Time to think of a Japanese touch

In the (highly unlikely) movie version of my novel, What’s Left, who would you like to see as her best friend, cousin Sandra?

Of course, that also means thinking of her blended genetic heritage and who could embody it.

~*~

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. (Claremont, New Hampshire.)
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Bells of freedom ringing

Thinking of freedom, we can see it as personal expression as well as political opportunity. For some of us, that was a big dimension of the hippie movement.

The 50th anniversary of Woodstock is coming up next month. Normally, that would mark a jubilee, some even acclaiming it as a celebration of the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. Alas, the dark ages we thought had passed have returned from the dead, in intensified deadliness at that.

Jubilee, by the way, is drawn from the Biblical book of Leviticus, and it’s a most radical idea. Every 50 years, all the wealth in the land is to be redistributed. The scriptural passage is inscribed on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, so don’t tell me it’s not American.

~*~

One of the passages I cut before the final version of my novel What’s Left is one where she’s asking her aunt about the hippie experience:

I’ve never asked you about your own drug use.

OK? Can I say it was just enough to convince others I wasn’t a narc?

So were you really a hippie? I mean, you had such short hair!

You trying to say a hippie couldn’t have short hair? Don’t you know how radical my style was? You ever think I could conform to anything?

Well, you’ve indicated you weren’t stoned. I’m going down the list.

Have you considered the impact of the Pill? Or free love?

Oh, I’m so glad Cassia stopped talking like this! In the final version, she’s pretty snippy.

~*~

For the record, some of the truest hippies I’ve known weren’t promiscuous or do drugs. And some others never marched in a protest.

Still, as an image of the era, let me ask: What’s your impression of Woodstock? Have you ever been to a big, multiday festival? What’s your favorite music? How do you best express your free spirit?

 

Also on our big plate

In my novel, What’s Left, having her family own a restaurant opens another dimension to the story – the changing food tastes of the American public.

If Carmichael’s continued solely as a burger-and-fries joint, we’d have a much different type of story, one based on the day-to-day interactions of line cooks, dishwashers, wait staff, and a slew of customers. One of my daughters has already drafted an exciting and entertaining story based on her own experiences in the trade – now, if she’ll only get it published! Realistically, a restaurant like that would likely wind up in bankruptcy halfway through the novel – or maybe even the victim of arson, if not accidental fire.

So having Carmichael’s expand, as I do, shifts the focus to a revolution in the awareness of food itself. We have plenty to play with that way.

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Starting with death

My new novel, What’s Left, opens with her being taken out of her classroom and being told of the death of her father. Well, there’s still a thread of hope, since his body had not been recovered from the avalanche. But the finality weighs in.

What’s an 11-year-old to make of this? She’s been raised in two traditions, each one differing from the mainstream around her.

It’s not the only death in the novel. There’s the tragic collision that kills her grandparents and creates the opening for her father to marry into the family – they no doubt would have thwarted that development. And there are the other ancestors gone by the time Cassia appears on the scene, as well as two uncles who die when she’s too young to understand. But the questions remain.

Some of my favorite answers arise in the 14th chapter. But please remember: no fair peeking ahead.

~*~

The subject of death is difficult enough for adults. For children it’s all the more baffling, once they push past the notion of sleeping but not waking.

What’s the earliest funeral you remember? What were you told? What would you say to others?

~*~

The Athens restaurant in downtown Manchester, New Hampshire, is a longstanding tradition. Cassia’s family could have followed in its footsteps but chose a different route.

How outrageous!

In my new novel, What’s Left, her great-grandmother Maria could quite possibly take off as big juicy book all her own. Well, I sketch what I can of this most colorful character even when the core of this novel is about Cassia and her grief.

In the arms of Ilias the Cypriot, Maria’s left a seedy past in Havana and found forgiveness and redemption in converting to Orthodox Christianity in Chicago. And then, in the next stage, she’s actively contributing to the lives of her grandchildren down in Indiana, including Cassia’s mother, Diana.

She’s indirectly responsible for inspiring her grandson Barney’s great culinary signature creation, the Streetcar sandwich. I’m not even sure if she’s still around to lend it her approval as it comes out of their ovens.

I’m still surprised I allowed Maria and Ilias to fade out of the picture as they do. Maybe their deaths would have simply been too much to add at that stretch of the story. But they are memorable, aren’t they?

~*~

Oh, if only there were figures like them in my family! Oh, now that I’m thinking of it, I can come up with a few. Care to look at the comments in the family cookbook?

Not that we got together that often.

Looking at wider circles, though, the list soon grows.

Who are the most outrageous – and yet loveable – people you know? (Well, I’ll settle on outrageous or loveable. Or even past tense, have known.) What makes them so?

~*~

Cassia’s family restaurant has me looking more closely at the ones around me. (Somersworth, New Hampshire)

If this were a business school case study

In my new novel, What’s Left, her father (Baba) has an influential role in transforming the family restaurant even though he’s new to the business. But he’s not alone.

~*~

Here are some passages I cut from the final version:

Baba is an active participant in that year of intense planning, before heading off for his focused Dharma training, those three years in the Tibetan monastery followed by his permanent return here.

My search reveals to me how much Baba contributed to the final result. As a visual artist addressing challenges beyond the kitchen itself, he’s amplified the wisdom Dimitri displayed in bringing him on board – and all of his touches fill me with pride.

Reflecting on Baba’s contributions to the project, what impresses me most is his sensitivity to the underlying unity. What emerges simply feels right and natural.

~*~

In a traditional business school case study, the spotlight would likely fall on Baba’s future brother-in-law, Dimitri.

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Too good to last?

Her uncle Dimitri, the oldest of three brothers, has Adonis good looks and style to match. He earns a prestigious Masters of Business Administration degree and possesses sharp financial skills. He also advocates radical values in politics and social justice, has taken up Buddhism, and uses astrology to evaluate potential colleagues – as he does in luring Cassia’s future father actively into the family.

In my new novel, What’s Left, she assumes all of this is the way life should be, right up to the tragedies that send her spiraling.

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