What makes ‘Nearly Canaan’ new and improved

My newly released Nearly Canaan is a thorough reworking of three earlier novels that were intended to be a series.

The publication of What’s Left and the revisions it prompted for four related books soon had me also reconsidering my Promise, Peel (as in apple), and St. Helens in the Mix novels. Sensing the possibility of restoring them to the original concept of a single big book, I made drastic cuts and still added colorful new material.

Here are ten ways the result is new and improved.

~*~

  1. The story is now primarily character-driven. It’s a richer brew. The landscapes now blend in as the backdrop.
  2. Jaya’s romantic partner gains more prominence and independence. His inner turmoil may leave her perplexed, but it’s an essential element in their developing relationship. He’s renamed, too, and refocused.
  3. He’s not the only ongoing conflict. Her professional ambitions in nonprofits management are more sharply detailed as she runs into organizational crises.
  4. She and Joshua become especially close to two other young couples. Everyone seems to look to her for answers, while she turns to an older couple for counsel.
  5. One exception is the pastor’s young wife in the opening section, who serves as a counterpoint to Jaya’s Hindu-based spirituality. The two develop a unique but clandestine budding best friendship. Wendy will return to bring the book to its conclusion.
  6. The new release compresses three books into one centered on Jaya’s influence once she leaves Manhattan. Can she really change lives for the better?
  7. The story is now connected to my novel Yoga Bootcamp, thanks to revisions that installed Jaya as a central figure there. The backstory provides a better understanding of what’s driving her as she settles into Prairie Depot and beyond.
  8. Jaya’s desire to find a suitable artistic means to express her mystical experiences is more clearly envisioned. She may be stressed, but her private discipline continues as best she can. She has to have somewhere to turn.
  9. The pivotal catastrophe moves to the middle of the book, rather than hanging at the end of what was the first volume. Can they survive and pick up the pieces and go on? That’s the stream that follows.
  10. Or, as I didn’t ask earlier, has Jaya unleashed a demon?

~*~

Be among the first to read it!

Hey, just wait till you’re old

No to brag, but I’m in pretty good shape for my age. Admittedly, that’s setting the bar low. Still, there’s a lot I don’t like when it comes to getting older. For example.

  1. Everyday aches and pains. Well, I was fine until I took up daily exercise.
  2. Slowing down. I run out of energy in tackling chores, for one thing. An hour or two and I’m ready to quit. On the other hand, retirement has allowed me to focus more fully on my writing and reading projects. At least when the chores don’t get in the way.
  3. Balding and graying. Among other matters of vanity.
  4. Diminished sex drive. Ouch! Let’s not call it libido.
  5. Fuzzy memory. OK, I do have a lot more crammed into my cranium, but retrieving specifics can be difficult. And that leads to worries about Alzheimer’s or dementia. Not that I can stop any of the aging progressions, which could be a point of its own.
  6. Realizing all the babies in the neighborhood have now graduated from high school or college. At least the ones when we moved here. Or, for that matter, being called “Sir” rather than “Dude.”
  7. Being required to take a handful of pills every morning. Well, it could be worse, like rounds twice a day. Obviously, we’re not talking about recreational drugs, either.
  8. Seeing old acquaintances for the first time in years and being shocked at how old they’ve become. Sometimes I don’t even recognize them. Worse yet, they don’t recognize me.
  9. Overhearing things. Like the kid in the swimming pool locker room who turned to his uncle and proclaimed, “That man’s old,” when I’m the only other person present.
  10. And this. Realizing I’m now the oldest generation in many of my circles and expected to fill the role of the Old Wise One. The ones who went before were so much better.

~*~

What can you add to the list?

Got any favorite books of the Bible?

My As Light Is Sown blog is running a weekly commentary on my experience and thoughts arising in reading the Bible straight-through, from Genesis to Revelation. It’s a wildly varied collection of writings.

But if I’d have to pick my top ten books? Here’s a stab.

