed on crimes, techniques and personal lives of the players involved, and the FBI’s counter tactics, all of which makes it a useful companion to personal accounts such as Flying Close to the Sun by the Weather Underground’s Cathy Wilkerson (which does a better job going into the motivations that fueled the revolutionaries [while it’s been a while since I read her memoir, I don’t believe she’d agree with Burrough’s assessment that race, not the war, was what they were concerned about]). And it’s also useful for Southern Discomforts as my protagonist Maria Rogero is a former—well, not revolutionary, but bomb-throwing militant (her group didn’t want to overthrow the government, just stop the Vietnam War).
First off there’s lots of stuff about militants’ knowledge, skills and tactics that I can use to develop Maria’s skill set and outlook.
Second, there’s the history. I’ve been thinking about Veterans for Peace as an infamous militant group, but Burrough reminds me of just how many groups were blowing up bombs and shooting cops back then. It’s unlikely VFP would really attract much attention, which could of course, influence part of Maria’s backstory: not only didn’t they influence the war, but nobody even noticed them. Alternatively i can back date their bombing campaign (which carefully targeting buildings, not people, I should note) so that they started before the Weather Underground. That way the tactic is still new enough they could have achieved infamy.
Which way I go may be shaped by how Maria’s character shapes up. My original concept for Rogero (when the book was set in the present) was a guy similar to John Travolta in Get Shorty, tough, cool, smooth, and for hire. That early draft was way too fluffy, so in the next one he became darker, a war veteran, a little more dangerous. But dark, dangerous vets aren’t anything new, so I made him a woman, and then shifted the whole thing back to the 1970s. And decided Vietnam nurse turned anti-war activist turned radical was more interesting as a backstory than just a PTSDed veteran (no disrespect to PTSD sufferers intended).
The trouble is, I’d originally conceived of Maria as visiting Pharisee, Georgia at a low point in her life: angry, alone, frustrated, with a past that’s become a monkey on her back. She wouldn’t get redemption exactly, but she would find a new direction. In the current draft, I’m writing her much less angry and tormented, and the backstory is getting softer. But that leaves me without a sense of her personal arc. I think I’m starting to see a new direction (a different source of angst) but I’m not sure yet.
Unfortunately that’s not something Burrough can help with.