Further developments percolate into the revised stories

In the five years since the publication of my Hippie Trails novels and their transmutation into the new and improved Freakin’ Free Spirits cycle now appearing, I’ve learned a lot about the counterculture experience.

Some of it has sprung from comments you’ve made here at the Red Barn, some of it from observations I’ve received after reconnecting with others who shared in some of the experiences I recounted, and some from remarks made by others in casual conversations or online groups.

I’m thinking, too, of how much the nation has yet to learn from the experience.

Despite the emotional devastation of the ill-advised Vietnam engagement, the country went on to launch two wars in Iraq as well as the unending quagmire in Afghanistan. They’re costing us dearly, especially when politicians tell us we can’t afford health care or education – and still insist we can pay for these horrific misadventures.

On a more positive note, there’s much to reclaim in rebuilding community. Cassia’s great-grandfather’s vision of an inner-city village still resonates with me. Are there relationships akin to family we can nurture and sustain? I hope so.

As for her uncle’s guerrilla economix? Quite possibly, especially if you watch were you choose to shop.

Here, then, is to the continuing Revolution of Peace & Love. Cheers!

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When the author starts choking up

One of Kenzie’s lovers in Pit-a-Pat High Jinks had long puzzled me. In the earlier versions of the story, I pretty much ran with a set of details mirroring those I had encountered in real life. I refrained from speculating on what she wasn’t telling me – or, by extension, Kenzie.

In the latest set of revisions, though, I ventured beyond that self-imposed taboo. I had learned from two other girlfriends how devastating childhood abuse could be. Yes, in this fictional case, the hypothesis fit. Not that it had to be factually true, but rather that it was a plausible possibility – that was enough for a novelist. As I fleshed out that incident and its impact, I began weeping. If only I had known more of her at the time or more of all three, would the course of our relationships gone differently? The feeling of deep loss and grieving was pervasive, all these decades later.

Likewise, as I was reworked the text that morphed into Daffodil Uprising, the focus shifted from the lighthearted face of the hippie experience to a broader comprehension of its desperation and even destructive fringes – and that sensation also had me grieving. As a deep sense of loss regarding the promise we saw on the horizon but failed to reach and fulfill washed over me, I began seeing the novel as a requiem for the hippie dream.

With Kenzie’s daughter Cassia at my side, though, I started thinking about the way dreams work. They have one foot in the past and the other in the present. And then, even when she was looking at her father’s history, she had her own generation in mind. From where I stand, their situation looks even more confusing than ours had. What can we who did change so much of society, pro and con, offer them now in continuing that vision?

These are dire times, friends. Anyone else feeling some déjà vu and unease?

On to a new generation

My newest novel, What’s Left, springs from the ending of my first published novel, where her future father lands in a bohemian band of siblings who’ve just taken over the family restaurant after a car crash killed their parents.

It’s a lot of responsibility on young shoulders.

~*~

Sometimes, when you put a dish together, the balance is off. It can even mean starting all over. What do you think of this?

At home, Tito and Diana, still in school, need to make sure their siblings are up to the job of parenting and running a house. What about their grades, the laundry, cleaning the bathrooms? Who pays the bills? Who’s really in charge, for that matter? The two youngest do work part-time at Carmichael’s, where they don’t need to be told they’re under public scrutiny. The balance at Big Pink, meanwhile, is undergoing adjustment.

The two youngest do work part-time at Carmichael’s, where they don’t need to be told they’re under public scrutiny. The balance at Big Pink, meanwhile, is undergoing adjustment.

In his final half-dozen years Pappa Stavros had been uncharacteristically aggressive in his dealings, not to mention bad loans to his buddies or timing.

~*~

What I know of the food business is all second-hand, but I still wonder about taking leadership of an enterprise as a young adult. In my early 20s as second-in-command of a small newsroom, I was given surprising leeway and yet I’m still grateful for the stability provided by my older boss – even though I’m not sure he was always the most mature in some of our gunfights with the wider community.

We did have a great corner restaurant, though, run by two brothers and their wives. Just a coincidence, if you’re thinking of Cassia.

Have you ever worked in a restaurant? Doing what? What’s your strongest memory?

~*~

A large Queen Anne-style house with a distinctive witch’s hat tower something like this is the headquarters for Cassia’s extended family in my new novel, What’s Left. If only this one were pink, like hers. (Manchester, New Hampshire.)

Bringing better order to the series

Do we all work differently, at least when it comes to something like writing? Maybe those of you who have been to week-long writing workshops or taken seminars can better answer that, but I am amazed to hear of women who have created wonderful works in short takes between changing diapers and preparing dinner and doing the laundry. Me? I need chunks of time, and that included those years when I was working in a newsroom for a living.

