A few things that are factually untrue in my novels

Naturally, you invent some things when you’re writing a novel, and you bend some others to improve the fit.

But some other elements deliberately stretch reality, hopefully with good reason. Besides, that’s why it’s called fiction.

For example:

  1. There were no elders in my dorm, they just didn’t care. Or in most hippie circles. The ones who tried to be leaders are a whole other disaster.
  2. Swami wasn’t a guy in my experience, but readers couldn’t accept a woman in the role. Besides, I couldn’t nickname her Big Pumpkin, could I?
  3. No boat trips in a commercially open Arkansas cave. Maybe someday?
  4. No place on the Ohio River in Indiana is only an hour away from Naptown. I applied a bit of fantastical geography to better match the feel.
  5. No hitchhiking in any subway system I know of. Subway surfing is another matter.
  6. Kokopelli never left the Southwest, and I doubt he was in trouble the way Coyote would have been.
  7. Goodwin didn’t open up the family purse as liberally when it came to upgrading the paper.
  8. Kenzie’s sex life wasn’t this good. He had only one Summer of Love.
  9. I can’t actually prove or disprove what was going on in the university president’s bedroom.
  10. Small-town newspaper columnists don’t have contracts. Or anyone acting as their agent.

With a nod and a bow to Proust

Readers of Vanity Fair magazine may be catching a similarity between its back-of-the-issue Proust Questionnaire each month and many of my Tendrils postings this year. One difference is that when interviewing a chosen celebrity figure, each question gets a single answer, while Tendrils, with its listings of ten items, demands a full count on both hands, one-two-three on to one-zero.

The questionnaire itself, attributed to French author Marcel Proust (1871-1922), became a popular “confession album,” a kind of Victorian parlor game. When published by his son-in-law, the French president, it was subtitled “an album to record thoughts, feelings, etc.”

Frankly, they’re usually difficult for me to tackle. More personal than I usually navigate. But doing them as an exercise for Tendrils has had me reviewing much of my life from a fresh perspective, and maybe also is giving you a better idea of what makes me tick.

Still, some of them haven’t prompted a full ten responses from me. Here are some examples.

  1. What do you consider the lowest depth of misery? Being utterly alone. Quite distinct from blessed solitude.
  2. When and where were you happiest? Meeting Lady R and courting her.
  3. Where would you like to live? Where I am now, though we’re also dreaming of moving up the coast, soon as we can.
  4. What is your favorite occupation? Writing.
  5. What are your most marked characteristics? Let’s start with quirkiness.
  6. If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be? I’ve long admired hawks, but now eagles and osprey, more so.
  7. What do you most value in your friends? Reliability.
  8. If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be? They’re incredible. If I could, I’d leave each of them with a billion to do with as they wish. The world would be much better for it.
  9. How would you like to die? With the least inconvenience to those around me.
  10. On what occasions do you lie? Half-truths, since I’m conflict-averse. That is, omissions, rather than commissions


Anyone up to answering one or all of these now?


Take a look at tricksters

They cross boundaries and break rules but have strong intellects. You need them but also need to be wary of them, especially when it comes to your wife or daughter.

In mythology, they appear across cultures, and not always as an animal or immortal. And we’re not talking about trick-or-treat night.

Take a look, here are ten.

  1. Coyote, largely among western Native cultures in North America, has been at the forefront of a new consciousness about tricksters. His tales were recorded by early ethnologists, who shifted to Latin when the stories turned randy.
  2. Kokopelli, the hunchback piper from the American Southwest, has become especially popular as an image, though not yet his stories.
  3. The rabbit or hare in West Africa and its transport into the Americas via the slave trade. Leads us to Br’er Rabbit.
  4. The spider. Just don’t get caught in the web.
  5. Froggy the gremlin on the early TV show “Andy’s Gang.” Not that we got it as kids, Froggy was just weird. And maybe perverted.
  6. The clown as an archetype. Well, I do know a professional firefighter who’s frightened of them.
  7. A figure in fairy tales who tests the status quo. He frequently changes hats. Or even genders.
  8. The fairy Puck. Or a leprechaun. Or even Robin Hood.
  9. Lilith, in Babylonian cultures.
  10. Jesus.

Among my most treasured possessions

Yes, I’ve always had a penchant for history.

