honesty / reliability / responsibility
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?
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?
In my novel, the family restaurant could have been like this.
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?
Cassia’s roots included inspiration 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.
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?
I’m really happy they decided against continuing to do business-as-usual. There was too much change in the air, even before the tragic car crash.
As she discovers in What’s Left, my new novel, so much resulted from a very intense year when her father-to-be – her Baba – moved in with the family.