When the author starts choking up

One of Kenzie’s lovers in Pit-a-Pat High Jinks had long puzzled me. In the earlier versions of the story, I pretty much ran with a set of details mirroring those I had encountered in real life. I refrained from speculating on what she wasn’t telling me – or, by extension, Kenzie.

In the latest set of revisions, though, I ventured beyond that self-imposed taboo. I had learned from two other girlfriends how devastating childhood abuse could be. Yes, in this fictional case, the hypothesis fit. Not that it had to be factually true, but rather that it was a plausible possibility – that was enough for a novelist. As I fleshed out that incident and its impact, I began weeping. If only I had known more of her at the time or more of all three, would the course of our relationships gone differently? The feeling of deep loss and grieving was pervasive, all these decades later.

Likewise, as I was reworked the text that morphed into Daffodil Uprising, the focus shifted from the lighthearted face of the hippie experience to a broader comprehension of its desperation and even destructive fringes – and that sensation also had me grieving. As a deep sense of loss regarding the promise we saw on the horizon but failed to reach and fulfill washed over me, I began seeing the novel as a requiem for the hippie dream.

With Kenzie’s daughter Cassia at my side, though, I started thinking about the way dreams work. They have one foot in the past and the other in the present. And then, even when she was looking at her father’s history, she had her own generation in mind. From where I stand, their situation looks even more confusing than ours had. What can we who did change so much of society, pro and con, offer them now in continuing that vision?

These are dire times, friends. Anyone else feeling some déjà vu and unease?

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On to a new generation

My newest novel, What’s Left, springs from the ending of my first published novel, where her future father lands in a bohemian band of siblings who’ve just taken over the family restaurant after a car crash killed their parents.

It’s a lot of responsibility on young shoulders.

~*~

Sometimes, when you put a dish together, the balance is off. It can even mean starting all over. What do you think of this?

At home, Tito and Diana, still in school, need to make sure their siblings are up to the job of parenting and running a house. What about their grades, the laundry, cleaning the bathrooms? Who pays the bills? Who’s really in charge, for that matter? The two youngest do work part-time at Carmichael’s, where they don’t need to be told they’re under public scrutiny. The balance at Big Pink, meanwhile, is undergoing adjustment.

The two youngest do work part-time at Carmichael’s, where they don’t need to be told they’re under public scrutiny. The balance at Big Pink, meanwhile, is undergoing adjustment.

In his final half-dozen years Pappa Stavros had been uncharacteristically aggressive in his dealings, not to mention bad loans to his buddies or timing.

~*~

What I know of the food business is all second-hand, but I still wonder about taking leadership of an enterprise as a young adult. In my early 20s as second-in-command of a small newsroom, I was given surprising leeway and yet I’m still grateful for the stability provided by my older boss – even though I’m not sure he was always the most mature in some of our gunfights with the wider community.

We did have a great corner restaurant, though, run by two brothers and their wives. Just a coincidence, if you’re thinking of Cassia.

Have you ever worked in a restaurant? Doing what? What’s your strongest memory?

~*~

A large Queen Anne-style house with a distinctive witch’s hat tower something like this is the headquarters for Cassia’s extended family in my new novel, What’s Left. If only this one were pink, like hers. (Manchester, New Hampshire.)

Mixmaster? Just look at ‘Daffodil’

What, me as a Mixmaster?

Just look at the topics percolating in my novel Daffodil Uprising.

Anybody got a boxed cake mix? That was a popular use for this kitchen gadget. Here’s an English Sunbeam Mixmaster model A24, circa 1969–72. (Wikimedia Commons photo by Mitch Ames.)

Here are ten:

  1. The Sixties. As the subtitle says, this book is about the making of a hippie. It’s a turbulent time.
  2. The Establishment. The military-industrial complex and its old-boy network hold undue sway on the direction of the university, often at the expense of the students or faculty. How can their power trips be thwarted?
  3. Marijuana and other illicit drugs. Recreational substance use become commonplace, a unifying element for many youths. But it comes at a cost.
  4. Free love. The Pill changes sexual relationships, no doubt about that. But romantic relationships are still tricky.
  5. Antiwar protests and the military draft weigh heavily on young adult American males. It fuels anger, fear, and a sense of helplessness.
  6. Mentors and elders. While Kenzie comes to Daffodil to be nurtured in a fast-track fine arts curriculum, the place he really finds guidance is among his peers – especially the elders in his dorm and his future sister-in-law Nita. They are crucial to his personal growth.
  7. Community and network. Kenzie’s interactions with dormmates and, later, his housemates plus select others are essential for his survival and advancement. It’s not healthy to be alone, no matter how independent you imagine yourself to be.
  8. The practice of an art. Photography is central to Kenzie’s self-identity, but he is still looking to see exactly where that leads. Having a concert pianist as a roommate adds to his comprehension as an artist. And then there’s his dorm’s little literary enterprise, pushing him in an entirely different direction. How far can he bend?
  9. High hopes and broken promises. Kenzie and his circle are so green and full of dreams. The university itself recruits him for an enterprising career track, and then his passionate embrace of the lover who fuels aspirations of soul mate send him even higher. But not everything is rosy, and the disillusionment can be crushing.
  10. The American Midwest. Kenzie’s roots in Iowa and his new surroundings in southern Indiana give a particular flavor to the developments. It’s not as out-of-the-way as they think.

