O.C. Author Baron B. Birtcher Reflects on Our County’s Past

Author Baron R. Birtcher, who was born and raised in O.C., used 1970s San Juan Capistrano as inspiration for his new novel, “South California Purples.”

What was the county like then?
Someone once told me that there were fewer than a thousand people in the whole Capistrano Valley when I was growing up. There were no tract houses; it was mostly agricultural. Irvine was still a ranch. You could smell the orange blossoms every season, just driving down the freeway. I remember watching the freeway get built.

What surprised you most about going back to the era?
As I was doing the research, I thought, good heavens, this is just like now. The political turmoil was similar. There was a lot of public mistrust of government in general, the population was tired of the Vietnam War, and I think our population is tired of war in general. There was a lot of student unrest primarily because of the war in Vietnam, and I think there’s a lot of generational unrest now that is probably rooted more economically and socially.

Do you have a writing ritual?
I like to immerse myself in the music of the time that I’m writing about. I try to find songs that evoke the mood of an era. I create a little soundtrack to listen to while I’m in the process of writing. For this, I was listening to a lot of ’70s music, obviously. The title of the book itself is a Chicago song. I liked the sound of the music, and it’s a kind of a late ’60s protest song. To me, that’s how the book should feel.

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