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~*~

For your own copy, click here.

 

LIKE A SALMON

Much of the time, the character of Jaya in Promise seems to be swimming upstream. Against the current. Toward higher and higher goals.

Sometimes, she just might wonder if it’s all worth it. Or what her alternatives are.

But she continues, just like the migrating salmon in the Katonkah Valley where she finally settles. Maybe it’s just a natural impulse, after all. Her legacy will be what it is.

Promise

~*~

For your own copy, click here.

 

WITH GRATITUDE FOR THE INSPIRATION

You know the disclaimer, “Any resemblance of the characters to real people living or dead …” Something along the lines of purely unintentional.

But let’s be frank. The fiction is that you can create a character without having someone real in front of you, somewhere in your past or present. No, you need flesh and blood somewhere. Anything else would be a caricature.

It’s a special problem when you’re composing in a semi-autobiographical vein. You’re trying to be true to the dictum, Write about what you know. The details, especially.

(Oh? What, then, makes it fiction? Other than changing a few dates?)

Admittedly, the personalities work best when you take your inspiration and abstract it, so that a real individual would no longer recognize himself or herself – or those who were no way involved will imagine they, themselves, were.

And, by way of further confession, I’ll note that my most recent outings have led me to new characters lacking immediate introductions for me – but I’ll know them when I meet them if I haven’t already come across them here and there in pieces.

But back to the argument at hand.

I have one character, Nita, who runs through four of my five Hippie Trails novels and is a major character in the new one I’m writing, set years later. She was inspired by impressions I had of a friend’s girlfriend – or more accurately, mostly his impressions conveyed to me at the time – as I sat down to draft a half-dozen years or so later. She becomes a catalyst for much that happens around her.

In reality, we all drifted away.

And then, a few years ago, I met her again.

Nothing like I’d remembered. Or the idealized character in my fiction, now infused with another two or three people I’ve met. The lines blur.

I can say this person never did X, Y, or Z, unlike the character. Or that these two worked together on a controversial project or became known for certain accomplishments. In fact, she doesn’t resemble the other one at all, not anymore, if she ever did.

Still, it’s an eerie feeling. Something other than deja vu. Something still spurring gratitude for the inspiration.

For more on the series, click here.

~*~

TRIPLE PLAY

Any writer tackling a large work such as a novel or screenplay will need to consider the matter of structure. The easiest way out, of course, is to follow a conventional model.

In fiction that might mean 60,000 words, more or less, spread out over 20 to 24 chapters, typically in a straight chronological order, past tense. For the film, something that would come in a little under two hours. To that you’d add pacing, points of conflict, resolution, number of main characters, and so on.

Sometimes, though, you find that’s not the best way to organize your material.

For example, in its revisions, Promise emerged with three sections, each set in a different locale – Prairie Depot, the Ozarks, and finally the Katonkah Valley. Each one, as it turns out, can be viewed as a novella held together by the central couple, Erik and Jaya.

I didn’t intend it this way. The original version had five sections, for one thing, which I came to feel were simply too unwieldy. The cuts provided what I feel gives a better balance.

Let me also admit to a fondness for shorter novels. Novels, mind you, not simply novellas, no matter how much I enjoy them, as well. Maybe it’s a reflection of my typically crowded schedule.

Still, both short stories and novellas stand as kinds of orphans in today’s literary scene. They should be more popular than they are. An occasional solution, one I’ve enjoyed reading, runs a central character through a set of short stories to culminate in a volume of novel length. It’s a tricky strategy, though, and hard to pull off.

Maybe that’s one more reason I feel a special satisfaction with Promise.

Hope you do, too.

Promise~*~

For your own copy, click here.

THE INVISIBLE FACTOR

In the buildup of national elections, once again a major influence remains the elephant in the room. I’m referring to the legacy – make that plural, legacies – of the hippie outburst, especially in contrast to those on the Vietnam war side of the divide.

The wounds and tensions haven’t gone away. Just look at the continuing proliferation of POW-MIA black flags across the landscape, on one side.

For the other, the lines are much more hazy yet festering. As I’ve been arguing, hippies came – and still come – in all varieties and degrees, and likely nobody ever fit what’s become the media stereotype. With the end of the military draft, the movement lost a crucial motivating force and focusing definition.

Complicating the situation was the distancing many youths on the antiwar side felt when it came to politics. With its support of the military at the time, liberal politics were tainted with outdated Cold War ideologies like those of the conservative side. For hippies, radical was the label of honor. And the Democratic Party base of the left was splintered as its youthful potential allies had nowhere to turn or direct their forces in the political arena.

The horror meant going from a hawkish LBJ administration to one of Richard Nixon.

