Back then it was just the six of us: Goji, Willow, Wave, Jade, Doobie and me. I don’t remember much from the first couple years after I came here, but sometime during that summer my memories kick in as if my brain suddenly threw the switch that saves stuff. --Clover Blue
When I was a girl I envied my sisters for each having a unique nickname, endearingly handed out by my dad. My oldest sibling Sharon was called Queenie due to her towering height. Luanne was LuLu, Mari-Beth was Izzy, Nita was Neat (although she spelled it "Nete") and LaVonne was Ree, short for her middle name, Marie. My baby brother David we called Gus, or more commonly, Gassy Gus, for obvious reasons. Me? I was simply Donna, although my sisters recently informed me that my nickname was actually Pinch-Face so maybe I just blocked the memory.
One of the most thrilling parts of beginning a new novel is getting to name your "children". CLOVER BLUE is set in a 1960s/70s Northern California spiritual commune led by a quiet but charismatic man who gathers like-minded people to live a life that he terms The Peaceful Way. Each member of Saffron Freedom Community chooses or is given a new name when they join the family. As someone who lives in California and with a twenty-five-year career in massage therapy, I'm pretty sure I've heard every hippie-dippy-woo-woo-hooky-do name out there so I assumed this task would be easy.
Long before typing the first words of the book, I made a list of my characters and their qualities, then assigned them a unique name. Besides Clover Blue and his best friend Harmony, whose namings are revealed as the story unfolds, Jao Ji was the first name that came to me for the group's founder, given to him by an Indian guru. I wanted the leader's title to be a bit of a puzzle, just as he is. I liked the sound of the word. In Hindi Jao means "go" and Ji is a suffix of respect. So to my mind, having traveled throughout Eastern Asia before starting the commune, it felt like a fitting name for him.
The next two names were given to prominent characters Willow and Wave, who, despite the free love enjoyed during the sexual revolution, remain steadfast in their love for each other. Willow is a skilled yogi and Wave a former surfer who abandoned the sea after an encounter with a shark. Another original member, Doobie gets his moniker from not only being the family marijuana cultivator, but also the person who consumes most of the product. It's a friendly name, which reflects Doobie's easy-going personality.
On and on my list went with names like Lyric, Tao, Peace, Feather and Earth, a singer-songwriter, a thespian, a war protester, a bee-keeper and a wildish woman who worships nature. As the story progresses, three more characters show up: a teen-aged girl called Rain, midwife Serena, and Lotus, a neighboring artist. Other characters appear on the list, minor characters, and together I created a lively cast of spiritual seekers devoted to living a peaceful life in nature, far from the madding crowd. But as the story unfolded on the pages and these people came into better focus, they evolved from simple characters to three-dimensional human beings with a past and a purpose. Some wore their names perfectly while others began to slough off the names I'd given them, begging for a more suitable one.
Jao Ji became Goji, a bastardization of what his teacher had called him, underscoring his flawed self-image. Rather than "Respected Traveler" his name became simply a plant with berries. Peace was renamed Coyote when he evolved from being just an army deserter to a man whose integrity runs much deeper than his politics. Earth became Gaia as she grew into her unpredictable wildness. I changed Feather to Jade because she is a much stronger, more independent woman than I'd first imagined. And sadly, Lyric and Tao disappeared from the pages as I tightened the cast and killed off my darlings.
What I realized while writing Clover Blue is that it would have been easy to take the lazy route and write caricatured versions of every hippie or flower child I've ever met, read about or seen on the screen. But the characters in CLOVER BLUE are more than their names. They are part of a collective tribe yet each with distinct passions and motivations, just like you and me. Mine just happens to be conjuring worlds full of imagined people and places to entertain and hopefully, enlighten readers. I sincerely hope you enjoy the time you spend with them as much as I did creating them.
CLOVER BLUE is now available for Pre-Order!