Friday, December 21, 2018

Hippies and Gurus and Communes, Oh My!

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!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

When Breath Becomes Heir

*Note: Beginning last week with the Cover Reveal for my next book, CLOVER BLUE, I'll be posting weekly-ish peeks into the story ahead of release on May 28, 2019. Be sure to subscribe via the button on the left to stay updated! 

When I was about seven years old, I sat at my desk in our tiny elementary school, staring at the pencil between my fingers, turning my hand this way and that. I remember very distinctly a dawning awareness of my hand attached to my arm, my breaths leaving my mouth, my body separate from my thoughts. In that brief existential moment, I suddenly understood that what I was, was not who I was. 

It was a strange feeling, this new realization that my body would grow and change but that the person inside having those thoughts would remain. The experience, however brief, left an indelible mark on my memory. At fifty-nine years old I still remember that epiphany almost as clearly as if it happened yesterday. 

As children we accept what we're told and rarely question the past as it fades in the wake of our maturation. And yet for most of us, there comes a point where we begin to ponder our existence, how we fit into the world, our families and the surrounding environment. We yearn to identify as a member of the human tribe that begins with our parents and siblings, stretching outward toward extended family, friends, and community. The older we get, the more our world expands to include our country, our planet, and the seemingly-infinite universe. 

In my next novel, Clover Blue, my young protagonist is missing a piece of his biological puzzle. He lives in a spiritual commune in Northern California without running water or electricity. Each day begins with yoga and ends with meditation. They sleep in an elaborate treehouse, raise their own food, and the Youngers are nature-schooled. Clover Blue is twelve years old when he begins to reflect upon his connections beyond Saffron Freedom Community:

I have no memory of anything before here. Sometimes when we’re in town at the library or the store, I hear a voice and it sounds familiar. Once in a while a smell reaches into my brain and tries to call up the past, but it’s always dark and flat. Maybe I don’t want to remember. Maybe it was bad. Or maybe it was so good it would hurt too much to remember.

And so begins Blue's search for identity among the ragtag tribe of folks who've raised
him. People like Goji, the commune founder, Jade, their former beekeeper, Wave, a guitar-playing surfer and his "old lady" Willow, a yoga enthusiast. Although Blue loves his unique family--especially his funny and fiercely independent best friend, Harmony--he aches to know more about his roots and how he ended up at Saffron Freedom Community. 

What about you? Can you remember when you first began to assert your autonomy as an individual? Was it a lightning bolt revelation or was it a more gradual understanding of your place in the world?

Have I piqued your interest yet? I hope you'll follow this blog to learn more about my earnest young protagonist and his ragtag tribe. If you add Clover Blue to your Goodreads shelf and your BookBub wish-list you'll be notified of any news like giveaways or deals. The book is also available for pre-order online. Descriptions of all my books, including my debut novel This I Know and my memoir Lost In Transplantation can be found HERE

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Birth of A Book (And A Cover Reveal!)

Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli
As I read excerpts from my novels while leading a recent writing workshop  at our local library, it occurred to me that although not intentional, both This I Know and my 2019 release, Clover Blue begin with a birth. The prologue of This I Know features twins Grace and Isaac communicating their last thoughts to each other during the final moments before birth:

I'm spooning my Other, my belly to his back. I love the way his body feels against mine. Although we've changed positions many times,  we always come back to this...

My goal was to capture the sibling's love for each other, but also their fear of separation. I'm not a twin and of course I don't remember being in the womb, but I do know how it feels to love. And I have endured the depth and weight of loss many times over so it wasn't that difficult to imagine how  vulnerable these two tiny humans might feel as they leave the safety of their mother's womb to face the unknown reality of the outer world. 

Authors often compare writing a book to pregnancy, and the eventual release, to birth. It's true that incubating a story takes months, often years, and there's no greater feeling than seeing your book come to life on bookstore shelves and in the hands of readers. Writing, editing, rewriting and revising is hard labor, but the rewards are plenty. One of those rewards is seeing your book cover for the very first time. I remember literally squealing when I first received the cover comps for This I Know. As some of you might remember, the real-life mother of that gorgeous red-headed child on the cover found me on Facebook and shared more photos of her daughter to use in our book trailer. 

My next book won't be out for another 175 days (whose counting, right?) but this is the week I get to reveal the cover. Before I do, I'd like to share the opening sentences to give you a feel for the book:

The Olders are letting us watch the birth. Harmony runs up the path ahead of me, her bare feet kicking up a cloud of dust. When she gets to the teepee she turns and yells, "Come on Blue! Aren't you excited?"

This story takes place in a fictional Northern California commune during the 1960s and 70s. The novel opens with young Clover Blue on his way to a birth, attended by the Saffron Freedom Community midwife. His fiercely independent best friend Harmony can't wait for the event but Blue holds back, fearful. And with good reason:

I walk slowly, taking small steps. I might be old enough at ten, but that doesn't mean I'm ready for this. I can't shake the memory of when our nanny goat, Inga, had a baby a couple years ago. She ate the sac around her kid and other stuff that came out of her afterward. I hope we don't have to eat anything that comes out after Jade's baby is born. We're vegetarian so probably not. But you never know with this family.

I loved writing Clover Blue. It was a unique opportunity to imagine coming of age in a spiritual commune among a tribe of bohemian seekers that includes a beekeeper, an army deserter, a surfer, a yoga enthusiast, a pot farmer, and their guru, among others. What would it be like to sleep in an elaborate tree house? To live in harmony with nature, without electricity or running water? To start each day with yoga and end it with meditation? To be raised equally by all the members, not knowing who your biological parents are?

Starting this week I hope to post weekly sneak peeks of passages from Clover Blue. I read the first several pages in a Live Video on my Facebook page yesterday (reading starts at 10:30) if you'd like to listen. I hope you'll follow this blog to learn more about my earnest young protagonist and his caretakers. If you add Clover Blue to your Goodreads shelf and your BookBub wish-list you'll be notified of any news like giveaways or deals. The book is also available for pre-order online. And now...drum roll please...I present the amazing cover for CLOVER BLUE. I look forward to reading your comments!