I’VE COME TO ENVY HER OUTSPOKENNESS

As Cassia took on her own voice in the later revisions of What’s Left, she seemed to be dictating her lines, leaving me with the task of taking dictation. There were many times I could barely keep up.

It was a weird sensation. Wasn’t I supposed to be in charge here? It was like I was channeling her from somewhere in the spirit world.

Weirder yet was my envy for her ability to speak as openly and directly as she does. As caustically, too.

Well, she does bear a resemblance to an older woman I know of in the next town, one fondly called simply as Auntie with an outrageous fearlessness in speaking that way.

In contrast, here I am usually censoring myself or at least editing my utterances.

Of course, I also envy Cassia her close-knit family with its well-defined purpose and supportive network. Her Squad, especially, and the way it, too, evolved in the revisions.

And I am grateful for the ways she’s helped me recast the earlier novels leading up to her appearance. That, too, has felt weird, having her sit beside me, in effect, while we thoroughly reworked them. She trashed a lot of material, I’ll admit, and then added a lot more new stuff of her own.

This time, I was all ears.

Authors are advised to know their readers – their target audience – but this takes it one step further.

Any of you have a similar experience?

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I GOT BLOWN AWAY, FOR A WIDER ADVENTURE

My plan for this year has gone far off course. How about yours?

No, I’m not talking about New Year’s resolutions. I gave up on those decades ago. I’m talking about real business.

My goal had been to spend much of my time pushing the visibility of my new novel, What’s Left, first as an Advanced Reading Copy (available for free) and then as the First Edition.

Days after posting the ARC, though, I was sidelined by a cardiac event. That led to down time during recovery and rounds of testing and seeing doctors, plus getting adjusted to the new meds and undergoing nearly three months of cardio-rehab exercises three days a week at the local hospital.

Oh, yes, let’s not overlook the Healthy Heart diet, a kind of perpetual Lent. My favorite fallback foods – cheese, eggs, and butter – are now essentially off-limits, except as stealth ingredients. (I’ll admit looking at that egg yolk in the book cover photo with a degree of longing. The whites just don’t carry any rich flavor. I really miss my cheese omelets.) Let’s say still trying to find a way to eat sufficiently is proving elusive.

I was already intending to do a light reworking of the four novels that formed the back story for What’s Left, but a Christmas-present biography of Richard Avedon fed into a sense that I needed to have a clearer sense of Cassia’s father as a photographer in those volumes. Even though I’d worked with some of the best photojournalists in the business, newspaper work is only one corner of the larger photography field.

As I set about what I thought would be a simple retouching of those works, Cassia, the central figure in What’s Left, took over. Quite simply, she had me examining the earlier works through her critical eyes and sarcastic perspectives. She can be bossy, and she insisted on major revisions that required far more hours than I’d expected. She really wanted them updated, and I’ve tried to comply.

As I began recasting him in line with her dictates, I had that sensation of pulling a loose thread or opening Pandora’s box or that notorious can of worms. The changes at hand required major surgery to form a better fit with the newest book.

I promise to relate just what happened in future posts, but the labor did plunge me into something resembling seclusion.

On top of that, though, some early reactions to the ARC led to another reworking of the new novel to make it easier to read. Sentences got shortened, contrary to my own love of long lines, and as much as I liked not having any quotation marks in the story, I yielded and inserted some for greater clarity. Again, time-consuming but hopefully worthwhile in the end.

Then it was back to drastically slashing and reworking the remaining earlier tales. In the end, the pruning led to substantial new growth. Can I confess to being very proud of the results? They’re much different and more substantial now.

And then, at this point, I briefly thought I was finally back on my intended track. I was wrong.

Temptation led me to pick up the draft of one secretive unpublished novel, and it nagged at me. Based on one of Cassia’s future father’s troubled girlfriends who appears in one of those older novels, it dealt with issues I need to understand more fully. That, in turn, prompted two months of obsessive work that still demands extensive tweaking, even if I never show the manuscript to anyone else. Let’s just say it’s personal, even embarrassing. For now, I’m hoping to put it aside so I can get down to where I wanted to be in February. Maybe now I can get back on mission?

Anyone else feeling way behind schedule?

I’d still like to hear how others manage their time. Any tips?

TEN THINGS I LIKE ABOUT SEPTEMBER

  1. The air turns crystalline. I love the clear blue sky.
  2. Dover Greek Festival. Every Labor Day weekend, fun dancing to a live band and singer. Don’t overlook the food, either. Anyone else know the meaning of kefi?
  3. Kids are back in school. Freedom’s in the air!
  4. Ditto for the crush of tourists. Mostly couples now.
  5. Some of the best days for swimming in the ocean happen this month, if a hurricane doesn’t blast all the warm water away.
  6. The equinox Riversing. It’s a mostly folk-based concert beside the Charles flowing past Boston. Join us if you can. We’re on the Cambridge side of the footbridge.
  7. Anniversary. My wife always gets the date wrong.
  8. Great time to hit the mountains. Not too hot, not too cold, not too crowded.
  9. Wild asters – big asters, too – grace the yard.
  10. More apple picking. We go for the drops on the ground. They’re half-price.

