SUGGESTING A CREATIVE TENSION BETWEEN INSPIRATION AND TECHNIQUE

In another of the grandiose outbursts I surgically excised from the final version of my new novel, What’s Left, her uncle Dimitri and her father-to-be are engaged in a heated late-night debate.

While their dialogue springs out of a consideration of photography as a fine art, it could extended much broader – perhaps even onto the plates served in the family restaurant.

Here’s how it stood:
Any fine art of the future cannot be an end in itself. It must reflect a much more comprehensive spiritual current. It must instill an awareness of a community. You, of all people must have noticed the only thing the university can teach is technique. The profs can’t instill the leap of psychic thunder. They may encourage a few people to take up vital self-discipline and daily practice.

~*~

Surgically excised? Looks like I actually used one of Barney’s super-sharp chef knives!

The dynamic of formal teaching and learning ultimately fell outside the parameters of my new novel anyway. The important thing is that Cassia’s Baba finds a true home.

I’d say her uncle Barney, the chef, practices a fine art, in his own way, and he’s never attended college. He just has an active curiosity and a place to engage it. Maybe that’s why he and her Baba get along so easily.

Do you practice an art or a craft? Have you ever tried to define your “mission”? How do you explain your motivation or activity? Who gives you the most positive feedback?

~*~

This Victorian house, with its witch-hat tower and roof, was erected in Allentown, Pa., around 1891. It is shown here in 1926 during construction of the New Pergola Theater next door. The house was torn down in 1960, replaced by Van’s Diner, a glass and aluminum structure. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons.)

In my novel, the family home could have looked like this.

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ALTERNATIVE ECONOMICS

At one point in earlier versions of my new novel, What’s Left, I envisioned her family using their financial resources to drive an alternative local economy. The concept survives in the final version of the book, although this passage was boiled way down and many of the details changed:

Dimitri admits our enterprises will operate at the fringes of the economy.

He anticipates other extensions. We’ll encourage other friends to open a bakery. A guitar maker will join in a folk music shop. Rural skills like chair-caning and quilting will find a market here. Not everything we encourage will be quaint, as we’ll discover. Technology might include not just Baba’s darkroom and cameras but recording studios, computer designers, and solar entrepreneurs as well.

~*~

Or, as I noted in another now-deleted passage:

With patience, we’ll assure our dilapidated neighborhood just off campus undergoes rebirth.

~*~

Money issues – especially of an emotional, theological, and personal nature – are a topic I believe worthy of deep discussion. Just look to my Talking Money series archived at my Chicken Farmer I Still Love You blog for inspiration. Admittedly, they’re too big for this novel, though now I’m beginning to wonder about another, maybe as a series of telephone conversations? Please, somebody talk some sense into me!

(Oh, my, now I’m recalling that “financially secure” line in the old personals ads and still wondering exactly what the women meant by that – a guy who has a regular job with benefits or a seven-figure portfolio instead?)

Thinking of operating at the fringes of the larger economy, though, good things can happen. Where do you imagine an infusion of “greenback energy” might empower you or your friends to better the world as we know it?

~*~

The town of Fira on Santorini photographed from the roof of the Archipelagos Restaurant. (Photo by Rennett Stowe via Wikimedia Commons.)

Cassia’s roots included inspiration like this.

SEEMS SHE’S ALWAYS BEEN THERE

The evolution of my character Nita Zapitapoulos through my four Hippie Trails novels was a fascinating creative process. At first she was a faint reflection of a friend’s hot infatuation, and then she grew into something else.

In the storyline, she and a photography student meet through a mutual acquaintance. Nita soon takes him under her wing and, over time, becomes his guardian angel. By the time we get to my Hippie Love novel, she’s speaking almost exclusively in questions, a characteristic that continues in my newest novel, What’s Left.

~*~

Well, by the time I got to the final revision of my new novel, the cousins were too busy for this, too:

When it came to work, as kids, we weren’t always at the restaurant. Sometimes Thea Nita hired us to vacuum and dust her place and help her reorganize her shelves and drawers. Sometimes, when we were older, she’d even have us sanding and repainting her apartment. And that’s before she picked a few of us to help her with her newspaper column.

