Are you sure you’d want your parents to see this?

In What’s Left, Cassia spends hour after hour organizing the chaotic mess of her father’s photo studio after he vanishes in an avalanche halfway around the globe.

He was something of a hippie, too, as she sees in some of his excesses from the period. Here’s something that popped up for her in a conversation with her aunt Nita. You won’t find it in the final version of the novel, though — some things just got toned down.

And? You ever see the movie he made about the courthouse?

The one with the dome turning into his girlfriend’s breast? Diz’s?

You remember he made that while he was still an undergraduate? Before all the really freaky stuff that followed?

Yes, and that reminds me. We need to have to get that reel converted to digital from Super 16. Before it starts disintegrating or fading. 

You know what a hit that was in some circles? How he was on the verge of notoriety or celebrity?

So why didn’t he continue in that vein?

How would he have paid the bills? The big bills? Where were his introductions? Producers, distributors, even actors? Or his confidence,

~*~

I’ve been trying to think if there’s anything in my past quite that outrageous, but it all seems to be included in my Freakin’ Free Spirits series. My kids would likely be disappointed, but I’m glad my parents never knew the details. I hate to think, though, of some of the things my two girls are hiding from me. My, the times have changed!

What’s something you or your friends are hiding from your parents? What’s most shocked or surprised you about them? What other directions might their lives have taken? What might you hope your own kids never ask you about?

~*~

The vibe lives on, one way or another.

~*~

 

Apparently, Tolstoy never knew about kefi

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.

What would you suggest as a secret to happiness?

Sandals on men

When you see sandals on an American man, thank a beatnik.

In the 1950s, it would have been nearly unthinkable for a man to dress that comfortably.

Really, we were that uptight.

Now?

They’re everywhere.

At least in summer.

Remember, where I live, we get snow – lots of it, some years.

Can’t blame a beatnik for that.

Why settle on one explanation?

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.

Well, that’s how it looks from here.

What I’m encountering in a raft of ebooks

As an author of ebooks, I’ve been lately engaged in an orgy of reading works by my fellow Smashwords writers. Admittedly, many of my selections have veered toward writings that reflect topics in my own novels – hippies, yogis, subway riders, millennials, Buddhists, Greek-Americans, and the struggles of new adults, especially. Still, it feels good to get a sense of what others are up to, and their formatting does give me a better sense of my digital options.

As I do so, I often leave brief reviews as a guide for other readers with similar interests. You have no idea how much these mean to a writer, so let me urge you to do the same whenever possible. As one responded, just knowing that she was heard was warm and welcome affirmation.

Just because many of these books are what the big imprints would deem “not viable for commercial publication” does not mean they lack value.

One of my favorites is a two-part memoir by the daughter of Lebanese immigrants who wound up in Nebraska somewhere around the turn of the 20th century. Her candor and details, however simply told, strengthen my understanding of what I present as Cassia’s ancestry in What’s Left. I dread to imagine what would have happened to the memoir in an attempt to jazz it up for wider sales. We should feel honored being allowed in behind the doors of a particular family history so honestly revealed.

It’s something like visiting artists’ studios or art galleries rather than going to the big museums. The scale’s definitely different.

One thing I’m finding is that I apply a more laid-back standard in reviewing these volumes. Yes, they are cheaper, for one thing, but I also read these more like manuscripts than finally processed books. I’m looking especially for freshness and energy, the edge often absent in the book industry. Remember, the big houses no longer nurture talent in the hopes of reaping a hit five books later. Everyone has to start somewhere, and this is where the action is now. Besides, even commercially published works these days aren’t particularly well edited. Alas.

Still, I’m having some common complaints, the pet peeves of an aging copy editor.

“Grey” instead of the American “gray.”

“Towards” rather than the American “toward.”

“That” instead of “who.”

Punctuation errors, especially with single and double quote marks.

Short stories posing as novels. Admittedly, I’m frugal, but these short entries are rarely worth the same as a fully fleshed out book.

To see what I’ve been reading, go to the book reviews at my Jnana Hodson at Smashwords page.

Got any favorite ebooks to recommend?

Are you embraced fully into your mate’s family?

It’s a phenomenon I’ve observed repeatedly now, where a man finds his basic family connection through his wife’s siblings and parents, more than his own. He feels especially welcomed and embraced.

That’s the case with Cassia’s Baba in my novel What’s Left, when he becomes an active member of her mother’s extended clan. Well, it can also happen in the other direction, as it does with Cassia’s aunts Pia and Yin, or in Nearly Canaan, where Jaya grows especially close to her in-laws and vice versa.

This came up, too, when a friend and I were discussing our own lives and that of an important American figure we were examining. We realized it’s far more universal than we’d thought.

