My husband and I just returned from a couple of nights in Calistoga, a charming town in the Napa Valley. Yes, it has its share of upwardly mobile types who go there to visit the many wineries. But there also are others who need to be replenished by the pastoral setting and many opportunities to take walks in the surrounding hills. Walking yesterday along the Richey Canyon Trail in Napa State Park, absorbing the redwood forest smells and listening to the creek burble over rocks, was truly rejuvenating. I felt myself smiling the whole time, uplifted by the untouched beauty of ferns and other vegetation. It had rained the previous day, so everything seemed freshly washed and glistening.
Weekends away are indispensable for regaining some perspective on our lives and ourselves. When we’re deep into daily routines, it’s difficult to step outside of them long enough to question what we’re doing and why. Contemporary life keeps us far too busy with work and social-related events. There are few pockets for contemplation and wonder.
I can understand why my son chose a far different path from me. He eschewed the traditional middle-class route of a college education leading to a career or profession. Instead, as an adult, he returned to a place we had visited when he was a child, Christina Lake, a lovely vacation spot in Southern British Columbia that he fell in love with. He works hard caring for Christina Lake’s recreation facilities, but he’s still constantly surrounded by nature. During the warmer months, he’s able to fish, his one great love, and tramp the trails when he isn’t working. This connection to nature keeps him in touch with something basic in all of us: our own roots as animals. (The Christina Lake Stewardship Society recently posted a video of him rescuing a garter snake, illustrating the respect he has for all creatures: https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=281000215441325)
Today I’ll return to the usual routine, but at least I have our restful time in Calistoga, a town that still exudes some of the charm of when it was created late in the 19th Century, to buoy me. Rows and rows of quiet tree-lined streets that give off a feeling of a real community offer a respite from the anonymity of urban life, a pool that I can dip into periodically for refreshment.
Pen-L Press will be publishing my novel Fling in 2015. A wildly comic romp on mothers, daughters, art, and death, the book should appeal to a broad range of readers. While the main characters are middle-aged and older, their zest for life would draw readers of all ages, male or female, attracting the youthful adventurer in most people. Though women may identify more readily with Feather and Bubbles’ daughter and mother struggles, the heart of the book is how they approach their aging selves and are open to new experiences. Since art and imagination are key to this narrative, artists of all ages would find something to enjoy. And because the book crosses many borders (Scotland, Canada, the U.S., and Mexico), it also can’t be limited to a specific age group, social class, gender, or region.
My first fan letter for Fling came from an 80 year-old woman who lives in the tiny village of Christina Lake, B.C. My son, who also lives there, had given her my manuscript to read. She said, “I just wanted to express to you how very much I enjoyed your writing. I started it and didn’t stop till I had read it all. I very much like your style and your subtle humor. Thank you for a most enjoyable read. I can’t understand why it hasn’t been scooped up by some publisher. But I know that it will be. In my estimation I know that it is excellent literary work. I am a voracious reader and have been since grade 4. I remember my first book was Tom Sawyer and I have never stopped since then. I go through 4 to 5 books a week. We are so fortunate here at the Lake now. The Library staff in Grand Forks come out here every Wednesday. I have become very fond of the young lady who comes out. She provides me with all the award winning books and orders others for me. Again I want to express to you how very much I enjoyed your manuscript. Have patience my dear….it will be published to wide acclaim I am so sure.” —Joan Fornelli.
Here is a synopsis:
Feather, an aging hippie, returns to her Calgary home to help her mother, Bubbles, celebrate her 90th birthday. Bubbles has received mail from the dead letter office in Mexico City, asking her to pick up her mother’s ashes, left there seventy years earlier and only now surfacing. Bubbles’ mother, Scottish by birth, had died in Mexico in the late 1920s after taking off with a married man and abandoning her husband and kids.
A woman with a mission, and still vigorous, Bubbles convinces a reluctant Feather to take her to Mexico so she can recover the ashes and give her mother a proper burial. Both women have recently shed husbands and have a secondary agenda: they’d like a little action. And they get it.
Alternating narratives weave together Feather and Bubbles’ odyssey with their colorful Scottish ancestors, creating a family tapestry. The “now” thread presents the two women as they travel south from Canada to San Francisco and then Mexico, covering a span of about six months. “Now” and “then” merge in Mexico when Bubbles’ long-dead mother, grandmother, and grandfather turn up, enlivening the narrative with their antics.
In Mexico, the land where reality and magic co-exist, Feather gets a new sense of her mother. The Indian villagers mistake Bubbles for a well-known rain goddess, praying for her to bring rain so their land will thrive again. Feather, who’s been seeking “The Goddess” for years, eventually realizes what she’s overlooked.
Meanwhile, Bubbles’ quest for her mother’s ashes (and a new man) has increased her zest for life. A shrewd business woman (she’s raised chickens, sold her crafts, taken in bizarre boarders, and has a sure-fire system for winning at bingo and lotteries), she’s certain she’s found the fountain of youth at a mineral springs outside San Miguel de Allende; she’s determined to bottle the water and sell it.
But gambling is her first love, and unlike most women her age, fun-loving Bubbles takes risks, believing she’s immortal. Unlike her daughter, Bubbles doesn’t hold back in any way, eating heartily, lusting after strangers, her youthful spirit and innocence convincing readers that they’ve found the fountain of youth themselves in this character. At ninety, she comes into her own, coming to age, proving it’s never too late to fulfill one’s dreams.
Fling, a meditation on death, mothers and daughters, and art, suggests that the fountain of youth is the imagination, and this is what they all discover in Mexico. It’s what Bubbles wants to bottle, but she doesn’t need to. She embodies it. The whole family does.