Tag Archives: coming of age

Coming of Age in Apache America

 

It’s a cold March night in the high desert mountains of the Apacheria. The young Chihenne Victorio prepares for his fourth dihoke mission, the final apprenticeship he must complete to become an Apache warrior. Victorio has just returned from four days and nights on the Sacred Mountain where in a vision he has seen White Painted Woman in the form of an eagle, he has heard her scream.  The young man breaks fast with a single morsel of dried deer meat. He quenches his thirst through a hollow reed so that his lips would not be weakened by contact with the life-giving water.  Like Child of the Water, the first Apache man born of White Painted Woman, young Victorio dares to ask Lightning for power. In the years that follow, he becomes a leader of his people and fights for their way of life.

 

 

Twenty years later, Victorio’s younger sister Lozen dresses for her four-day dihoke rites, the most sacred of Apache ceremonies. Lozen slips into a doeskin dress painted by her own mother’s hand with meaningful symbols,  the sun, moon, and stars. The dress has been blessed by the di-yin, it possess great power. While wearing it Lozen shares the attributes of White Painted Woman, Mother of all Apaches. While wearing it she will reenact her first menses and impregnation, through movement and dance. The ceremony will involve four runs symbolizing the four stages of life and four nights of sacred dancing. There will be a great feast but Lozen can only drink through a hollow reed to keep her lips from touching water.  For the next four nights Lozen, who had begun to bleed, is the embodiment of White Painted Woman.

 

What Lozen becomes as she matures, is something much different. She never marries, she never takes on the traditional female role. Instead, Lozen becomes a Warrior Woman and rides with the men, using her God given power to locate the enemy through upturned palms.

Victorio and Lozen were two Chihenne Apache adolescents who came of age in the 1800’s in what is now the state of New Mexico. Warm Springs was their homeland.

 

Victorio died in Mexico, on October 10, 1880 at Tres Castillos, Mexico, in a massacre that killed seventy-eight Apaches, and took captive the remaining women and children. His sister Lozen died a prisoner of war, in Mobile, Alabama. She was about fifty years old.

 

 

 

 

Coming of age is a critical time in a person’s life. Although maturation takes years, it is often realized in single moment, as if a threshold has been crossed. If a society does not test its youth, its youth will test themselves through means of their own. A right-of-passage ceremony should be something more than a party and a pretty dress. More than a night at the bars when we turn 21. Bar and Bat Mitzahs? Rumspringa? Quinceanera? How do we mark that passage in 21st century America?

 

 

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Bad choices make good fiction

Bad choices — we’ve all made them and they can affect our lives and the lives of others for years to come. Delayed repercussions can knock you to the ground when you least expect it.

An action can never be undone (well, maybe in an alternate reality it can be) yet a bad decision can sometimes be better than making no decision, taking no action at all.  Sometimes what seems like a bad choice turns out good in the end, though the transformation can take years. So called “good”choices can be the death of us or at least put us in a coma.

I love to write about the teenage and young adult years because the decisions are so momentous and the consequences equally so. What happens in our youth affects us our whole life, even if we are able to amend our transgressions. Even our little mistakes seem disastrous when we’re young because we have so little to compare them to.

Where would fiction be without characters making bad choices? It’s hard to let your characters screw up, but you must let them work it out.

They say write what you know. Well, I know a bit about being young and making bad choices. After all, I survived my teen years.  I survived my children’s teen years. Somehow we all survived — but some of our friends did not. I write for them too

One of these years I’m going to start writing about life from an older, wiser perspective. Someday, if I’m ever old and wise, maybe I’ll write a guidebook to aging. But right now I’m still exploring the choices young people make, in various settings and time periods.

Are my novels “Young Adult?”  I don’t know, nor care. I don’t write for a certain market, I write for myself. I write to discover, to experience other lives. I write to connect with others, no matter their chronological age. I write for the teenager within, to tell her that to live is to make bad choices and to keep on living, keep on growing, keep on reaching, like a plant, toward the light. Don’t harden off too soon. Stay pliant, stay supple, stay green as long as you can.

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Listen to young Aaron Landon read the first chapter of Looking for Redfeather.

