For MSU alumnus Bob Calverley, it took roughly five years to write his debut novel, “Purple Sunshine.” But in actuality, the work of fiction was developed based on a lifetime worth of experience.
Calverley finished his undergraduate in 1967, a period known for the Vietnam War, free love, psychedelic rock and drugs. All of these themes are prevalent in “Purple Sunshine,” which follows band leader Jimmy “Purple” Hayes.
In the novel, Hayes is living the high life before he’s drafted for the Vietnam War. Meanwhile, his girlfriend, Gloria, is on the run for her knowledge of who killed two policemen during a Detroit urban riot. Jimmy also knows of the murderer and is unable to help Gloria because of to his role of fixing helicopters during the war.
Calverley said “Purple Sunshine” started as a Vietnam War story, and evolved because he wanted to add to the formula.
“I wanted to do a little more than that,” Calverley said. “It’s a Vietnam story, it’s a love story, it’s a thriller. It’s got a crime story interwoven with it.”
Fittingly, the sub-title for the book is, “Sex & drugs, rock & roll, war, peace & love.” Similarly to Jimmy, Calverley was drafted into the war soon after graduating MSU. He said readjusting to normal life after serving in the military is an experience often misunderstood by the public.
“Everything that was right the day before is now wrong, and it’s a huge difference,” he said. “It’s a difficult thing for people to grasp.”
Ray Walsh, MSU alumnus and owner of Curious Book Shop, said there were a lot of challenges in the ‘60s.
“We all had a lot of hopes and dreams back then, as far as peace, brotherhood and free love,” Walsh said. “Doesn’t seem like any of those have turned into reality.”
After leaving Vietnam, Calverley returned to MSU to pursue a master’s degree. However, he never completed his graduate studies after he was exhausted of his college funds. He later worked as a journalist for the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and the Detroit Free Press.
Calverley said several key events in “Purple Sunshine” take place in Michigan, including on MSU’s campus. The steam tunnels under campus make an appearance.
“I had a friend who was an avid explorer of the steam tunnels that go under Michigan State,” he said. “He told me there were a number of students who were exploring the tunnels. He was a geography major, so he was really interested in exploring the tunnels.”
Although some of the subject matter in “Purple Sunshine” is heavy, Calverley’s No. 1 goal is to entertain.
“I want to write something that people enjoy reading,” Calverley said. “Maybe there’s some tough things in the book, and I didn’t back away from that.”
Interdisciplinary studies senior Allyson Varley said it’s great to see an MSU alumnus publish a book.
“We’re such a big university, and we have such recognition around the world that finding someone that can have success outside of the university is always a great accomplishment,” Varley said.