In my novel What’s Left, Cassia ponders her father’s career. In an earlier draft, she noted:
At the least, he might take a position on a magazine or major metropolitan daily, based on the portfolio he’s amassed.
Even so, about the time he moves in with her family:
He replies honestly. He’s living hand-to-mouth as it is, thanks to his full-time professional calling.
I’ve known more than a few people with great talent and great potential. Somewhere, though, they failed to leap the gap. I could point to big changes in society that increased the distance, but even so, I mourn that we’ve lost much.
Step back and look at your situation now. In the movie version, where would you find glamour? And what would come across as funky? Give it a title, if you will, as part of your pitch. Let’s live fully, where we are!
In my novel What’s Left, her mother inherits a name whose attributes suit her well. The chaste Roman goddess Diana (or Artemis in Greek) rules the hunt, the moon, childbirth, and nature. In the story, she’s calm and faithful, with a spark of fire that infuses her music-making and likely much more. I even have her evolving into much more of a night-person than her early-rising husband, though I hadn’t thought about that connection till now.
As I wrote earlier:
The real hunt had begun. With practice, within this lifetime, however long or brief, a remarkable enlightenment might yet blossom into wisdom. From flowers and bees, the harvest comes.
“Come, Dhyana, let us sit together. Let us ride in unison. That is all.” He accepted fully, “The female energy is my Shakti power.”
Given the urgency of her father’s Buddhist practice, it’s entirely fitting that his wife — Cassia’s mother — would share in the experience. Here he also recognizes an Eastern perception of a uniquely feminine spiritual energy that would complement his own nature — in a way also honoring the goddess essence of Diana’s own name.
By the way, if you’re interested in the origin, meaning, and pronunciation of my name Jnana, visit the Bio page here at the Red Barn. Think it fits me?
Do you know anyone whose first name perfectly suits their personality? Or how about someone who’s the exact opposite of what you’d expect?
After the death of her father in my novel What’s Left, Cassia and her mother grow emotionally distant. Perhaps a rivalry for his attention had already been festering or perhaps it’s a natural development for many girls at the onset of adolescence, but Cassia, at least, senses something is missing in their relationship.
She even blames her mother for not preventing her father from departing on the trip that ends in his accidental death. In the aftermath, Cassia wonders if she can fully trust anyone to stick around or if she must guard herself on all sides.
Her mother, Diana, is outwardly reserved, unlike her innately effusive sister-in-law Pia. Much of her time is also focused on her successful career as a small-press publisher and performing in a respected string quartet.
Cassia’s aunt Nita subtly begins channeling the girl’s desire for her father’s presence into a long-term project of examining and organizing his vast photographic collection, including thousands of negatives that were never made into glossy prints. In effect, this is one place Cassia has him largely to herself. Here, as she surveys the world through his eyes and mind, she moves from grief to discovery and insight, especially as his unseen guidance leads her more and more into her own extended close family, which he had so vibrantly joined.
Somehow by the final version this line was no longer needed:
As you’ve seen, Manoula’s family is a whole other story.
Well, for one thing, he arrived as an outsider, so he did have a fresh perspective from which to view his new relations. They introduced him to a much different set of experiences and, ultimately, accomplishments.
Like him, I moved away from my native corner of the world and encountered much my parents never did. Just joining living in a yoga ashram or later joining the Society of Friends (or Quakers) altered my perceptions.
How do you see the world differently than your parents? Or, for that matter, other people who’ve been around you?
In my novel What’s Left, she has every reason to wonder about what she’s going to do when she grows up. Unlike many of us, Cassia could continue in her family’s business — there’s some security there — but she looks beyond that and sees … well, this is one view I cut from the final version of the novel:
Yet, when we look around, we see everybody doing the exact opposite: most people can’t wait to get away from their office or factory or showroom or classroom. American society these days exalts its leisure and scorns people who aren’t making the big bucks. That’s backward!
One of the lessons I learned as a cub reporter was the importance of respecting secretaries and janitors. They could give you some of your best story tips, if you listened. Most of them knew far more about the operation than the managers at the top.