 

 

 

 

Go Set a Watchman

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Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird influenced me greatly as a young reader. While Atticus was the hero of that book, I identified with young Scout, a tomboy (as I was) who revered her father (as I revered my own.) The book gave me a different perspective of racial inequality and injustice, but more than that, it was a story of the coming-of-age of a white girl in the deep South, raised by Atticus, her principled father and Calpurnia, his housekeeper/cook/nanny. I saw her insular town in Maycomb County, Alabama, through her eyes and learned of Southern manners, respect, ignorance, prejudice, bigotry, hypocrisy, incest and rape through her eyes – which is to say, through the author’s eyes. The fact that the story was told by a white girl does not diminish its importance. In fact, white people were instrumental in African Americans gaining their rights. Some of those white people were women.

Had Go Set a Watchman been published it would have set the world on its ear, back in 1960, less than a decade after Brown vs Board of Education and eight years before Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. It was radical for its time – too radical.

Go Set a Watchman was written before Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning “first novel” and was rejected. To me, it is a much more honest book, more straightforward, less crafted. From a writer’s point of view, it shows signs of being an early work, particularly the second half when Scout tends toward diatribes. Some reviewers have called it “flawed.” Of course it’s flawed, as are most books, particularly first books.

The art of writing — the craft of writing — is a process. Books don’t just spring perfectly formed, from a writer’s forehead. Stories have a way of morphing themselves and in fiction, even more so. A story – the same story – can be told from many different viewpoints. Stories are our parallel lives. They are all happening simultaneously, they are all true.

The best fiction isn’t about issues; the best fiction is about individuals. In telling one person’s story you tell a vital part of the human experience. Harper Lee allows Scout to do a little too much preaching in To Set a Watchman, but it does reveal the main character’s passionate idealism, which was ahead of its time. Harper Lee was at the vanguard of the great era of social change the sixties would bring.

On one level Go Set a Watchman is the story of a young woman’s separation from her father. Everyone sees the obvious racial theme but who’s talking about the other underlying theme?

In 2015, feminism is dead — or at least in a deep coma. In another version of the same story (Go set a watchman to kill a mockingbird ) an older Jean Louise returns home from New York — not a perfect place but a place where she has become an independent person. She comes back to the home she loves and the father she respects and she finds that he – and her boyfriend, the man who expects to marry her – are not the men she thought they were. She is ashamed of them. This is a theme not often explored in literature – daughter against father, daughter separating to become her own person, and turning down marriage in the process.

Had Go Set a Watchman been published it would have set the world on its ear, back in 1960, less than a decade after Brown vs Board of Education and eight years before Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. It was ahead of its time.

Still, it’s greatest value to me, is the story of a young woman coming of age whose father has greatly disappointed her. Atticus is a man of his time. He’s not evil, he’s just a man, as is Hank, whose hand she refuses. Scout is her own woman and is guided by her own watchman. Scout is the hero of Go Set a Watchman, not Atticus. Apparently a lot of people were disappointed in that. I for one, thought it was an honest novel, with an autobiographical ring of truth that first novels often have. There are infinite ways this story could be written. Maybe someone can write it from Calpurnia’s point of view.

 

Award-winning manuscript to be published 20 years later

Twenty years ago I wrote a novel, one of my first, and entered it in the 1996 Maui Writers Conference Contest — where producer/director/actor Ron Howard would be the featured speaker. The working title was “With a Little Luck” and it won the grand prize that year.   In September the book will at last be published through my imprint, Fiction House, Ltd. under the new title, Blue Moon Luck. Like Harper Lee’s recently published Go Set a Watchman (a novel that has been misunderstood and unjustly criticized), this story represents a stage in my development as a writer. I still find resonance in Chance’s telling, I still find the setting evocative and the themes of friendship, passion, hope, and the role of luck in our lives, pertinent.

Blue Moon Luck is being reviewed by Kirkus and Foreword Reviews. Other interested reviewers can receive an electronic advance review copy upon request to fictionhousepublishing@gmail.com or by contacting the author directly.

