I suppose you’d want more details, even if this prompt’s redundant. So I cut it from the final version of my new novel, What’s Left:

Dimitri’s too alpha for all that. And too much a center of attention to observe anything long from the sidelines.


Some leaders are simply too competitive to stay out of the fray, but that doesn’t mean they have that extra glow, one sometimes described as charisma.

Certainly you know someone who usually winds up in the spotlight, especially at the helm of what’s happening. Tell us about him – or her! Are they good lookin’? Or is something else the attraction? Do they get your vote when it’s asked?


Closing time at a diner in Waterloo, Ontario. By Stefan Powell via Wikimedia Commons.

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



My wife and I have listened to some restaurant pros relate their perspective on reviewing the ideas bantered about hopefuls – folks who have no idea how to clean an oven or pass health inspection regulations.

It’s enough to make me quiver.

Quite simply, the seasoned pros say you don’t begin with a set of menus. You have to think about pricing, for one thing. Fair enough.

My new novel, What’s Left, includes a family-owned restaurant that’s facing big shifts in public tastes and consciousness.

One of the basics they look at closely is bread. And buns and rolls. Especially as these relate to hamburgers. The right answer, of course, could improve everything. But, as they realize:

Where would we find them at an affordable price?


As I’ve already posted, I believe a great baguette alone would have assured France an honored place in the culinary hall of fame. But these aren’t especially cheap, and they demand bakers who are committed to long hours and hard work – something, so we hear, that’s shamefully harder and harder to find even in Paris.

A stop in Warren, Maine, where we found what might be the perfect Reuben, thickens the plot. It wasn’t just the delightful sauerkraut, which might have come from Morse’s a few towns over, but rather the way the bread was toasted without being overdone or soggy – such a fine line! And let’s not slight the Swiss, either.

Well, a sandwich is such a basic of American cuisine, from baloney to hamburgers to ham itself and on down the line to wieners.

As far as you’re concerned, what’s makes the world’s best sandwich? And just what kind would that be? Anybody want to argue for wraps or flatbreads?


A white frame church next to the family home becomes their playhouse in my new novel. It might look something like this one in Manchester, New Hampshire.


  1. Too many days are too hot and too humid. I hate running air conditioning.
  2. Flies and mosquitoes.
  3. Lethargy.
  4. Everything’s sticky.
  5. Mowing the lawn. I’m drenching in sweat all too quickly.
  6. Tourists flock in. Means we stay away from the Maine Turnpike on weekends and the Kittery Outlets altogether. Route 16 to our north can be a parking lot, especially in Conway.
  7. Our water bill from irrigating the garden.
  8. The loft of the barn is a useless oven.
  9. The weeds are winning.
  10. The Sox are probably in a slump. And if they’re not, we’re jittery. We have good reason to be superstitious.


What displeases you at the moment?


Japanese honeysuckle. Its runners can grow almost 30 feet a year, and once it’s in place, it can become a very thick knot. Yuck!


In the original draft of my new novel, What’s Left, her aunt Yin is a quiet, reserved character who remains largely in the background. Yes, she’s a certified public accountant and the mother of Cassia’s best friend forever, but she doesn’t venture far beyond that.

I have no idea what made me think of her as Japanese-American, other than a possible Buddhist connection – as it turns out, I’d say her faith is nominal. I do remember an incident in a Boston art museum where one visitor instinctively bowed in front of a statue of Buddha, which inspires the way Yin meets Cassia’s uncle Tito in my story. She’s dutifully impressed by his gesture.

But then I met someone who totally changed the way I envisioned Yin. She had some commonalities with Cassia’s aunt, including a career in big numbers. But she was brilliant, talented, and way-off-the-wall opinionated. Voila!

What a perfect foil for straight-laced Tito, even before I added her love of hard rock music or her taking over management of the events at the old church the family bought on a whim.

And then, in the ninth revision of my novel, she takes teenage Cassia under her wing as her assistant running the live shows.


My, how I’d welcome the return to my circle of the woman who changed Yin for me! She was such a breath of fresh air.

Have you ever met somebody who turned out to be quite different from everything you’d been led to expect? Care to spill the beans as to why?


Orthodox icon of St. Joachim of Ithaca hand-painted by monks at the Monastery of Osios Nikodemos at Pentalofos, Kilkis, Greece. (Via Wikimedia Commons.)

Cassia’s roots included inspiration like this.


Bella brings a love of reading to the family. She comes to campus to become a teacher, but other events intervene and she instead becomes the anchor of the family and its restaurant, where she runs the front of the store while her husband, Stavros, manages the kitchen. It doesn’t take long before she seems to know everybody in town. She’s that kind of person.

But that doesn’t prevent her from usually having an open book close at hand. She always manages to find time to read.

I’d credit both her daughter Nita’s success as a newspaper columnist and daughter Manoula’s founding of an influential small publishing house to her inspiration. The family does buy a bookstore, for one thing, before sending it on its own anew.


Bella also has enough Greek heritage to pass along some of the tradition. Here’s a bit of interaction between Cassia and her aunt Nita I cut from the final version:

They always called me Koukla, by the way, the same thing I sometimes call you.

