DIANE URBANI DE LA PAZ: Novel follows paths of characters transformation

“Come As You Are,” a novel just unleashed into the world, starts out with two kids baptized by Seattle’s grunge music scene. Author Jennifer Haupt transmits that feeling of release, that exquisite liberation, that comes from plunging into a live concert with your fellow fans’ energy swirling around you.

Within a few pages, these two characters, Skye and her friend-turned-lover Zane, turned real for me. They struggle with drugs, grief, regret — and hope for redemption. Haupt has given us a compelling story, one she worked on for years and years. It’s a tale of grunge gods including Kurt Cobain and that haunting song that inspired the book’s title, and it’s a story about what happens when the kids have to grow up and, as they become parents, deal with their choices.

“The character I relate to most is Zane,” Haupt told me. She admitted that he seems like a royal jerk at the outset.

But as we get to know him, as we see what’s in his heart, that changes. Haupt writes about his transition to fatherhood to explore what happens when a guy realizes he wants to build a future with and for his children.

“CAYA,” as Haupt abbreviates her novel, is also about wanting to be a good role model for your kids — something she thinks about a lot, even as her own two sons are ages 32 and 29.

Haupt, who is also a writing teacher who has come to Port Townsend many times to lead workshops, was to publish “Come As You Are” in early 2020. Then came the pandemic, which reordered her priorities and her time frames. In a matter of weeks, Haupt became the editor of “Alone Together: Love, Grief and Comfort in the Time of COVID-19.” The anthology, which included interviews, essays and reflections from a magnificent variety of writers, won the Washington State Book Award last year.

“Come As You Are” at last came out this month. Haupt chose to do about five events to promote it. This contrasts with the 50 or so appearances she did for her first novel, “In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills,” in 2018.

With the state the world is in right now, she told me, publicity tours and social media posts for her new novel don’t feel like the most crucial or necessary endeavors.

Haupt has another book in the works, this one an autobiographical story that takes place in Haiti. But she’s also taking a bit of time off, a two-week break instead of a jump onto the publicity treadmill.

In our conversation, she seemed to wonder whether novels are all that important anymore.

My belief: They’re indispensable. Characters such as Zane and Skye stir empathy in the reader, just as the actors in a good movie do. There are countless novels — memoirs too — that bring us inside the minds and hearts of people we wouldn’t otherwise meet, much less understand.

Cinema and literature also give us much-needed relief. They take us out of our confined spaces. And in the case of “Come As You Are,” a novel sweeps us along as the troubled characters transform themselves. The story shows us what’s possible.

Later this spring, Haupt will give a writing class only she can: “The Playlist of Your Life,” through the Writers Workshoppe-Imprint Books (imprintbooks.com) in Port Townsend. It’ll be online, a four-hour affair June 4, with Haupt providing writing prompts for participants to build a 12-song playlist recalling lifetime milestones. To finish, Haupt will encourage the choosing of one of those songs to do a longer essay or flash fiction piece.

I’m already thinking up my song list.

_____

Jefferson County Senior Reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected] Her column runs the first and third Wednesdays of the month; the next one will appear April 6.

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