I’m owning up to fantasy and the paranormal

Never thought I’d be writing a ghost story, but that’s what happened in a chapter toward the end of What’s Left. Actually, it kinda dictated itself.

In retrospect, it looks pretty natural, considering that Cassia’s trying to recover her deceased father. What happens along the way, though, is that she uncovers a lot about her other ancestors, too, and from there she begins realizing the crucial impact many people, past and present, have in shaping her future.

The ghost story wasn’t all my idea. I was inspired by one in the novel whose structure I was adapting. The two chapters, for what it’s worth, are quite different.

The poet Gary Snyder, quoting an ancient Chinese folk song, has noted that the traditional way of making an ax handle was to take another one and use it as the model in making a copy. Likewise, I wanted something other than the usual 20- to 24-chapter novel and, as it turned out, the structural model for the new story remained intact. It didn’t quite hold for Daffodil Uprising, but it was still useful. The model also had me looking at each chapter as a panel or tile that might be moved around independently, a concept that didn’t entirely remain in what emerged.

As for the ghost story?

Remember, I’m coming from a “just the facts, ma’am,” career in daily journalism. Verifiable facts. Cold, hard facts. As for emotions? In fiction, I might stretch that to reporting what individuals say they’re feeling, but beyond that? Well, as I’m learning, fiction allows me to record how something feels, rather than how it empirically is. A lot of that awareness, by the way, came about for me in my revisions with Cassia.

Still, when it comes to ghosts, remember – little of my writing is conventional. So my ghost story winds up being humorous, rather than scary. Got a problem with that?

I might add that living in New England, I’ve become aware of how many people admit having ghosts in their houses. Even highly educated, otherwise rational folks. As far as I know, mine’s an exception, unless the specters inhabit that room we still haven’t discovered after 19 years here – the one housing all of the things that have gone awol, one by one.

~*~

I’ve previously posted on my aversion to genre, and that includes fantasy, especially of a paranormal sort.

But Cassia had me reconsidering that. I mean, I loved the Hobbit epic back in college. And what do I make of my appreciation for mythology or even Wagner’s Ring Cycle? Where is the line drawn?

So as I ventured on to revise the novels dealing with Cassia’s father (remember, she was nowhere on the horizon of my radar at the time they were written and published), I felt a new liberty. Why not employ elements of fantasy and paranormal, especially, in addressing the ’60s? They really do seem to fit the story.

I’ve long had a fondness for surrealism, which was a central strand of my subway novel. But my new thinking about fantasy now infused the revisions there, too. The second half of Subway Visions is livelier that way. The book is no longer an image in search of a narrative.

My novella With a Passing Freight Train of 119 Cars and Twin Cabooses also was framed on a surrealistic leap. The characters, though drawn from different points in history, were never ghosts, but seeing them from a fantasy perspective certainly made the revision easier as I realized it could fit into the third book of Tender Connections, my series about Jaya.

A related novella, Kokopelli’s Hornpipe, likewise benefitted. Its basis was mythology. What, a flute-playing giant cricket couldn’t also be fantasy?

To pull the two novellas together as a single book, I really needed a third novella, and Miller at the Springs emerged to sit between them. It easily slipped over the limits of hard-and-fast for me and was a delight to write, even when I had no idea where it was headed.

The three now fit neatly, I think, into The Secret Side of Jaya. Let me know what you think.

Gee, I wonder if I’ll ever have a place to include dragons? Or …

~*~

Don’t forget: You better be good to toads!

Could genius hide out in an out-of-the-way crossroads?

When biblical translator and subversive revolutionary John Wycliffe (born 1384) meets up with the psychedelic painter Hieronymous Bosch ( born 1450) in a railroad-siding town on the Great Plains, who knows what will erupt. Especially when modern dance genius Isadora Duncan (born 1877) joins the action. Who says great genius doesn’t continue, even in the most out-of-the-way places?

