ONE WAY TO NAME A CHARACTER

Those highway signs can often take on whimsical readings.

One poetry journal, for instance, took its name from an exit marker of the Interstate crossing from Pennsylvania into Maryland: Northwest Rising Sun. It was for two different towns. Everybody knows the sun rises in the east, not the west. Still, a great name. It pays to be alert.

Likewise, orchestral conductor David Zinman was recording with humorist P.D.Q. Bach (in real life, Peter Schickele) but found his contract with another label prohibited him from using his own name on this project. What could he use instead? Inspiration struck when he was driving on Route 128 outside Boston. That exit sign read Newton Wayland.

More recently, while updating and seriously revising my previously published novels, I set about renaming many of the characters for a better fit.

I’ve passed this sign hundreds of times and often thought it sounded great as a possible character, if only I had the right situation. And then, as I reworked the volume that now stands as Daffodil Uprising, I had the perfect guy to go by the name: LEE MADBURY.

The sign along U.S. Route 4.

 

 

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TIME TO BLOW THE DUST OFF A FEW STACKS

As my wife and I started listing what’s keeping us busy these days, we were both surprised to find that one thing – one important thing – was missing.

What we both realized is that regular reading … as in books … had been pressed out of our schedules.

Instead, we’ve been doing bits and pieces of reading online. It’s just not the same as luxuriating in a deep volume.

How about you?

REWORKING A TEXT

When several of our lifeguards were complaining about their high-school term papers and having to meet the length requirements, I decided to show them a couple pages of my novel in progress, the book that’s emerged as What’s Left.

They were blown away.

It wasn’t any different from what I’ll assume all serious writers do. Just look at the examples in the Paris Review’s acclaimed author interviews. I remember my own shock at the first few I saw – what, we don’t write flawlessly the first time? Oh, the folly of youth!

Well, nowadays we don’t always work from typescript or even printouts – what I showed the teens-to-whom-I-fully-trusted-my-life had now become the exception. I should have photographed some for posterity but instead trashed them during a purging of my studio under the rafters.

Few readers imagine how thoroughly a serious writer or editor will rework a text – major sentences, even paragraphs, are struck out, new words and notes are scribbled everywhere, even fresh pages of inserts are taped to one side or the other of the page.

Tell them this is from the fifth or seventh revision of the manuscript, they’re even more incredulous. The discarded material is a flood compared to the drop or two they struggle to compose.

As the saying goes, inspiration goes in the first draft, genius comes in the revisions.

As we might add, if one’s lucky.

TEN WAYS THIS ‘DAFFODIL’ IS NEW

My newest novel, Daffodil Uprising, is a thorough revision of the earlier Daffodil Sunrise. Nearly half of the original book has been excised and replaced by twice that amount of new material, for good reason.

Here are ten of the big differences.

  1. The events and characters are now seen through the eyes and snarky voice of Kenzie’s daughter a generation later. They are Cassia’s discoveries about her father’s college years in the turbulent 1960s, pro and con.
  2. As the subtitle says, the focus is on the making of a hippie. The college and its good-old-boy network of abusive power and greed earn much of the blame.
  3. Kenzie’s growth as a budding photographer gets fuller attention, along with his artistic advances. It’s his basic reason for coming to Daffodil, after all.
  4. His girlfriend is a much more complex and troubled creature. She has good cause to be chafing in her relationship with him. And he, in contrast, is so truly naïve. Something’s got to give.
  5. Most of the characters have been renamed and are more uniquely defined. They and their actions have new grounding in everyday life.
  6. Kenzie’s buddies are no longer a pack of emerging radicals in action but rather a lineup of widely varied boyz stumbling along in a confounding environment. His dorm’s underground traditions are handed down through a band of quirky seniors and juniors who serve as wise elders and guides to neophyte freshmen like Kenzie. It’s a colorful crew – one that teaches him as much or more than his professors, in fact.
  7. The narrative’s giddy, upbeat, and sometimes sophomoric youthful optimism is now countered by darker forces of oppressive greed, violence, and despair. Bad drug trips and protest bombings accompany the scene.
  8. There’s now an element of Goth. This is a college campus, after all. Why should Hogwarts be all that different?
  9. There’s also a strand of the paranormal. You ever live in a creepy old apartment building or have the subject of a term paper start talking back to you?
  10. The work now stands in fuller correlation with What’s Left, a generation later, and the two other novels that follow him after college.
Daffodil Uprising

For details, go to Smashwords.com.

