Could it be a mutually transitional relationship?

In the final revision of my novel What’s Left, the voice and direction of the story changed greatly. For one thing, it became much more Cassia’s own.

To my surprise, some of the material about her father lost its urgency or importance. Here was one passage that would be refocused and condensed:

The crucial turning point comes, she says, just before Baba arrives here. Tara’s always defended her own space — what she perceives as her essential freedom — and as long as he could accept that, they could spend time together. At heart, though, he’d require more commitment than she would offer, but this once, knowing he’d be headed to the monastery, the situation forced him to take that out of the equation. He had to admit he had no idea what would follow his cloistered withdrawal from the world, and demanding a commitment he couldn’t return at this time would be unrealistic and unfair. That insight, in turn, gave both of them a rare freedom space to concentrate on the present rather than planning an ironclad future together. We can enjoy the next few months together, at best, and they could take everything at that. It was the healthiest — and most rewarding — relationship he’d had. Neither was clinging to the other.

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When it comes to relationships, individuals can vary greatly in their needs and expectations and what they can provide for their partner.

Would you feel comfortable in a relationship like this? For how long?

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In the family, Cassia may have had food like this. Halvah and nut-cake at Mario restaurant, Monolithos, Santorini. (Photo by Klearchos Kapoutsis via Wikimedia Commons.)

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Tara, the lover who wasn’t ready to settle down

In my novel What’s Left, Cassia’s aunt Nita personally knew three important non-family members in Cassia’s father’s past.

Tara is one she viewed mostly from a distance, the lover who matched him best before meeting Nita’s sister.

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Here’s a longer look, one I condensed in the final revision:

If anything, Tara was a lioness. It’s not just her sunburst of hair. It’s the way she moves and regards the universe. The way she even purrs, when pleased, or growls when vexed. It manifests in an insistence on social justice and rails at power-seeking machinations of any kind, public or private. No, she shares our aversion to anything underhanded or sneaky. But the whole time she and Baba are lovers, she’s far from ready to settle down. She’s searching, even probing, for the direction she wants to follow. What Baba never sees is her underlying anxiety or the ways it’s on the verge of explosion. Still, she opens his eyes and heart to so much.

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There have been moments in my life when I ponder how things would have gone when someone like Tara was finally ready to settle down but I was otherwise engaged.

Personally, what do you think of Tara?

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Cassia’s roots included inspiration like Fira, Santorini. (Photo by Rennett Stowe via Wikimedia Commons.)

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About that feminine point of view in my novels

Why a young female as my protagonist? Fair question. Since my novel What’s Left began as an attempt to answer a younger generation’s questions about the hippie movement, I felt a girl would be more receptive to its issues and sensations. Many girls have, after all, continued the identity, while it appears that boys have largely become more militant or even sullen.

As the novel developed, Cassia’s parents and their values retreated into the background. Far more compelling is Cassia’s own identity, development, and confrontations. Hope you agree.

My new series focuses on Jaya and her evolving awareness. Yoga is part of it, along with career issues and close relationships. She has a richer encounter with the events, I’d say, than Joshua does – there are many points where he’s largely a reactive or passive presence. Ultimately, The Secret Side of Jaya has no parallel in his more limited vision or imagination.

I have to confess the story didn’t start out to be told from her side, but it does feel much more fitting this way.

But I am speaking as the author. Readers and critics are open to their own takes.

Care to weigh in?

The Secret Side of Jaya

Among the non-family members in his past, the one now called Liz

As Cassia delves into her father’s photo negatives in my novel What’s Left, she’s bound to come up with a slew of Liz, who became his first lover.

Somewhere there’s also the experimental short movie he made, the one that made the rounds of avant-garde showings. The one featuring Liz’s shimmering breast.

Cassia’s aunt Nita had been Liz’ dorm roommate when the whole thing began. She’d tell her niece plenty, should the kid ask. She’s also a central figure in Daffodil Uprising and Pit-a-Pat High Jinks.

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Romantic love is only one of the options when it comes to emotional spiraling.

Could you tell about telling me of some event that knocked the floor out from under your feet?

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Cassia’s roots included inspiration like this Orthodox icon of Saint Agatha. Via Wikimedia Commons.

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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.

How divinely appropriate

In my novel What’s Left, her mother inherits a name whose attributes suit her well. The chaste Roman goddess Diana (or Artemis in Greek) rules the hunt, the moon, childbirth, and nature. In the story, she’s calm and faithful, with a spark of fire that infuses her music-making and likely much more. I even have her evolving into much more of a night-person than her early-rising husband, though I hadn’t thought about that connection till now.

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As I wrote earlier:

The real hunt had begun. With practice, within this lifetime, however long or brief, a remarkable enlightenment might yet blossom into wisdom. From flowers and bees, the harvest comes.

“Come, Dhyana, let us sit together. Let us ride in unison. That is all.” He accepted fully, “The female energy is my Shakti power.”

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Given the urgency of her father’s Buddhist practice, it’s entirely fitting that his wife — Cassia’s mother — would share in the experience. Here he also recognizes an Eastern perception of a uniquely feminine spiritual energy that would complement his own nature — in a way also honoring the goddess essence of Diana’s own name.

By the way, if you’re interested in the origin, meaning, and pronunciation of my name Jnana, visit the Bio page here at the Red Barn. Think it fits me?

Do you know anyone whose first name perfectly suits their personality? Or how about someone who’s the exact opposite of what you’d expect?

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Roman goddess Diana

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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?

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,

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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?

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The vibe lives on, one way or another.

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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?