In picking up on the ending of my first published novel as the starting point for my most recent work, 50 years later, I’m given a foundation to build on. There’s a set of central characters (five siblings plus our hippie-boy) within existing situations (the tragic car crash, the restaurant, the campus). Can you also see this as presenting a larger puzzle to work out? How many more pieces will be required? Just how big will it be? Will it really fit on our table?
There’s also a backstory, one that can’t be ignored even when the new book is expected to stand on its own rather than as a sequel. In this case, a backstory with parts I feel need to be downplayed or softened. After all, some of it’s downright embarrassing! Go take a trip with Subway Hitchhikers if you want to know why.
Still, one thing that pleases me with my new novel is how much of that past recedes into the background. This is the daughter’s struggle, after all, years later. What’s Left is ultimately about what’s happening with her as she relates it, even when she’s looking at old photographs or asking questions. Here she makes her debut as an 11-year-old when her father vanishes and moves forward.
Writing is a way of cleaning house. And this got swept away before the final revision:
Here? Our family, he must think, is crazy! Well, as Manoula’s says, he’s never met a family quite like ours. Oh, this gang! Or as she insists, we wouldn’t want to be anything else.
(Oh, yeah? On second thought?)
I wasn’t thinking of the aphorism, Opposites Attract, as a starting point for my new novel, but maybe you could see it that way. I was thinking more of the sense of having something missing in the lives of both of her parents before they met.
As the novel opens, though, we’re looking at Cassia’s loss – the pivotal point in the direction of her life. Her grief and rage force her to question everything she’s taken for granted, including her close-knit extended family.
Even though I’ve been writing seriously for a half-century now (ouch!), I’m still not sure exactly where I’d begin telling my own life story. Backpacking on the Appalachian Trail at age 12? First girlfriend? Experiences hitchhiking? Encountering yoga? Marriage? Well, they all show up in my fiction or poetry, to one degree or another.
If you were telling someone the story of your life, where would you begin? What’s the most crucial incident or detail you’d present? Something small – or something dramatic?
In the family, Cassia may have had meals like this.