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?
In my new novel, What’s Left, her aunt Yin has her helping book rock bands rather than working in the restaurant. For Cassia, it’s a welcome break. She can be cool and hang with her cousin Sakis’ scene.
While her mother’s a skilled violinist, Cassia herself is not a musician. In one explanation that didn’t make it to the final revision, she explains:
When it came to music, I wanted to play drums but was shunted to piano, which I hated. It just wasn’t me.
Are you part of a band? Do you sing in a choir? Play an instrument? Was there one you wanted to study but told otherwise? Do you sympathize with Cassia here?
Central to my new novel, What’s Left, is a painful awareness that something crucial is missing from her life. In her case, it’s the physical loss of her father when she’s 11. For others, that sense could be prompted by a divorce – which also figures in my novel – or the rejection by a lover, as happens much earlier to her father. Or even drive one to suicide or self-destructive behavior. (No suicides in the story, in case you’re wondering.)
A comment by one woman whose father had died when she was about Cassia’s age prompted a key change in the voice of my novel in its ninth revision. “I still talk to him,” she said, nearly 40 years after his passing. That perspective opened a whole new dimension for me in developing Cassia and her relationships. It’s changed the voice and tone of the book, resulting in far more intimate dialogue, I’d say. Just take a look at the finished novel.
This didn’t quite fit on the platter:
What Baba and Manoula shared is an awareness of some loss or suffering the illusory surface we view might be masking. For Baba, the ultimate rejection by Diz opened a pit for him to fall into – nothing he’d assumed quite held, either, as far as he could see. (Never mind Nita’s role – he wanted a lover.) For Manoula, the fatal crash of her parents did something similar. From a Greek perspective, suicide makes perfect sense – as does, I might guess, sin. The convolutions only thicken the engagement with life itself.
Well, this was an early stab at the issue. In the finished novel, we never get around to asking if Manoula winds up frequently talking to her deceased parents, the way Cassia does throughout the story. Or whether her husband, Cassia’s Baba, somehow fills the void.
For me, the conversation’s often invoked certain long-gone lovers.
Do you find yourself talking to someone who’s not present? Have you ever felt a loss like Cassia’s? Has one of your close friends? What insight would you have?
The once grand dame of an apartment house turned shabby that I describe in my novel Daffodil Uprising was real, though situated in Upstate New York rather than southern Indiana. A little bit more poetic license, if you will, in my relocating the blocky building.
I use the past tense, because satellite searches inform me the structure has been demolished, no doubt because of some of the health and safety issues the story relates. Bringing everything up to code would have cost a fortune.
Well, maybe a fire did it in. That, too, feels quite plausible.
When Kenzie and his two buddies flee their dorm, they have such high expectations. So did I, in what was supposed to be a haven after college. Look, this was what a professional journalist could afford – slum housing.
Still, the moldy manse was memorable and possibly haunted. I certainly heard rumors to that effect.
How far can a restaurant extend its business base? Its “brand,” as they say. This passage is prompted by meals at restaurants that expanded into new revenues, even though I cut this from the final version of my new novel, What’s Left:
Still, the playful concept feeds into what emerges around the corner as an elegant multi-purpose restaurant, plus a bookstore, art gallery, gift shop, and even a small greenhouse.
And that’s before the bakery or brewery comes into sight. For whatever reason, though, I shied away from launching Carmichael’s own brand of bottled products.
This has me thinking of a couple of specialty food markets on the tourist trail that include a cafe featuring their products. Turns the concept I’m discussing around, in effect.
The identity, of course, is built on something that makes us go gaga. Something that makes us want to return again and again.
What’s someplace that features your favorite comfort food or special treat? Would you wear a T-shirt proclaiming it? What do you think of restaurants that have a gift shop attached? Does it add or detract from the mission?
I had long been perplexed why my modern American poetry class in the late ’60s had spent so much time on Edwin Arlington Robinson, especially since we never got up to more pressing figures like Kenneth Rexroth, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, or Gary Snyder.
I made a jab at this plaint in my Daffodil Sunrise novel, where our budding photographer was panicking while typing away on his take on Robinson.
More recently, when reworking that manuscript into Daffodil Uprising, I found myself running with the poet more fully.
For one thing, I had to admit he was more contemporary than I’d allowed back in college. His lines and insights are clean, prescient of new approaches, even snippy.
For another, he could be bitter, sarcastic, depressed – as were many beats and budding hippies.
His parents themselves weren’t that far from bohemian, either. His mother couldn’t even come up with a name for him, after all, and that fell to a circle of “summer people” visiting Maine. They put names in a hat or whatever and the slip of paper that came up was Edwin. The woman was from Arlington, Massachusetts. Bingo. We have a middle name.
His eldest brother went from being a successful businessman to bankrupt and alcoholic to die in poverty with tuberculosis.
His other brother, a physician, became addicted to morphine and died of what might have been an intentional overdose.
Living the past 31 years in northern New England, I’m now familiar with the culture Robinson grew up within. Gardiner, Maine, is a few hours up the road from us. I have friends whose roots are there.
Without giving a spoiler, let me say Robinson is now an active figure in the new novel. He infuses some wonderful, if sardonic, perspectives to the younger generation, and becomes a foil for similar spirits from the Edwardian past that sway the photographer’s girlfriend, too.
Would he talk this way, though? Who knows.
By now we’re dealing with fantasy, anyway, and that’s so unlike the concrete details of his verse. Again, we’ll excuse ourselves with poetic license.
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?