In my novel, What’s Left, having her family own a restaurant opens another dimension to the story – the changing food tastes of the American public.
If Carmichael’s continued solely as a burger-and-fries joint, we’d have a much different type of story, one based on the day-to-day interactions of line cooks, dishwashers, wait staff, and a slew of customers. One of my daughters has already drafted an exciting and entertaining story based on her own experiences in the trade – now, if she’ll only get it published! Realistically, a restaurant like that would likely wind up in bankruptcy halfway through the novel – or maybe even the victim of arson, if not accidental fire.
So having Carmichael’s expand, as I do, shifts the focus to a revolution in the awareness of food itself. We have plenty to play with that way.
Just look at the topics percolating in Subway Visions.
Here are ten:
Underground mass transit rails. Not just in Gotham, but around the world, too.
Weird chance encounters. A big city is all about people, most of them, I’d say, somehow eccentric. Get on a subway car and just look around – clandestinely, if you’re savvy.
The nature of great cities. Tenements and trash are part of the scene.
Bohemian underground. There’s always been a counterculture in a healthy society. It’s what makes great cities tick.
T-Rex and graffiti. Ah, Kenzie shows up in Gotham just as its trains are being defaced by wild blobs of paint. And here he is as a photographer identifying himself as an artist, too. What’s the point of any art, anyway?
Alternative means of transport. It’s also a time of hitchhiking on the open road. Kenzie discovers parallels in the bowels of the city.
Crashing and couch-surfing. When you have friends, your options multiply. And it’s much better than the one hotel room he rents in his visits.
The Dharma. Kenzie’s visits largely revolve around his studies under his Tibetan Buddhist guru in SoHo.
Overcoming fear. His first ventures into the unfamiliar underworld are scary steps. By the second half of the novel, though, Kenzie is out along the fatal third rail and the elevated heights. How free can he get?
Surrealist vision. He begins seeing in encounters in a fresh light. Maybe it’s a kind of X-ray? It’s entertaining, all the same, as well as refreshing. What else don’t most commuters notice?
My new novel Subway Visions comes a long way from its earlier incarnation as Subway Hitchhikers.
Here are ten ways it’s new and improved.
The novel no longer serves as an introduction to three other volumes but stands fully on its own in a more timeless Gotham.
The central character is now identified as Kenzie, in line with the other novels in my Freakin’ Free Spirits cycle. Gone are the Duma Luma and later D.L. monikers. He’s more grounded than they were.
The action is now built on a clear chronology that runs parallel to his ongoing life to the north. For that, you can read Pit-a-Pat High Jinks.
He now has monthly opportunities to visit the Big Apple and ride its rails, thanks to a floating three-day weekend off from his job. This gives more plausibility to his familiarity with the city while living hours to the north. He is young and ready for adventure, after all.
With his Tibetan guru living in Manhattan’s SoHo district, Kenzie’s Buddhist studies now run through much of the story. His sessions there become his principal motivation for the monthly visits.
The story is now anchored by a set of regular characters, beginning with his guru and Buddha buddies like Holly and Wilson before expanding in the second half with the wild tagger T-Rex.
As one reader said of the earlier version, “I really dig that chick Holly.” Now there’s a lot more of her. (And Wilson and T-Rex are altogether new.)
The language is tighter; the sentences, more staccato, befitting the grimy trains and their stations.
The funky sweet surrealism of the original tale now floats over the substance of an inescapably malodorous substratum. There’s nothing bland and disinfected in this gritty demimonde of endless night where Kenzie encounters the most remarkable souls and visions.
These events are now seen in a historical perspective, thanks to the unseen presence of Kenzie’s daughter Cassia while I was revising the tale. Credit her for the snippier tone, too.
In giving Kenzie that three-day weekend once every four weeks in the new novel Pit-a-Pat High Jinks, I was leaning on a work schedule I had on a newspaper out in Ohio. I sure wish I had it when I was living Upstate New York and assigned to a typical split week like his in the story. It was brutal.
Of course, in this round of revision, I was looking ahead to his experiences in my new Subway Visions. He would now have a chunk of time to head off to the Big Apple and return home.
As I reflect on my own forays into the city and its mass-transit tunnels, I think I made as many trips during my time in Ohio as I had in a similar period when I was living only four or five hours away from the metropolis. In other words, Kenzie gets in a lot more time on the underground tracks than I ever had.
Living an hour north of Boston, as I do now, I can admit to spending far more time on its subway system that I had in New York’s. And I’ve also relied on the systems of Philadelphia, Chicago, and Washington in the years since I drafted the original Subway Hitchhikers.
Have you ever had a special twist in a work schedule that had an impact like this?
To call me visually oriented would be an understatement.
For most of my life, I’ve viewed the world through imaginary frames and lenses.
I had four years of art training in high school and when recently reviewing many of those pieces was impressed by their high quality. I seriously considered continuing on into college and a career beyond but realized the struggles of making a living that would follow. And so I veered into journalism, where I applied many of those skills in designing newspaper pages, photo essays, and cropping pictures. Thousands and thousands of them.
It also led to a love of typefaces and calligraphy and book design.
Maybe I haven’t strayed that far.
I’ve also worked with some of the best photojournalists in the field and known a number of outstanding artists. I even married one.
On a more mundane level, I sometimes shift into cartoon mode and begin seeing people as whimsical drawings. Or I ponder how they would photograph. (No, I’m not staring at you the way you think I am, sorry if it’s making you uncomfortable.)
Well, for that matter, I did meet some famous cartoonists when I was working for the newspaper syndicate and selling their work to our clients.