AS A FOOTNOTE AT THE TABLE

I wonder if the longstanding tradition of morning cleansing of marble steps at the front door in many inner city neighborhoods of Baltimore has survived the stresses of two-income families or single-parent households? Who knows when it started or in how many other locales it’s also practiced. This has been a custom of row houses, connected to each other – blue-collar communities, in fact – and not of detached suburban housing. And that makes the foremost difference.

These poems consider what women do and preserve – though not always exclusively. Yes, I’ve known women who bale hay or decipher monastic manuscripts, and I’ll also admit men can know nothing of bearing children or nursing. Yet, somehow, many women seem most at home around the kitchen, even if it’s nothing more than a teacup or a picnic. Even her garden, should she be so inclined, seems to extend from that table or the alchemy of her oven. And that goes for flowers, as well as vegetables and berries. (Remember, though: not all mothers and daughters can stand to be in the same kitchen at the same time, though they both be masterful cooks.)

Looking back on Baltimore, I remember my next-door neighbor, each morning in season watering the black locusts between our houses and the street. Maybe she did her stoop, as well. But the trees, which seemed to have always been there, were beautiful and timeless, as if spreading their own table.

Returning 1

~*~

For the poems, click here.

HOW ACCURATE ARE THOSE QUOTATIONS?

In my new novel, What’s Left, she’s retelling much she’s heard from others.

As Cassia might say, while describing the story she’s telling:

Look, if I’m telling you something, it’s happening now. I don’t care if the event took place a hundred years ago, when I evoke it, it’s all happening now, right in front of us. Anyone mind if it’s for the umpteenth time? Or if I’m quoting someone else in my own voice? It’s all coming through my mouth, so it’s me, too. Pay attention. OK? Now listen! Especially you, Baba.

~*~

As an author, I had to ask myself the question. Now it’s your turn for input.

Is it fair to put secondhand dialogue – even hearsay – in separate quotation marks? Or is it some other blending of voices?

~*~

Mock orange has a lovely scent, too.

ALWAYS ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT

Earlier this year, I updated the cover and tweaked the contents of my novel Hometown News.

I liked the new image, of a house on fire rather than one of a girl in autumn leaves. The story is, after all, about a community in crisis rather than the delights of living in idyllic repose.

The new image, however, challenged the use of placing the book title and author. The colors jump all over the place, and I just couldn’t figure out a way to drop the words in effectively. Well, you can see what I did. Still, I felt ambivalent about the results.

And then, a few weeks ago, I was looking at my revised lineup at Smashwords and sensed this one just didn’t quite match the style or tone of the others. Time for a few tweaks.

So here’s what we have now:

Hometown News

After this:

Hometown News

Which replaced this one:

Hometown News

The covers of my Smashwords editions originally paid homage to Richard Brautigan’s classic books of the ’60s, each of which had a portrait of a pretty young woman.

Any reactions?

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.

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.