I’m owning up to fantasy and the paranormal

Never thought I’d be writing a ghost story, but that’s what happened in a chapter toward the end of What’s Left. Actually, it kinda dictated itself.

In retrospect, it looks pretty natural, considering that Cassia’s trying to recover her deceased father. What happens along the way, though, is that she uncovers a lot about her other ancestors, too, and from there she begins realizing the crucial impact many people, past and present, have in shaping her future.

The ghost story wasn’t all my idea. I was inspired by one in the novel whose structure I was adapting. The two chapters, for what it’s worth, are quite different.

The poet Gary Snyder, quoting an ancient Chinese folk song, has noted that the traditional way of making an ax handle was to take another one and use it as the model in making a copy. Likewise, I wanted something other than the usual 20- to 24-chapter novel and, as it turned out, the structural model for the new story remained intact. It didn’t quite hold for Daffodil Uprising, but it was still useful. The model also had me looking at each chapter as a panel or tile that might be moved around independently, a concept that didn’t entirely remain in what emerged.

As for the ghost story?

Remember, I’m coming from a “just the facts, ma’am,” career in daily journalism. Verifiable facts. Cold, hard facts. As for emotions? In fiction, I might stretch that to reporting what individuals say they’re feeling, but beyond that? Well, as I’m learning, fiction allows me to record how something feels, rather than how it empirically is. A lot of that awareness, by the way, came about for me in my revisions with Cassia.

Still, when it comes to ghosts, remember – little of my writing is conventional. So my ghost story winds up being humorous, rather than scary. Got a problem with that?

I might add that living in New England, I’ve become aware of how many people admit having ghosts in their houses. Even highly educated, otherwise rational folks. As far as I know, mine’s an exception, unless the specters inhabit that room we still haven’t discovered after 19 years here – the one housing all of the things that have gone awol, one by one.

~*~

I’ve previously posted on my aversion to genre, and that includes fantasy, especially of a paranormal sort.

But Cassia had me reconsidering that. I mean, I loved the Hobbit epic back in college. And what do I make of my appreciation for mythology or even Wagner’s Ring Cycle? Where is the line drawn?

So as I ventured on to revise the novels dealing with Cassia’s father (remember, she was nowhere on the horizon of my radar at the time they were written and published), I felt a new liberty. Why not employ elements of fantasy and paranormal, especially, in addressing the ’60s? They really do seem to fit the story.

I’ve long had a fondness for surrealism, which was a central strand of my subway novel. But my new thinking about fantasy now infused the revisions there, too. The second half of Subway Visions is livelier that way. The book is no longer an image in search of a narrative.

My novella With a Passing Freight Train of 119 Cars and Twin Cabooses also was framed on a surrealistic leap. The characters, though drawn from different points in history, were never ghosts, but seeing them from a fantasy perspective certainly made the revision easier as I realized it could fit into the third book of Tender Connections, my series about Jaya.

A related novella, Kokopelli’s Hornpipe, likewise benefitted. Its basis was mythology. What, a flute-playing giant cricket couldn’t also be fantasy?

To pull the two novellas together as a single book, I really needed a third novella, and Miller at the Springs emerged to sit between them. It easily slipped over the limits of hard-and-fast for me and was a delight to write, even when I had no idea where it was headed.

The three now fit neatly, I think, into The Secret Side of Jaya. Let me know what you think.

Gee, I wonder if I’ll ever have a place to include dragons? Or …

~*~

Don’t forget: You better be good to toads!

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.

I’m still fascinated by the potential of stories that come out of subways

Millions of people ride the subways each day, and many of them read English. In fact, you’ll see many of them are deep into books as they’re transported. Yet I’m surprised how little writing reflects this experience. Where else can you see so much humanity sitting right in front of you or dashing past?

Well, my Subway Visions tries to convey my experiences, real and imagined.

Two significant nonfiction books are Jennifer Toth’s 1993 The Mole People, based on her year of reporting on the plight of the homeless people who took to living in the tunnels under Manhattan in the Reagan years, and Jacqueline Cangro’s The Subway Chronicles, a collection of essays by the likes of Jonathan Lethem, Francine Prose, Calvin Trillin, and Lawrence Block. By the way, Block admits a fondness for including subway scenes in his prolific output of novels.

