My 10 favorite characters (who aren’t my protagonists)

Yes, an author is supposed to like his protagonists – and maybe even some of the key villains, in their very devilishness – but lesser characters sometimes privately rise to the top.

Here are 10 of mine, some in upcoming volumes:

  1. Nita: In What’s Left and the full Freakin’ Free Spirits cycle. She’s really evolved along the way.
  2. Merry Sherry: Hometown News. I’m so glad the real-life Sherry who showed up later, with many of the same endearing qualities, didn’t have the same penchant for creating nicknames. We would have all been doomed.
  3. Wendy: In the upcoming Nearly Canaan. This pastor’s wife has qualities that really play off Jaya well. She began to write herself.
  4. Pastor Bob: Nearly Canaan. Changing the Roman Catholic priest in the early drafts to a flashier Fundamentalist/Evangelical preacher created someone much more, well, surprising. He has a good heart – and a great wife.
  5. Fran: Big Inca. Just what Bill needs.
  6. Rusty: Pit-a-Pat High Jinks. As he demonstrates, some in the movement had practical skills and insights. I wonder what happened in the rest of his life – and whether he ever married his lovely companion.
  7. Judith (rather than Tara!): Pit-a-Pat High Jinks. She’s grown much more interesting and intriguing than the young woman who inspired her, way back when. There’s even a novel you’ll probably never see, at least not under my name.
  8. Satyabama: Yoga Bootcamp. She has all of the wonder that embodied yoga for us.
  9. Surfer Girl: Hometown News. In real life, she never gave me the time of day.
  10. Alexandros: What’s Left. In the later revisions of the manuscript, Alex came fully into his own. Cassia was already “talking to me” and essentially writing herself, and then Alex stepped up to match. Oh, I wish my cousins had been something like him.

~*~

In the books you’ve read, who’s your favorite character?

 

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ONE KIND DEED INSPIRES ANOTHER

When she begins her investigation in my new novel, What’s Left, she may think her generation’s quite different from her father’s.

But her family does run a family restaurant, and that gives her a different insight:

We can always count on someone looking for a handout at the back door. We’re happy to oblige them. And they’re happy, too – the word spreads.

~*~

Restaurants are often staffed by an underworld of their own, or so I’m told. And some of the characters aren’t that far removed from the folks looking for a handout.

I’m surprised to see how many people in my own community remain invisible, especially when your eyes look instead to “normal” society.

Have you ever gone to a “soup kitchen” or charity food pantry? Have you ever worked in one? What was your experience?

~*~

If Cassia’s great-grandparents had only bought this house instead! And it’s almost pink … (Manchester, New Hampshire.)

REGARDING ANCIENT HISTORY SOME OF THE LIVING MAY REMEMBER

Carmichael’s, the restaurant her family owns in my new novel, has me looking more closely at others.

What happened to the hippies? (That is: Where did they go?)

That question seeded my newest novel, What’s Left. The book, to be candid, has grown into something much bigger, and I hope more relevant to more readers. It’s about what’s happened to Cassia, born a decade after the hippies faded into, well, wherever.

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A BIT MORE ON HIPPIE LIT

One of my lingering questions wonders why the intensity of the hippie experience didn’t flower more fully in fiction.

Yes, I know hippies were considered “laid back” and “mellow,” but that’s only part of the picture. A lot of what we felt was indeed incredible and new. Yet while the music of the era gives both lyrics and a soundtrack to the late ’60s and early ’70s, the literary parallel runs thin. Most of the prose is in the non-fiction side of the aisle – memoir, especially, and sociology – works like Barry Miles’ Hippie. Within that flourished a range of small publishing operations, such as Straight Arrow Books and Ten-Speed Press.

But novels are another matter.

As I’ve already noted, Richard Brautigan and Gurney Norman (Divine Right’s Trip) did give wondrous voice to the action. Add to that Maxine Hong Kingston’s Tripmaster Monkey, T.C. Boyle’s Drop City, and we’re soon at the fringe. Thomas Pyncheon’s Vineland, Lisa Mason’s Summer of Love, and Jan Kerouac’s Baby Driver get nods. I’d add Edward Abbey, Tom Robbins, and John Nichols to the list. And then?

Well, there’s always my Freakin’ Free Spirits cycle at Smashwords.com. All four volumes.

