I REALLY WELCOMED THE OPPORTUNITY TO RECAST MY NOVELS

Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords.com, is a refreshing breeze in the publishing world. With his ebook empire, he’s allowed countless authors and aspirants to put their work in front of the public at no cost. And, unlike Amazon, he’s made these works available across a range of digital retailers and their platforms. That in itself is amazing.

I find his reflections on the publishing industry refreshing. For one, he’s noted that one of the advantages of ebooks is that they can be updated and revised easily and inexpensively. A new cover, for example, can work wonders. When it comes to paper publishing, this would cost thousands and is almost unthinkable.

Well, that got me thinking about my earlier novels once I had finished polishing What’s Left, which begins a generation later. Looking at those events from the perspective of the central hippie boy’s daughter, I realized crucial changes were due. I just had no idea how thorough they’d be.

For one thing, I found myself renaming many of the characters and giving each one more of a backstory and motivation. In Daffodil Uprising, the dorm residents no longer run as a pack, and I’m especially fond of three who end up functioning as elders.

I also added a weekly peace vigil and a clandestine bomber, even before getting to the university president and his conniving wife. I’m still not sure which one is more of a vampire.

Now that the entire Hippie Trails series has been recast into a Freakin’ Free Spirits cycle, I’m quite happy that the books form a more coherent whole. Being away from the newsroom for the past several years has allowed me to look more closely at the fictional scene I create. The journalist would see mostly action but not much of the characters’ differing psychologies. Just the facts, ma’am. This time around, I’m hooked on their quirks – especially their irrational feelings.

And as for the dreaded editorializing? Not me, oh no. But Cassia’s presence freely unleashes an opinionated viewpoint that I find most refreshing. That daughter can have quite a tongue.

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SOMETIMES I WONDER IF PANDORA WAS A NOVELIST

Maybe it was a mistake earlier this year to reopen the draft of my latest novel, which I’d put aside in July 2015 to season. But I did. (And then, once opened, something like this can become impossible to close tight again – at least until it’s done for now, whenever it decides.)

For the most part, I’m very happy with what I found – nothing embarrassed me, and some sections struck me as quite exciting, especially when I kept asking myself, “Who wrote this!”

Still, it’s been a very slow process for what was supposed to be a read-through, mostly for continuity and consistency. Admittedly, it’s a big book – about twice the length of a typical novel, or 35,000 words more than my longest one yet published. The challenge has been in finding the blocks of time to tackle each of the 16 chapters, and moving along while I have all of the characters floating around in my head. (That alone can turn an author into a rather distant person within a household, even in the middle of conversations.)

I’d made one decision to shift as many of the verb tenses as I could to more accurately reflect the way many people speak when relating events, but determining which verb to change and which one to leave alone – even in a single sentence – could be slow hoeing. (Or is that slow rowing? Another detail to check out later. Even slow going? Yipes, it gets endless.) We’ll see how successfully the verb strategy works.

And then there were the additional details to better explain the action. Instead of big cuts, which I’d anticipated as a normal part of the process at this stage, I found a need to say more. In one chapter, I found that adding no more than two pages actually makes the section move along faster and feel shorter. Anyone else have that experience?

On top of that, as I’ve found in previous manuscripts, certain words repeat through the story and no matter how crucial their underlying meaning to the emerging theme, they simply start sounding like sour notes. In this case, independent, business, gather, vague, vision, even fit topped the demand for thesaurus treatment. Each synonym then amplifies the message and infuses a wider understanding. Still, that step’s tedious.

At the moment, I’m lifted by elation and can breathe that big sigh of relief. It’s done, for now. I’ve shipped off copies to my two harshest in-house critics and can return to other projects before those two fire back with their caustic reactions, brilliant suggestions, essential additions, more essential deletions, smarty quips for my free use, or whatever.

And when that input has gone into the manuscript, I can send it off to a round of beta readers. The ones I’m hoping will be kinder.

There’s no denying my elation, even knowing how much remains to be done before going public.