Chiseling away to release the angel

The novel that now stands as Nearly Canaan is a much, much different book than its original draft.

The landscape itself is no longer a primary character, for one thing – a Garden of Eden for an Adam and Eve. It still provides a vivid background, all the same.

Changing the protagonist into a slightly older, career-driven woman and the suitor a younger man also greatly shifted the dynamic.

The narrative was still an epic, rambling investigation that eventually spanned across three volumes – Promise, Peel (as in Apple), and St. Helens in the Mix – but the momentum and message got lost along the way.

I needed to look at it the way Michelangelo looked at a big rock. And then start chisling to release the angel.

A clearer understanding of Jaya’s work in nonprofits – and of Schuwa himself – helped me cut the text by half or more, driving it along a stronger plot line.

Unlike rock, fortunately, it’s not just a matter of cut-cut-cut with no additions possible.

So the renamed Joshua – or Schuwa, as she fondly calls him – becomes equally central to the story. In fact, in the two middle sections, he’s now the principal figure.

As I’ve asked, in liberating him from his strict upbringing, has Jaya created a monster?

That alone adds more balance to the tale, countered by the rising pressures in her own stellar career.

Even though what was left was still a big book, I felt an additional touch was needed.

That’s when I returned to an earlier desire for a novel based on Wendy, Pastor Bob’s wife back in Prairie Depot. The distilled essence of that now became a fitting coda for the opus.

By the way, I still think Wendy’s an angel – of the living, breathing sort. No wonder she and Jaya so quickly bonded.

 

Would I do a different novel about yoga?

The original novel that’s been recast into Yoga Bootcamp kept the action to a single day – albeit while recalling past events leading up to those 24 hours. The revised version retains that structure.

At the time I drafted the story, I was largely in the dark about what happened to the real ashram after the year-and-a-half I resided there. Nearly all of the teachers or organizations bringing Asian spiritual traditions to America eventually suffered sexual or financial scandals, or so it seemed. While introducing that element would have led to a juicier book, I refrained from the temptation, in large part because I wanted to retain the euphoric innocence we experienced or aspired to.

A few of the former residents I tracked down while drafting that story shared my sense that something powerful and life-changing had happened with us, but much of our teacher and the teaching remained an enigma.

A visit to the site, in fact, confirmed a sense I’d been ostracized and that our teacher had died in the interim.

In the years since the book first appeared, I’ve reconnected with some of the more central figures from the period. We’ve had intense emails and telephone conversations, and not everything was as rosy as my recollections. I hadn’t been ostracized, but the elements of self-destruction were in place.

I could have taken the revised work more in the direction of tragedy – there would be a morbid fascination, I’d assume – but chose instead for a comedy. Bootcamp was a term we accepted gleefully.

Still, there were other big changes.

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Mixmaster? Just look at ‘Nearly Canaan’

What, me as a Mixmaster?

Just look at the topics percolating in my novel Nearly Canaan.

Take just ten, shaken or stirred or mixed in a bowl:

  • Promise. The word has many meanings, including ability, talent, potential, opportunity, guarantee, understanding, agreement, contract, oath, pledge, vow. It can also have quite different meanings for each person. In this novel, especially, it’s a promised land, a dream, and sometimes even a broken promise.
  • Place. This story is rooted in the surrounding landscapes, beginning with a small-town on the prairie and moving on to the Ozarks before landing in the desert interior of the Pacific Northwest, where Mount Rainier and the Cascade Range and Seattle beyond also play into the action.
  • Intimacy. The story goes behind closed doors, for sure.
  • Friendships. In this story, these usually arise among the couples and their shifting inner dynamics. Often, these friendships prove essential for daily survival.
  • Family. Jaya becomes quite fond of her in-laws and their support despite their initial differences.
  • Spirituality. It’s not just faith and meditation but a meaningful faith community, too.
  • Career. Jaya isn’t the only young adult trying to navigate a demanding career in this story. The long hours and endless struggles of being a rising executive even in nonprofit organizations take a toll. As for their spouses? Finding their own niche is not always easy.
  • The seasons. Dwelling in an apple orchard, Jaya and her husband observe the rhythms of the year close up.
  • Wilderness. Part of the allure of the Pacific Northwest is its access to forests and mountains, but open desert is wilderness, too.
  • Lasting impact. For many in their circle, Jaya is seen as the Wise Woman who fosters a better life. How far does her impact extend?

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The beaters were a pain to clean, though. Licking frosting from them was another matter.

What makes ‘Nearly Canaan’ new and improved

My newly released Nearly Canaan is a thorough reworking of three earlier novels that were intended to be a series.

The publication of What’s Left and the revisions it prompted for four related books soon had me also reconsidering my Promise, Peel (as in apple), and St. Helens in the Mix novels. Sensing the possibility of restoring them to the original concept of a single big book, I made drastic cuts and still added colorful new material.