That’s the premise of my novella, With a Passing Freight Train of 119 Cars and Twin Cabooses, which has become part of my new book, The Secret Side of Jaya, now that she’s entered the fray. Jaya has, after all, shown up in town as a do-gooder social activist. How else is she supposed to keep her sanity in relative isolation?

Well, there is the Laundromat plus a subversive operation from an old warehouse owned by Virgil and Homer, as in Latin and Greek classics, erupting in my wildest prose to date. The original work bitterly split one competition jury that awarded publication honors to another author. So be warned, you’ll either hate or love it.

But it’s only part of the resulting new collection.

Uncovering alternative takes on real history

Textbook versions of history gloss over a lot of details, especially when it comes to the lives of common people rather than the powerful and rich. The biographies of great figures add to that top-down perspective.

One of the things I love about genealogy, especially in nonconformist traditions or ethnic subcultures, is the way it opens alternative understandings of the hopes, dreams, and struggles of life outside of the spotlight.

I look for it in fiction, too, as well as poetry.

My own novel What’s Left springs from that kind of investigation from a Greek-American experience. My new The Secret Side of Jaya adds three other takes from the agricultural prairie, the Ozarks, and finally Native American strands.

Maybe histories aren’t always told by the victors. Not if you look closer or take a longer timespan.

Maybe this is backwards, but the cover can change the story

This self-publishing field means an author is typically deeply involved in all parts of the project rather than just the writing itself.

In my Smashwords releases, I initially hired a book designer to do the covers, but my current releases have all been created by me. (Someday, I really would like to have an artist design the front, but for now, I’m sticking to photos or existing stock artwork. We’re on a strict budget.)

Still, finding an appropriate image can be a challenge.

Has anyone else had this experience? You come across a picture that clicks and select it – and then you go back into your manuscript to make the visual fit better with the text?

For me, that happened with the portrait I settled on for Promise – the model gave me a clearer vision of my character Jaya. (That novel’s now part of Nearly Canaan.)

More recently, with Yoga Bootcamp, the handstand dog reminded me to keep the story lighthearted and humorous in my final revision. Did my decision to nickname the swami Big Pumpkin and Elvis come after the pooch was on board? I don’t recall now, but it certainly wouldn’t surprise me.

Do tell me about your favorite book cover. Does it influence how you see the story? If you’re a writer, has the art on your book led to revisions?

~*~

By the way, I do hate it when the character on the cover is shown, say, as a blonde but is described in the story as a brunette. That sort of thing.

And don’t forget: You better be good to toads!

Are you an ebook reader?

Now that I’ve been posting about some of the ebooks I’ve been reading, I’d like to hear about your experiences in digital browsing.

Are you among those who are books sold in digital formats, which now fill a fifth of the market?

What platform do you use? Kindle, I assume, is most likely, but there are more? What do you like or dislike about the various platforms?

What are your reasons for going digital?

I have to admit I still love paper and typography, but the economy and lack of clutter in ebooks have their appeal. So, yes, how about you?

I’m still fascinated by the potential of stories that come out of subways

Millions of people ride the subways each day, and many of them read English. In fact, you’ll see many of them are deep into books as they’re transported. Yet I’m surprised how little writing reflects this experience. Where else can you see so much humanity sitting right in front of you or dashing past?

Well, my Subway Visions tries to convey my experiences, real and imagined.

Two significant nonfiction books are Jennifer Toth’s 1993 The Mole People, based on her year of reporting on the plight of the homeless people who took to living in the tunnels under Manhattan in the Reagan years, and Jacqueline Cangro’s The Subway Chronicles, a collection of essays by the likes of Jonathan Lethem, Francine Prose, Calvin Trillin, and Lawrence Block. By the way, Block admits a fondness for including subway scenes in his prolific output of novels.

My survey of ebooks at Smashwords has added others to the list, not all of them in New York City. One tells of a year playing music in New York’s stations. Another of collecting umbrellas in Tokyo. There is a fondness for seeing the underground as the gates of hell, with one volume in particular standing out as a masterful fantasy that’s meticulously researched.

