I keep thinking of What’s Left as “my latest novel” or “my newest,” even though other works are appearing after its publication.
I don’t mean to be creating confusion, but here’s my take.
One way or another, my earlier novels addressed the hippie era, which I still believe remains misunderstood and misrepresented. It’s too important for that. And, yes, it’s still hard to define.
What’s Left started out to put those stories in a broader perspective but, revision by revision, the book moved in a much different direction. Quite simply, Cassia and her generation took over.
It became the most difficult writing project I’ve ever undertaken and forced me to completely rethink my approach to fiction. Remember, my career was in “just the facts, ma’am,” journalism topped by Beat-era literature.
Unlike the earlier works, in drafting this one, I had a structural model I wanted to pursue – one that remained intact.
What I hadn’t anticipated was how much the focus would shift.
Many of my favorite parts were created in the final revisions, especially as other members of her generation became fully fleshed out characters, as did the Goth side of her mourning through her adolescent years.
That also meant ripping out a lot of other material, which either became background for my own understanding or was vastly condensed by the final version. The Red Barn’s been quoting heavily from those discards, just to add to your own understanding of the project’s scope.
Unanticipated? The paranormal fourteenth chapter is one of my favorites, even though I’d never done a ghost story before. By they way, they wrote it, not me. I simply recorded the dialogue.
I thought I was done. But then Cassia kept nagging at me. The backstory in the Hippie Trails series demanded clarification, restructuring, and refocus. Thanks to What’s Left, I had a clearer understanding of Cassia’s father and his side of the family. It was no longer about the hippie era, but one in particular.
I started with Daffodil Sunrise, renaming most of the characters, adding a few more, distributing their attributes more widely, and crucially admitting a more sinister side of the experience along with the rising political protests. Add to that a dash of paranormal and fantasy, already opened up in What’s Left, while slashing up to a half of the earlier material, and the revised work now stands as Daffodil Uprising. We also gain a much clearer concept of her father, now known simply as Kenzie, as he struggles to become a celebrated photographer.
I now see it as my Sixties novel.
The two works that followed in the chronological trail – Hippie Drum and Hippie Love – soon demanded similar attention. Fusing them into a single volume required significant cutting, aligning the two parallel tales into present tense, and (once more) renaming many of the characters. What emerged is the character-driven Pit-a-Pat High Jinks, filled with Kenzie’s housemates, friends, coworkers, and (drum roll, please) lovers. I consider it my back-to-the-earth Seventies novel.
That left Subway Hitchhikers, my first published novel. It no longer needed to be a quick preview of the others while presenting its own big-city adventures, Instead, it could now focus entirely on New York City. Again, extensive cuts took place, countered by major additions. In better definining Kenzie’s working life in Pit-a-Pat High Jinks, I turned to a schedule I’d had a one newspaper, where we each had a three-day weekend every third or fourth week (my memory is fuzzy). Applying that to his job, he could now head off to the Big Apple monthly, which would now link his life in the foothills to the north to his adventures in the metropolis. My underground rails novel now pivots around Kenzie’s evolving Buddhist identity and his visits to his Tibetan guru in the Lower East Side, abetted by fellow students who are now fully developed as colorful figures in their own right. The resulting Subway Visions points him toward his future and his daughter-to-be Cassia.
Hippie Trails itself got left in the dust. The revised cycle now stands as Freakin’ Free Spirits to reflect bohemian currents now as well as generations through the past.
It took a lot of time and sweat and waking in the wee hours to capture my racing mind, but I’m thrilled it’s all now coherently in place. One of the advantages of ebooks is, in fact, that such changes are not an impossibility. The older works are now newer, but to me, they remain under Cassia’s spell in What’s Left ther than the other way around.
Please take a look and tell me what you think. They’re all at Smashwords, and What’s Left is offered free. I know it would make Cassia happy.
Don’t forget: You better be good to toads!