  1. A hand-scrawled letter by my great-grandfather on scratch paper. (You can view it and my analysis on my Orphan George blog.) And the small autograph book he carried in Indiana his first years after leaving North Carolina. (Again, see the blog.)
  2. A stone breastplate pendant from an ancient burial mound in northwest Ohio. Plus, flint arrowheads.
  3. My Eagle Scout award, reflecting lessons in self-reliance, natural wonder, wilderness, and the outdoors in general.
  4. My Max Rudolf LPs. Working largely out of the spotlight, the conductor shaped the Cincinnati Symphony into a precise, glowing musical machine. Each performance was a revelation.
  5. James Nayler’s collected works, the second-oldest of the books in my personal library. Warped and hard to use as it is, with the ink bleeding through on many pages, it was published in 1829 in Cincinnati. He’s still my favorite writer from the emerging Quaker period. Also on my shelf are John Gough’s History of the People Called Quakers, in a four-volume set published in 1790 in Dublin. And then there’s Fernando G. Cartland’s Southern Heroes or The Friends in a Time of War (1897, Poukeepsie, New York), which details many of the travails of my ancestors under the repressive Confederate regime.
  6. A bone-handled antique fork, which I often used when visiting my grandparents. I wonder how far back in the family it really goes, but it’s still quite elegant in its primitive simplicity.
  7. An 1840s cherry table made in Ohio. Wobbly and warped, the wood itself is gorgeous.
  8. My journals, now numbering around 200 volumes. It’s what I often have rather than photos as a prompt to my memories. For the most part, I’d say the pages are more an outline of what happened, rarely of my inner thoughts and feelings, often tedious in their surface reporting, but they can still take me deeper into so much that’s otherwise slipped from my mind.
  9. Our copper cod weather vane. The one on the roof of the barn.
  10. A perfect trilobite, collected as a young rock hound in southwest Ohio.


Tellingly, many of these items are irreplaceable, unlike many other treasures that would still have replacements.

Which of your possessions do you most treasure?


What I’ve learned about the ocean

We’re talking North Atlantic, though I had earlier exposure to the North Pacific in Washington state as well as the Atlantic in Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, and Long Island.

New England really is different. Here’s why.

  1. The water’s always restless, don’t be fooled. Those slow swells can get you seasick, too.
  2. The current in the water can push you one direction while the wind twists you toward the other. As I learned the first time I took the helm of a sailboat and tried to steer by the compass.
  3. Tidepooling presents an amazing crystalline world of miniature color in its unique range of flora and fauna. It’s well worth exploring in the rockweed at low tide.
  4. At night, the ocean can be terrifying. It’s utterly dark, surrounded by swirling and slapping sounds in unseen places. The stars – and distant beacons – are icy comfort.
  5. As for those romantic walks along the beach in moonlight? Most nights of the year are too cloudy and too cold. Maybe you need to book a flight to a Caribbean island.
  6. It’s dangerous. You think you’re standing sufficiently far back on a rock outcropping overlooking the water, but don’t be surprised if a big wave somehow crashes up behind you, threatening to sweep you out to sea. January and March add their own complications.
  7. I love bodysurfing in some big waves, come summer, meaning after the Fourth of July. Here we go! Whee!
  8. Whales! The tour captains know where to find them. But their blow spray stinks. Meaning the big leviathans, not the skippers, as far as I know.
  9. And seals! (And sharks, which go after them at Chatham, down on the Cape.) And lighthouses!
  10. The tides themselves are heightened here because of a fluke in the global streaming. They’re really impressive up in Fundy Bay and the easternmost flank of Maine. (Twenty-five feet change every six hours at Eastport, Maine, for example. It’s like draining and quickly refilling a lake.) Less than half of that where I live in New Hampshire, but still impressive.
Me at the helm of a 32-foot sailboat back in the late ’80s. It didn’t want to go where we were supposed to be headed, and I was worried the wind might tip us over.   

As a footnote, there are only a few places you can swim in Chesapeake Bay without being stung by jellyfish.

And I love the way you really can see the curvature of the earth when you get an open panorama.

Ways to define a family

It’s a major theme in my novel What’s Left, not that these are the answers there.

  1. Husband, wife, and kids under one roof. Often traditionally recast as a breadwinner and dependents.
  2. A mother and all who turn to her.
  3. Two romantic partners in their own place, with or without other relations nearby.
  4. Those connected by genetics and blood line. Say siblings or cousins.
  5. A shared last name. Or address.
  6. Those who join together as in-laws through brothers and sisters and so on.
  7. Grandparents and grandchildren.
  8. Inheritance.
  9. Memories, good or bad.
  10. Home of last resort.


In the novel, there’s also a shared business and an ethnic identity.

How else do you see a family in real practice? Or even as an ideal?

When accent marks count

Learning a foreign language includes acquiring an awareness of subtle distinctions. Oh, we really can have pity on anyone trying to navigate English as a second language!

Here are ten things I’m finding in Spanish.

  • Bebe / bebé … He/she/it drinks versus a baby.
  • Papa /  papá … A potato versus Daddy.
  • Mamá / mamaMom or mommy versus breast.
  • Esta / está … “This” versus he, she, or it is.
  • Si / síIf versus yes.
  • Hablo / hablóI speak versus he, she, or it spoke. In other words, that accent changes both the person doing the speaking as well as the tense.
  • Que / quéThat versus what.
  • Él / elHe versus the.
  • Sé / seI know versus reflective pronoun for he, she, it, even you.
  • Cómo / comoHow versus I eat.
  • Sólo / solo … With the accent, it can also mean “just,” in addition to “only.”

Of course, I don’t have those accent marks on my English keyboard or cell phone. Things can get really tricky when I’m trying to reply en Español.