I’m sharing the coda to the novel here, of interest perhaps to other writers and to readers who would like a glimpse into the writing process, the roller coaster ride of a writer’s ambitions.  I chose the musical term coda instead of afterword to describe the autobiographical note because the novel, a fictional memoir, is about the power of music to drive and direct one boy’s life.

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Blue Moon Luck

a fictional memoir by Linda Collison

Coda

 

Blue Moon Luck, one of my earliest novels, was originally titled “With a Little Luck.” I wrote the first draft in 1995 — it took me about six months — then entered it in the 1996 Maui writers Contest, judged that year by best-selling authors John Saul, Elizabeth Engstrom and Don McQuinn. Call it intuition, call it delusional thinking, but I had a good feeling about that story. I had a hunch that, with any luck, “With a Little Luck” could win.

The erstwhile Maui Writers Conference was a big deal. Held at Maui’s flamboyant Grand Wailea Resort, it brought together authors, hungry literary agents, top editors of the big New York publishing houses, playwrights, screen writers and Hollywood movie directors. In 1996 Ron Howard and Jackie Collins were featured speakers. All of this high profile razzle dazzle was funded by a thousand eager, emerging writers with disposable income who believed they too, had a manuscript that could, with the right agent and editor, win the Pulitzer, make the New York Times Best Seller list, or be optioned for a movie. Although there were lectures and workshops that were designed to help writers improve their craft, what really made the Maui Writers Conference seem magical was the possibility of discovery. Though chances were miniscule, that’s what we all dreamed of.

I was one of those hopefuls who spent $495 (not including airfare or hotel) to spend a long weekend on Maui, where I never once dipped a sandy toe in the ocean. Like most of the attendees, when I wasn’t attending lectures or workshops I was feverishly rehearsing for the coveted fifteen-minute pitch sessions with agents and editors – sessions we hoped would earn us an invitation to send the manuscript to their attention, with the secret code to put on the envelope that would get it past the hack assistant who was prone to placing brilliant manuscripts in the slush pile.

A few weeks before the Labor Day Weekend conference someone called to tell to me “With a Little Luck” was among the ten finalists — and to invite me to join the others in an intensive two-day workshop led by Saul, Engstrom and McQuinn. I was ecstatic. Yes! Maui, or bust! Since I was living on the neighboring Big Island at the time, it wasn’t such a long or expensive journey to get to the Valley Isle, though it was an emotional ride, for sure.

Ron Howard, one of my favorite film directors, started things off with his keynote speech about storytelling and timeless themes. I was truly star-struck, having followed his career since he played Opie Taylor on the Andy Griffith show. Author and screen writer Chris Volger’s sessions on mythic structure in storytelling was instructive and inspiring and has influenced my own writing in the years since. But where I really got my money’s worth was participating in the intensive writing workshop with the other finalists. Don McQuinn was particularly good at teaching the art and craft of writing. Through his Socratic method I improved my manuscript and learned to look at my work with fresh eyes and listen to it with fresh ears. I am grateful to Don and am a better writer for his insightful criticism.

The weekend flew by. Sunday morning we gathered together in the auditorium, an intimate group of about 1200, for the closing ceremony. Conference director John Tullius was about to announce the contest winners. Apparently there was a tie that year (1996) and two grand prizes would be awarded. I had been sufficiently humbled in the workshop, but still believed my story had merit. Now, nearly twenty years later, I can vividly recall sitting near the back of the auditorium listening as the names of the honorable mentions were called. My name was not among them but I was still hopeful. Tullius announced the name of the first grand prize winner and I clapped until my hands stung for the man whose name I cannot remember – the man who took his place on stage alongside the runners-up and received his award. My husband squeezed my hand tightly as we waited. Tullius then passed the microphone to Don McQuinn who began to read in his rich, slow voice with its hint of a Southern drawl, bringing young Chance Lee to life.

“The trouble between Tollie and me all started the night we got our fortunes told, the summer I was twenty-two. That was the summer everybody was doing it, going down to the river to see the witch…”

Bob hugged me and I hugged him back, feeling as if I was in a dream. I floated to the stage amidst what sounded to me like a roar of applause. I remember thinking, here, now, my career as a novelist begins. Agents will be beating at my door, my inbox will be jammed with offers, Ron Howard will be calling to option the movie rights… That was in my waking dream.

