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?
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.
In the family, Cassia may have had food like this.
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.
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.
The close-knit extended family of Cassia’s childhood is quite different from her father’s. Hers is the one he leaped into when he married her mother. What was he escaping? And what was he embracing in the act?
As my newest novel, What’s Left, unfolds, hers is a family with a mission and a place in the world. Everything her father accomplishes in the ensuing years is enabled by their enterprise and unity.
For Cassia, her brothers, and her beloved cousins, the big question becomes: Will this be too confining for their personal ambitions and dreams? Or will it assure them a secure future if they settle in and stay put?
Do they ever think of themselves more as a tribe than as individuals? We follow our elders in decisions and wisdom?
A family business is full of peril. How will they choose?
In a passage I cut from the final edition, the family’s spiritual practices are considered. On one hand there’s the Orthodox Christianity; on the other, Tibetan Buddhism.
Well, you could also see it as a refuge for my family. As a calming influence guiding us through some turbulent times. Through it, our eyes returned to the greater good in our shared mission. We were given a vocabulary and fresh ways of thinking about the eternal elements of life. We accepted its reliable foundation in teaching these to our children – including me.
Well, that could be one uniting factor. I see another family that’s held together by its emphasis on sports and sports medicine. As for others?
What holds your family together? How far does it extend?
In my new novel, What’s Left, her father teams up as the photographer when her uncle Barney, the top cook at the family restaurant, tries his hand at writing a cookbook. Well, a whole series, I suppose.
Their first volume is all soups, inspired by the grandmothers’ daily special bowls and wild chili concoctions – the ones he’s advanced.
I never get around to titling the book when I mention the project.
Now it’s your turn to get creative. What would you call a cookbook about soups?