SOMETHING MORE COMPELLING

Looking at my new lineup at Smashwords, I felt one cover just didn’t match.

The first round of my editions there had covers that were an homage to Richard Brautigan’s classic books of the ’60s, each of which had a portrait of a pretty young woman.

As I looked at the cover image, though, it felt dated. Looking closer, I realized it also didn’t reflect the edginess of the contents. I wanted something more compelling than a woman in quiet reflection.

So here’s what we have now:

Blue Rock

Rather than this:

Blue Rock

Whaddya think? For more, go to Blue Rock.

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GIVE THE DAUGHTER HER DUE

My latest round of revising my fiction has felt somehow different from my previous encounters.

Well, I would include the round with What’s Left last fall, so maybe I can blame Cassia for my new experience. That novel, however, was always envisioned as a much less experimental work than my previous efforts.

The latest efforts have included deep cuts, including major sections I was quite fond of, and changing the tone. But these also meant creating page after page of new material, especially details to develop side characters more fully. Not just what they’re thinking, either, but rather what they’re feeling.

Much of my personal writing has functioned as an exercise to counter the dumbing-down editing required in the newspaper work that provided my income. You know, tone it down to what used to be seen as sixth-grade reading level.

Not just newspapers, either. I see too much pedestrian prose posing as literature and know language can have much more vitality and depth than that, thank you. Harry Potter, at least, has proven that many sixth-graders can read at much more advanced levels than they’re given credit for.

One thing, though. Five years after leaving the newsroom, I no longer feel that dumbing-down struggle as I write and revise, nor do I have to work my own writing into small blocks of time between everything else.

What I am surprised to see, though, is how much of the journalism influence was at work in the just-the-facts approach to my stories. I’ve seen much of my work – both poetry and fiction – as a kind of on-the-run graffiti, jazzlike, with an improvisatory tone and jagged edge. Daily journalism, for that matter, is typically done under deadline. Essentially, I saw the flow of clashing events as the core of the tale.

The biggest change in the recent revision has been the focus on the characters – and especially their feelings. Remember, in journalism, the only feelings would be through direct quotes. Anything else would be editorializing, not that you’d know in what passes for broadcast journalism on most American television stations these days.

Again, I’m going to credit my character Cassia for much of my shift. She’s having me examine that earlier work through her eyes as well as her voice.

In recasting her father’s backstory, for example, I’ve been continuing the present-tense emphasis as much as possible, with a more conversational tone than the conventional literary past-tense would carry. How would she feel about this or that development?

Oh, yes, one more thing. With her, it shouldn’t sound literary. She’s talking, remember?

The emotional element, though, has engulfed me. Engaging the characters on this level has consumed much of my time and thought, including my nights abed or my time on the treadmill or stationary bike during cardio therapy. It’s made for much slower going on my part as far as the revisions progressed. But it’s also led to a much more complete comprehension of the evolving story.

In the end, I’m hoping these move readers in ways the earlier ones didn’t.

WHEN THE DAUGHTER TAKES OVER

When I wrote the four novels that formed my Hippie Trails series, Cassia was nowhere in sight.

But now that she’s taken center stage in What’s Left, she’s changed my perspective on those earlier novels. Quite simply, I’ve revised them to bring them more into line with her story. Drastically revised them, in fact – deep cuts, offset by new material.

Quite simply, they’re now her discovery of her father and his era rather than mine. Having a character take over a book is rather eerie, actually, especially when she’s livelier and more interesting and more critical than I’d be. Moreover, she wasn’t even present in those earlier works – they’re all before her birth. Before she was even conceived, as it were.

That hasn’t stopped her from pushing for more extensive revisions than I had anticipated. Not only are the novels all retitled – and two are even compressed into one – but many of the characters are renamed, a few new figures are introduced, and hefty cuts are offset by rich new detail and restructured storylines.

So what we have now is Daffodil Uprising, Pit-a-Pat High Jinks, and Subway Visions. And the series they form with What’s Left is no longer Hippie Trails but Freakin’ Free Spirits.

Well, quite simply, my wife hates the word “hippie,” says too often these days it translates as “loser” or “lame,” and I wanted something that might fit bohemians over time … in this case from Cassia’s Greek great-grandparents right down to today.

