On to a new generation

My newest novel, What’s Left, springs from the ending of my first published novel, where her future father lands in a bohemian band of siblings who’ve just taken over the family restaurant after a car crash killed their parents.

It’s a lot of responsibility on young shoulders.

~*~

Sometimes, when you put a dish together, the balance is off. It can even mean starting all over. What do you think of this?

At home, Tito and Diana, still in school, need to make sure their siblings are up to the job of parenting and running a house. What about their grades, the laundry, cleaning the bathrooms? Who pays the bills? Who’s really in charge, for that matter? The two youngest do work part-time at Carmichael’s, where they don’t need to be told they’re under public scrutiny. The balance at Big Pink, meanwhile, is undergoing adjustment.

The two youngest do work part-time at Carmichael’s, where they don’t need to be told they’re under public scrutiny. The balance at Big Pink, meanwhile, is undergoing adjustment.

In his final half-dozen years Pappa Stavros had been uncharacteristically aggressive in his dealings, not to mention bad loans to his buddies or timing.

~*~

What I know of the food business is all second-hand, but I still wonder about taking leadership of an enterprise as a young adult. In my early 20s as second-in-command of a small newsroom, I was given surprising leeway and yet I’m still grateful for the stability provided by my older boss – even though I’m not sure he was always the most mature in some of our gunfights with the wider community.

We did have a great corner restaurant, though, run by two brothers and their wives. Just a coincidence, if you’re thinking of Cassia.

Have you ever worked in a restaurant? Doing what? What’s your strongest memory?

~*~

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.)
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WHEN THE PLANS EXPAND

Deciding to move the family restaurant into the old textbook building next door opens the door for all kinds of changes. Playing around with the possibilities was fun for me – hey, I wasn’t really constrained financially, was I? Could we even use building blocks or construct a movie set? Alas, the story needed to move along faster. Besides, it’s about Cassia ultimately and what she and her generation would inherit. Here’s a passage before I boiled it down for the final version of my new novel, What’s Left:

Graham’s the first to admit the structure will need to be expanded, not just renovated. Adding to the rear will allow for the central cookery. The traditional Carmichael’s burger joint would then take the strip facing the campus, while Carmichael’s Bliss could run along the side street that bisects our holdings. The second floor would allow for function rooms, while the new Carmichael’s Stardust could sit above Bliss. Adding a third floor would provide for offices, and above that, a penthouse Dimitri and Graham, along with a small rooftop garden.

~*~

Among the many considerations that went into envisioning the new design was just what kind of ambiance they wanted. Would there be booths, and if so, would they have high backs for privacy or lower ones for visibility? There are actually a lot of questions like that, when you start investigating. I realized that would be better served in a restaurant trade magazine than in my new novel.

Still, it’s fair to ask. Do you want privacy when you dine? Or do you prefer being able to watch people? Is there a particular design statement you think would fit the new Carmichael’s?

~*~

A view of a Noodles & Company kitchen from the counter. Photo by Malcolm Tredinnick, Sydney, Australia, via Wikimedia Commons.

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

IVY TOWERS? OR IVORY TOWERS?

Well, it was fun trying to envision the possibilities of the new operation. But I left plenty of detail in the final version of my new novel, What’s Left, as it is.

In contrast to her father’s desire for a bold contemporary design, here’s a whimsical touch from an earlier draft:

Graham suggests we plant climbing ivy. Says it’s subdued, reflects the campus across the street and softens the harshness of the old textbook building itself. He’s right.

Why stop there?

In the emerging design, a permanent awning extends over the sidewalk. Graham’s suggestion of not just ivy on the wall but flowerboxes under the windows meets widespread approval. And the entry opens into a light-filled atrium.

~*~

Well, I’m starting to like the look of it. Now, to see what happened to this.

I do have to remember that all of this is a backdrop for a bigger story – Cassia herself.

Which reminds me. There are many fun movies about food, wine, and restaurants. Which of your favorites would you suggest we see?

~*~

A Greek Orthodox icon of St. Nicholas by Nicholas Hartmann. (Via Wikimedia Commons.)

Cassia’s roots included inspiration like this.

WHO WOULD PLAY HER BABA?

One of the glories of a literary work comes in creating the entire scene and its characters in your own head. Still, a common referent nowadays is in our familiarity with movies and television actors and actresses. Many of them even become “celebrities” whose every sneeze is flashed across social media.

In an imaginary movie version of my new novel, What’s Left, who would you have portray Cassia’s father, Baba?

I’d be tempted to have him be rather faceless, actually, maybe ethereal or even a large puppet. But you probably would go for something far more realistic.

~*~

Dinner at Elia restaurant in Kos, Greece. (Photo by Michal Osmenda of Brussels, Belgium, via Wikimedia Commons.)

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

NOT YOUR TYPICAL FATHER

The driving force for my new novel, What’s Left, is her struggle to recover her father after he vanishes in an avalanche halfway around the globe when she’s 11. It’s a tall order, even when it’s self-imposed.

She would say he’s not a typical father. He comes from mainstream roots in Iowa, becomes a professional photographer and starts practicing Tibetan Buddhism before marrying into her mother’s close-knit extended household, one based on running a family-owned restaurant where Cassia and her cousins all wind up working from an early age.

The crucial twist comes through her aunt Nita, who guides Cassia into a long, patient investigation of the photos her father left in disarray in his studio. Bit by bit, the focus shifts to Cassia’s discovery of her own nature, dreams, and destiny – one where her extended family plays a big role.

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BOTH NOVELS TAKE PLACE IN THE SAME TOWN MANY YEARS APART

My newest novels are both set in the same college town, but each one focuses on a different locale within it.

Daffodil Uprising takes place largely on the campus, and even when three of the characters move off into a shabby apartment, their focus is on college. It’s an outpost in more ways than one.

What’s Left, in contrast, settles into a neighborhood between the school and the courthouse square. The town and its university aren’t even named in this account. Instead, Cassia’s family’s restaurant is the center of attention, along with their surrounding properties. This story has a strong sense of the town itself, including the river, and the family’s impact on the community.

One thing I’ll confess is that in abstracting the location, I’ve created a place that doesn’t actually exist in the state. There’s nowhere along the Ohio River that’s just an hour from Indianapolis. Consider it as something like the visual tricks Edward Hopper performed in his paintings. Things feel right, despite the realities.

Southern Indiana, with its hills and forests, really is defined in large part by its relationship to the river. I hope I’ve heightened that sense.