None of that happened. Except, perhaps, my career as a novelist began in earnest.

I had been a writer all my life. As a fifth grader I wrote the winning entry the Daughters of the American Revolution Essay Contest for school kids. In high school I contributed self-absorbed poetry to the literary magazine and wrote a one-act play in French that was awarded third place in a state-wide contest that had only five entrants. Perhaps I was unduly encouraged by these small successes.

In college I studied to become a registered nurse and began freelance writing. I sold my first article to a nursing newsletter for ten dollars, won third place in an essay contest sponsored by the National Student Nurses Association and Johnson & Johnson. Throughout my nursing career I wrote articles and stories for magazines. With my husband, Bob Russell, I wrote travel articles and essays, and two guidebooks published by Pruett, a regional press in Boulder, Colorado.

This qualified me as an author (in my mind, if not on the IRS tax form) but I had always wanted to write a novel. Now I had accomplished that. If a novelist is someone who has written a novel, then I was a novelist. But although With a Little Luck had won Maui’s grand prize that year — it had no luck at all getting published.

I did receive some interest, initially. The late Wendy Lipkind, a respected New York literary agent who attended the Maui Writers Conference that year bought me a drink at the poolside bar, beneath a swaying palm tree. She was curious to learn why a middle-aged female living in Hawaii had written a novel with a young male protagonist about male friendship in West Virginia. The answer was complicated. I have family ties to West Virginia and I raised two boys who played in garage bands. As a young woman I left my home in Maryland to head out West to find my fortune.

“What else do you have?” Wendy wanted to know. “I’m not really taking on much fiction.”

I told her about my nursing memoir I was working on and she asked me to send her the full manuscript. She picked up the tab, congratulated me again on winning the award, then hurried off to catch her plane out of Kahului Airport, leaving me feeling ridiculously happy and hopeful – and slightly buzzed – under the palm tree at the poolside bar.

As it turned out, Wendy didn’t offer me representation. She turned down the nursing memoir, feeling it was a little too depressing (she may have used the term bitter) but she sent me a book one of her successful clients had written about the healthcare industry that was more hopeful and heroic, as an example of what she was looking for. I shelved the nursing memoir and began to send out queries for “With a Little Luck”, mentioning that my manuscript had won the 1996 Maui Writers Conference Award — which nearly always resulted in a reply to send the full manuscript. This is pretty much the only benefit of winning an award, I’ve discovered.

A year passed during which half a dozen agents read “With a Little Luck” and passed on it. Most said the novel was well written with real voice but was “quiet.” They were all looking for “high concept” stories and didn’t think they could sell it. I took a deep breath and soldiered on. Another year of sending out queries got me the same result. I grew weary of rejection and shelved the manuscript, then sank into a deep depression that lasted three, maybe four days before dragging myself out of the quagmire of despair. Clearly, the only thing to do was to write another novel.

The next novel (working title “Orion Rising”) took six years to research and write. It was historical fiction inspired by my experience as a crewmember aboard HM Bark Endeavour, a replica of Captain Cook’s 18th century three-masted ship. When I was finished I went back to the Maui Writers Conference where I landed a crack agent, Laura Rennert, with Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Laura convinced me the sea-based historical novel was YA – Young Adult – the hot new market in 2004. I hadn’t written it for any market, I had written it from the perspective of a teenaged girl/woman in the 18th century, but Laura assured me she could sell it to a top publisher as a YA historical novel. Indeed, she did, to Alfred A. Knopf, who published it under the title Star-Crossed in November, 2006. In 2007 the New York Public Library chose it to be on their list, Books for the Teen Age.

Since then, I’ve written and published three more novels, all with protagonists who are teenagers or young adults. Maybe I’m in an arrested stage of development, perpetually a teenager at heart? In any case, I am drawn to characters who are coming of age. It’s a time of life fraught with uncertainty, when passions and hormones run hot and many mistakes are made. The experiences we have as children and as teenagers influence our lives for decades to come.