  1. Gospel of John: I’m intrigued by a counterargument running through the text that identifies Christ as the Holy Spirit more than Jesus. You’ll have to wait for the post to see my reasoning. The book is also called the “Quaker gospel,” giving me an extra interest.
  2. Genesis: It’s a bang-bang-bang way to begin the chronology, with human desires and conflicts at the fore, even that far back in antiquity. Much of the book would make a great soap opera, but for me, it’s more primal and fundamental than that. Although it often seems to be a telling of patriarchy, keep an eye on the women. And don’t blame Eve when the ball starts rolling.
  3. The Psalms: This collection of heartfelt poems, many of them written anonymously in the guise of King David, span a range of deep emotion. They’re rich enough that the Eastern Orthodox read six in their entirety each Sunday – the same six.
  4. Ruth: The whole story explodes into fullness on a single word – Moabite. But what an incredible love story.
  5. Song of Songs: This is an incredible poem of illicit love. Forget the argument about it’s being an allegory about divine concern and all that. What is religion without passion? Leave it at that.
  6. Esther: Again, a complex soap opera is unleashed here. The bad guys don’t get any worse. By the way, “chamberlains” in the King James translation masks a bigger meaning – they’re eunuchs, who play a surprisingly big role throughout the Hebrew Bible.
  7. Revelation: Read this as poetry, not dystopian doom or a blueprint for human destruction.
  8. Ezekiel: I was surprised by how psychedelic this book is. Whoa!
  9. Tobit: The Apocrypha, not included in most Protestant or Hebrew Bibles, has some lovely stories. This is one. Like Susannah, also from the collection, it tells of injustice, suffering, and ultimate redemption.
  10. Epistle of James: The epistles, most of them attributed to Paul, are a specialty unto themselves. As the brother of Jesus and a leader of the Essenes, though, James has special authority.

~*~

What would you add to the list?

My national parks bucket list

When I lived in Yakima, Washington – like Joshua and Jaya in my new novel, Nearly Canaan – Mount Rainier was practically in our backyard, metaphorically, at least, and I got to explore it repeatedly, in all seasons. In addition, I camped in the Olympics and North Cascades national parks and visited Crater Lake in Oregon. I had already camped as a kid in the Great Smokies and at Mammoth Cave and have since probed the Everglades. I can attest that Acadia and the Cape Cod parks in Provincetown are prime New England. And Cuyahoga in Ohio was just to the west of a town where I lived and worked for four years after leaving the Pacific Northwest. Gateway Arch in St. Louis is another? Gee, this list of parks I’ve visited keeps growing.

Still, there’s a lot of stunning choices in the system I have yet to explore.

How many items are required for a bucket list, anyway? Ten or 20? Well, this is in my Tendrils category, so that settles it. These are all United States parks, by the way – an international list will have to wait.

Here goes.

  1. Grand Canyon, Arizona.
  2. Yes, in Montana.
  3. Yellowstone in its corner of Wyoming, Montana, and Utah.
  4. Grand Teton, Wyoming.
  5. Zion in Utah.
  6. With seven of the ten biggest parks, I’ll lump them all together in what could become yet another Bucket List. I’d definitely want to get to the Last Frontier by ferry from Seattle. Am I too old for a sleeping bag on the deck?
  7. Hawai’i Volcanos.
  8. Mesa Verde in Colorado. The Anasazi cliff dwellings, especially.
  9. Kings Canyon. Sequoia, Redwood, and Joshua Tree, all in California. I’d love to spend more time in the sequoia groves than I did passing through back in ’79.
  10. Calsbad Caverns, New Mexico.

~*~

What’s on yours?

Why presidential hopefuls brave the ice and snow

Its first-in-the-nation presidential primary has the Live-Free-or-Die state in the headlines these days. We want to meet and evaluate them all. It ain’t always easy.

The state’s presidential primary originated in Town Meeting Day, which is traditionally conducted on the second Tuesday in March each year. Since everybody had already come out for this unique form of grassroots democracy, it made sense to add one more item to the warrant, as the agenda is called, rather than make yet another trip to the town hall. (Besides, being winter, we’d have to heat it.) As other states have tried to jump into the spotlight, the presidential part has moved forward on the calendar. Theirs, though, don’t have organic roots like ours.

Contrary to what some candidates label their appearances, a real Town Meeting is not a political lecture or Q&A opportunity but rather a community session for debating and then voting on local government decisions for the year. Everyone can speak up and be heard. The town and school budgets are major considerations.

Now for some other perspectives on the Granite State:

  1. New Hampshire is bigger than it looks on the map. Rotate it 90 degrees and you’ll see it’s larger than Massachusetts, New Jersey, Hawaii, Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island. It’s slightly smaller than Vermont. When water is included, Massachusetts and Hawaii jump ahead.
  2. Small-business owners comprise 96 percent of the employers in the state.
  3. An estimated 87,000 residents, mostly in the southern tier, commute to jobs in Massachusetts.
  4. It’s the only state where seatbelts are not required and one of only a handful where motorcycle helmets are not mandatory.
  5. The state has no income or sales tax. Property taxes make up much of the difference.
  6. The state ranks dead last in its support of secondary education.
  7. New Hampshire has the longest running state lottery in the continental U.S. Originally, the numbers were not drawn at random but based on results from the Rockingham racetrack.
  8. Dover, settled in 1623, is the nation’s seventh-oldest permanent community.
  9. The first potato crop in America was planted in 1719 by Scots-Irish immigrants in Nutfield (now part of Manchester).
  10. Although the state has only 18 miles of ocean frontage, the 6,000-acre Great Bay 10 miles inland is one of the largest estuaries along the Atlantic coast. It’s crucial for sustaining fish populations in the ocean.

