SEEMS SHE’S ALWAYS BEEN THERE

The evolution of my character Nita Zapitapoulos through my four Hippie Trails novels was a fascinating creative process. At first she was a faint reflection of a friend’s hot infatuation, and then she grew into something else.

In the storyline, she and a photography student meet through a mutual acquaintance. Nita soon takes him under her wing and, over time, becomes his guardian angel. By the time we get to my Hippie Love novel, she’s speaking almost exclusively in questions, a characteristic that continues in my newest novel, What’s Left.

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Well, by the time I got to the final revision of my new novel, the cousins were too busy for this, too:

When it came to work, as kids, we weren’t always at the restaurant. Sometimes Thea Nita hired us to vacuum and dust her place and help her reorganize her shelves and drawers. Sometimes, when we were older, she’d even have us sanding and repainting her apartment. And that’s before she picked a few of us to help her with her newspaper column.

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In the end, it wasn’t about money – it was about a deeper connection. She wasn’t shy about asking for help, either, but I don’t think she’d take advantage of anyone.

Have you ever had a friend or relative like Nita? How so?

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Dan Kuzoff, a Macedonian immigrant, opened the Majestic Restaurant in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1933. It was a 150- to 200-seat operation serving good food at good prices. It was a middle of the road restaurant with no liquor license. Frequent diners there including politicians such as Lloyd Jackson and Vic Copps. As with all the other businesses in the area, the restaurant was expropriated for the construction of Jackson Square in 1969. Hamilton Public Library via Wikimedia Commons.

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

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ONE KIND DEED INSPIRES ANOTHER

When she begins her investigation in my new novel, What’s Left, she may think her generation’s quite different from her father’s.

But her family does run a family restaurant, and that gives her a different insight:

We can always count on someone looking for a handout at the back door. We’re happy to oblige them. And they’re happy, too – the word spreads.

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Restaurants are often staffed by an underworld of their own, or so I’m told. And some of the characters aren’t that far removed from the folks looking for a handout.

I’m surprised to see how many people in my own community remain invisible, especially when your eyes look instead to “normal” society.

Have you ever gone to a “soup kitchen” or charity food pantry? Have you ever worked in one? What was your experience?

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If Cassia’s great-grandparents had only bought this house instead! And it’s almost pink … (Manchester, New Hampshire.)

TEN TASTY FISH

Living a few miles inland from the Atlantic, I’ve learned a few things when it comes to fresh fish. Just be sure to stock up on lemons and melted butter and maybe a few spices and fresh parsley.

  1. Cod. Once available in unbelievable quantities, it’s become scarcer and costlier. Still, it’s classic – especially as scrod.
  2. Haddock. Makes a great sandwich or flaky fish ’n’ chips.
  3. Monkfish. Like lobster tail.
  4. Dayboat dogfish shark. It’s a favorite in England for fish and chips. A different texture than haddock. Nothing like a little variety, right?
  5. Trout. You don’t have to be near an ocean.
  6. Salmon. Now we’re talking.
  7. Striper, so I’ve heard. This one’s purely for sport fishermen and their friends and family. Or the cormorants and osprey and bald eagles that follow them upriver.
  8. Flounder. We have some good species at hand.
  9. Dabs or American Plaice. Now we’re into a cooperative program to protect the local marine resources through more responsible practices. These less popular but more populous alternatives make for fine fresh eating.
  10. Hake, flounder, pollock, or king whiting. Ditto, ditto, ditto, and, yes, ditto. Depending on the week they come in.

For details on some of these, check out the New Hampshire Community Seafood site. The cooperative’s introduced us to some delicious but largely unknown species that are abundant in our own waters, and it’s devoted to sustainable community.

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When it comes to fish and shellfish, what are your favorites? Any special way of preparing them, too?

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Continuing the poetry parade, see what’s new at THISTLE/FLINCH.

EVEN WITHOUT A FAIRY GODMOTHER

In my new novel, What’s Left, her aunt Pia arrives as a kind of Cinderella, but, my, how she arises from the ashes!

Gone from the final version is this tactile stroke:

When she starts exhibiting her love of fabrics – and textiles – as delights to both the eye and the touch, we could add weaving to her bucket list.

Along with this photographic suggestion:

And Thea Pia, perhaps Baba’s second favorite subject, after us kids, produces some of Manoula’s most insightful remarks. He did have some great models at hand!

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Well, as it turns out, Cassia’s father had a number of favorite subjects in the family. Pia would have to come down a few spots, but it’s still quite a trove Cassia uncovers. Each of the women in the family can be seen embodying a unique style.

What is your idea of uber-feminine?

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Roasted chicken and Cretan wine served for Christmas lunch in Greece. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

In the family, Cassia may have had food like this.

INTRODUCING THE ELEMENT OF ORTHODOXY

For most Americans, Christianity is contrasted between Protestant and Catholic. In the past, or so it seemed, you were born into one or the other, and in my neighborhood, it took a long time to mix. Even now I find many people are surprised to discover how much variety exists on the other side of the line. (Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, etc., or Italian, Irish, Polish, German, Hispanic, French, French-Canadian, etc.)

It takes some doing to realize just how different Eastern Orthodoxy is from the strands of Western Christianity we’ve known. And then you get into the variations there, starting with Greeks and Russians.

In my new novel, What’s Left, the family lives at a distance from the nearest Greek Orthodox church, so its connection to the faith is stretched thin at the beginning. Still, it’s part of their identity.

While I do relate some of the customs they rediscover, I don’t do much with the dietary limitations for Advent and Lent – essentially, vegan with no oil or alcohol. How’s a professional cook supposed to do his job if he can’t sample the food? (Any of you facing this conundrum are invited to tell us how you address it.)

So what about other traditions of dietary limitations? Kosher, for instance?

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Do you observe any dietary restrictions? What’s your experience? Have you ever fasted? How long?

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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. (Manchester, New Hampshire.)

TEN THINGS I LIKE ABOUT AUGUST

  1. High Summer arrives … gloriously, breaking the oppression of July. Days and nights are nearly perfect.
  2. Annual week of sessions at New England Yearly Meeting.
  3. Homegrown tomatoes. Who needs bacon? Good bread and mayonnaise set them off perfectly. I add a dash of Old Bay in memory of Baltimore.
  4. Lobster prices come down.
  5. Same-day corn on the cob. Boil it in the same water before or after the lobster. Eat both in the Smoking Garden, where a mess is quite easy to clean up.
  6. Apples and peaches at Butternut Farm.
  7. Ice cream.
  8. Body surfing at Long Sands.
  9. Two weeks of swimming laps in the city’s 50-meter outdoor pool while the indoor pool undergoes annual maintenance. On my backstroke, especially, I watching for bald eagles in the distance or count the contrails of jetliners heading for Logan – one a minute.
  10. Instead of a profusion of birdsong in the morning, it’s now crickets fiddling in the night, starting a crescendo that will end only with the first killing frost.

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What do you like about August?

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Shriners in an annual parade, Castleton, Vermont.