By the way, I’m still blaming Cassia for my putting so much else aside in the past five months. She just wouldn’t shut up, and she can be quite bossy. Admittedly, though, I’m much happier with the novels as they’ve evolved and finally emerged. Let’s hope she is, too.

As for you and other readers? That’s the real question.

 

TWO TWEAKS IN THE DESIGN

As I moved from the Advance Reading Copy to the First Edition of my new novel, I decided to make two tweaks in the cover design.

The photo itself remains unchanged. It’s the typeface that altered.

When I lined the original cover up beside the covers for the related books in the cycle of Cassia’s discoveries, I realized it’s serif typeface was out of step with the sans serif on the other three volumes. As much as I love serifs (they have more character, for one thing), I also saw that a sans would have more punch on the thumbnail size used to display most ebooks. OK, so that changed.

Again, as I considered the four books together, I saw something else happening. The next book in line, Daffodil Uprising, features a prominent daffodil bloom in a bright yellow antique-style drawing. The contrast between its artwork and the photo on What’s Left works, I think, but the white title somehow felt out of step.

That’s when the thought flashed, “You idiot! It has to be yellow! Like the yolk! Like the daffodil, too!”

Here’s the progression. First, the ARC:

What’s Left

Then the sans serif:

And finally color:

What’s Left

So here you have it. Any reactions?

 

 

 

OH, THE FINALS WEEK ORGY

Among the gifts I received at Christmas was a tablet laptop, with the expectation I’d be using especially for Kindle editions – including my own ebooks.

But so far what I’ve really appreciated is its ability to stream music.

For me, that’s meant Q2’s New Sounds and Operavore from WQXR in New York and WHRB from Harvard University in Cambridge.

With solid jazz from 5 a.m. till 1 p.m. and some adventurous classical continuing till 10 p.m., plus the Metropolitan Opera on Saturday afternoons and another opera on Sunday night, my listening is mostly on the Harvard station. Admittedly, the student announcers can be unintentionally amusing in their pronunciations and amateurish touches, but I usually find that more amusing than annoying.

This spring, though, I finally got to experience an amazing tradition on the station – the finals week Orgy, when the regular programming is set aside for in-depth presentations of specific composers or performers.

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PRELUDE & FUGUE 28/

an elephant with flowers painted around the eyes and painted toenails four zebras sipping water *   *   * luxurious green tent on safari white bone ornaments through noses armed for the hunt and cocktails already served three African bushmen in a field of wrinkled flesh eyelid (the elephant) the rain is needed, sticky or no […]

THE SILENCE IN BEETHOVEN

When it comes to the fine arts, we love our biographies of tortured genius, and Ludwig van Beethoven serves the storytellers admirably. Baptized December 17, 1770, in Bonn, his tempestuous and tragic life was one of failed love affairs, strained friendships, and especially the deafness that accompanied his greatest musical achievements. And yet many of us find him not only speaking for us but also extending inspiration in the quest for fullness and fidelity.

In part it’s a story of the way Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven reestablish the center of classical music, centering it in the German-speaking world far from its Italian roots and the Renaissance genius of Monteverdi and Palestrina.

As I discussed earlier this year, Beethoven’s popularity rests largely on works that he wrote in the second half of his life, past the age of Mozart’s death, the years that encompass what are known as his Middle (or Heroic) and Late periods. The years accompanied by deafness.

For much of my life, I’ve not been alone in finding that what most appealed to me were the works from the Middle period – the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Ninth symphonies, the violin and “Emperor” piano concertos, the Rasumovsky string quartets – stirring works raging with dramatic struggle and promised victory. With all of their emotional parallels to athletic contests, these have justifiably ensured his enduring public adoration.

More recently, though, they’ve given way in my estimation as the Late period works have risen in preference. Quite simply, these have never been considered all that accessible. Many of them defiantly turn their back on the audience in a pursuit of boldly intricate, often extended, musical puzzles that plumb the depths of human despair, loneliness, resolve, as well as lofty heights. Indeed, for years the assumption has been that these are not for public consumption but are rather reserved for private investigation among the cognoscenti, should they be so honored.

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