Jumpin’ Jehosaphat, the place starts rocking

The old church is rechristened, as it were, when their live rock nights take over. In What’s Left, my novel many of the musicians are already connected to the family restaurant, one way or another.

As I explain in a passage that was more than anyone needed in the final version:

Much to their credit, Dimitri and Graham and Barney and Pia have a knack for attracting talent – and for listening to all their ideas. It isn’t all just food-oriented, either.

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

~*~

Thanks to her aunt Yin, a teenaged Cassia winds up booking up-and-coming acts – ones that can play well in their old church. It’s a matter of people skills and organizational skills, especially, along with taking good advice from her musically alert cousins.

Imagine stepping in for her. What kind of music or other entertainment would you most like on the schedule? Is there a local band or singer or comedian (nobody widely known yet) you’d like to pitch to Cassia if you could? (Feel free to add a link to their website or YouTube action, if you wish.) Go ahead, shamelessly plug them, be the loyal fan club – let the world know! Go wild, oh yay! Me? How about a weekly contradance?

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Right next door, hallelujah

Let me confess, as an author, this was an impulse purchase for me. Have you ever driven through an old residential neighborhood and noticed an old church just plunked down in the middle of the block?

The one in my novel What’s Left sits next to the family manse. Here’s an early description of the site, one I decided not to include in the final version:

One thing that hadn’t been discussed when he left was the use of the old white church. We bought it just because we could. Thea Nita has joked it was the missing lot on our Monopoly board, and you could agree that she’s right. Yes, it was a great indoor playground for us kids but, as I’ve learned, that hardly justified the expense. Early uses included folk dancing, especially square dances and New England contras – events that included live music and callers, along with instruction. And there were a few weddings. It wasn’t a particularly big church, though – the pews held maybe a hundred people? Well, we promptly put those into storage.

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

~*~

I’m ready to up that capacity number somewhat, anyway. Wouldn’t 200 be more fitting?

If you’re like me, music’s an essential part of life. I’m in a community choir that rehearses in the social hall of a church that rents out space for our offices, too – we do a big Christmas production at Harvard every year. I could imagine something similar working out of this space.

Where do you go for live music or dancing? Do you prefer a small club setting? An auditorium? A big arena? Or just somebody’s garage or basement? What kind of neighborhood is it in?

When home is almost a castle

In my novel What’s Left, the home life of Cassia’s extended close-knit family revolves around a large Victorian house they call Big Pink. It’s just a block away from their restaurant, and sometimes it’s hard to count just how many generations and their guests are living within it.

~*~

This passage, though, didn’t quite fit on their plates:

Baba tells us of a dorm buddy who once bandied about the idea of taking an old house and serving intimate dinners in the various rooms. Be like eating in somebody’s private home, he’d said.

Well, Dimitri says, we have this imposing but monstrous citadel in our project. (Meaning Big Pink.) We could move the restaurant right here, but I rather like it as the center of something better. He reaches for a piece of paper and hands it to Baba.

See, if we enclose the porch, like this, and put a grill in here … uh-huh, they grin as Baba pencils in this creation. An entryway here. Steps leading up to an enlarged dining room, which goes here. The kitchen, you see, builds into this area, and …

Oh, I’m so glad she stopped talking like this! In the final version, she’s pretty snippy and Big Pink remains filled with children.

~*~

As I’ve learned the hard way, old houses demand a lot of repair and maintenance. One like Big Pink could be a full-time job. Fortunately, Cassia’s great-grandfather Ilias left his imprint, and some of her cousins follow suit.

Traveling about, it’s always fun to look at different kinds of dwellings, especially where people have made their signature marks.

Tell me what you’d most want as your dream house.

A spotlight for new talent

In the years after World War II, many older neighborhoods fell into neglect as home buyers and developers fled for the suburbs. You could buy up in-town properties for a song in some places – districts that have now become quite trendy, even chic, especially when gentrification takes place.