Here are ten ways the result is new and improved.

~*~

  1. The story is now primarily character-driven. It’s a richer brew. The landscapes now blend in as the backdrop.
  2. Jaya’s romantic partner gains more prominence and independence. His inner turmoil may leave her perplexed, but it’s an essential element in their developing relationship. He’s renamed, too, and refocused.
  3. He’s not the only ongoing conflict. Her professional ambitions in nonprofits management are more sharply detailed as she runs into organizational crises.
  4. She and Joshua become especially close to two other young couples. Everyone seems to look to her for answers, while she turns to an older couple for counsel.
  5. One exception is the pastor’s young wife in the opening section, who serves as a counterpoint to Jaya’s Hindu-based spirituality. The two develop a unique but clandestine budding best friendship. Wendy will return to bring the book to its conclusion.
  6. The new release compresses three books into one centered on Jaya’s influence once she leaves Manhattan. Can she really change lives for the better?
  7. The story is now connected to my novel Yoga Bootcamp, thanks to revisions that installed Jaya as a central figure there. The backstory provides a better understanding of what’s driving her as she settles into Prairie Depot and beyond.
  8. Jaya’s desire to find a suitable artistic means to express her mystical experiences is more clearly envisioned. She may be stressed, but her private discipline continues as best she can. She has to have somewhere to turn.
  9. The pivotal catastrophe moves to the middle of the book, rather than hanging at the end of what was the first volume. Can they survive and pick up the pieces and go on? That’s the stream that follows.
  10. Or, as I didn’t ask earlier, has Jaya unleashed a demon?

~*~

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My newest novel revolves around young adult couples

I’m delighted to announce that my newest novel has just been published.

Nearly Canaan focuses on the lasting impact a single person can have, but its details often erupt from committed young adult couples interacting with each other.

The story takes off once Jaya leaves the ashram in Yoga Bootcamp.

Nearly Canaan

As she ventures forth to resume her career and teach yoga on the side, she becomes enmeshed in erotic passion, despite her best intentions. As she becomes half of twosome, she’s also influenced by two other couples – her lover’s parents and his pastor and wife Wendy.

Soon after, when Jaya and her beloved move on to the Ozarks, they grow close to another young couple, their new neighbors.

And when they arrive at last in their promised land, two more young couples as well as their landlords in the orchard weave into the action.

I didn’t set out with these overlapping circles as my model, but that’s what’s emerged. It’s quite exciting, actually.

The new novel is a thorough reworking of three earlier books – Promise, Peel (as in Apple), and St. Helens in the Mix.

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Ultimately, the new series is all about Jaya

Cassia is not the only character who’s had me drastically revising my earlier fiction.

Jaya, the central figure in what now stands as Nearly Canaan, has more recently had me doing the same to six other published books.

First, before Cassia became part of my life in What’s Left and the earlier stories now told in my Freakin’ Free Spirits cycle, Jaya emerged in a set of revisions in what became the three novels Promise, Peel (as in apple), and St. Helens in the Mix.

Initially, her part wasn’t even female – and while transforming her wasn’t exactly literary gender reallocation surgery, it certainly changed the dynamic of the story, which became older woman/younger man, with the woman being the tall dark sophisticated stranger being pursued by a hot young guy.

In the early drafts, she wasn’t yet a yogi, either, but rather a Sufi.

The stories themselves were about encountering specific landscapes as much as the individuals themselves.

A few years after their publication, I decided to restore them to my original intent of one volume but realized drastic revision was necessary. First, they needed to be cut significantly to fit into what would still be a “fat” and hopefully juicy book. Second, I needed a clearer understanding of Jaya’s actual career as well as her companion’s character. And, third, a fuller comprehension of her lasting influence was required. That led to the new version, Nearly Canaan.

It still felt incomplete, though. Her earlier spiritual training needed to be told. While she had talked briefly about her ashram experiences, they didn’t align completely with my yoga novel. But they could.

I reopened the manuscript, changed one of the eight students to be Jaya, and then changed the gender of the guru throughout. That led to a slew of drastic alterations and additions, moving the novel from Ashram to Yoga Bootcamp.

That gave me two novels in a series, but a series needs a third or more, I felt.

But wait, there’s more.

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I still have mixed feelings about genre and series

Somewhere along the way, I developed an aversion to “commercial” writing. Maybe it was the “hack” label I encountered, back when I was in college, when I read Samuel Johnson’s dismissal of most of his contemporaries, or maybe just a heightened sensitivity to the low esteem given journalists, which is where I spent my work life. (By the way, I’ll still argue that some reporters are better writers than what I find in many literary circles.)

Have to admit, what I aspired to was critical recognition. Respect. Self-worth.

That’s changed somewhat, especially when I consider so much of what I’ve encountered in that critically acclaimed list over time.

Gee, when it comes to admiration, which would you rather have – adoring readers or a circle of critics and academics?

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