Can you tell me of a time you’ve seen this?

My newest novel revolves around young adult couples

I’m delighted to announce that my newest novel has just been published.

Nearly Canaan focuses on the lasting impact a single person can have, but its details often erupt from committed young adult couples interacting with each other.

The story takes off once Jaya leaves the ashram in Yoga Bootcamp.

Nearly Canaan

As she ventures forth to resume her career and teach yoga on the side, she becomes enmeshed in erotic passion, despite her best intentions. As she becomes half of twosome, she’s also influenced by two other couples – her lover’s parents and his pastor and wife Wendy.

Soon after, when Jaya and her beloved move on to the Ozarks, they grow close to another young couple, their new neighbors.

And when they arrive at last in their promised land, two more young couples as well as their landlords in the orchard weave into the action.

I didn’t set out with these overlapping circles as my model, but that’s what’s emerged. It’s quite exciting, actually.

The new novel is a thorough reworking of three earlier books – Promise, Peel (as in Apple), and St. Helens in the Mix.

Be among the first to read it!

Reading a dear friend’s memoir

A while back, she asked if I’d read the draft of her memoir. I felt honored. Besides, this is someone who had given a close critique of one of my novels-in-progress decades ago, and I had done the same for a collection of her essays that came a hairline away from book publication.

She had pointed me to a few published volumes I still find myself quoting frequently.

That was back before we could easily exchange things like manuscripts in emails. Had to make printouts and haul off to the post office or drive five hours, things like that.

This time, the copy came as a PDF. I put it aside until I could give it full attention. It was worth it.

As a fact of life, we had largely lost touch. We had never been neighbors. The closest they had lived to me was still an hour away, and then for 19 years they lived five hours off in rural Maine. When her career picked up and I became more enmeshed in my new family and other responsibilities, we had less time to visit, even before she and her husband relocated across the continent a few years ago. We wound up keeping in touch mostly through their daughter, who’s also my goddaughter.

So the memoir was a welcome opportunity to reconnect.

Let me say it’s a remarkable document, wonderfully written, and candid to the point of painfulness. This version is not for public circulation. Parts of it should be, but others are there as evidence of personal work ahead. Well, she has filled the role of a spiritual elder for me through some difficult stretches, and I’ll always be grateful.

I knew bits of the history, but the details deepened my understanding, reconstructed the chronology, and corrected some impressions I had wrong.

I certainly know her – and her husband – much better now.

Over the years, I’ve found that with some friends, when we get together after long stretches apart, we don’t need much time before we’re feeling no gap in our rapport.

This is certainly one of them.

A case of real life intersecting fiction

One of the many things I like about using the DuckDuckGo search engine as an alternative to Google is that its home page includes Pocket, an informative selection of intelligent, substantive articles, many drawn from magazine archives, rather than fluff about celebrities and sports.

This morning’s Pocket, for example, included a 2015 Narratively article by Lilly Dancyger, “Planning My Father-Daughter Dance Without My Dad.”

What especially caught my attention was the ways Lilly’s experience intersected with my novel, What’s Left.

Like Cassia in the book, Lilly lost her father to death when she was 11, and like Cassia, she dressed largely in black for years afterward. (Whew! Confirmation I had that part right.)

Unlike my novel’s character, though, Lilly dropped out of high school, sought relief in alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs, and embraced a dim future. The homeless were some of her favorite companions.

In contrast, Cassia had a large extended family that stayed with her, even when she kept pushing them away. Yes, she had struggles with her mother much like Lilly’s, and she skirted some of the self-destructive behavior, but each of the three aunts on her mother’s side of the family found ways during her difficult teen years to break through to her, as did several of her first-cousins. In today’s world, few are so fortunate, not with our fractured nuclear households.

Moreover, through her aunt Nita, Cassia also had her father’s trove of his professional photography to sift through, each shot reflecting his thoughts and feelings.

What Lilly presents – and I didn’t – is the workings of guilt within a survivor. As she declares, it merely “isn’t just about feeling unjustly lucky to have lived while someone else died; it’s guilt for going on without them, guilt for changing and growing and becoming a person they never knew. Any milestone is tinged with their absence, any joy feels like a betrayal, like you’ve forgotten them, if only for long enough to laugh at a good joke or enjoy a good meal. But as long as you’re in mourning, your life is still about them, and in that way, they’re still there.”

Lilly’s experience came to a head in planning for her wedding and trying to decide who would walk her down the aisle, if anyone, and who would share that first dance with her at the reception.

That wasn’t the case with Cassia, who instead chose to remain single. But Lilly’s words burn, all the same, as they point to another dimension my novel might have developed.