Fast-forward now to the present American landscape. Gone are the grandparents and parents of many of the now senior baby boomers – the core of the hippie movement versus the older generations. Yet political candidates still tiptoe around many of the reality issues, beginning with marijuana and other illicit substances, as if they’re too hot to touch. Let’s get real. Want to talk about litmus tests?

As we look at candidates, ask where each stands on a scale of continuing issues from the hippie stream. I find it enlightening.

  • Peace and social justice activism.
  • Sexual equality … including abortion rights.
  • Racial equality.
  • Environmental and ecological issues, including the outdoors.
  • Educational alternatives and opportunities.
  • Sustainable economics and fair trade.
  • Spirituality and radical religion.
  • Fitness along the lines of yoga, bicycling, kayaking, hiking.
  • Organic and natural foods.
  • Marijuana reform.
  • Arts and crafts.
  • Community as common wealth, including health care.
  • Labor as a matter of respect and a livable income.

Well, we have Bernie running straight true to the cause. Hillary, more cautiously so. But on the right? Let me suggest being wary of anyone in the pro-war camp who hasn’t served. Period. As for other life experiences?

~*~

All of this returns me to my Hippie Trails series of novels. I’d love for you to come along. Just click here.

 

 

A CLUTCH OF MAPS

One of my favorite passages in all of poetry comes from Howard McCord’s “Longjaunes His Periplus”:

A chest of maps
is a greater legacy
than a case of whisky.

Followed by:

My father left me both.

Like my younger one, I’ve always been fond of maps. My bedroom wall was lined with tacked-up National Geographic charts, which tended to sag in our humid summers.

I was reminded of this the other morning when I was looking for a Boston street map, just in case I lost my bearings. Yes, I could have gone to the maps at Yahoo or Google. Even looked for the satellite views and all of the scary ability to snoop that goes with it. I couldn’t, though, use a GPS, neo-Luddite that I partly remain.

So I opened the drawer and here’s what I found (I won’t give you the years, though many are from the early ’80s):

  • Connecticut.
  • Pennsylvania (Exxon).
  • Seacoast (New Hampshire).
  • Idaho.
  • New Jersey.
  • Sierra Club USA.
  • Pennsylvania (official).
  • AAA USA.
  • Long Island/New York City.
  • Saugus Iron Works.
  • Maine.
  • Historic Bath.
  • Delaware.
  • Audubon Flyways.
  • Walking Tours of Bath.
  • Strafford County.
  • Dover (0ne of a half-dozen varieties).
  • Maudslay State Park in Newburyport, Massachusetts. Has a great stand of mountain laurel overlooking the Merrimack River.
  • University of New Hampshire campus.
  • Museums of Boston.
  • Gonic Trails.
  • Doctors Without Borders global view (two copies).
  • Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
  • Paul Revere House in Boston.
  • Manchester, New Hampshire.
  • Vermont.
  • New Hampshire (one of several varieties).
  • National Geographic the Making of New England and another of Canada.
  • North Cascades.
  • Mount Rainier, including trails.
  • New York City subways (two versions, three maps).
  • Brunswick and neighboring Maine.
  • National Geographic Endangered Earth.
  • Virginia.
  • White Mountains trail guides.
  • Mount Agamenticus.
  • Lamprey River.
  • Pawtuckaway State Park.
  • Trumbull County, Ohio.
  • Baltimore (two versions).
  • Britain and Ireland.
  • Mohegan Island.
  • Historic New England properties.
  • Maryland.
  • Lake Champlain Ferries.
  • Maine State Ferry Service.
  • Ipswich, Massachusetts.
  • Portsmouth-Exeter-Hampton etc.
  • York (Maine) Water District trails.
  • Minute Man National Monument, a series of sites in Massachusetts …
They even take me places I haven't yet been, as well as back to some old favorites. All without leaving the house.
They even take me places I haven’t yet been, as well as back to some old favorites. All without leaving the house.

And that’s before we get to the drawer of topographical maps, especially those from my Cascades years. Or the books and atlases. Or the genealogical maps, Guilford County, especially in those files.

Oh, the memories! And you want to tell me they’re obsolete? Fat chance!

TALKING TO MYSELF IN THE MIRROR OF BLOGGING

Me, topical, timely?

Or just lost in another time warp?

~*~

Put another way, you’ve probably noticed the Red Barn rarely comments on current events. We prefer to take a larger perspective. As for all of the posts on gardening, there’s never an actual recipe. Which reminds me about the remaining kale and Brussels sprouts, being sweetened by the frost. There’s always more to do, isn’t there? Now, where was I?

A COSMIC CONNECTION

Question: What do you do when something doesn’t work?

Answer: Fix it.

Q: And what if it still won’t work?

A: You throw it in the trash.

Q: But what if it’s not a thing but a person?

A: You fire ’em.

Q: But what if they’re one of the family?

A: Now the situation gets difficult. Really difficult.