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.
The novel that now stands as Nearly Canaan is a much, much different book than its original draft.
The landscape itself is no longer a primary character, for one thing – a Garden of Eden for an Adam and Eve. It still provides a vivid background, all the same.
Changing the protagonist into a slightly older, career-driven woman and the suitor a younger man also greatly shifted the dynamic.
The narrative was still an epic, rambling investigation that eventually spanned across three volumes – Promise, Peel (as in Apple), and St. Helens in the Mix – but the momentum and message got lost along the way.
I needed to look at it the way Michelangelo looked at a big rock. And then start chisling to release the angel.
A clearer understanding of Jaya’s work in nonprofits – and of Schuwa himself – helped me cut the text by half or more, driving it along a stronger plot line.
Unlike rock, fortunately, it’s not just a matter of cut-cut-cut with no additions possible.
So the renamed Joshua – or Schuwa, as she fondly calls him – becomes equally central to the story. In fact, in the two middle sections, he’s now the principal figure.
As I’ve asked, in liberating him from his strict upbringing, has Jaya created a monster?
That alone adds more balance to the tale, countered by the rising pressures in her own stellar career.
Even though what was left was still a big book, I felt an additional touch was needed.
That’s when I returned to an earlier desire for a novel based on Wendy, Pastor Bob’s wife back in Prairie Depot. The distilled essence of that now became a fitting coda for the opus.
By the way, I still think Wendy’s an angel – of the living, breathing sort. No wonder she and Jaya so quickly bonded.
I’m delighted to announce that my newest novel has just been published.
Nearly Canaan focuses on the lasting impact a single person can have, but its details often erupt from committed young adult couples interacting with each other.
The story takes off once Jaya leaves the ashram in Yoga Bootcamp.
As she ventures forth to resume her career and teach yoga on the side, she becomes enmeshed in erotic passion, despite her best intentions. As she becomes half of twosome, she’s also influenced by two other couples – her lover’s parents and his pastor and wife Wendy.
Soon after, when Jaya and her beloved move on to the Ozarks, they grow close to another young couple, their new neighbors.
And when they arrive at last in their promised land, two more young couples as well as their landlords in the orchard weave into the action.
I didn’t set out with these overlapping circles as my model, but that’s what’s emerged. It’s quite exciting, actually.
The new novel is a thorough reworking of three earlier books – Promise, Peel (as in Apple), and St. Helens in the Mix.
Cassia is not the only character who’s had me drastically revising my earlier fiction.
Jaya, the central figure in what now stands as Nearly Canaan, has more recently had me doing the same to six other published books.
First, before Cassia became part of my life in What’s Left and the earlier stories now told in my Freakin’ Free Spirits cycle, Jaya emerged in a set of revisions in what became the three novels Promise, Peel (as in apple), and St. Helens in the Mix.
Initially, her part wasn’t even female – and while transforming her wasn’t exactly literary gender reallocation surgery, it certainly changed the dynamic of the story, which became older woman/younger man, with the woman being the tall dark sophisticated stranger being pursued by a hot young guy.
In the early drafts, she wasn’t yet a yogi, either, but rather a Sufi.
The stories themselves were about encountering specific landscapes as much as the individuals themselves.
A few years after their publication, I decided to restore them to my original intent of one volume but realized drastic revision was necessary. First, they needed to be cut significantly to fit into what would still be a “fat” and hopefully juicy book. Second, I needed a clearer understanding of Jaya’s actual career as well as her companion’s character. And, third, a fuller comprehension of her lasting influence was required. That led to the new version, Nearly Canaan.
It still felt incomplete, though. Her earlier spiritual training needed to be told. While she had talked briefly about her ashram experiences, they didn’t align completely with my yoga novel. But they could.
I reopened the manuscript, changed one of the eight students to be Jaya, and then changed the gender of the guru throughout. That led to a slew of drastic alterations and additions, moving the novel from Ashram to Yoga Bootcamp.
That gave me two novels in a series, but a series needs a third or more, I felt.
I’m still surprised by how much literary writing I accomplished in my spare time during all those years I was employed elsewhere. Much of it, admittedly, was in a shotgun fashion, or as I’ve also said, along the lines of graffiti, while hoping for the big break that would give me the space for a more concentrated approach.
