A coming-of-age tale set in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1969, Lucy in the Sky lightly touches on such weighty issues as the meaning of life, the purpose of art and the existence of God. For those interested in answers to The Big Questions or just keen to revisit a simpler time, Lucy in the Sky promises a fun and compelling trip – and that’s trip in every sense of the word. Gene Steen is an earnest, intelligent, truth-seeking teen stuck in the cultural wasteland of his suburban home. He wants to be a hippie in the worst way, but hippies are scarce on the ground in the forlorn Midwest of Gene’s 15th year. Then, propitiously on the Summer Solstice, his life is turned upside down by the arrival of his lively, lovely, long-lost cousin Lucy. She’s hip beyond Gene’s wildest dreams and immediately takes him under her wing. Lucy teaches Gene that being a hippie isn’t about love beads and peace signs, but about the choices you make and the stands you take. Yet for all her airy insights into religion, philosophy and “the isness of it all,” Lucy harbors dark secrets – secrets that will soon put her on the run, with Gene by her side. Lucy in the Sky resonates of such classics as Summer of ’42 and Zen in the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and invites the reader into a richly detailed vision of the ‘60s, as realized by Vorhaus’s sure-handed prose and authentic sense of place and time. With frank talk about sex and drugs, Vorhaus pulls no punches about the realities of the era, yet delivers an uplifting message about personal power and the path to enlightenment. A rewarding read for young seekers and old geezers alike.
THE CHALLENGE OF VOICE FICTION
by John Vorhaus
My new novel, LUCY IN THE SKY, is a coming-of-age story set in Milwaukee in 1969, and the writing of it presented some challenges that none of my other books (light mystery and non-fiction) ever did. For one thing, I’m working in a new genre, something I call “voice fiction,” by which I mean, simply, writing with something to say. In order to accomplish my goal of having something to say, though, I had to confront an issue that many authors struggle with: the matter of telling other people what to think. Philosophically, I have no problem with this. As a longtime teacher of writers, I understand that writers are there to explain things to readers. Basically, that’s our job. So this notion of “telling other people what to think” is an implicit part of the package you accept when you first put fingers to keys.
That said, there’s still an emotional risk in telling my readers, “Hey, you know what? Being a hippie isn’t about love beads and peace signs. It’s about the choices you make and the stands you take. That’s what’s important, and that’s what you should pay attention to.” So that’s me taking a stand, and I can’t help feeling nervous that someone, somewhere, will say, “Where the heck do you get off telling me what to think, what to do? Who gave you that right?” Well, I gave me that right – responsibility, really – when I became a writer. Still it makes me edgy. At such times I remind myself that part of what a writer must do is just “throw it out the window and watch to see if it lands.” So I throw and I watch. and I hope to be understood.
Another issue with Lucy is that it’s an emotional memoir. I was not a hippie, but I always wanted to be one, and much of what goes on in this book involves me channeling of a set of experiences and insights that I wished I’d had at that age in that time. I know that every book I write is at least partly autobiographical, and therefore a challenge to my self-acceptance, but this one took that idea and turned it on its head, for in Lucy, I’m not talking about myself but about a fantasy, idealized version of myself. At times during the writing I couldn’t tell whether I was engaged in storytelling or revisionist history.
My third issue is my market. Lucy in the Sky is a coming-of-age story, no doubt. As such, it should appeal to young adult readers and adult fans of YA material. And I think it really does. At the same time, though, it’s about the 1960s, about hippies and, in a certain sense, about innocence lost a long time ago. It should, then, also appeal to people like me: people who were hippies or near-hippies and who wish to be in touch with those times and those feelings again. At the end of the day I claim that the book is “a sixties trip for young seekers and old geezers alike,” but I do worry that, from a promotional point of view, that puts me sort of neither here nor there.
How do I resolve all these conflicts? By talking about them and writing about them and posting them in places like this place here. I don’t imagine that this post will sort out all my issues. When I’m done writing this guest blog, I’ll still have insecurity about taking responsibility for my vision, telling the truth of my experience, and selling that truth to an uncertainly defined audience. Yet I’ll feel better for having written (I always feel better for having written), and I hope you’ll have a little better insight into what goes through the mind of a writer when he crafts and sells his precious gift – his gift of words on the page.
Winston Churchill said, “Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement; then it becomes a mistress, and then it becomes a master, and then a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him out to the public.” So this is me, flinging Lucy to the public. You can sample her, and purchase her in print, ebook and author-narrated audio, at www.tinyurl.com/Lucy1969, and judge for yourself whether what I’ve thrown out the window has managed to land.
John Vorhaus has published almost 20 titles, including five novels and a dozen books on poker. His comedy writing book, The Comic Toolbox, is considered a classic how-to book for writers. He tweets for no apparent reason @TrueFactBarFact and secretly controls the world from www.johnvorhaus.com.