To see what I’ve found and my reactions, go to the reviews at my Jnana Hodson at Smashwords page.

Got any related transportation books to recommend? Trains, buses, airplanes? Other?

 

Now for a rash of Covid novels

Word on the street reports that with all of this downtime, wannabe novelists have turned to the No. 1 topic of conversation as their prompt, and already literary agents and editors are turning off at the first reference to coronavirus.

My take? Besides the fact a reader can devour only so many volumes, even if interested?

I think it’s too early to tell the story. We’re only in the opening round of this affliction, which was supposed to drop off in the face of warmer weather. Only it hasn’t. Let’s see what happens around the corner, likely the real whammer come September.

Though, as one writing buddy suggests, that first book could be the beginning of a series, if you do it right.

New Adult should be a much more popular genre

When I was reflecting on genres for my novels What’s Left and Nearly Canaan, I found myself perplexed that Young Adult Fiction is geared mainly for preteens and early teens. Nothing adult about the books at all. What happened to Truth in Advertising? And that’s before getting to the reality that a preponderance of the books falls into romance, fantasy, paranormal, sci fi, or some mixture of them. The master John Green seems to be the big exception.

The genre Coming of Age is too cliché, especially when a work stretches into the main character’s 30s, but I am intrigued by what happens to many young adults in their years between college and raising children. For some, it’s a pretty intense struggle of establishing a career and a solid partnership, one where values also are in conflict.

That’s what I would expect of the New Adult category. Instead, it’s typically more romance, fantasy, paranormal, and sci fi, straight or blended. Especially Romance.

So where would the big books of broader content go?

As my reviews at my Jnana Hodson at Smashwords page reveal, I’m not averse to reading good entries in the genre – some are actually quite delightful and instructive. It’s just that I keep hoping for more that stretch higher.

Got any New Adult books to recommend?

Looking for more fiction revolving around yoga

My Yoga Bootcamp novel, and its earlier incarnation, Ashram, seem to sit in a rather slim niche on the bookshelf. There’s simply not a lot of fiction reflecting the experience. Devan Malore’s The Churning is among the exceptions.

Most of the books I’m finding are nonfiction, often dry doctrinaire texts from the perspective of a particular lineage. For that matter, relatively little is about the physical exercises, or hatha yoga.

With the fiction I have found, a handful books have yoga as central to the events, and each one is different. Not all of them head off to India, either. Some have a strong element of fantasy, while others are about living in the everyday world, often humorously. Well, and then there’s romance. I still think there’s more to be told, given the popularity of the practice.

For the particulars of what I’ve read, go to the reviews at my Jnana Hodson at Smashwords page.

Got any related books to recommend?

Learning more about the Buddha and strands of his legacy

In my four Freakin’ Free Spirits novels, Cassia’s father is a Tibetan Buddhist scholar as well as a noted photographer. There’s even a rumor he was accidentally reincarnated in Iowa rather than in the Himalayas.

In my survey of other ebooks at Smashwords, I’ve found a range of helpful books on Buddhism. Most are of the nonfiction variety, but some tell of personal experience more than textbook classifications. A few even go for flip, self-deprecating humor. Especially illuminating are the ones by Westerners who have long practice to draw on.

Of the lines of teaching, my bias has long been toward Zen, with its spare aesthetic, and Tibetan, which is far more liturgical, esoteric, and colorful. In fact, the more I investigate, the more I’m convinced that Tibetan is a lot like Greek Orthodox Christianity (as I intuitively assumed when drafting my first novel). Zen, meanwhile, is more like Quaker Christianity – something others have also noted.

Without getting technical, what I’ve found most informative in my recent readings is the much different nature of the Buddhism that headed from India into Indochina rather than the branch that headed north in China and then on to Tibet, on one side, or Japan, on the other.

It’s quite a rich mix. To see what I’ve found, turn to the book reviews at my Jnana Hodson at Smashwords page.

Got any related books to recommend?