For me, it’s:

  1. Pie, rather than cake.
  2. Really creamy vanilla ice cream.
  3. Or gelato. I’m more open to other flavors here, too. Unless it’s Tahitian vanilla, which comes close to ambrosia.
  4. My wife’s really changed my mind here.
  5. Anything creamy, actually. Tapioca float, panna cotta, custard – she knows the long list.
  6. Crème brulee. Don’t tell me it’s mostly custard, not when it’s done right. And that shattery top is like walking on ice-covered puddles when we were kids. You just love to hear it crackle.
  7. Blueberry torte, as my wife makes it. With our own blueberries, natch. Makes a great breakfast, too.
  8. A hearty red wine accompanying a chunk of dark chocolate.
  9. Or their cousins, creampuffs or eclairs.
  10. Fresh strawberries, as in shortcake. (Well, you wouldn’t call that cake now, would you?) Although actually, I tend to think of this more as starting the day.


What would you add to the list?


Towels and a washcloth await guests in the room across from my studio.

Of course, this is totally unrelated to the theme. Just another thing on my mind.




Her uncle Graham certainly adds depth to my new novel, What’s Left.

For one thing, he’s a sign of the generational changes coming to the family and its business. Dimitri’s father, Stavros, never would have approved of Graham’s presence, had fate not intervened.

For another, he brings a type of gentle male to the story, a balance to Dimitri’s golden boy leadership. As a couple, they also help me narrow the number of cousins Cassia has close at hand – readers can handle only so many names, after all – and Dimitri and Graham weren’t about to adopt, from what I see. (Feel free to argue otherwise.)

I’m happy with the way Graham grows into the story. Like others who voluntarily join in the family – Cassia’s father and her aunts Pia and Yin – he’s crucial to its vitality and flavor. With the hint of 0ld-money comfort in his past compounded by a layer of black-sheep distancing, we find him rich in the social skills he applies as the face everybody in town comes to know in the family’s restaurant.

And then there’s the close friendship he and Cassia’s father build, based on their shared love of opera, especially.


Here’s how I portrayed him in an early draft of the novel:

Graham is another story. A year older than Dimitri, he’s far more experienced in the wider world. In settling with us, he no doubt gives up many sophisticated pleasures in exchange for small-town ambience and limitations. It’s not that he exactly needs a job, either. He’s free to work whenever and wherever he wants, or not at all, but here he throws himself into long hours just like the rest of us. If anything, he somehow takes what can be seen as our provincial ways as a personal relief from whatever he’s left behind, or even as some kind of cosmic humor.


I hadn’t thought about this, but about a year after drafting this, I met someone at a weeklong conference who has many of Graham’s comforting qualities, and we’re good friends now. It’s almost eerie.

Which character do you identify with more – Graham or Dimitri? Or should I ask, which one do you prefer more? And why?


Andy’s Diner (later the third home of Cafe Septième, demolished 2011), Broadway, Seattle, Washington, 1954. Seattle Municipal Archives via Wikimedia Commons.

In my novel, the family restaurant could have been like this.


In the (imaginary) movie version of my new novel, What’s Left, who would you cast as Cassia’s great-grandmother Dida and her sister Athina?

A large Queen Anne-style house with a distinctive witch’s hat tower something like this is the headquarters for Cassia’s extended family in my new novel, What’s Left. If only this one were pink, like hers.


(Well, almost every morning – and waking up doesn’t count.)

  1. Shuffle down the stairs to the kitchen. Get a big mug of thick coffee laced with milk and sugar.
  2. Climb to my third-floor studio, boot up, check up on WordPress activity.
  3. And then emails and other social media.
  4. Get a round of Duolingo Spanish in. Muy bien.
  5. Return to the second floor. Dental hygiene. Good boy!
  6. Down to the ground floor. Be briefed on the overnight news by my wife. This can’t be happening. Glance at the day’s front-page headlines. Consider the weather forecasts.
  7. Regard the birds at the feeder. The squirrels, too.
  8. Get a second big mug of coffee, perhaps accompanied by toast and jam or homemade yogurt.
  9. Return to my studio to focus on a round of writing and revision. Butt time, as Charles Bukowski so aptly put it.
  10. Back to the bedroom. Dress properly for the rest of the day … and shift gears for whatever’s at the top of my to-do list.


So how do you jump start your day?


Baskets of all sizes and shapes hang from the beams in our kitchen.Of course, this is totally unrelated to the theme. Just another thing on my mind.



What would Barney have been without the family restaurant? As the middle brother, he seems content to stay put. While still a teen he masters what it takes to run a burger-and-fries joint and could continue with those skills the rest of his working life. Nor does he display the ambition his other two brothers thrive on, either. In short, he’s more or less happy where he is – especially once Pia brightens his existence.

My new novel, What’s Left, won’t let him rest there long. He’s destined for some greatness of his own.

It’s not that there weren’t conflicts. As I noted in a passage since deleted from the novel:

He could have fled, of course, as his elder brother had. But for whatever reasons, Barney chose to stay and serve. Keep his mouth shut, then, and continue sweeping and chopping and composting.

And so he moves up in the restaurant. Still, he’s been active in antiwar protests, which really pissed off Pappa Stavros. In some ways, you might consider Barney the biggest hippie of the lot, maybe even more than Thea Pia.


Well, I have some second-cousins who took over my great-uncle’s plumbing business, unlike my dad, who became a corporate accountant instead of continuing my grandfather’s shop.

Individual personalities come into play. I don’t see Barney wanting to handle the money-side of the restaurant business, had all the responsibility fallen on him.

What do you think? Could he have become an auto mechanic? Taken an assembly line job? Something else? Would he have still been happy? Just what was a hippie living at home, anyway? Do you know anyone who’s like Barney?


An ancient Greek sculpture of an old woman, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Photo by Marlith via Wikimedia Commons.)

Cassia’s roots included inspiration like this.


Carmichael’s, the restaurant her family owns in my new novel, has me looking more closely at others.

Long before I ever anticipated what’s evolved into my newest novel, What’s Left, I ended my first published novel with a young woman named Diana, in part because I liked the two puns it allowed. Her husband-to-be, a student of Tibetan Buddhism, had returned to Indiana – and now he could boast of a love that allowed him to be in Diana as well as in Dhyana, or deep meditation.

Not that you have to understand Sanskrit to read it. Shouldn’t the mere hint of something exotic should suffice?

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How many items are supposed to be on a bucket list, anyway? Twenty is what I’d heard, but now I come across 101. Since this is a Tendril, we start out with 1o.

  1. The Grand Canyon. A mile down? Like an upside-down mountain? How incredible!
  2. Greece and Istanbul. Well, it would fit right in with the roots of my latest novel.
  3. Holguin, Cuba. I love the Quakers I know there. I think January would be perfecto.
  4. Alaska, taking the ferry from Seattle or Vancouver. We’re talking summer, remember.
  5. For the other nine months? Hawaii. I hear it’s about much more than colorful shirts.
  6. Nantucket. So close to home.
  7. The Adirondack mountains, from the top. Again, so close to home.
  8. Tanglewood, summer home of the Boston Symphony. Is there no excuse I haven’t done it?
  9. Carnegie Hall, from the inside. I used to know somebody who lived in the tower at the back.
  10. The Metropolitan Opera. Standing outside doesn’t count.


What places would top yours?


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