THE IMPORTANCE OF SMALL TOUCHES OVER TIME

From our perch today, it’s hard to believe that a Broadway musical like “South Pacific” could have been a bold statement on behalf of racial tolerance a half century ago.

I’m encouraged, of course, to see a Quaker connection.

First, even though the novelist James A. Michener, whose book was the basis of the show, had served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, he was raised by a Quaker adoptive mother and attended Quaker-affiliated Swarthmore College. In other words, he had been exposed to both pacifist and racial equality values.

Second, as Vanity Fair writer Todd S. Purdom notes in “The Road to Bali-hai,” is that librettist Oscar Hammerstein’s wife’s niece Jennifer attended the George School, another Quaker institution, one where Michener also taught briefly. The Hammersteins’ own son Jimmy also went there, as did a young family friend named and future Broadway great Stephen Sondheim. (And to think how vigorously earlier Quakers denounced theater as vain entertainment!)

Purdom’s article contains another telling point. The hit song “I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Out of My Hair” was originally a flop. In the preview performances before the Broadway opening, director and co-author Josh Logan was perplexed to see it wasn’t connecting until he realized that star Mary Martin had the women in the audience so abuzz about whether she was actually washing her hair onstage that nobody ever heard the lyrics themselves. He fixed that by having her belt out the first stanza before working her hair.

I wonder about how many other small changes in any art form spell the difference between boffo hit and mundane shelving.

A similar tweak in “Wonderful Guy” changed the song to a soliloquy with the word “you” substituted for “they.” As Logan recalled, “That night they tore the house apart.”

As I was saying about small changes or a simple touch? Never underestimate the importance of revisions in art. Or maybe life itself.

~*~

Michener, by the way, wrote of his experience on the Electoral College elections with the telling title on his political science volume, Presidential Lottery: The Reckless Gamble on Our Electoral System.

He was so prescient there.

BE AMONG THE FIRST TO GET MY NEWEST NOVEL

Join with me in celebrating the publication today of my newest novel, Daffodil Uprising, at Smashwords.com.

A thorough reworking of my 2013 release, Daffodil Sunrise, it’s a tale of radical awakening in the 1960s now told from his daughter Cassia’s perspective a generation later. Her voice is snarkier than his, for starters, and she’s more willing to view the events with more grit than he had in the previous version. Oh, yes, the characters are definitely more colorful, vivid, and varied. Besides, there are now strands of Goth and the paranormal. What else?

You’ll have to see for yourself.

Daffodil Uprising

The ebook is available in the digital format of your choice at Smashwords and other independent digital retailers.

I’VE COME TO ENVY HER OUTSPOKENNESS

As Cassia took on her own voice in the later revisions of What’s Left, she seemed to be dictating her lines, leaving me with the task of taking dictation. There were many times I could barely keep up.

It was a weird sensation. Wasn’t I supposed to be in charge here? It was like I was channeling her from somewhere in the spirit world.

Weirder yet was my envy for her ability to speak as openly and directly as she does. As caustically, too.

Well, she does bear a resemblance to an older woman I know of in the next town, one fondly called simply as Auntie with an outrageous fearlessness in speaking that way.

In contrast, here I am usually censoring myself or at least editing my utterances.

Of course, I also envy Cassia her close-knit family with its well-defined purpose and supportive network. Her Squad, especially, and the way it, too, evolved in the revisions.

And I am grateful for the ways she’s helped me recast the earlier novels leading up to her appearance. That, too, has felt weird, having her sit beside me, in effect, while we thoroughly reworked them. She trashed a lot of material, I’ll admit, and then added a lot more new stuff of her own.

This time, I was all ears.

Authors are advised to know their readers – their target audience – but this takes it one step further.

Any of you have a similar experience?