Tara, the lover who wasn’t ready to settle down

In my novel What’s Left, Cassia’s aunt Nita personally knew three important non-family members in Cassia’s father’s past.

Tara is one she viewed mostly from a distance, the lover who matched him best before meeting Nita’s sister.

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Here’s a longer look, one I condensed in the final revision:

If anything, Tara was a lioness. It’s not just her sunburst of hair. It’s the way she moves and regards the universe. The way she even purrs, when pleased, or growls when vexed. It manifests in an insistence on social justice and rails at power-seeking machinations of any kind, public or private. No, she shares our aversion to anything underhanded or sneaky. But the whole time she and Baba are lovers, she’s far from ready to settle down. She’s searching, even probing, for the direction she wants to follow. What Baba never sees is her underlying anxiety or the ways it’s on the verge of explosion. Still, she opens his eyes and heart to so much.

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There have been moments in my life when I ponder how things would have gone when someone like Tara was finally ready to settle down but I was otherwise engaged.

Personally, what do you think of Tara?

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Cassia’s roots included inspiration like Fira, Santorini. (Photo by Rennett Stowe via Wikimedia Commons.)

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About that feminine point of view in my novels

Why a young female as my protagonist? Fair question. Since my novel What’s Left began as an attempt to answer a younger generation’s questions about the hippie movement, I felt a girl would be more receptive to its issues and sensations. Many girls have, after all, continued the identity, while it appears that boys have largely become more militant or even sullen.

As the novel developed, Cassia’s parents and their values retreated into the background. Far more compelling is Cassia’s own identity, development, and confrontations. Hope you agree.

My new series focuses on Jaya and her evolving awareness. Yoga is part of it, along with career issues and close relationships. She has a richer encounter with the events, I’d say, than Joshua does – there are many points where he’s largely a reactive or passive presence. Ultimately, The Secret Side of Jaya has no parallel in his more limited vision or imagination.

I have to confess the story didn’t start out to be told from her side, but it does feel much more fitting this way.

But I am speaking as the author. Readers and critics are open to their own takes.

Care to weigh in?

The Secret Side of Jaya

Among the non-family members in his past, the one now called Liz

As Cassia delves into her father’s photo negatives in my novel What’s Left, she’s bound to come up with a slew of Liz, who became his first lover.

Somewhere there’s also the experimental short movie he made, the one that made the rounds of avant-garde showings. The one featuring Liz’s shimmering breast.

Cassia’s aunt Nita had been Liz’ dorm roommate when the whole thing began. She’d tell her niece plenty, should the kid ask. She’s also a central figure in Daffodil Uprising and Pit-a-Pat High Jinks.

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Romantic love is only one of the options when it comes to emotional spiraling.

Could you tell about telling me of some event that knocked the floor out from under your feet?

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Cassia’s roots included inspiration like this Orthodox icon of Saint Agatha. Via Wikimedia Commons.

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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.

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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 …

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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.

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.

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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.”

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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?

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Roman goddess Diana

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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.