So much for their model of a commune

When Cassia’s future father moves in with Nita’s four siblings, their big old Victorian house and its household are practically a hippie commune.

But then, when her parents’ generation begins marrying and having children, things change.

Still, she’d grown up as part of a tightly knit extended family, one that was just about everything his hadn’t been.

Where was your family when you were starting out as an adult? Nearby or far away?

Have you ever lived in a group household?

 

How close do we hew to an ethnic tradition?

One of the dilemmas in shaping my novel What’s Left, involves the naming of children. I felt a repetition of first names in successive generations, such a common Greek custom, would have simply become too confusing for readers to follow. Am I right?

~*~

In a passage I cut from the final edition, the unifying influence of tradition or spiritual practice is considered:

Let’s face it, our worst disagreements are insignificant compared to the conflicts that could be erupting within our circle.

~*~

Not all families get along, after all. Even Cassia’s will face some difficult trials.

For the moment, let’s look at names. Cassia, in the novel, is short for Acacia, a tough wood mentioned in the Bible. (In the King James version, though, it’s called shittam. Ugh.)

Do you know what your name means? Were you named in honor of anyone? Do you like them? Would you prefer something else?

~*~

If it were only pink, like the one in my novel!

 

A little idealism helps

Somehow, in starting from the finale of an earlier novel, my novel What’s Left would have to resolve a gap between the five siblings’ Greek ancestry and their interest in Tibetan Buddhism, along with the challenges of running a restaurant shortly after the loss of their parents. Their view of business is more radical and community-focused, for one thing.

Yes, they were young and idealistic, but would that be enough to get them through?

What would you hope to see change in your surrounding society? Or even your own life?

Little room to be fully alone where she is

When it comes to her cohort of close cousins in my novel What’s Left, I don’t want to give away too much. Let’s just say there are a lot of them, and they come to prominence in the last half of the story. You just might have reason to be envious.

As an author, this presents a challenge. How can I narrow the focus for the reader yet maintain an awareness of the scope involved by the time we get to a fourth generation of this family in the New World?

In this case, I chose to concentrate on a handful of Cassia’s cousins, at most, and deal with the rest of them in quick glances, often as part of the pack, sometimes simply a cluster of names in a single brushstroke. I hope it’s sufficient.

Perhaps it also helps that apart from Cassia’s best friend forever, Sandra, the cousins don’t step into the spotlight until we’re well into the story and some of the other earlier characters have already stepped offstage.

~*~

As a passage I deleted from the final version suggests, her upbringing was quite different from her father’s.

He must have been very lonely, always on best behavior, without any of the competitive mischief that runs through my family.

~*~

One of the things that amazed me about my college girlfriend’s family was the number of cousins she had and how often they visited each other — second- and third-cousins included. They seemed to know where everyone lived and what they were up to. Mine was nothing like that.

Do you have any close cousins? Do you find any of them to be special? Annoying?

Or if you’re from a big family, how close are you to your brothers and sisters? Which ones more than others?

Who would you turn to if you were in trouble?

~*~

Coming across a family photo like this one online fills me with admiration. They seem so close and happy together. The one I found is captioned Three Greek Sisters. I’m assuming they’re Greek-American, but who cares? By the way, those look like some lucky guys, too.

Care to share in my field notes from a lifetime’s zigzag trip?

Writing has been a means for me to investigate the question, “Who am I,” and of recollecting fragments, especially those that might eventually coalesce into a larger perspective. Unlike many adults, I have few vivid childhood memories, but what I am piecing together is often troubling. I grew up in Ohio in a mainstream Protestant tradition, became an Eagle scout, loved chemistry, hiked and camped, that sort of thing. I can blame becoming a hippie on my first lover, and thank her, too, for pointing my life in an unanticipated direction even after she flew ever so far away.

In the years since, I’ve followed a zigzag journey that’s been rich in many ways excepting money. Let’s just say it’s been off-beat.

Now retired from a career in daily newspaper journalism, I’ve married for the second time, live in a historic mill town in the seacoast region of New Hampshire, and am an active Quaker. It’s a full plate. What I didn’t expect was how much of my own “contemporary” fiction is now history – so much has changed so quickly in my own lifetime.

It’s hardly the end of the story, though. Not if we can help it.