As Michael Wards, author of Bitch, a novel about Berkeley 1968-73, commented on an earlier post here, “Today I don’t think 20-year-olds would believe their grandparents were capable of anything that actually happened then.”

That, I suppose, is the entire point. We came so close to a real revolution across the social and economic spectrum. That vision needs to be kept alive and rekindled. Especially in the face of today’s repressive regime.

MOVING ON FROM BLUE JEANS

Over the past few years, there’s been an unanticipated shift in the way I dress, one that’s not entirely related to retirement. One of the lessons I carry from the hippie experience is an awareness that clothing should be comfortable, rather than conforming to the marketplace – and, if possible, it should express some degree of style.

As someone who never fit into the half of the bell curve the clothing manufacturers targeted, I’d always had difficulty dressing to general expectations. Back-to-school shopping was always a terror, one abetted by our family’s financial tight outlook, and one result was my pants were always way too short on my tall, skinny frame. You can imagine my delight discovering during my college years that Levis were actually available in my size. It was heavenly, even if radical at the time. I remember breaking unvoiced rules in attending classical concerts in my denim, even while wearing a necktie. Fortunately, the shift prevailed and later, when I discovered Quaker meeting for worship, came an expectation of dressing humbly rather than for pretentious show. Viva denim!

Moving to New Hampshire, I was delighted to learn that the San Francisco-based Levi Strauss relied on denim produced in the water-powered Amoskeag mills in Manchester, where I lived. So the product linked the continent, New England to California Bay Area, with cotton from the Deep South, and back.

As prices rose, my brand-name loyalty evaporated, even at the outlet store in nearby Maine, but some alternative sources still satisfied. And then they all started tinkering with the fit and gone was that feeling of comfort. Well, all except my Amish jeans – no zipper or belt but a pair of braces (suspenders, if you will) – which seem indestructible. Mine are going on 20 years, I reckon, and just starting to show real wear. The braces, though, can be a pain, as can going to the john when I’m also wearing a sweater.

For everyday usage, I’ve now drifted into variations of khaki or olive cargo pants. I really like all the pockets, along with the fit.

This has been accompanied by a shift from the oxford shirts I always wore to the office. From my first copydesk job, I’d learned to wear my wallet in my shirt pocket rather than sitting on it and throwing my back out of alignment – and so my shirts always had to have that pocket, which never, ever had a plastic liner like nerdy engineers include. Well, with the new pants, I could place my wallet in the other front pocket comfortably and that, in turn, allowed me to move on into turtlenecks for daily wear.

Turtlenecks are simply more flexible – no need for undershirts, I don’t even have to take them off at bedtime, for that matter, and they’re warm, even in our cold house. Yes, they also go with the sweaters I used to wear with those shirts.

I am surprised by my reaction looking at men my age or older who are still going about in blue jeans. They’re appearing somehow, uh, inappropriate.

FINE PRINT CRITICISM

You know that reaction after reading a page that leaves you with a sensation of missing something. A treatise about poetry or art or theology, especially?

If you’re like me and largely autodidactic, you no doubt feel yourself an outsider. So I write from the fringe, in more ways than one. Reading some reviews and critiques, I soon wonder: Am I simply inattentive? Clueless? Ignorant? Is it that such subtlety, speaking only to the highly initiated, will never accept my own efforts? Or is it that I prefer what is simple, direct, grounded in experience and place, over what is convoluted and cloaked – even in form? Without falling into cliche or triteness?

Or am I the one, despite myself, who becomes convoluted and cloaked? How do we reach higher, anyway, in this thing called art, while striving to stay true … to whatever?

How does originality run through it all? And life?

By the way, just who are the critics writing for? Even when we ourselves turn critic.

PICKING THE RIGHT, RIPE WILD BERRIES

I keep thinking about the stories children are taught, especially here in America. Carol Bly once wrote of the Scandinavian tales the descendants in Minnesota never heard, unlike the mass-media mishmash they were served. I’m left wondering if Ohio ever had anything like Kokopelli or Coyote from Native American lore and wisdom. I can keep hoping.

The fact is, most Americans are estranged from their roots. We don’t even know where we live, not really.

Forget the Zombie Apocalypse, we rarely know how to select the healthy wild berries. Leave it at that.

As for the hornpipe? It’s a Celtic dance, faster and more complicated than a jig – or gigue, if you insist. But I also like the vision of a pipe carved from a horn and played.

Care to join me for a dance?

Kokopelli 1~*~

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