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  • Amy Q. Barker

Punk: What is Real and What is Not

Updated: Jan 26

Yep, that's my real grandmother: Vavavoom!


Isn't she spectacular? I think this photo was taken the same day as Punk's cover (on the Manitou Beach with Paul). I love her suit and shoes and sunglasses. And those legs--wow!


I've had several of you ask me what is real about Punk (and Rue) and what is not.


Disclaimer #1: Both novels are works of fiction. Period. I made up everything and wrote every word myself.


Disclaimer #2: There are some spoilers below, so please don’t read this blog until you have finished reading both books.


Okay, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let me decipher the truth from fiction:


Punk:

  • I was inspired to write Punk after reading my grandmother’s 1932 diary. My aunt loaned me the diary about 6 or 7 years ago and after reading it, I was fascinated and intrigued by it. I never forgot it.

  • Much like Didi’s diary, my grandmother’s diary ends abruptly with no explanation. Also like Didi, my grandmother spent the entire course of the diary talking about her love interest, Paul, who was not my grandfather.

  • The photo on the cover of Punk is my real grandmother, who grew up in Rochester working the “books” at McCurdy’s. Like Didi, she was feisty, smart, resourceful, and sociable.

  • My grandmother’s story is still a mystery to me. From the time when her diary ends until she marries my grandfather 5 years later, I have no idea what happened to her or to Paul.

  • The real Paul’s name is Paul Meyer or Paul Myer (not Paul Miller). He was born January 14th, 1914 and was from Sonestown, PA before he moved to Rochester. He had at least two brothers (Bunoso/Burrows and Clay). His father was dead by the time he moved and started working at the “stand” with his brothers and mother. Maybe Punk will shed some light on who he was and any other missing pieces.

  • Unlike Punk, I don't believe Paul died. I do believe that possibly my grandmother and Paul simply broke-up, but I have no evidence of this or anything else.

  • I have asked my dad and aunt about the “missing years” and they know no more than me. They are familiar with some of the names in the diary (the other friends and family), but they don’t know how these people fit into my grandmother’s story during the time before my grandfather. Update: See new blog post "Punk: News From the Great Beyond."

  • FYI—many of the activities and words used in Didi’s diary are directly out of my grandmother’s diary from 1932. So before you think Punk is littered with typos, know that every word and expression has been carefully researched and is not an error or by accident!

  • This includes: the movie theaters where she sees "shows," going bowling, playing ping-pong, attending a watermelon party, gargling with kerosene, riding the streetcar, participating in Young People's Meetings, etc. I have also included her fascinating word choices such as “on the morrow,” “washing my head,” “crapehanger,” and "hamburg roast." Also, check out this real photo of the Elmheart, where they held the dance marathon. For more Rochester nostalgia, here is a link that inspired me while I was writing Punk.

  • I was tasked with cleaning out the attic of my own family home when I was seventeen (not as punishment, but as a paid chore) by my mother and I found (and kept) many of the items I mention in Punk, including the cherry music stand, the yellow depression glass bowl, and the Kodak camera (all of which I will post to my social media accounts soon, so you can see what I still see in these innocuous items--that there is magic attached to them, as there is magic attached to my grandmother's diary).

Here is where the truth verges off into fiction:

  • There is no real D.D.

  • There was no incident, but I fear something like this for kids living in the digital age today and how quickly a rash decision can change a life (or many lives) indefinitely and irrevocably.

  • Delia and Heather are entirely made up. Although I would like to say (you may have already guessed) that Delia may or may not be born out of my own inner rebellious teenager (but I cannot confirm or deny this).

  • Grandpa Ron in Punk is not based on my real grandfather who was a wild, gregarious, funny man and not at all like Grandpa Ron.

  • Some aspects of Heather and Aunt Mary’s early lives were loosely based on my own mother’s unsettled and chaotic childhood, but for the most part, I have fictionalized this storyline in Punk.

  • I personally played soccer for 43 years, but I was (sadly) never as good as Delia.

  • Jake, McKenzie, Donna, Christine, Tanya and all of the other characters mentioned are not real.

One last note on my grandmother: She's been gone for thirty years now, but I really felt her presence with me as I wrote this novel. When I was young, I remember her being a kind, organized, caring grandmother. As I grew older, what I remember most (sadly, as with Didi) was her slowly falling prey to that devastating and insidious disease, Alzheimer's. It was like a long, agonizing goodbye that robbed her not only of her memory, but also of her dignity and in a way, the very essence of who she was. My tribute to her is this book, which brings her back to life, creating a new memory of her and for her, one where she is young and hopeful and her life is still filled with possibilities.


Rue:

  • I was inspired to write Rue after visiting San Francisco. My husband went to a work conference there every year for many years and I would take a week of vacation and tag along. While he was at class, I would go out exploring.

  • Over the years, I began to feel the heart of the city pulsing in my veins, to the point where I couldn’t get it out of my head. I had the map of every street, every restaurant, every shop, every bakery, every museum, every park trail, every thing memorized, and I couldn’t let it go. I felt like the city had become a part of me.

  • One year we stayed at the Scarlet Huntington. It had just been remodeled and I distinctly remember sitting on the balcony, overlooking the city, and a hummingbird came to land on a potted flower right next to my feet. I said to myself, this is the feeling I would like to capture in a story—this magical, mystical, authentic feeling of the city of San Francisco.

  • That same night, we were sipping drinks in the Big 4 lounge, and a piano player came in and entertained the guests. Lightning struck! Lounge singers had been part of America’s culture for years and yet, sadly, they were rather a dying breed, weren’t they? Wouldn’t it be amazing to capture this moment (a lounge singer enchanting a roomful of people in one of the most magical cities in the world) and memorialize that feeling for all time in a book?

  • Thus was born the idea for Rue.

  • I have personally spent time at all of the locations mentioned in Rue.

  • Everything else in Rue is taken directly out of my overactive imagination, including Rue and Josh and Kevin and Alyssa, and all of the other characters and their stories.

  • For more information on why Rue is blind, check out my other blog on the topic.

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