 

Conformity isn’t necessarily comfortable, is it?

My novel What’s Left deals largely with a new generation as it attempts to make sense of its legacy. Yes, the story centers on Cassia, the daughter of a professional photographer and practicing Tibetan Buddhist in Indiana. She’s trying to make sense of how they got where they are now – and what’s always made her extended family unique.

Do you feel you fit in easily with the world around you? Or is there usually some sense of alienation?

 

Characters reflect varied levels of involvement in the story

Unless you’re a hermit or a successful recluse, you’re bound to come across a host of humanity in your daily life. Just think of the spaces you inhabit — home, neighborhood, buses or subway cars, classroom, workplace and markets, church, a gym or swimming pool, dances, sports teams or choirs, coffee stop, and on and on — all filled with other people who cross your path.

Just mapping all the places you touch in a week can be a big challenge.

If it were only pink, like the one in my novel What’s Left!

So faithfully following a character in a story presents an impossible task: how many of these intersecting individuals can an author include? Think, too, of the level of importance — whether you’re presenting a central figure whose influence runs through many of the pages; a major character who may be important at some point, even a single chapter; someone who provides peripheral color; an episodic figure, who flits in and out. And how many of these require names versus those who can be quickly sketched by a simple title or description?

I’d still love to do a tale having only two characters. Even holding it to six would be fun. But obviously, that wouldn’t do when the story touches up to five generations, as my novel What’s Left, does. Now you can share my perspective.

Consider, too, that we typically know others in one circle of activity or another. Sometimes they fit in several, but encountering a person out of context can be confusing. There are people I know at the indoor swimming pool, for instance, but we’re always startled when we run into each other on the street or at the supermarket, where our joke usually goes, “I didn’t recognize you with your clothes on!” (Yes, we do wear swimsuits — and often swim caps.)

How many people do you know by name? What’s your most important social space when it comes to being with your cohorts?

~*~

Don’t forget:

You better be good to toads!

 

A preview of what’s shaping up for the Barn’s tenth year

Reflecting on the ways the Red Barn has evolved over its nine years so far, I find it hard to think this started out as a text-driven vehicle, but then how quickly I started shooting my own digital photos and we got into a wild ride.

Yes, we really are entering the tenth year of this blog.

It’s still a merry-go-round approach of recurring categories, though I’m always tweaking, and I’m excited about the plans for the coming year.

The release of my eight novels in paperback volumes last year – in addition to their ebook availability – prompts me to step up the Cassia’s World postings to twice a week, including its Greek-American awareness and related dimensions. Sometimes I wish she’d just take over the entire Red Barn. Her snarky voice would be more entertaining, for sure.

That’s not the only shift.

Postcards will be branching out into original art from way back in my high school years as well as continuing the photos of my world today.

Home & Garden’s getting beefed up, too, thanks to my wife’s sharp-eyed cell-phone photos. Privately, I’m calling the series Rachel’s Showcase. You’ll see why.

There will also a prose-poem every Saturday under the Arts & Letters category. It’s a challenging and refreshing genre, in this case often drawn from my correspondence, back when we actually wrote letters and cards to each other.

For the record, the Poems and Poetry Footnotes categories left the lineup a few years ago when the Red Barn got a new look, one that didn’t handle verse well. That literary action instead moved over to my  Thistle Finch blog and its free chapbooks and broadsides. Please check them out.

Much of the Quaker Practice category, meanwhile, has branched off into my As Light Is Sown blog, where it’s taken on a more theological bent. Currently, it’s presenting weekly reflections and insights on my experience of reading the Bible straight-through. I hope you’ll take a look there to see my unorthodox line of commentary.

And Newspaper Traditions is no longer a regular entry, not just because of my retirement from the field but also because of the financial collapse of the once vibrant business. I just don’t have much to report there anymore, not apart from my novel Hometown News.

That still leaves plenty of room for Tendrils, Personal Journey, American Affairs, and Wild Card surprises, as well as the Trail Markers parade of vanity license plates (in a new slot on Fridays, as if taking off for the weekend).

Well, readers are supposed to be curious about what makes an author tick. I think you’ll get a good idea just by nosing around in the barn.

And please remember, your comments and questions are always welcome. Please, please, please pipe up!

So here we go again, to round out a full decade online.