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Bringing better order to the series

Do we all work differently, at least when it comes to something like writing? Maybe those of you who have been to week-long writing workshops or taken seminars can better answer that, but I am amazed to hear of women who have created wonderful works in short takes between changing diapers and preparing dinner and doing the laundry. Me? I need chunks of time, and that included those years when I was working in a newsroom for a living.

My hippie novels were originally one very long work, as was my Pacific Northwest series. For practical reasons, I cut them apart, and in doing so, they lost their continuity.

Rather than being the ending to the hippie run, Subway Hitchhikers wound up appearing first – in print, at that. In the novella’s distillation for publication, some of the backstory needed to be inserted. By the time the opportunity finally came to issue the earlier parts as ebooks, those manuscripts had been reworked into independent stories, or so I thought.

With the books before the public at last, I thought I could move on.

Given the distance of a few more years, though, unfinished business nagged at me, prompting me to begin work on the volume that grew into What’s Left. Frankly, it was the most difficult writing project of my life. Just what had happened to the hippies, anyway? And why should anyone care?

Unlike my earlier writing sprees, my attention was no longer diverted by employment elsewhere. In having more time to ponder the characters and implications, my focus shifted in stages from the action itself and more into feelings. Lately I’ve become aware of how much that in itself differentiates journalism from fiction. This was a huge step from my career as a newspaper editor, no matter how much I had been looking to literature as a means of personally overcoming the limitations of communicating in the lowest common denominator – I had always wanted a bigger, more expressive vocabulary, for one thing, as well as longer sentences for variety and sweep. There were many times I longed for something other than “said” as attribution for quotations. People do shout, after all, or whisper or hiss or sigh, but that all injects the reporter’s interpretation into the account. Remember that objectivity goal? Just how objective can a novelist be, in contrast?

So much for my professional training or my literary ambitions.

Revision by revision, the focus of my new novel shifted away from what Cassia hoped to recover of her father and on to his reasons for joining in her mother’s extended family – especially the clues she gleaned from his amassed photography – and from there to his legacy and her role in preserving it. And then she started talking in her own voice and taking over. The book quite simply became about her discovering herself and her mission as she recovered from her profound personal loss at age eleven. It was no longer about the hippie era at all but rather her own times.

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WHO WOULD PLAY HER BABA?

One of the glories of a literary work comes in creating the entire scene and its characters in your own head. Still, a common referent nowadays is in our familiarity with movies and television actors and actresses. Many of them even become “celebrities” whose every sneeze is flashed across social media.

In an imaginary movie version of my new novel, What’s Left, who would you have portray Cassia’s father, Baba?

I’d be tempted to have him be rather faceless, actually, maybe ethereal or even a large puppet. But you probably would go for something far more realistic.

~*~

Dinner at Elia restaurant in Kos, Greece. (Photo by Michal Osmenda of Brussels, Belgium, via Wikimedia Commons.)

In the family, Cassia may have had food like this.

TEN WAYS THIS ‘DAFFODIL’ IS NEW AND IMPROVED

My new novel Daffodil Uprising is a meatier, more emotional work than its earlier incarnation, Daffodil Sunrise.

Here are ten reasons.

  1. The people and events are now seen from Cassia’s perspective. Just look at her snide commentary for amusement and relief. Really.
  2. Many of the characters have been renamed, starting with the one who would become her father in What’s Left. They’re more fully developed, for sure. In the previous version, the dorm inmates ran as a pack. Now they’re spread out by age and interests, and three of them serve as wise elders for the newbies.
  3. Her father’s reasons for coming east to Indiana are more clearly defined. As a photographer, he’s part of a fast-track program in the fine arts.
  4. Two new characters introduce elements of fantasy and paranormal. The Victorian elements in the earlier version are now amplified.
  5. The focus in now more on their emotions in reaction to the happenings.
  6. The story is now character-driven, more than erupting from the plot.
  7. This is about boyz, especially, trying to make sense of a confusing world, even before they get to the girls.
  8. This version, for all of its light playfulness, is now more baroque and brooding. That matter of loving a flower child, for one, is far more difficult than you might imagine. Or, for her, that matter of sticking with someone as flawed as Cassia’s future father could produce a really baffling relationship.
  9. More dark sides of the era are introduced. It’s not just early questions about vampires or ghosts on the campus, but the violent fringe of the time, too. Just what are they to make of the protest bombings or the drug overdoses, for instance? Or their failure to live up to the responsibilities of living together?
  10. This is clearly focused on the Sixties rather than reaching out into what would come after. It’s the making of a hippie, in particular. Hey, just don’t blame him.

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