In my novel What’s Left, her great-grandfather quietly snapped up many of the sites around the family restaurant – storefronts and offices, old houses and apartments – and, as a result, added real estate rentals and leasing to the family business. He saw the ‘hood as his own urban village, one he nicknamed Mount Olympus.

One of its anchors was a big pink Victorian house with the witch’s hat turret, the imposing dwelling that became the family headquarters a block away from the restaurant. At the time, it would have been more destined to become a funeral home or law offices or a flophouse than a revived mansion. It was too large for the typical nuclear family, and developers would have deemed needed renovations and maintenance too costly for the existing market. If it sat a few blocks closer to the hospital, it might have found use as medical suites.

So Cassia’s family’s timing was right. Victorian came back into style, in part as a reflection of hippie style.

Another twist in the story involves the building next door, an old white-frame church her uncle buys up on a whim. Apart from its location, there was little to support the decision as a business move. Another uncle, in fact, wanted to see the money used for a more promising development – there was a no-brainer payoff in that option.

When I introduced the church to the story, I had no idea where it would fit. Would it become the Tibetan institute Cassia’s father was helping establish? Or a hippie hangout of some sort? Or an underground theater? So it kind of sat there for a while, largely as the kids’ indoor playground, probably sapping up money that could have gone elsewhere.

And then it took off on its own, in part inspired by tales I heard of another restaurant and its live music influence. But that one was in a big city and was set in an old movie theater where the staff would party in the balcony.

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For some out-of-this world sensations

In my novel What’s Left, Cassia’s father balances his career between work as a professional photographer and as an American authority on Tibetan Buddhism.

This description seemed a tad overcooked for the final serving:

In the end, Baba creates a dozen-and-a-half commercials before returning to his seat between a pair of six-foot-long brass trumpets and a twelve-hour holy recitation.  

~*~

No matter how much I like the image of long trumpets and chanting, the average reader is going to require too much explanation to get it. Oh, my. Maybe it’s a danger of my being a poet, too.

I have no idea about your father, but I can assure you mine was nothing like that. Mine worked as an accountant for a division of a global corporation. He wore suits and ties, and I never, ever got to see the floor where he worked.

Let’s just say Cassia’s Baba had a lot more freedom and flexibility than most.

Could you imagine having a father like hers Or maybe a famous TV actor? How would your life be different?

Among the characters who are, uh, characters

Yes, there’s the colorful brewer they hire in my novel What’s Left.

Thanks to the TV commercials Cassia’s father creates, everybody comes to know him, or at least who he is. As one line, no longer in the book, described him:

Fritz himself turns out to be something of a ham.

~*~

Look around you for similar folks. Tell me about somebody in your community who’s an effusive character. Maybe someone on television or running a store or waiting on tables. We have a mailman downtown who would fit as he dashes and dances door-to-door, often with an impromptu repartee. Expand my range of possibilities!

Greenback synergy as a revolutionary butterfly

Considerations of just how much her family could both own and effectively manage led them instead to make strategic loans and investments to help local entrepreneurs – people they knew as neighbors and friends. In my novel What’s Left, I was tempted to get into lists of microloans her uncle Dimitri might have made for counterculture ventures, but I backed off instead. There’s enough suggestion of that as it is.

As one line, no longer in the book, expressed it:

More than anything, we’re creating partnership in a network of kindred souls.

Well, I’m still fascinated with butterfly economics and economic multiplier effects and similar arcane concepts, but fiction is more about, well, heart to heart. Big shifts in the final text were made.

~*~

That’s not to say Cassia’s family didn’t also invest as a partner in startups, where it might also lend some of its business support expertise on payroll or taxes before selling its interest to the founders once the operation was up and running. It’s something they did with the bookstore and Manoula’s publishing house.

I could see many of their microloans going to people whose work touched on their own – farmers and gardeners, cabinetmakers or plumbers, recording studio technicians, among others.

Well, what’s wrong with small-is-beautiful?

Imagine yourself approaching Dimitri and requesting up to $100,000 to make the world a better place. (Maybe it’s not even for a loan – the family has also established a foundation that makes grants for worthy projects.) What would you do with the money?