~*~

Ever been to the Granite State? What can you add to the list?

So what’s so special about Iowa?

It’s not Ohio, for one thing, even though a surprising number of people don’t know the difference. And it’s really quite distinct from Idaho, out in the Rockies further west. It doesn’t even have a big-league sports team.

But thanks to its unique party caucuses for presidential candidates, the Hawkeye State is back making headlines, at least for now. It makes for a big diversion, now that the crops are in.

Here are some quick perspectives.

  1. Dubuque, the state’s oldest city, grew out of the arrival of Julian Dubuque in 1785, shortly after the Revolutionary War. He was a French-Canadian lead miner working the bluffs along the Mississippi River, and Iowa was still claimed by France.
  2. Cedar Rapids-based Quaker Oats is the world’s largest cereal company.
  3. Wright County has the highest percentage of grade-A topsoil in the nation.
  4. The St. Francis Xavier basilica in Dyersville is the only Roman Catholic basilica in the United States outside of a major metropolitan area. The pope is supposed to hold forth there whenever he’s in the area.
  5. In key social justice advances, married women received property rights in 1851. Women were allowed to become lawyers in 1869, making Arabella Mansfield the first female attorney in the U.S. “Separate but equal” schools were outlawed in 1868. Prohibitions against same-sex marriage were struck down in 2009, making Iowa the third state to allow gay marriage. On the other hand, the state was also a leader in prohibiting alcohol sales: bars were outlawed in 1851, followed by a strong prohibition law in 1855, and a constitutional amendment in 1882 made Iowa a “dry state.” According to one version, women wanted their men to stay sober. The Women’s Christian Temperance Movement was big in Iowa.
  6. West Branch native Herbert Hoover was the first U.S. president born west of the Mississippi River. His mother was a Quaker minister.
  7. Iowa State University is the nation’s oldest land-grant college.
  8. The device for creating sliced bread was invented by Iowan Otto Frederick Rohwedder in 1912. He wanted his bread to fit into the toaster more neatly.
  9. The state has the nation’s highest concentration of wind-powered turbines. The towers produce nearly 40 percent of the state’s electricity.
  10. There are more hogs than humans – 21.2 animals to a tad over three million people.

~*~

Ever been to Iowa? What can you add to the list?

How many seasons do you have?

I’ve already written of my sense of having eight seasons a year where I live, created by blending the four solar-seasons with the equinox- and solstice-based calendar seasons. (To wit: Solar spring begins around February 2, while the calendar season begins on the equinox six weeks later. Thus, the “six more weeks of winter” the groundhog gets blamed for. And so on.)

But we get a slew of other seasons, too. Here’s a sampling.

  1. Sports seasons. As in baseball season, football season, or basketball season. In professional sports, there’s a lot of overlap. Throw in skiing or hockey in my part of the world.
  2. Indian summer, technically after the first killing frost. It can greatly extend our short, six-week summer.
  3. Freezin’ season. Here in New England, that can run five months, from early November into April. One variation is heating season, which can start in early October and run into June, eight months.
  4. Mud season. Rural New Englanders who live along unpaved roads know this one well. When the ground thaws, their cars are soon thoroughly splattered with mud – and a trip on foot can do the same to their clothing.
  5. Black fly season. Follows mud season. The swarms of these tiny, nearly invisible ravenous insects are truly nasty, making mosquitos seem nearly benign.
  6. Waves of flowers, fruits, and vegetables. Ours start with asparagus and end up with apples. In large parts of Maine, blueberries or potatoes are big markers.
  7. Fall foliage. Generally, the month of October. As the landscape goes Day-Glo, the highways, restaurants, and motels are crowded with tourists, all before we’re plunged into November and its dreary clock change into Eastern Standard Time.
  8. The so-called holiday season. Or, more accurately, shopping season. Nowadays, it starts with the Halloween buildup and runs through New Year’s Day.
  9. Allergies season. For some, it’s the whole year.
  10. Campaign season. In New Hampshire, the big one comes every four years. Like right now.

~*~

What would you add to the list? Hunting and fishing, perchance?