Still, it led to a rich stream of material. In that regard, Jack Kerouac was a huge inspiration.
Releasing Hippie Drum as an ebook at Smashwords.com in 2013 was an indispensable defining moment for me. I was no longer bashing my hopes against a brick wall of commercial publishing, which was ever more resistant to experimental fiction. Six more novels followed at Smashwords, plus the fiction available at my own Thistle Finch online imprint.
As I’ve already noted on this blog, my novel What’s Left led me to rethink and rework almost all of those earlier novels. For one thing, as I now see, it was drafted and revised entirely after my retirement from the newsroom.
I’m deeply grateful to an insight from Smashwords founder Mark Coker that one of the advantages of ebook publishing over printed paper is that revised editions are much easier to accomplish, and more economical, too. That – and my own ability now to create my own covers, rather than hire a designer – encouraged me to drastically recast those earlier volumes.
There’ no way to express the elation I feel in now having most of those novels stand in two distinct, orderly cycles – Freakin’ Free Spirits and Living Dharma – each with a continuity of events and central cast of characters.
There’s the relief, too, of having finally been faithful to this material and its inspiration. I can now move on. It belongs to the world, the way a parent feels about grown-up children.
Bella brings a love of reading to the family. She comes to campus to become a teacher, but other events intervene and she instead becomes the anchor of the family and its restaurant, where she runs the front of the store while her husband, Stavros, manages the kitchen. It doesn’t take long before she seems to know everybody in town. She’s that kind of person.
But that doesn’t prevent her from usually having an open book close at hand. She always manages to find time to read.
I’d credit both her daughter Nita’s success as a newspaper columnist and daughter Manoula’s founding of an influential small publishing house to her inspiration. The family does buy a bookstore, for one thing, before sending it on its own anew.
Bella also has enough Greek heritage to pass along some of the tradition. Here’s a bit of interaction between Cassia and her aunt Nita I cut from the final version:
They always called me Koukla, by the way, the same thing I sometimes call you.
What’s it mean, exactly? I know it’s a term of endearment, but I’ve just never followed up.
Thea Nita laughs. Oh, something like beautiful doll or baby doll, but it’s always full of affection. Koukla!
For many of us, daily life includes a lot of juggling, one activity or interest in contrast to another. Are you a multi-tasker? Or do you look at the term with derision? Tell us two or more things that frequently compete for your time. Do you have any tips for pulling it off?
Here’s a section from a collection of contemporary American sonnets I’ve done along the lines of those by the late and wonderful Ted Berrigan. It’s one of 60 from Braided Double-Cross.
As I said at the time …
In defining poetry, Berrigan’s concept of a windup toy serves well for me. How basic can I make it? (A single word? Maybe two?) As well as how extended or elaborate!
I still don’t like poetry that’s written as code, an intellectual equation of meaning.
Also, I prefer lines that are long enough to have something happen within each one.
I love when literature (or any art, for that matter) opens as a state of awareness – or fullest existence – which also expands into epiphanies of dancing or singing or perhaps, well, just imagine. Think twice about the chemically aided experiences – pinot, martini, pot? Yes, the Zone, when it graces. In a continuum, with differing specifics.
A set of skills and disciplined thought and, I would hope, tradition / culture. Not that every time I read a book or sit to write I’m there. Indeed, there may be good reasons we cannot dwell long in that Zone (Is it too isolated? Too exclusionary? Self-centered even when we find it occurring in Otherness?) …
A break, then. And then back to work.
A green-streaked sentry flanked by thistles
on every town common is more explicit
than any boom box. Please, my darling, please
don’t let carnal memories expire between us.
I set forth at a disadvantage.
Ribbons of baby oil. Snaking Chinese dragons.
One flesh, lagoons. Trembling like the wind
in shrubs and flowers. You chained
criticism on my Academy of St. Martin
in the wallpaper, provoking blatant spice factory
peppers and cinnamon misrepresentations
of common logic, as if you were running for office.
Without proper camouflage, there’s nothing to repulse
destitution overtaking military-issue fortifications.
Poem copyright by Jnana Hodson (originally appeared in the journal Plungelit)
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