My survey of ebooks at Smashwords has added others to the list, not all of them in New York City. One tells of a year playing music in New York’s stations. Another of collecting umbrellas in Tokyo. There is a fondness for seeing the underground as the gates of hell, with one volume in particular standing out as a masterful fantasy that’s meticulously researched.

To see what I’ve found and my reactions, go to the reviews at my Jnana Hodson at Smashwords page.

Got any related transportation books to recommend? Trains, buses, airplanes? Other?

 

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?

Looking for more fiction revolving around yoga

My Yoga Bootcamp novel, and its earlier incarnation, Ashram, seem to sit in a rather slim niche on the bookshelf. There’s simply not a lot of fiction reflecting the experience. Devan Malore’s The Churning is among the exceptions.

Most of the books I’m finding are nonfiction, often dry doctrinaire texts from the perspective of a particular lineage. For that matter, relatively little is about the physical exercises, or hatha yoga.

With the fiction I have found, a handful books have yoga as central to the events, and each one is different. Not all of them head off to India, either. Some have a strong element of fantasy, while others are about living in the everyday world, often humorously. Well, and then there’s romance. I still think there’s more to be told, given the popularity of the practice.

For the particulars of what I’ve read, go to the reviews at my Jnana Hodson at Smashwords page.

Got any related books to recommend?

Envisioning your reader

One of the basic bits of advice given to a writer is to envision your reader. It’s one that’s always troubled me, though. Could it be because I carry multiple identities as a writer? Poet, novelist, Quaker, retired journalist, with overlapping interests?

As a poet, I can’t describe the audience that shows up for a reading — the individuals seem to represent all types. Picture my readers? They could be anywhere in the subway car I’m riding!

OK, maybe it’s a younger, or at least more hip, crowd, but not entirely.

Continue reading “Envisioning your reader”

Trying to deal with a foreign language

When we have foreign guests staying with us, I have to watch is the need to speak slower and more distinctly. (Well, that’s obviously on hold during the Covid outbreak, though we have heard from one back in China assuring us she’s fine.) The exchanges can start to sound comical, even before I face the difficult challenge of using smaller words. Me? Smaller words? Look, we have more than 200,000 in the English language for a reason!

You can imagine our situation when they’re Chinese students here for a month or so as they volunteer at ono-profits internships. Somehow, shorter visits just don’t seem to rise to the more complex communications.

~*~

My daily Spanish lessons raise the translation issues from an opposite direction, but I think I’ve crossed an important threshold there, one that goes beyond vocabulary.

Have you noticed how a spoken language becomes a musical line rather than individual words? My wife remembers her shock learning that “come on” was two words, not one, as in “cumon.”

When the Duolingo voice tells me, “Type what you hear,” I know to write what I’m supposed to hear rather than what I actually encounter at fast speed.

You could say that in common usage our sentences lose all of the spaces between words. In Spanish I sometimes notice this more as a rhythm across where a word should be between two other words rather than hearing that word or even a letter itself.

Somethinglikethispoorexample.

Rather. Than. Some. Thing. Like. This.

I’m also noticing that the endings of some words are vanishing, as they do in so much French, especially a final “s.”

Must happen in English, too, ‘cept we just take it for granted and naturally fill in the meaning.

Now, as for all of those hearing-aid solicitations I keep getting in the mail? I doubt they’d help my Spanish any.

What do you have to say here? (Please type slowly and distinctly.)

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?

Do we really mean the same thing?

I’ve had to learn the hard way that a word can mean something quite dissimilar for two people. Sometimes it’s based on assumptions or misunderstandings. Sometimes, on deliberate deception.

Either way, one person can be deeply injured by the outcome.

Take “I love you” as an example.

A used car is in “perfect condition.”

“I’ll be right there.”

In the hippie era, we had a raft of phrases that glossed over differences – “Hey, I’m cool with that,” “Don’t hassle me,” “I dig,” “Chill out.” Meaning?

It comes up especially with “God” or even “peace.”

There are plenty of other examples, some of them keeping lawyers in business.

What’s one from your own experience?