What’s it mean, exactly? I know it’s a term of endearment, but I’ve just never followed up.

Thea Nita laughs. Oh, something like beautiful doll or baby doll, but it’s always full of affection. Koukla!


For many of us, daily life includes a lot of juggling, one activity or interest in contrast to another. Are you a multi-tasker? Or do you look at the term with derision? Tell us two or more things that frequently compete for your time. Do you have any tips for pulling it off?


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. (Rutland, Vermont)


In Quaker organizational structure, the ultimate decision-making body is the Yearly Meeting – so named because of its annual sessions. While the central event is the convocation, the organization itself (also called the Yearly Meeting) has ongoing activities and committee meetings throughout the year. One of the purposes of the gathering is simply to coordinate and nurture these missions.

Unlike some denominations, we have no central headquarters. Our Yearly Meetings are rather distributed across the country and the globe, and these bodies work together through cooperative affiliations, shared projects, communication, and inter-visitation.

My local Friends Meeting is part of New England Yearly Meeting of Friends, the oldest such body in the world. In fact, when more than 800 people – representatives, their spouses, and children – assemble next month on the Castleton University campus in Vermont, it will be our 358th gathering. (Until 1905, we met in Newport, Rhode Island. Since then, we’ve moved around New England.)

Here are some reasons I attend, whenever possible.

  1. It’s inspiring. I’m reenergized and refreshed by the daily devotion of some very dedicated Friends I’ve come to treasure over the years. Some of them are deeply involved in peace and social justice work. For others, it’s environmental or economic. And still others, it’s radical theology. For all, it’s rooted in a shared faith.
  2. It’s challenging. My assumptions are tested from alternative perspectives and actions are questioned in rounds of profound introspection and spiritual direction – something that’s ultimately cleansing and refreshing.
  3. The Bible Half-Hour. Each year a respected Friend is invited to discuss selected Biblical texts and stories in the half-hour right after breakfast each morning. Last year we spent 2½ lively hours on a single sentence from Romans. It’s rarely anything you’d expect to hear from a pulpit but rather a personal journey that’s an eyeopener in more ways than one.
  4. We’re always eating. Or so it seems. Dorm food was never like this back when I was in college – it’s gotten so much better. The reality is that we’re usually lingering over animated conversations, sometimes at a table set aside for a specific topic or group focus.
  5. The clerking. Crucial to the success of Quaker business is the skill of our clerks. At Yearly Meeting, this means the presiding clerk, two recording clerks who are minuting our deliberations, and two reading clerks. Since we arrive at decisions without ever taking a vote and still face crowded agendas, clerking is a unique art. Time after time, what I observe is the best. Admittedly, though, sometimes it can be trying – very trying.
  6. Few of our Meetings include music as part of our worship, but Yearly Meeting has times that reveal the amazing voices and talents in our midst. These can be emotionally moving.
  7. Workshops and “opportunities.” Tucked into each day are short presentations, discussions, or even documentaries based on particular interests Friends carry. These can be anything from parenting and child care to Mideast peace to nomadic reindeer herders to new publications to theology or history. I hate it when three or four at the same time compete for my attention.
  8. Just good to get away. It’s a unique kind of vacation. Who could possibly complain about driving across New Hampshire and Vermont, for instance? Period.
  9. The contacts. This means reconnecting with incredible people and being introduced to more – individuals I’m likely to be working with somewhere in the future, and perhaps even in the past. I’m often surprised when someone I don’t recognize says, “I remember when you …” So far, it’s always been in a positive light.
  10. We’re building on a revolutionary foundation. The Quaker movement emerged in the upheavals of mid-1600s Britain, one of the most incredible periods in history when it comes to social, economic, political, and religious breakthroughs. Being part of a group central to that legacy and its continuing advances is both humbling and exciting, especially in the face of the difficulties of our own time.


Is there a similar assembly – maybe a camp? – that you like to attend for similar reasons? What is it? And why?



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


Though he’s the youngest of three brothers in my new novel, What’s Left, her uncle Tito winds up as the family patriarch.

As much as Cassia would love for him to fill the emotional void created by the disappearance of her father in an avalanche halfway around the globe, he’s not naturally inclined to be the warm supportive figure she desires. Even her best friend forever Sandra, Tito’s daughter, would agree.

Still, he’s physically present, usually in suit and tie, when required.

And he’s married to Yin, for added friction.


A passage I trimmed from an earlier version gives you a taste of his sensibilities:

Tito, in turn, confirmed Baba’s astonishment at the amount of waste in the food chain, from the way a big pile of an ingredient might cook down into a condensed quantity – that, in addition to all the leftovers that came back on the plates to be washed.


There we have it, quantity over quality! Or appearances over essence. How crass it seems now!

Is there a significant event in your life when you really hoped someone in particular would be there for you – but wasn’t? What happened, and how did you react?


Louis and Michael Pappas preparing Greek salad at Riverside Cafe in Tarpon Springs, Florida, April 12, 1947. (State Library and Archives of Florida via Wikimedia Commons.)

In her family’s past, there may have been scenes food like this.