Who do you know who’s not highly paid but makes a huge difference for those around her? (Or him.)
In the early versions of my novel What’s Left, her brothers stayed off in the background. But Gyatso and Billy moved far forward in the eighth and ninth revisions, especially when I discovered they didn’t require a lot of narrative development to be present. Sometimes a single short detail now pops their activity into fullness.
One thing about Cassia’s extended close-knit family is that her cousins are practically her siblings, too. Cassia’s cousin Sandra, for instance, could well be her sister, and both Gyatso and Billy line up well with some of their boy cousins.
It’s a fine line to walk, keeping the story moving without bogging down in too much detail, but it’s a rich matrix all the same.
I once had a coworker who grew up in a family where the way they showed affection for one another was by exchanging truly negative words and phrases. As far as I could tell, physical harm wasn’t part of it. Even so, maybe they understood what it meant and felt affirmed and included, but when he did the same thing with those of us in the office, many of my colleagues felt deeply insulted, even wounded. Maybe you know of writers capable of re-creating the domestic scene, but I’m not one of them. I’m still largely baffled.
The dynamics of siblings can make for endless intrigue. I’d love to know more — much more — of how they work in our lives.
Are you from a large family? Do you have brothers or sisters? Do you ever “borrow” their clothes? (Or anything else?) Does your household make you different from your friends or classmates? How would you describe your siblings — and your feelings for them — in a few words? Go ahead, vent, if you must.
One of the basic bits of advice given to a writer is to envision your reader. It’s one that’s always troubled me, though. Could it be because I carry multiple identities as a writer? Poet, novelist, Quaker, retired journalist, with overlapping interests?
As a poet, I can’t describe the audience that shows up for a reading — the individuals seem to represent all types. Picture my readers? They could be anywhere in the subway car I’m riding!
OK, maybe it’s a younger, or at least more hip, crowd, but not entirely.
In What’s Left, Cassia spends hour after hour organizing the chaotic mess of her father’s photo studio after he vanishes in an avalanche halfway around the globe.
He was something of a hippie, too, as she sees in some of his excesses from the period. Here’s something that popped up for her in a conversation with her aunt Nita. You won’t find it in the final version of the novel, though — some things just got toned down.
And? You ever see the movie he made about the courthouse?
The one with the dome turning into his girlfriend’s breast? Diz’s?
You remember he made that while he was still an undergraduate? Before all the really freaky stuff that followed?
Yes, and that reminds me. We need to have to get that reel converted to digital from Super 16. Before it starts disintegrating or fading.
You know what a hit that was in some circles? How he was on the verge of notoriety or celebrity?
So why didn’t he continue in that vein?
How would he have paid the bills? The big bills? Where were his introductions? Producers, distributors, even actors? Or his confidence,
I’ve been trying to think if there’s anything in my past quite that outrageous, but it all seems to be included in my Freakin’ Free Spirits series. My kids would likely be disappointed, but I’m glad my parents never knew the details. I hate to think, though, of some of the things my two girls are hiding from me. My, the times have changed!
What’s something you or your friends are hiding from your parents? What’s most shocked or surprised you about them? What other directions might their lives have taken? What might you hope your own kids never ask you about?
Some of my novel What’s Left, has her revisiting her memories of early childhood.
Later revisions made this passage redundant, and so it’s been scratched out:
By then even Papou Ilias and Yiayia Maria are long gone. Only the wisp of Yiayia Athina remained. But we still had our own little gang — Barney and Pia’s kids, and Tito and Yin’s, plus my brothers. By then we even have Rinpoche and his presence.
The final version of the novel has many sharp details, including some prompted by the photos she turns up. It is surprising, though, how powerful some of these memories can be, sometimes triggered unexpectedly from deep recesses. When I was 12, I ran into two brothers from my old neighborhood, my pals up to my fifth birthday. I hadn’t seen them in over seven years, and people do change a lot in that time. Still, I recognized them immediately at the Boy Scout event where we were.
Tell me one of your earliest memories from childhood, good or bad.