When the author starts choking up

One of Kenzie’s lovers in Pit-a-Pat High Jinks had long puzzled me. In the earlier versions of the story, I pretty much ran with a set of details mirroring those I had encountered in real life. I refrained from speculating on what she wasn’t telling me – or, by extension, Kenzie.

In the latest set of revisions, though, I ventured beyond that self-imposed taboo. I had learned from two other girlfriends how devastating childhood abuse could be. Yes, in this fictional case, the hypothesis fit. Not that it had to be factually true, but rather that it was a plausible possibility – that was enough for a novelist. As I fleshed out that incident and its impact, I began weeping. If only I had known more of her at the time or more of all three, would the course of our relationships gone differently? The feeling of deep loss and grieving was pervasive, all these decades later.

Likewise, as I was reworked the text that morphed into Daffodil Uprising, the focus shifted from the lighthearted face of the hippie experience to a broader comprehension of its desperation and even destructive fringes – and that sensation also had me grieving. As a deep sense of loss regarding the promise we saw on the horizon but failed to reach and fulfill washed over me, I began seeing the novel as a requiem for the hippie dream.

With Kenzie’s daughter Cassia at my side, though, I started thinking about the way dreams work. They have one foot in the past and the other in the present. And then, even when she was looking at her father’s history, she had her own generation in mind. From where I stand, their situation looks even more confusing than ours had. What can we who did change so much of society, pro and con, offer them now in continuing that vision?

These are dire times, friends. Anyone else feeling some déjà vu and unease?

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Bringing better order to the series

Do we all work differently, at least when it comes to something like writing? Maybe those of you who have been to week-long writing workshops or taken seminars can better answer that, but I am amazed to hear of women who have created wonderful works in short takes between changing diapers and preparing dinner and doing the laundry. Me? I need chunks of time, and that included those years when I was working in a newsroom for a living.

My hippie novels were originally one very long work, as was my Pacific Northwest series. For practical reasons, I cut them apart, and in doing so, they lost their continuity.

Rather than being the ending to the hippie run, Subway Hitchhikers wound up appearing first – in print, at that. In the novella’s distillation for publication, some of the backstory needed to be inserted. By the time the opportunity finally came to issue the earlier parts as ebooks, those manuscripts had been reworked into independent stories, or so I thought.

With the books before the public at last, I thought I could move on.

Given the distance of a few more years, though, unfinished business nagged at me, prompting me to begin work on the volume that grew into What’s Left. Frankly, it was the most difficult writing project of my life. Just what had happened to the hippies, anyway? And why should anyone care?

Unlike my earlier writing sprees, my attention was no longer diverted by employment elsewhere. In having more time to ponder the characters and implications, my focus shifted in stages from the action itself and more into feelings. Lately I’ve become aware of how much that in itself differentiates journalism from fiction. This was a huge step from my career as a newspaper editor, no matter how much I had been looking to literature as a means of personally overcoming the limitations of communicating in the lowest common denominator – I had always wanted a bigger, more expressive vocabulary, for one thing, as well as longer sentences for variety and sweep. There were many times I longed for something other than “said” as attribution for quotations. People do shout, after all, or whisper or hiss or sigh, but that all injects the reporter’s interpretation into the account. Remember that objectivity goal? Just how objective can a novelist be, in contrast?

So much for my professional training or my literary ambitions.

Revision by revision, the focus of my new novel shifted away from what Cassia hoped to recover of her father and on to his reasons for joining in her mother’s extended family – especially the clues she gleaned from his amassed photography – and from there to his legacy and her role in preserving it. And then she started talking in her own voice and taking over. The book quite simply became about her discovering herself and her mission as she recovered from her profound personal loss at age eleven. It was no longer about the hippie era at all but rather her own times.

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What’s gonna be happenin’ here this year

Across town from this red barn, when I sit in the 250-year-old Quaker meetinghouse, the ancient Regulator clock ticks away. It irritates some worshipers and comforts others.

I know the timepiece wasn’t part of the original décor. Likely arrived a hundred or more years later. The classic Regulator, with its eight-day run on a single winding, came along with the railroads as one way of getting everyone on the same time to match the trains’ timetables. No more guessing, I guess. These days, our instrument gains about eight minutes a day. But it’s also on its last legs … or hands, ahem. The clock repairers have told us that much.

There’s something fitting about an old clock marking time now. Its heartbeat, so rooted in the past, has an air of eternity along with the flash of the passing present.

Hard as it is for me to believe, the Red Barn is entering its eighth year, and each one has been somewhat different. Last year, for instance, the focus shifted to my newly released novel, What’s Left, and some of that emphasis will continue through the year coming. That volume has become central to the series that originally proceeded it, and as a result of recent revisions, those books have now been thoroughly reworked to more fully embody the new perspectives.

