NORMAL? YOU MEAN LIKE FITTING IN?

Though she’s grown up in an extended bohemian family, Cassia’s able to cope with being different from many of her classmates – up to the point her father vanishes in an avalanche halfway around the globe. The other kids have fathers – that’s normal, or so she thinks. And then, in a flash, she and her home aren’t normal.

To see just how atypical they are, check out my new novel, What’s Left.

~*~

I just couldn’t pour this down the drain. It needed to simmer much more:

Her father was also a dreamer – or at least an idealist – a dimension that often inhibited him from asking hard questions or anticipating a full range of obstacles in a course of action. And he had an innate aversion to conflict.

What Thea Nita has confirmed is that Baba carried a sense of not quite belonging in the consumer culture of America. He had rightly concluded the ultimate flatness of his birthplace had nothing to do with its landscape and everything to do with a wider loss of stimulation, imagination, and inventive discovery – all further inhibited by social conformity rather than any acceptance of eccentricity. He recognized the potential for more, much more – something he encountered first in science and the fine arts and later in direct spiritual experience.

~*~

And then there’s her mother’s side, where they live – where he, too, has chosen to place his life.

Reflecting on the emotional cost of an upbringing like that in my own life has me realizing just how debilitating it has been. Like him, I found ways to escape and still somehow “fit in.”

Let’s get back to the basics. Would you say you’re “normal”? What would you like to change about yourself or your situation?

~*~

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. (Manchester, New Hampshire.)
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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.

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.

ONE KIND DEED INSPIRES ANOTHER

When she begins her investigation in my new novel, What’s Left, she may think her generation’s quite different from her father’s.

But her family does run a family restaurant, and that gives her a different insight:

We can always count on someone looking for a handout at the back door. We’re happy to oblige them. And they’re happy, too – the word spreads.

~*~

Restaurants are often staffed by an underworld of their own, or so I’m told. And some of the characters aren’t that far removed from the folks looking for a handout.

I’m surprised to see how many people in my own community remain invisible, especially when your eyes look instead to “normal” society.

Have you ever gone to a “soup kitchen” or charity food pantry? Have you ever worked in one? What was your experience?

~*~

If Cassia’s great-grandparents had only bought this house instead! And it’s almost pink … (Manchester, New Hampshire.)

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.

INTRODUCING THE ELEMENT OF ORTHODOXY

For most Americans, Christianity is contrasted between Protestant and Catholic. In the past, or so it seemed, you were born into one or the other, and in my neighborhood, it took a long time to mix. Even now I find many people are surprised to discover how much variety exists on the other side of the line. (Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, etc., or Italian, Irish, Polish, German, Hispanic, French, French-Canadian, etc.)

It takes some doing to realize just how different Eastern Orthodoxy is from the strands of Western Christianity we’ve known. And then you get into the variations there, starting with Greeks and Russians.

In my new novel, What’s Left, the family lives at a distance from the nearest Greek Orthodox church, so its connection to the faith is stretched thin at the beginning. Still, it’s part of their identity.

While I do relate some of the customs they rediscover, I don’t do much with the dietary limitations for Advent and Lent – essentially, vegan with no oil or alcohol. How’s a professional cook supposed to do his job if he can’t sample the food? (Any of you facing this conundrum are invited to tell us how you address it.)

So what about other traditions of dietary limitations? Kosher, for instance?

~*~

Do you observe any dietary restrictions? What’s your experience? Have you ever fasted? How long?

~*~

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. (Manchester, New Hampshire.)