Talents I would love to have

  1. Empathy.
  2. Name-face recall. You know, an instant recall of names and faces and tidbits about the person.
  3. Better recollection of conversations. Who said what, when, and how, rather than the stew I usually retain.
  4. Small-talk charm.
  5. Woodworking and carpentry.
  6. Plumbing and electrical.
  7. Recall of herbs and spices.
  8. Auto mechanics.
  9. Baseball coordination and strength.
  10. An ability to recall a joke and tell it well.


Gee, I didn’t even mention making real money!

So what would you admit to?


Ever been in a barn?

You already know about the barn I’ve owned the past 20 years – the one that gives this blog its name. It’s modest, as barns go – more of a carriage house, common in an old New England city like ours, but “carriage house” sounds pretentious and ours isn’t. I usually call them “urban barns.”

I grew up in a Midwestern industrial city, and barns were usually something we passed out in the country. Even so, my novels Nearly Canaan, Yoga Bootcamp, and Pit-a-Pat High Jinks, each feature a barn.

Here are ten I especially remember.


  1. Uncle Arlie’s. We spent many Sundays and holidays at my dad’s aunt and uncle’s farm. I loved climbing around in the rafters and loft, even though it was dangerous.
  2. Grandpa’s. A small “urban barn” at the rear of Grandma and Grandpa’s yard on the other side of town was stuffed with supplies for his plumbing company. I can still almost smell it.
  3. Dad’s birthplace. Once, traveling with Grandpa, we stopped at a farm in the middle of nowhere. He introduced me to a strange man and took me inside the barn on the farm while telling me this is where my dad was born. I was around five, maybe no older than seven, and didn’t fully understand, especially the idea of home births much less than Dad wasn’t born in a city. What I do remember is all the light shining through the slats of the walls.
  4. Moler Dairy. From our side window when I was growing up, we could see a working dairy. It had a large white barn facing busy Smithfield Road, while we were on a quiet side street. I did get to tour the bottom level a few times, with its stanchions and cows. The brick milking parlor was next to it.
  5. Hippie farm. After college, I shared a farmhouse with a circle of other free spirits. Its small, ramshackle barn provided living space for some of the characters in Pit-a-Pat High Jinks.
  6. Ashram. That sturdy brown barn is described in Yoga Bootcamp. It was Swiss-style, set in the side of a hill.
  7. Ivar’s. Our landlord in Wapato had one of the most impressive barns in the Yakima Valley. It was white frame, rather than modern metal, and had three large levels. It’s detailed in Nearly Canaan.
  8. The Antique House. The large attached barn, as many in New England are, is part of the house where elder stepdaughter reigns. It’s second-nature now.
  9. Silas and Connie Weeks. They were intent on restoring their ancient farm in Eliot, Maine. Quaker Meeting even had a wedding reception in theirs.
  10. Parsell Farm. Serves as a farm stand just up the road in Rochester. Our principal source of hay for the rabbits.


A few others I should mention include the massive Shaker barn in Canterbury where I contradanced once, and another in Ohio I once toured. A similar one, but kept to a single story, was at a friend’s summer home in Sandwich in the White Mountains to our north. And then there was a decrepit one at my goddaughter’s family in Enfield, Maine, that was too far gone to repair.


What are your experiences with barns?

Some things to consider about Pentecostals

When Jaya meets Joshua and his family in my novel Nearly Canaan, she’s introduced to their Pentecostal faith. It’s not like most Christianity.

Here are some points to consider.

  1. It’s more emotional than most churches, for one thing. Shouting, dancing, praying out loud during the service are common, along with applause, praise songs, and a rock band.
  2. The term comes from the Day of Pentecost in the second chapter of Acts and its events 50 days after the Resurrection of Christ.
  3. Pentecostalism’s principal defining trait is speaking in tongues as “Bible evidence” for the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The vocal utterances are rarely in a foreign language the speaker doesn’t know, unlike the Day of Pentecost, but in a stylized babbling known as glossolalia. The proclamations are usually translated by another into the language of the congregants – typically English, though the movement is rapidly spreading worldwide.
  4. In Brazil, an estimated 12 percent of the populace is Pentecostal and rising.
  5. The movement started at the 1906 Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles, led by African-American preacher William J. Seymour, or maybe as early as 1896 with the Apostolic Faith movement or maybe 1901 in Kansas when Agnes Ozman, a Holiness Methodist, was publicly recognized for speaking in tongues. It’s had more recent incarnations, such as the Charismatic strand among Roman Catholics and Episcopalians.
  6. Among Pentecostal churches, theological beliefs can vary widely. But the majority interpret the Bible literally.
  7. Women were ordained to leadership roles from the beginning of the movement.
  8. Some denominations place strict limits on personal conduct and attire, even forbidding sports and movies.
  9. Many Pentecostals are found as active members in non-Pentecostal congregations.
  10. Pentecostal denominations include Assemblies of God, Foursquare Gospel, United Pentecostal, Church of God in Christ, and Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, but there’s a raft of smaller ones, too. Congregations range from small storefronts to mega-churches.