~*~

What do you like about September?

~*~

It’s a great time to get out in the countryside.

 

KEEPING THE COMPANY IN CHECK

Across New England, the spire on city hall typically had prominent clock. Its purpose, I’m told, wasn’t just civic pride.

No, it was to keep the mill owners in check, just in case they were tinkering with their own clocks to squeeze unpaid time out of their workers.

It’s comforting to know the town fathers could stand up to corporate powers. Most of the owners, by the way, lived far from these sources of their wealth. Many of them were Boston Brahmins clustered around Harvard.

In honor of the workers and those who stand up for them, Happy Labor Day.

HOW DO YOU DECIDE WHAT TO DO NEXT?

At the rise of Quaker worship one week, I asked if anyone present didn’t keep a to-do list. I mean, these are all busy people, nearly three dozen of them … and that was on a slow day.

I was shocked when a half-dozen hands were raised. I still want to know how they do what they need to do, daily and on a larger horizon.

How about you? Do you keep those lists – and, if so, how do you arrange yours?

Or if you don’t, how do you keep yourself on task? Especially the big picture items, rather than what some call “putting out fires as they pop up.”

I’m all ears. My lists never seem to dovetail, and it’s still driving me nuts.

OUR GARDEN’S MOST PROLIFIC WEEDS

Even with a field guide, weeds can be hard to name. At least in polite terms. As a gardener, identifying them as weeds is easy enough, once they’re past a certain point of sprouting – they aren’t what you’re expecting and they’re growing faster than what you planted. Staying ahead of them is another matter, especially if you’re trying to be organic like us.

Here are 10 that have been especially problematic this year.

  1. Virginia creeper: Initially, it looks like a nice ground cover in a wooded area. Maybe something to climb a tree trunk, too. But beware, it develops tenacious woody roots that can grow six feet a day – that’s not an official measure, by the way, just a sense I have returning to the same site a day after I thought I’d cleared it. This beast nearly took out one of our big shrubs last year. ‘Nuff said?
  2. Bindweed: Another one that can strangle a neighbor in no time. It looks a lot like a morning glory, which can also go rogue.
  3. Creeping Charlie: This little ground ivy and a shiny-leaf cousin take over in no time. One couple two blocks away covered their entire garden in black plastic this year in what we suspect is a futile effort to eradicate it.
  4. Mystery stalk No. 1: It has large leaves and started popping up like crazy in our strawberry bed. New to us this year. Looks like its seeds come at the base of the leaves. Think it’s also the one in two of our potato pots … kinda resembles the young tater plants. At least it was easy to uproot.
  5. Mystery stalk No. 2: This one has nasty-looking jagged leaves and a big fuzzy stalk. Also new to us this year. Can’t find either of these online.
  6. Wild chervil: Looks kind of like Queen Anne’s lace, which we tolerate, but I just read the down and dirty on this deceptive tan flower. It’s going to be big trouble next year. Ouch!
  7. Multiflora rose: Its vines are always a pain, and they take over in no time. For us, they’re often near the equally stubborn Japanese honeysuckle.
  8. Dandelions: My, what taproots! And if you don’t get all of one up, you’ll soon have another opportunity … to fail.
  9. Common purslane: Another one that gained a foothold this year and will be back with a vengeance next year. My wife says I better learn to like it in salads.
  10. Grass: Many varieties invade the garden and squeeze out what we’re growing, but the Bermuda roots and stems have been particularly nasty this year.

ALTERNATIVE ECONOMICS

At one point in earlier versions of my new novel, What’s Left, I envisioned her family using their financial resources to drive an alternative local economy. The concept survives in the final version of the book, although this passage was boiled way down and many of the details changed:

Dimitri admits our enterprises will operate at the fringes of the economy.

He anticipates other extensions. We’ll encourage other friends to open a bakery. A guitar maker will join in a folk music shop. Rural skills like chair-caning and quilting will find a market here. Not everything we encourage will be quaint, as we’ll discover. Technology might include not just Baba’s darkroom and cameras but recording studios, computer designers, and solar entrepreneurs as well.

~*~

Or, as I noted in another now-deleted passage:

With patience, we’ll assure our dilapidated neighborhood just off campus undergoes rebirth.

~*~

Money issues – especially of an emotional, theological, and personal nature – are a topic I believe worthy of deep discussion. Just look to my Talking Money series archived at my Chicken Farmer I Still Love You blog for inspiration. Admittedly, they’re too big for this novel, though now I’m beginning to wonder about another, maybe as a series of telephone conversations? Please, somebody talk some sense into me!

(Oh, my, now I’m recalling that “financially secure” line in the old personals ads and still wondering exactly what the women meant by that – a guy who has a regular job with benefits or a seven-figure portfolio instead?)

Thinking of operating at the fringes of the larger economy, though, good things can happen. Where do you imagine an infusion of “greenback energy” might empower you or your friends to better the world as we know it?

~*~

The town of Fira on Santorini photographed from the roof of the Archipelagos Restaurant. (Photo by Rennett Stowe via Wikimedia Commons.)

Cassia’s roots included inspiration like this.