Do we all work differently, at least when it comes to something like writing? Maybe those of you who have been to week-long writing workshops or taken seminars can better answer that, but I am amazed to hear of women who have created wonderful works in short takes between changing diapers and preparing dinner and doing the laundry. Me? I need chunks of time, and that included those years when I was working in a newsroom for a living.
My hippie novels were originally one very long work, as was my Pacific Northwest series. For practical reasons, I cut them apart, and in doing so, they lost their continuity.
Rather than being the ending to the hippie run, Subway Hitchhikers wound up appearing first – in print, at that. In the novella’s distillation for publication, some of the backstory needed to be inserted. By the time the opportunity finally came to issue the earlier parts as ebooks, those manuscripts had been reworked into independent stories, or so I thought.
With the books before the public at last, I thought I could move on.
Given the distance of a few more years, though, unfinished business nagged at me, prompting me to begin work on the volume that grew into What’s Left. Frankly, it was the most difficult writing project of my life. Just what had happened to the hippies, anyway? And why should anyone care?
Unlike my earlier writing sprees, my attention was no longer diverted by employment elsewhere. In having more time to ponder the characters and implications, my focus shifted in stages from the action itself and more into feelings. Lately I’ve become aware of how much that in itself differentiates journalism from fiction. This was a huge step from my career as a newspaper editor, no matter how much I had been looking to literature as a means of personally overcoming the limitations of communicating in the lowest common denominator – I had always wanted a bigger, more expressive vocabulary, for one thing, as well as longer sentences for variety and sweep. There were many times I longed for something other than “said” as attribution for quotations. People do shout, after all, or whisper or hiss or sigh, but that all injects the reporter’s interpretation into the account. Remember that objectivity goal? Just how objective can a novelist be, in contrast?
So much for my professional training or my literary ambitions.
Revision by revision, the focus of my new novel shifted away from what Cassia hoped to recover of her father and on to his reasons for joining in her mother’s extended family – especially the clues she gleaned from his amassed photography – and from there to his legacy and her role in preserving it. And then she started talking in her own voice and taking over. The book quite simply became about her discovering herself and her mission as she recovered from her profound personal loss at age eleven. It was no longer about the hippie era at all but rather her own times.
Slowly, once What’s Left came into its final form, I realized that with a few tweaks the earlier novels could now been seen as what Cassia was hoping to discover about her father.
Well, things like changing verb tenses throughout, in some cases … time consuming at the least. And then there was the matter of changing characters names and so on.
The final nudge to undertake this came from a desire to better define Cassia’s father as a photographer. And from there, to weave some darker elements of the hippie movement into the story.
To some extent, that would mean a hint at the bombings by the Weathermen underground, the deranged celebrity murders committed by the Manson family, or the mass suicides at the Jonestown commune – in addition to the drug burnouts, fatal overdoses, and busts. Without getting actually historical, too. You know, too many details.
Being reminded of an Indiana University link to the notorious Symbionese Liberation Army furthered this line of thinking. The SLA’s trail of murder and kidnapping took off once Bill and Emily Harris arrived in Berkeley, California, from Bloomington in 1973.
In other words, they could have been in Daffodil the same time Cassia’s father, now known as Kenzie, was.
It became obsessive, tedious, and leaving me little time for other writing or reading or even household tasks, but the entire series has been thoroughly revised and, I truly hope, made new and improved to better fit together.
By the way, I’m still blaming Cassia. She’s quite a character, after all.