My hippie novels were originally one very long work, as was my Pacific Northwest series. For practical reasons, I cut them apart, and in doing so, they lost their continuity.

Rather than being the ending to the hippie run, Subway Hitchhikers wound up appearing first – in print, at that. In the novella’s distillation for publication, some of the backstory needed to be inserted. By the time the opportunity finally came to issue the earlier parts as ebooks, those manuscripts had been reworked into independent stories, or so I thought.

With the books before the public at last, I thought I could move on.

Given the distance of a few more years, though, unfinished business nagged at me, prompting me to begin work on the volume that grew into What’s Left. Frankly, it was the most difficult writing project of my life. Just what had happened to the hippies, anyway? And why should anyone care?

Unlike my earlier writing sprees, my attention was no longer diverted by employment elsewhere. In having more time to ponder the characters and implications, my focus shifted in stages from the action itself and more into feelings. Lately I’ve become aware of how much that in itself differentiates journalism from fiction. This was a huge step from my career as a newspaper editor, no matter how much I had been looking to literature as a means of personally overcoming the limitations of communicating in the lowest common denominator – I had always wanted a bigger, more expressive vocabulary, for one thing, as well as longer sentences for variety and sweep. There were many times I longed for something other than “said” as attribution for quotations. People do shout, after all, or whisper or hiss or sigh, but that all injects the reporter’s interpretation into the account. Remember that objectivity goal? Just how objective can a novelist be, in contrast?

So much for my professional training or my literary ambitions.

Revision by revision, the focus of my new novel shifted away from what Cassia hoped to recover of her father and on to his reasons for joining in her mother’s extended family – especially the clues she gleaned from his amassed photography – and from there to his legacy and her role in preserving it. And then she started talking in her own voice and taking over. The book quite simply became about her discovering herself and her mission as she recovered from her profound personal loss at age eleven. It was no longer about the hippie era at all but rather her own times.

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WHEN THE PLANS EXPAND

Deciding to move the family restaurant into the old textbook building next door opens the door for all kinds of changes. Playing around with the possibilities was fun for me – hey, I wasn’t really constrained financially, was I? Could we even use building blocks or construct a movie set? Alas, the story needed to move along faster. Besides, it’s about Cassia ultimately and what she and her generation would inherit. Here’s a passage before I boiled it down for the final version of my new novel, What’s Left:

Graham’s the first to admit the structure will need to be expanded, not just renovated. Adding to the rear will allow for the central cookery. The traditional Carmichael’s burger joint would then take the strip facing the campus, while Carmichael’s Bliss could run along the side street that bisects our holdings. The second floor would allow for function rooms, while the new Carmichael’s Stardust could sit above Bliss. Adding a third floor would provide for offices, and above that, a penthouse Dimitri and Graham, along with a small rooftop garden.

~*~

Among the many considerations that went into envisioning the new design was just what kind of ambiance they wanted. Would there be booths, and if so, would they have high backs for privacy or lower ones for visibility? There are actually a lot of questions like that, when you start investigating. I realized that would be better served in a restaurant trade magazine than in my new novel.

Still, it’s fair to ask. Do you want privacy when you dine? Or do you prefer being able to watch people? Is there a particular design statement you think would fit the new Carmichael’s?

~*~

A view of a Noodles & Company kitchen from the counter. Photo by Malcolm Tredinnick, Sydney, Australia, via Wikimedia Commons.

In my novel, the family restaurant could have been like this.

IVY TOWERS? OR IVORY TOWERS?

Well, it was fun trying to envision the possibilities of the new operation. But I left plenty of detail in the final version of my new novel, What’s Left, as it is.

In contrast to her father’s desire for a bold contemporary design, here’s a whimsical touch from an earlier draft:

Graham suggests we plant climbing ivy. Says it’s subdued, reflects the campus across the street and softens the harshness of the old textbook building itself. He’s right.

Why stop there?

In the emerging design, a permanent awning extends over the sidewalk. Graham’s suggestion of not just ivy on the wall but flowerboxes under the windows meets widespread approval. And the entry opens into a light-filled atrium.

~*~

Well, I’m starting to like the look of it. Now, to see what happened to this.

I do have to remember that all of this is a backdrop for a bigger story – Cassia herself.

Which reminds me. There are many fun movies about food, wine, and restaurants. Which of your favorites would you suggest we see?

~*~

A Greek Orthodox icon of St. Nicholas by Nicholas Hartmann. (Via Wikimedia Commons.)

Cassia’s roots included inspiration like this.