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.

How divinely appropriate

In my novel What’s Left, her mother inherits a name whose attributes suit her well. The chaste Roman goddess Diana (or Artemis in Greek) rules the hunt, the moon, childbirth, and nature. In the story, she’s calm and faithful, with a spark of fire that infuses her music-making and likely much more. I even have her evolving into much more of a night-person than her early-rising husband, though I hadn’t thought about that connection till now.

~*~

As I wrote earlier:

The real hunt had begun. With practice, within this lifetime, however long or brief, a remarkable enlightenment might yet blossom into wisdom. From flowers and bees, the harvest comes.

“Come, Dhyana, let us sit together. Let us ride in unison. That is all.” He accepted fully, “The female energy is my Shakti power.”

~*~

Given the urgency of her father’s Buddhist practice, it’s entirely fitting that his wife — Cassia’s mother — would share in the experience. Here he also recognizes an Eastern perception of a uniquely feminine spiritual energy that would complement his own nature — in a way also honoring the goddess essence of Diana’s own name.

By the way, if you’re interested in the origin, meaning, and pronunciation of my name Jnana, visit the Bio page here at the Red Barn. Think it fits me?

Do you know anyone whose first name perfectly suits their personality? Or how about someone who’s the exact opposite of what you’d expect?

~*~

Roman goddess Diana

~*~

 

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?

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?

 

Why settle on one explanation?

In developing sections of The Secret Side of Jaya, a novel upcoming this fall, I found myself applying a technique I’d developed in a genealogical project. There, as I had conflicting accounts regarding a specific instance or detail, rather than trying to lean toward one over the other, I let them all stand in contrast to each other. Sometimes there were two sources, sometimes three, each seeing a person or event quite differently.

It makes me recall the way forest fires are located from lookout towers. Each observer has a horizontal azimuth for determining the direction of the fire from the tower. Once two other lookouts can zero in on the plume of smoke or the flames, the position can be triangulated on a map and forest firefighters dispatched. My technique resembles looking along that line and seeing what comes in front of the fire and what lies beyond.

By acknowledging the different observers in my stories and histories, I also allow for the wider terrain and error in positions. (The smoke might be rising from an unseen valley or be blown by wind.) In these applications, I feel the alternatives make for a richer, more lifelike story.

Well, that’s how it looks from here.

What I’m encountering in a raft of ebooks

As an author of ebooks, I’ve been lately engaged in an orgy of reading works by my fellow Smashwords writers. Admittedly, many of my selections have veered toward writings that reflect topics in my own novels – hippies, yogis, subway riders, millennials, Buddhists, Greek-Americans, and the struggles of new adults, especially. Still, it feels good to get a sense of what others are up to, and their formatting does give me a better sense of my digital options.

As I do so, I often leave brief reviews as a guide for other readers with similar interests. You have no idea how much these mean to a writer, so let me urge you to do the same whenever possible. As one responded, just knowing that she was heard was warm and welcome affirmation.

Just because many of these books are what the big imprints would deem “not viable for commercial publication” does not mean they lack value.

One of my favorites is a two-part memoir by the daughter of Lebanese immigrants who wound up in Nebraska somewhere around the turn of the 20th century. Her candor and details, however simply told, strengthen my understanding of what I present as Cassia’s ancestry in What’s Left. I dread to imagine what would have happened to the memoir in an attempt to jazz it up for wider sales. We should feel honored being allowed in behind the doors of a particular family history so honestly revealed.

It’s something like visiting artists’ studios or art galleries rather than going to the big museums. The scale’s definitely different.

One thing I’m finding is that I apply a more laid-back standard in reviewing these volumes. Yes, they are cheaper, for one thing, but I also read these more like manuscripts than finally processed books. I’m looking especially for freshness and energy, the edge often absent in the book industry. Remember, the big houses no longer nurture talent in the hopes of reaping a hit five books later. Everyone has to start somewhere, and this is where the action is now. Besides, even commercially published works these days aren’t particularly well edited. Alas.

Still, I’m having some common complaints, the pet peeves of an aging copy editor.

“Grey” instead of the American “gray.”

“Towards” rather than the American “toward.”

“That” instead of “who.”

Punctuation errors, especially with single and double quote marks.

Short stories posing as novels. Admittedly, I’m frugal, but these short entries are rarely worth the same as a fully fleshed out book.

To see what I’ve been reading, go to the book reviews at my Jnana Hodson at Smashwords page.

Got any favorite ebooks to recommend?

Who sez nothin’ ever happens in a small town?

As the sophisticated outsider at the outset of Nearly Canaan, Jaya’s already at odds with the small-town outlook of Prairie Depot.

For some, she’s a breath of fresh air. For others, she’s a threat. Is it enough to ignite combustion?

Her presence bursts into romance, certainly.

But in freeing her suitor from the inhibitions of his strict upbringing, does she create a monster?

~*~

What’s your take on inhibitions? Especially where you live?

 

Desire at first sight

My novel, What’s Left, springs from the ending of my first published novel, where our hippie-boy’s troubled journey finally brings him to true love and an embracing community.

Part of his epiphany is brought about by his colleague and guardian angel, Nita, when she hangs two portraits of her younger sister on her wall. Even as a professional photographer, he’s riveted. You could say it was infatuation at first sight. Or something more primordial.

And then, when he visits their family, the romance blossoms.

Continue reading “Desire at first sight”