Stacy Wakefield: On Writing The Sunshine Crust Baking Factory
To celebrate the release of The Sunshine Crust Baking Factory, we’re pleased to feature a statement from author Stacy Wakefield on how her own firsthand experiences in with squatting shaped her novel.
In the 1990s I was young and angry and my comrades were road protesters in England, radical antifascists in Berlin, and tree-sitters in the Pacific Northwest. I grew up in Seattle in an eccentric literary family and always felt out of step with my peers. When I ended up at art school in Amsterdam and discovered squatting, I finally found a world where I felt that I belonged. Squatters were wild free-thinkers who took over abandoned buildings and turned them into homes and bars and community spaces. They rejected the materialism and isolation of modern society and embraced communal living and creativity. I helped lay out the anarchist paper, bartended at underground cafés, and participated in political actions and demonstrations. Squatters took care of each other like family. My passion for the people I met in this world—dedicated, smart, funny outlaws—inspired me to publish a book of interviews called Not for Rent in 1995.
I was able to move to New York in 1996 because the squatting community took the place of the money and family connections I didn’t have. I lived in squats in Brooklyn and Manhattan and started doing interviews for a second book. I wanted to go deeper into women’s backgrounds and make a book that immersed the reader like a novel. My friends were open about their experiences squatting and train-hopping, but I realized I wouldn’t be comfortable publishing the material. What made it fascinating was how personal it was, but that also made it too exposing for my friends. I set it aside.
Over the years the city changed and my life changed. Now I’m a responsible married homeowner with a career, but I remember my time throwing stones from the barricades fondly. It is rare to find a character in a contemporary novel who reminds me of my friends from that time, and whenever I do, they are inevitably a clown or villain. I wanted to find a way to make the radicals I knew and loved full characters instead of caricatures.
I went back to the interviews I transcribed in 1996 and found the tough-girl voices of my old friends leaping off the pages. They brought me back to that time when to live in New York City you had to be savvy and street smart. A character emerged; I named her Sid. I was fascinated by her adventures. I wanted to know what would happen to her living in abandoned buildings with a bunch of guys she barely knew, stealing electricity from a lamppost, negotiating with crazy housemates, trying to have friends, romances, a job, a creative outlet, and stay true to her ideals. Could I make her interesting and sympathetic to an audience that didn’t know or care about squatting? Could I show what she loved about this dangerous, challenging lifestyle and why she stuck with it?
I left the details of how squatted buildings in New York functioned and were evicted as factual as possible and fictionalized the characters’ personal lives. Every building I describe is a real place I know from memory. I loved getting re-immersed in this exhilarating, romantic period from New York’s recent past, and I hope readers do too.
Posted: May 26, 2015
Category: Akashic Insider | Tags: Please Take Me Off the Guest List, Akashic Insider, Brooklyn, New York, Writing, author statement, NYC, 1990s, Amsterdam, Netherlands, Stacy Wakefield, The Sunshine Crust Baking Factory, squatting, Williamsburg, Lower East Side, LES, Not for Rent
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