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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
In her family’s past, there may have been scenes food like this.
I’ve waffled at times on my decision to add her other maternal great-grandparents to my new novel, What’s Left. It was already a big book with a big story when their role expanded, even as I was repeatedly pondering what else could be eliminated without detracting from the whole.
One bold quick cut would take Ilias and Maria out altogether. The story line would be tighter if Bella’s parents had simply rejected her when she tells them she’s marrying into Cassia’s family. But Ilias the Cypriot Greek and his wife, the Cuban-born Maria, insist on inserting their own spicy ingredients to the stew.
For one thing, they strengthen Bella’s emerging role as the family matriarch. For another, they loosen the symmetry of the brothers/brothers-in-law and sisters/sisters-in-law at the helm of the family restaurant that had hired Bella at the outset of the war years. And, my, how they dote on her baby Dimitri and then his brothers and sisters as they come along.
Their embellishments add humanity and warmth. And so they move in – and stay.
I’ve become a big believer in adopting people into the family – one’s who aren’t blood relations but belong all the same. Is that something you, too, do?
Who is your favorite family member? What makes that person special? How do you think that individual sees you in return?
In my new novel, What’s Left, her mother’s grandparents sail from Patras, Greece, to America in the years just before the First World War. In contrast, her father’s side appears to have farmed the Midwest in the oblivion of forever.
In observance of Independence Day, here are images from the Library of Congress in homage to those immigrants who arrived in that period by way of Ellis Island in New York Harbor.