At a recent online writers’ conference, I was convinced to bite the bullet and release my novels at goliath Amazon in addition to the alternative ebook retailers where they’re already available. As I began pondering the new hurdles and strategies, I looked at Hometown News as a first offering.
A few years ago I had replaced the original cover, which sought to convey a sense of an idyllic small town where children could grow up safely, at least at the onset, with another of more urgency, reflecting the broader sense of the ultimately dystopian novel.
The new photographic image, though, was problematic.
The flames coming out of the residential window had the emotional message I wanted to convey, but they kept eating up the title and author credit, no matter which color I tried.
So I came up with this, trying to employ a trendy design element:
Returning to it now, though, I still felt an unease. The solution, in the end, was to make the artwork a bit smaller to give it more impact. Got that? It doesn’t make sense, but here’s how I’ve gone:
By the way, it’s now also available in paperback and Kindle at Amazon, as well as at Smashwords and affiliated ebook retailers.
My newest book, Nearly Canaan, is a thorough reworking of three earlier novels that now flow together as one.
Here are ten reasons the new version is new and improved.
The book now focuses on the question of what impact one person can make for lasting good in our world, especially in and through our closest relationships.
Jaya’s professional identity in her pioneering approach to nonprofits administration is quickly and more clearly established. Her career and its demands become a source of major conflict in the course of the story.
Her character now grows out of her role in Yoga Bootcamp, which provides further understanding of her motivations and inner direction.
The actions now show that the best intentions may have unanticipated negative consequences.
Jaya’s desire to find an appropriate way of personally expressing her spiritual experiences finally creates a unique artform.
Events are no longer left hanging at the end of what was the first novel. Life moves on in the aftermath of disaster.
The overall work is now structured within three large, overarching sections, each presented by a different teller. The first one, focusing on Jaya, is comprised of three telescoping parts that propel the action to the distinctive landscape where the second and third sections also take place. The second section is told by one of Jaya’s yoga students while the third is told by a young wife who’s been a close neighbor. Each of them reveals details unknown to most of the other characters in their social circle.
The story now has a short fourth section as a coda. I’m especially fond of it.
Once again, changing some of the names of characters makes a huge difference, especially when that leads to fond nicknames. Just see what happens to Jaya’s beau, especially.
I have far more sympathy for Jaya’s husband’s situation, even if it’s what he pressed so hard to find himself in.
In my novel What’s Left, Cassia’s clan wasn’t like a typical happy family. Hers was more like a hippie circus extending from the restaurant they jointly owned and operated. Much of their joy sprang from the fact they were different.
Only when tragic events rocked their course did they begin to resemble others around them.
It’s an inversion of Tolstoy’s great opening to Anna Karenina.
Likewise, their road to recovery includes their distinctive application of kefi, a Greek approach to living that defies precise translation. Still, I try in my novel. Cassia’s aunt Pia embodies it.
Sometimes details advance a story. And sometimes they raise unnecessary hurdles. In my novel What’s Left, what Cassia discovers about her deceased father (her Baba) is much better than this. So I cut it.
Hey, how many 12-year-olds would even know what a biochemist is? Or, for that matter, 16-year-olds, depending on when she’s making the connection? You still get the drift in the final version.
Under a different system of education, he might have become a biochemist or mathematician. He had leanings that way, which were not supported over time. So instead, he became a photographer — a very adept one who leaves behind what I’m finding to be an astonishing archive of social upheaval and redirection.
Oh, my, she wouldn’t ever say that last sentence, would she? Of course it had to go!
The point of her observation, though, remains pertinent. Many kids are thwarted at key points in their development, not just educationally, either.
What would you say has been a crucial obstacle in your past? How have you coped? Has it changed the direction of your life?
In my novel What’s Left, what she discovers about her deceased father (her Baba) is much zestier than this passage. So I cut it. You’ll still get the drift in the final version.
As a kid, your Baba figured out he never quite fit in with his surroundings. He thought about things he couldn’t explain to others, though to be fair about it, he rarely caught their signals, either. Deep within himself, he sensed there was much more to life than what was happening around him. I think he wanted the big picture, which is what he must have felt when he was climbing mountains.
Too many things are trying to happen there, I’m afraid. We can move along better without having to trip over the added baggage. I do like the image of climbing mountains to feel the big picture, though — something I see as recharging his soul.
Where do you turn to recharge yourself? Anyplace special? Music? Dancing? A deep bubble bath? Meditation? Or is it something else altogether?
I’m also thinking about typical encounters with professional photographers. There were strange, formal portrait sessions when my sister and I were very little. Do families still do that anymore? Then there were the senior portraits in high school or yearbook group shots, which were akin to elementary class pictures earlier. But weddings are the big event for many, the mother lode of the profession.
Tell me about your parents’ wedding pictures. What do they reveal? What do they mask?
In developing sections of The Secret Side of Jaya, a novel upcoming this fall, I found myself applying a technique I’d developed in a genealogical project. There, as I had conflicting accounts regarding a specific instance or detail, rather than trying to lean toward one over the other, I let them all stand in contrast to each other. Sometimes there were two sources, sometimes three, each seeing a person or event quite differently.
It makes me recall the way forest fires are located from lookout towers. Each observer has a horizontal azimuth for determining the direction of the fire from the tower. Once two other lookouts can zero in on the plume of smoke or the flames, the position can be triangulated on a map and forest firefighters dispatched. My technique resembles looking along that line and seeing what comes in front of the fire and what lies beyond.
By acknowledging the different observers in my stories and histories, I also allow for the wider terrain and error in positions. (The smoke might be rising from an unseen valley or be blown by wind.) In these applications, I feel the alternatives make for a richer, more lifelike story.
The application of positive and negative spaces — that is, the contrast of light and dark — is a basic concept in visual art. One of these will appear solid; the other, empty. Think of black versus white, with no shades in between.
In another way, think of a doughnut or bagel, defining an empty hole.
In my novel What’s Left, she applies a similar strategy after her father vanishes in an avalanche when she’s 11. She yearns to know much more about who he was — in fact, intends to recover him in her own way — so she assembles everything she can find to create a positive impression and then dives into the remainder, the negative, to dig up the rest. Maybe you’d see this as trying to assemble a jigsaw puzzle.
Since he was a professional photographer, she carefully investigates another kind of negative for answers — the many strips of film stored in his studio. At first what she views is reversed from normal perception, where everything that’s light should be dark and everything that’s dark should be light, but then she learns to transform what’s there into contact sheets and glossy prints. Just like he did.
Thanks to digital photography, negatives are ancient history. Maybe that’s somehow appropriate, since Cassia’s life at that point would now be ancient history, too, even as she’s investigating what she would consider ancient history.
Have you ever handled photographic negatives? Is there some other way you’ve looked at things reversed from normal? How about funny mirrors? How did it change your perception?