As a result, we’ll also be reflecting the releases of two more of those novels this year, plus another thoroughly revised tale involving yoga.

With these publications, I’m feeling the satisfaction of having accomplished a standard I long believed was within my reach. I hope readers will feel similar pleasure in their pages.

~*~

Jnana’s Red Barn is the flagship of my related WordPress blogs, which are also gearing up for the new year.

Thistle/Flinch, my personal small-press operation, will keep the name in its address even as the imprint itself goes to the originally planned Thistle/Finch moniker, after the golden songbird – just for the L of it, as a punster might say. (It might be confusing, I know, but it beats changing the URL altogether.)

Its pace of releases will step up to one a week, including photo albums and printable broadsides.

The new direction will also reissue many of the earlier collections in much shortened, easier-to-handle formats. A full-length collection may be great when you’re buying a paper edition, but it’s just too clumsy, I think, in a PDF file.

Chicken Farmer I Still Love You, meanwhile, will be recasting its Talking Money series, this time keeping each post short, sweet, and more tightly focused for individual reflection. These useful exercises in addressing personal finances are timeless, ready for a new generation to apply their wisdom.

As Light Is Sown will also be in an encore mode as it repeats its Daybook of inspiration that originally ran in 2014.

Take a look at them all!

I hope they add pleasure and value to your new year.

BOTH NOVELS TAKE PLACE IN THE SAME TOWN MANY YEARS APART

My newest novels are both set in the same college town, but each one focuses on a different locale within it.

Daffodil Uprising takes place largely on the campus, and even when three of the characters move off into a shabby apartment, their focus is on college. It’s an outpost in more ways than one.

What’s Left, in contrast, settles into a neighborhood between the school and the courthouse square. The town and its university aren’t even named in this account. Instead, Cassia’s family’s restaurant is the center of attention, along with their surrounding properties. This story has a strong sense of the town itself, including the river, and the family’s impact on the community.

One thing I’ll confess is that in abstracting the location, I’ve created a place that doesn’t actually exist in the state. There’s nowhere along the Ohio River that’s just an hour from Indianapolis. Consider it as something like the visual tricks Edward Hopper performed in his paintings. Things feel right, despite the realities.

Southern Indiana, with its hills and forests, really is defined in large part by its relationship to the river. I hope I’ve heightened that sense.

I REALLY WELCOMED THE OPPORTUNITY TO RECAST MY NOVELS

Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords.com, is a refreshing breeze in the publishing world. With his ebook empire, he’s allowed countless authors and aspirants to put their work in front of the public at no cost. And, unlike Amazon, he’s made these works available across a range of digital retailers and their platforms. That in itself is amazing.

I find his reflections on the publishing industry refreshing. For one, he’s noted that one of the advantages of ebooks is that they can be updated and revised easily and inexpensively. A new cover, for example, can work wonders. When it comes to paper publishing, this would cost thousands and is almost unthinkable.

Well, that got me thinking about my earlier novels once I had finished polishing What’s Left, which begins a generation later. Looking at those events from the perspective of the central hippie boy’s daughter, I realized crucial changes were due. I just had no idea how thorough they’d be.

For one thing, I found myself renaming many of the characters and giving each one more of a backstory and motivation. In Daffodil Uprising, the dorm residents no longer run as a pack, and I’m especially fond of three who end up functioning as elders.

I also added a weekly peace vigil and a clandestine bomber, even before getting to the university president and his conniving wife. I’m still not sure which one is more of a vampire.

Now that the entire Hippie Trails series has been recast into a Freakin’ Free Spirits cycle, I’m quite happy that the books form a more coherent whole. Being away from the newsroom for the past several years has allowed me to look more closely at the fictional scene I create. The journalist would see mostly action but not much of the characters’ differing psychologies. Just the facts, ma’am. This time around, I’m hooked on their quirks – especially their irrational feelings.

And as for the dreaded editorializing? Not me, oh no. But Cassia’s presence freely unleashes an opinionated viewpoint that I find most refreshing. That daughter can have quite a tongue.

THAT VICTORIAN APARTMENT WAS REAL

The once grand dame of an apartment house turned shabby that I describe in my novel Daffodil Uprising was real, though situated in Upstate New York rather than southern Indiana. A little bit more poetic license, if you will, in my relocating the blocky building.

I use the past tense, because satellite searches inform me the structure has been demolished, no doubt because of some of the health and safety issues the story relates. Bringing everything up to code would have cost a fortune.

Well, maybe a fire did it in. That, too, feels quite plausible.

When Kenzie and his two buddies flee their dorm, they have such high expectations. So did I, in what was supposed to be a haven after college. Look, this was what a professional journalist could afford – slum housing.

Still, the moldy manse was memorable and possibly haunted. I certainly heard rumors to that effect.