Thanks to sassy Cassia in my novel What’s Left, I’ve thoroughly reworked my earlier books, deepening and renaming characters while adding more or nixing others, sharpening their tales and tension, and changing their titles and covers. I’m now comprehending their world more sharply as Cassia comments (sarcastically, for the most part) beside me.
Check out what happens. You can look up my author page at Amazon, the Apple Store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, Scribd, Smashwords, Sony’s Kobo, and other fine ebook retailers. You can also ask your public library to obtain them.
Here’s to your adventurous and pleasurable reading. And then, please weigh in on your reactions.
Freakin’ Free Spirits
At their heart stands acerbic Cassia as she attempts to reclaim all she can of her father after his disappearance in an avalanche in the Himalayas when she’s only 11. Her long process of recovery from deep personal loss eventually leads her to seeing herself and her world through his eyes, too. And then there’s all that she learns about his turbulent and sometimes reckless past before she had even come into the picture.
What’s Left traces Cassia’s struggle from age 11 into her mid-30s as she sees the wider impact of her mother’s extended Greek-American family and its landmark restaurant. No wonder her father was drawn into its orb.
More importantly, through her search she bit by bit uncovers her own destiny in her family’s survival and her personal fulfillment. Her brothers and close cousins turn out to be much more crucial and vital partners than she’s thought.
I think of it as my Here-and-Now novel.
Daffodil Uprising springs from her father’s decision to attend college in Cassia’s hometown. Not that she’s anywhere in the picture quite yet. He’s a talented young hotshot photographer who settles into an unconventional dormitory as the hippie movement gains momentum in the 1960s. Welcome to protests, the Pill, and pot as well as the mounting struggles of the Revolution of Peace & Love when they collide in rural Indiana.
Yes, it’s my Sixties novel, liberated from the usual stereotypes. It’s not like anyone signed a membership card.
Pit-a-Pat High Jinks continues with his heading for the hills after graduation. Brokenhearted after his first lover deserts him, he settles in with a band renting a dilapidated farm in the foothills somewhere north of Gotham. In the full flowering of the hippie outburst of the early Seventies, he’s surrounded by colorful free spirits and a sequence of cool chicks, each adding to his understanding and appreciation of life in spite of himself.
A gentle nudge from a guardian angel gets him hooked on Tibetan Buddhism, and more than prayer wheels start spinning him in the right direction.
Consider it my back-to-the-earth bohemian novel.
While living on the farm in the hills, his brutal work schedule in the town down in the valley does allow him a three-day weekend once a month. He uses the opportunity for jaunts into Gotham, where he’s soon studying with a Tibetan lama based in the Lower East Side. His adventures in the Big Apple are an eye-opening urban parallel to his rural life to the north, but they take on an increasingly surreal tone on each visit. Welcome to Subway Visions and his ultimate hitchhiking trip … the one that leads directly to Cassia’s future.
It’s my Urban underground fantasy, too.
Can one person change the world? Really change it, for the better? Jaya distinctively has an impact on others.
She’s beautiful, brilliant, and ambitious with a contrarian streak. But when she meets Sri Swami Subramunya, she quits Manhattan and packs off to his center in the sticks. She wants to learn everything she can about spirituality.
Yoga Bootcamp tells of the maverick ashram where she’s one of eight resident staffers. It’s a marginal farm that welcomes guests for retreats and workshops, but its methods are highly unorthodox. Mixing cement or bread dough are as important as learning to stand on your head. No wonder they often refer to their swami as Elvis or Big Pumpkin. And no wonder Jaya emerges as his star disciple.
Despite their intense daily training, though, many of the students and guests quickly appreciate that there’s no other place on earth quite like it … and no other place they’d rather be.
As novelist Diana DeVillers said in her 5-star review at Smashwords: “What a delight it was to read this story about a young group of people under the charm of Big Pumpkin’s ashram in the ‘70s. You got the bird’s-eye view of how it was to live in one of these communal gatherings. Where they learned how the path to sacred learning was to peel potatoes or clean toilets or any manual labor, of which they did all. I learned about controlling your breath, how good actions lead to further good, and bad leads to even more evil. To see all the faults a person has, then learning to love that person even more. That the world is a vibration. That if you build up enough good Karma you won’t have to come back. I learned about the chakra and its many levels and through meditation the world opens itself to you, degree by degree.
“I enjoyed Jnana’s book and am now reading ‘Nearly Canaan’ and next will be ‘The Secret life of Jaya.’ A strong sense of all things holy, these books bring enlightenment to all who enter his world.”
Eventually, however, the time comes for each resident to move on, and Jaya is no exception. She’ll still be a yogi, that hasn’t changed, but it is necessary for her to tackle the next stage of her karma all on her own. Except, of course, there are complications.
Nearly Canaan picks up with her leap to Prairie Depot to revive her career and teach yoga exercises on the side. But her best plans take a turn when she’s pursued by a hot teenage waiter at the corner cafe. Can she handle him?
They both dream of living in the Pacific Northwest, with its pristine mountains and lush forests and restless ocean shoreline — unlike the flat farmlands around them in his native heartland. The idea of a Promised Land takes shape. What would happen if they could wake up there? Do they really share a karma? How else would they ever find out?
Except, of course, there are some bumps in the road. Some really big bumps.
