My 10 favorite characters (who aren’t my protagonists)

Yes, an author is supposed to like his protagonists – and maybe even some of the key villains, in their very devilishness – but lesser characters sometimes privately rise to the top.

Here are 10 of mine, some in upcoming volumes:

  1. Nita: In What’s Left and the full Freakin’ Free Spirits cycle. She’s really evolved along the way.
  2. Merry Sherry: Hometown News. I’m so glad the real-life Sherry who showed up later, with many of the same endearing qualities, didn’t have the same penchant for creating nicknames. We would have all been doomed.
  3. Wendy: In the upcoming Nearly Canaan. This pastor’s wife has qualities that really play off Jaya well. She began to write herself.
  4. Pastor Bob: Nearly Canaan. Changing the Roman Catholic priest in the early drafts to a flashier Fundamentalist/Evangelical preacher created someone much more, well, surprising. He has a good heart – and a great wife.
  5. Fran: Big Inca. Just what Bill needs.
  6. Rusty: Pit-a-Pat High Jinks. As he demonstrates, some in the movement had practical skills and insights. I wonder what happened in the rest of his life – and whether he ever married his lovely companion.
  7. Judith (rather than Tara!): Pit-a-Pat High Jinks. She’s grown much more interesting and intriguing than the young woman who inspired her, way back when. There’s even a novel you’ll probably never see, at least not under my name.
  8. Satyabama: Yoga Bootcamp. She has all of the wonder that embodied yoga for us.
  9. Surfer Girl: Hometown News. In real life, she never gave me the time of day.
  10. Alexandros: What’s Left. In the later revisions of the manuscript, Alex came fully into his own. Cassia was already “talking to me” and essentially writing herself, and then Alex stepped up to match. Oh, I wish my cousins had been something like him.

~*~

In the books you’ve read, who’s your favorite character?

 

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Ten once-exotic foods that have become commonplace

Americans’ food choices expanded unbelievably in the generation between the events told in Daffodil Uprising and What’s Left. Admittedly, Cassia’s mother had grown up with a wider awareness of dietary options than had her father – her mother’s Greek heritage relied on olive oil rather than Crisco, for starters, and running a restaurant meant keeping an eye open for new options. Roasting a lamb for Easter would have been in her mother’s background but probably made her father’s side cringe. Still, it’s mindboggling to think how exotic some of today’s common dishes were just a half-century ago.

Here are ten:

  1. Broccoli. And zucchini and summer squash, which show up on a lot of national chain restaurant plates. Hey, even fresh parsley.
  2. Yogurt. Seriously, even before you add granola, another upstart.
  3. Tacos. For that matter, anything Mexican like burritos or quesadillas or margaritas. We’ve even added a holiday every May just to celebrate this development.
  4. Salsa. And sriracha and any of those Texas hot sauces. Whatever happened to ketchup?
  5. Sushi. I still can’t believe you can get it at the grocery.
  6. Thai. For that matter, anything Asian. You know, this extends to Vietnamese and Indian and even authentic Chinese. For me as a child, chop suey on top of wormy dried noodles, both out of a can, were as adventurous as it got for miles around.
  7. Pasta. Yes, any of those various Italian noodles. Our spaghetti used to come with sauce in a can. Seriously. And a spaghetti dinner was typically a fundraising event in a church. Oh, and it was still pronounced EYE-talian. Ouch!
  8. Espresso. The word itself conjured up images of beatniks. And now? Just think of all the gourmet coffee storefronts and drive-throughs. Not just Starbucks, either. You no longer have to explain cappuccino or latte or café au lait apologetically, thank goodness. Many of us even make our own.
  9. Flatbreads. As in wraps, especially, though they can be the foundation of a good pizza. Well, speaking of breads, add baguettes and croutons to the list of advances. We’ve really come a long way, baby.
  10. Real cheese. Not the processed stuff. We now have so many glorious choices we could do another Tendril on just this one item. Hallelujah!

History? Pizza had recently entered the mainstream. And wine was still a daunting frontier.

What would you add to the list?

You can join in ‘Pit-a-Pat High Jinks’

Pit-a-pat is the sound of hands drumming as well as rain on the roof. Both fit my newest novel, which is being released today at Smashwords.com.

The book continues Cassia’s discoveries about her future father’s mysterious adventures before he meets her mother and settles down into marriage.

Here he heads for the hills after graduating from college, moving into a dilapidated farmhouse he shares with a dozen or so other young rebels and recluses. He goes back-to-the-earth with his housemates and their dogs and cats and chickens as well as their fields and abandoned orchard plus the surrounding ponds and forests. Nude swimming, anyone? Off they go.

He’s also coming to grips with his first full-time job, working as a photographer at the local small-town newspaper, where his bohemian ways don’t always fit well. Still, a job’s a job.

His life really perks up through eccentric new friendships around the campus in the valley, especially a young dreamer known as Drummer.

Sometimes it all resembles a three-ring circus.

In his heart, though, he’s looking for love – along with healing after being jettisoned by his college sweetheart. Running through Pit-a-Pat High Jinks is a series of lovers and passionate encounters that ultimately advance his erotic experience and understanding. Please note that the story can be rather graphic. (You will need to set the adults-only button to find it at Smashwords.) The tale is set, after all, in an era of free love and recreational substance exploration.

It’s a poignant and timeless mix of youthful escapades and mayhem.

Be among the first to read my newest novel.

Mixmaster? Just look at ‘Daffodil’

What, me as a Mixmaster?

Just look at the topics percolating in my novel Daffodil Uprising.

Anybody got a boxed cake mix? That was a popular use for this kitchen gadget. Here’s an English Sunbeam Mixmaster model A24, circa 1969–72. (Wikimedia Commons photo by Mitch Ames.)