~*~

In the end, it wasn’t about money – it was about a deeper connection. She wasn’t shy about asking for help, either, but I don’t think she’d take advantage of anyone.

Have you ever had a friend or relative like Nita? How so?

~*~

Dan Kuzoff, a Macedonian immigrant, opened the Majestic Restaurant in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1933. It was a 150- to 200-seat operation serving good food at good prices. It was a middle of the road restaurant with no liquor license. Frequent diners there including politicians such as Lloyd Jackson and Vic Copps. As with all the other businesses in the area, the restaurant was expropriated for the construction of Jackson Square in 1969. Hamilton Public Library via Wikimedia Commons.

In my novel, the family restaurant could have been like this.

EVEN WITHOUT A FAIRY GODMOTHER

In my new novel, What’s Left, her aunt Pia arrives as a kind of Cinderella, but, my, how she arises from the ashes!

Gone from the final version is this tactile stroke:

When she starts exhibiting her love of fabrics – and textiles – as delights to both the eye and the touch, we could add weaving to her bucket list.

Along with this photographic suggestion:

And Thea Pia, perhaps Baba’s second favorite subject, after us kids, produces some of Manoula’s most insightful remarks. He did have some great models at hand!

~*~

Well, as it turns out, Cassia’s father had a number of favorite subjects in the family. Pia would have to come down a few spots, but it’s still quite a trove Cassia uncovers. Each of the women in the family can be seen embodying a unique style.

What is your idea of uber-feminine?

~*~

Roasted chicken and Cretan wine served for Christmas lunch in Greece. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

In the family, Cassia may have had food like this.

WHEN YOU MEET THE BUDDHA ON THE ROAD TO THE RESTAURANT

A central suggestion arising at the end of my first novel, which then shapes my new one, What’s Left, is that her father will be crucial in guiding the family in its embrace of Buddhist practice. Even if I cast that as spirituality rather than religion, it’s a big challenge.

In the course of multiple revisions, this was greatly toned down and redirected.

While Cassia’s concerned with more fully defining who her father was, the novel’s primary focus is on her. Here’s some background that’s much fainter in the final version:

Where had he come from, what prompted his interests, what were his pet peeves, what made him truly angry or truly delighted?

To make this little more concrete:

Some people contend my Baba was a lama. Not the camel-like pack animal from the Andes but a Tibetan Buddhist born in a humble city along the Mississippi, of all places. After college in Indiana and a broken heart, he looped into Dharma by way of, well, a hippie farm where Thea Nita also lived. And then he found refuge in something like a monastery. And then he magically returned here. You thought a monk couldn’t get married? Technically, no, though we’re dealing with an American twist in the mechanics of reincarnation. Or so they’ve told me.

In the end, much less of the responsibility falls on him. Rather, he helps establish an institute having a resident teacher, Rinpoche, who becomes his colleague.

~*~

For Cassia’s father, religion is a way of engaging life more fully. He might even say it is liberation from the tangles of daily life.

Let’s open our range of focus a bit wider.

Where do you go or what do you do to be free? Can you describe the feeling?

~*~

A large Queen Anne-style house with a distinctive witch’s hat tower something like this is the headquarters for Cassia’s extended family in my new novel, What’s Left. If only this one were pink, like hers.

A MODEL COUPLE, IN THEIR OWN WAY

I suppose I need to issue a spoiler alert. I cut this from later revisions of my new novel, What’s Left, since it felt redundant:

To be honest, most of my memories of Dimitri and Graham are fuzzy. Remember, I was little at the time.

Curiously, I have more early memories of Graham than of Dimitri. He was very gentle and knew how to play along. He would have made a great preschool teacher, I think.

~*~

Some of you will have vivid early-childhood memories, while for others, these will be a fog, at best.

I’ll be candid, I have few early memories of relatives when I was little. Who stands out most for you in your own family?

~*~


Koulourakia, melomakarona, kourambiethes, and kourambedes by Andrea Wright via Wikimedia Commons.

In the family, Cassia may have had sweets like these.

ARISE AND SHINE LIKE A HERO

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?

~*~

Closing time at a diner in Waterloo, Ontario. By Stefan Powell via Wikimedia Commons.

In my novel, the family restaurant could have been like this.