As Diane DeVillers says in her review at Smashwords, “A big unexpected event occurs and changes the direction of the book, but soon I was able to make the shift and was captivated until the end. The counterculture, bohemian movement during the ’70s and ’80s allowed men and women to expand their gender roles, and their relationships were based on unity and love. ‘Nearly Canaan’ follows three marriages and their counterculture lifestyles during the time when the world was changing. The growth of the characters moved me.” She also notes, “The explosion of Mount Saint Helen’s was something I often wondered about, having occurred way before I came to Oregon,” and adds, “There is no place as beautiful as the Pacific Northwest, and it supplies the most carbon-healing atmosphere, like none other in the United States. I really enjoyed Jnana’s talent in describing the natural rainforests. The part when they visit Mount Rainier is my favorite.”
The Secret Side of Jaya discloses the private worlds she enters after leaving the ashram. In the first, a small railroad crossing in the middle of nowhere becomes a haven for breakthrough translators, far-out painters, ethereal poets, and revolutionary dance artists across history and geography.
In the second, she’s nurtured by a timeless grist miller in a wooded hollow just over the horizon from home. Amazing stone-ground cornmeal, anyone?
And the third goes wandering with ancient Kokopelli and his musical piping through the interior Northwest while he’s in flight from his natural environment.
Things aren’t always quite what you’d predict.
From the industrial heartland
Hometown News leaps into the newspaper world I inhabited for most of my professional career. In its newly revised edition, the novel can be seen as reports from Trump country — from one of the small industrial cities that have been crushed by multinational capitalism.
It’s my report from the troubled heartland.
Veteran journalists Patrick and Kathy Schwar call this a “tour of our times and reminders of the weird, wonderful, and talented people we were lucky to encounter in newsrooms across the country,” as well as “a fine book on the collapse of journalism as we think we knew it. It is a real rollercoaster ride of memories we had of shoveling out the kind of information that is absent or being rejected today. [The story] certainly forces us to recognize what terrible gaps are torn open in a society drawing information from manipulated social media.”
As author Nancy Crowe says, this novel “captures the small Midwestern newspaper experience so well it’s a little scary.”
What others have said about the earlier versions
Reader Aggie Snyder-Cousino wrote: “Just wanted you to know that I read and enjoyed Hippie Drum very, very much. I read it over the past weekend on my Nook and I could not put it down! Thank you … It was eloquently and beautifully written. I enjoyed reading about DL and his quest for love and peace. More hippie stories please!”
An anonymous reader posted at the Barnes & Noble site: “A surprisingly well written novel about one hippie boy’s quest for love while living on a farm with a bunch of colorful, like minded individuals. Told with eloquence and warmth, DL struggles with finding new love as he tries to recover from a broken heart. All the while he is working as a newspaper photographer and hanging with his friends at Ranchos Huevos. … A sweet, nostalgic tale about growing up and finding spirituality while living in troubled times. Hippies or any peace loving dude or dudette should read this.”
Author Penelope Merrill noted at the Smashwords site: “Hodson explores the period of young adulthood to which all of us can draw parallels: the search for someone and the search for meaning. The group at the farm stumbles along, acting and reacting to each other. An enjoyable book by an independent author most likely to be found on a site like Smashwords. I appreciate the author’s offering of a free book. I will be getting another.”
Andy of the blog Law School Is So Over relayed: “Just a note to let you know I’m really enjoying the book. I should be doing other things, but I find myself reaching for it too often! I think you’ve captured the sense of time and feeling well (those came slightly before my time, but persisted in my own network). When I was a kid, I read Divine Right’s Trip in the Whole Earth Catalog, and I hear bits of it echoing through your writing as well. As I said, good reading. It also reminds me of Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me.”
As Lauryn E. Nosek, at Nightmares, Daydreams, and Imagined Conversations, said, the novel “examines one man’s journey to define ‘hippie,’ to find love and community and maybe even himself in those first few difficult years after college. Self-reflective and insightful, the novel feels more like a memoir. … Everything in the novel has an ephemeral feel to it. But that is largely the point. Our experiences and the people we share them with, even who we are or who we feel we are at any given moment are transitory and can never be recaptured. … The characters prove at times to be as elusive for the reader as they are for DL. Like the portraits he infrequently snaps with his camera, the images are there but the fuller sense of self is elusive (often, as DL discovers repeatedly, even to themselves). The parade of near misses with women of drastically different personalities shows how lost DL is in his search, but also the interesting things one discovers while looking for something specific. … The novel’s pacing and rhythm can take some getting used to … a style that is quietly engaging and unavoidably distinctive. Subdued and laid back, imperfect but not trying to be, Jnana Hodson’s Hippie Drum embodies the recurring sentiment of ‘be cool.’”
For the Periodical Gazette, this is “a fantastic ride … fast paced … like reading the script of a television soap opera.”
And the Parasite Guy “liked reading about the commune.”
“From the myriad of novels that have appeared on the bookshelves in shops and stores across the country in recent years, none is more original — more daring — than Subway Hitchhikers,” wrote Jack Barnes, book critic of the New Hampshire Sunday News and the Maine Sunday Telegram. He continued by hailing its “smoothly polished poetical prose that fits together like … semi-cubistic paintings” and called it “a work which merits being read more than once to be fully savored.”
“Drawing upon the social upheaval of the late 1960s and early ’70s, Subway Hitchhikers takes the underground in all of its forms as its theme, whirling in a Mixmaster of ideas, images, jokes, nonsense, and philosophy in its central characters’ quest for meaningful community,” publisher John Leonard wrote.
“This lively and inventive novel recaptures an interesting era of American culture,” novelist Rob Swigart observed. “Subway Hitchhikers is a delight to read.”
As a footnote
It’s been a long time since I first drafted Subway Hitchhikers in the apartment shown below. I had just left my own yoga ashram and was editing a small-town daily newspaper in my native Ohio.