Here are ten:

  1. The Sixties. As the subtitle says, this book is about the making of a hippie. It’s a turbulent time.
  2. The Establishment. The military-industrial complex and its old-boy network hold undue sway on the direction of the university, often at the expense of the students or faculty. How can their power trips be thwarted?
  3. Marijuana and other illicit drugs. Recreational substance use become commonplace, a unifying element for many youths. But it comes at a cost.
  4. Free love. The Pill changes sexual relationships, no doubt about that. But romantic relationships are still tricky.
  5. Antiwar protests and the military draft weigh heavily on young adult American males. It fuels anger, fear, and a sense of helplessness.
  6. Mentors and elders. While Kenzie comes to Daffodil to be nurtured in a fast-track fine arts curriculum, the place he really finds guidance is among his peers – especially the elders in his dorm and his future sister-in-law Nita. They are crucial to his personal growth.
  7. Community and network. Kenzie’s interactions with dormmates and, later, his housemates plus select others are essential for his survival and advancement. It’s not healthy to be alone, no matter how independent you imagine yourself to be.
  8. The practice of an art. Photography is central to Kenzie’s self-identity, but he is still looking to see exactly where that leads. Having a concert pianist as a roommate adds to his comprehension as an artist. And then there’s his dorm’s little literary enterprise, pushing him in an entirely different direction. How far can he bend?
  9. High hopes and broken promises. Kenzie and his circle are so green and full of dreams. The university itself recruits him for an enterprising career track, and then his passionate embrace of the lover who fuels aspirations of soul mate send him even higher. But not everything is rosy, and the disillusionment can be crushing.
  10. The American Midwest. Kenzie’s roots in Iowa and his new surroundings in southern Indiana give a particular flavor to the developments. It’s not as out-of-the-way as they think.

Be among the first to read my newest novel.

What’s gonna be happenin’ here this year

Across town from this red barn, when I sit in the 250-year-old Quaker meetinghouse, the ancient Regulator clock ticks away. It irritates some worshipers and comforts others.

I know the timepiece wasn’t part of the original décor. Likely arrived a hundred or more years later. The classic Regulator, with its eight-day run on a single winding, came along with the railroads as one way of getting everyone on the same time to match the trains’ timetables. No more guessing, I guess. These days, our instrument gains about eight minutes a day. But it’s also on its last legs … or hands, ahem. The clock repairers have told us that much.

There’s something fitting about an old clock marking time now. Its heartbeat, so rooted in the past, has an air of eternity along with the flash of the passing present.

Hard as it is for me to believe, the Red Barn is entering its eighth year, and each one has been somewhat different. Last year, for instance, the focus shifted to my newly released novel, What’s Left, and some of that emphasis will continue through the year coming. That volume has become central to the series that originally proceeded it, and as a result of recent revisions, those books have now been thoroughly reworked to more fully embody the new perspectives.

As a result, we’ll also be reflecting the releases of two more of those novels this year, plus another thoroughly revised tale involving yoga.

With these publications, I’m feeling the satisfaction of having accomplished a standard I long believed was within my reach. I hope readers will feel similar pleasure in their pages.

~*~

Jnana’s Red Barn is the flagship of my related WordPress blogs, which are also gearing up for the new year.

Thistle/Flinch, my personal small-press operation, will keep the name in its address even as the imprint itself goes to the originally planned Thistle/Finch moniker, after the golden songbird – just for the L of it, as a punster might say. (It might be confusing, I know, but it beats changing the URL altogether.)

Its pace of releases will step up to one a week, including photo albums and printable broadsides.

The new direction will also reissue many of the earlier collections in much shortened, easier-to-handle formats. A full-length collection may be great when you’re buying a paper edition, but it’s just too clumsy, I think, in a PDF file.

Chicken Farmer I Still Love You, meanwhile, will be recasting its Talking Money series, this time keeping each post short, sweet, and more tightly focused for individual reflection. These useful exercises in addressing personal finances are timeless, ready for a new generation to apply their wisdom.

As Light Is Sown will also be in an encore mode as it repeats its Daybook of inspiration that originally ran in 2014.

Take a look at them all!

I hope they add pleasure and value to your new year.

ADMITTING THE DARKER SIDES OF HIPPIE

I’ve spent a lot of time over the years pondering the hippie movement. The nation has stubbornly maintained a state of denial regarding those years – and the consequences for public policy have been toxic. The hippie side, especially, has been portrayed as an unrealistic stereotype. Nobody, but nobody, really looked or acted like that.

My wife – who came along after the flowering of the movement and grew up in the Deep South, far from its vitality – contends that the hippie label itself now means “loser.” I’d like to disagree, but when I look around at those who outwardly fit the image, I usually have to agree. Even trying to come up with a suitable synonym can be elusive. Bikers most look the role but hardly embody the light-hearted essence or its underlying desperation.

In revising my novels set in the period, I’ve finally more fully acknowledged the darker facets of the era. Some hippies were violent, contrary to peace. There was anger, contrary to love. There were freeloaders and bums and betrayals. As for bad drug trips or destructive addiction? In the end, so much feels like a string of broken promise. We had so much potential and came much closer to achieving the dream than we might have imagined, only to see it slip from our hands.

An America of Walmart and Fox is nothing like the healthy alternative of community and equality we anticipated. Politics and the power of global conglomerates has been responsible for much of the loss – I’ll save those rants for later.

The dream, though, doesn’t need to die. In fact, its essence may be more essential now than ever before. Having my character Cassia look at it from today feels quite relevant. I hope so.

That said, I’ve changed the name of the series of novels from Hippie Trails to Freakin’ Free Spirits, which I feel is more accurate regarding the individuals inhabiting the stories.

Let me know what you think.

Daffodil Uprising

My new novel reflects much of my revised thinking, as related a generation later.