Recently I dug out the dusty old manuscript, “With a Little Luck.” As I read it for the first time in years, I realized I was still deeply connected to the characters and the sense of place. I could hear Don McQuinn’s southern drawl as he read the opening page. The story, a quiet one, still had a beating heart. The characters were alive, stuck in time, wanting out.

I edited the manuscript, added some sections, deleted some others, changed the title to Blue Moon Luck — but kept the essence of the story.

The Maui Writers Conference is no more and my former agent took a pass on Blue Moon Luck — but I haven’t given up on Chance and his memoir. Call it intuition, call it delusional thinking but I’m still waiting for Ron Howard to call.

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— from Blue Moon Luck, copyright 1996 Linda Collison. All rights reserved.  Projected publication date: September 25, 2015

Coming of Age On the Road

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Coming of age is a term that for me encompasses those years, those days, that moment in time when we realize we are alive — that we are sentient beings apart from our parents, and that we are responsible for ourselves.  Coming of age often involves a sexual awareness or awakening as well, though that is only one aspect of the phenomenon.

Standing on the edge of childhood’s shore, adolescence is the ocean we must cross to become adults.  Or so we imagine when we are young.  We don’t realize until years later that there is no final port of call.  We never reach the imagined shores of the fabled continent of Reason, Happiness, and Fullfilment but instead spend our time on this Earth navigating an archipelago of alluring but ultimately unsustainable desert islands, sometimes running aground on dangerous reefs.  What we find, if we don’t become marooned on one of these islands and go tropo under a palm tree or at the shipwreck bar, is that the crossing, the passage across unknown waters  is life; there is no continent of adulthood, just the becoming.

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If you put the whole metaphor on land and substitute a boat for a car, you have a coming of age on the road story.

Cars are a big part of American culture.   Having one’s own car or access to a car is an important part of growing up in the Land of the Free.  I’m not condoning our reliance on the automobile, I’m just saying that cars are important to our way of life and our freedom of movement.  One of the symbols of coming of age in American society is getting a driver’s license.  When I got mine at the age of sixteen, I was allowed to drive my mother’s Chevy Nova to my first “real” job — working weekends at a bakery six miles away.  I was allowed to drive it occasionally to school functions or to a friend’s house.  I remember my first independent road trip with four friends — a five-hour jaunt to Ocean City Maryland one summer Saturday when I was seventeen — which nearly ended in us all being arrested, but that is another story…

Twentieth century coming of age on the road stories that stick in my mind include the classic ones: On the Road, Rebel Without a CauseAmerican Graffiti and Diner.  Recently I revisited all of these stories, re-reading Kerouac’s On the Road and watching the movie versions of the others.  While I still found them enjoyable, I was struck by how old the characters seemed and how, well, entitled.  Even Kerouac’s thinly disguised alter ego had the luxury of time — and beneficent friends who were willing to sustain and support him as he traveled around the country looking for life.

A number of YA (young adult) novels have been published that include road trips as part of the plot.  But for me, the road trip is more than a plot device. As Audioslave sings, I am not your rolling wheels, I am the highway.”  For me, the road trip is the metaphor, the setting, the structure.

There’s a difference between a YA novel and the classic, coming-of-age novel which takes a longer perspective and might employ irony, wistful yearning, and hard-earned wisdom.  Coming-of-age stories are equally enjoyed by the mature reader who remembers what it was like to be young.  Indeed, I wrote Looking for Redfeather for that awkward, troubled teen who lives within me and who has refused to grow up even after all these miles.

Road trips, like ocean crossings, are all about the journey.  But of course you need a destination to justify the trip.  You need a mission, a goal, a purpose.  A redfeather is as good as any.  I’ve been driving many miles now, and although I still haven’t found Redfeather, I’ve caught a few glimpses of him, running through the trees or soaring overhead on an updraft of warm summer air.  Redfeather is my metaphor for awareness, experience, and for life itself.

Looking for Redfeather audio cover 10416886_10204139038585014_1753765320_nLooking for Redfeather is now available in audiobook format from Audible.com, narrated by Aaron Landon.   Listen to a sample.  It’s also available in trade paperback and electronic format. Next, the stage play…