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.)
Advertisements

MORE THAN WE’LL EVER KNOW

I’ll have to leave detailed accounts of first-generation Greek immigrants to America to others who have truly intimate material to draw from. Simply portraying the relocation of my mainstream grandparents from a Midwestern farm to a nearby city would prove difficult to pull off.

Still, in my new novel, What’s Left, I find enough to suggest some of Cassia’s great-grandparents’ possible experiences and achievements. She has reason to take pride in what they’ve established for her extended close family. It was, after all, one place her father-to-be would fit well, despite his initial resistance. And now she’s struggling to make sense of it all, especially in her circle of siblings and cousins.

~*~

Not everyone who came to America dissolved into the melting pot concept. Still, they had to sacrifice something. The question just might be, How much?

Extend that to our own personal identities.

What’s your idea of “normal”? How well do you fit in?

~*~

A young Greek-American immigrant on Ellis Island, New York late 19th-20th century. (Hulton Archive via Wikimedia Commons.)

Cassia’s roots included scenes like this.

COUSINS WHO COUNT

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.

Could I have directed my new novel, What’s Left, to move straight from her loss at age 11 into her subsequent growth within her close-knit circle of cousins?

Since so much of their group identity depends on the family restaurant where they all work at some point in their youth and the big Victorian house where they gather and many of them still live, this would nevertheless require some hints of the history of their being where they are – and who they are – pretty close to the top of the story anyway, plus far more detail about the cousins and their parents than I now need to engage in the opening chapters.

As a writer, I’m left wondering how I’d ever introduce all of this at once and still have you readers following the narrative. A related challenge would be any attempt to work our way back through the family history, like an archaeologist, layer by layer, rather than jumping down to the trunk of her family in the New World and moving upward from there. There are many sound reasons for presenting a history chronologically, after all. Especially when past events help us more clearly understand where we are and who we are now.

~*~

Well, you can check out the book as it stands.

The story, of course, turns toward the crucial decisions they’ll face. Will Cassia and her cousins ever live up to their family’s resourceful and romantic roots? Will they be able to take their legacy to greater heights?

What would you do in their place, given their resources? Stay and work in the restaurant and real estate? Start something of your own while living close at hand? Or head off for careers and family elsewhere?

PLAYING WITH FIRST NAMES

Carmichael’s, the restaurant her family owns in my new novel, has me looking more closely at others.

Long before I ever anticipated what’s evolved into my newest novel, What’s Left, I ended my first published novel with a young woman named Diana, in part because I liked the two puns it allowed. Her husband-to-be, a student of Tibetan Buddhism, had returned to Indiana – and now he could boast of a love that allowed him to be in Diana as well as in Dhyana, or deep meditation.

Not that you have to understand Sanskrit to read it. Shouldn’t the mere hint of something exotic should suffice?

Read More »

FRAMED BY TWO BROTHERS AND TWO SISTERS

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.

In my personal genealogy research, I’ve found that brothers in one family wedding sisters in another was a common occurrence in earlier times, especially when marriage fell within a shared religion or ethnic tradition. I’ve been intrigued with the actually functioning within those households, especially when they moved off together to resettle on the frontier. I’ve assumed that each member brought some specialty to the wider relationship.

Thus, in my new novel, What’s Left, having her great-grandparents be one-half of the quartet that founds her family in the New World makes perfect sense. I like being referring to them as brothers/brothers-in-law and sisters/sisters-in-law. It does make for an especially close family.

Having them break so completely with the Old World is another matter altogether, though I’ve heard their argument told by descendants of other immigrant families.

Read More »

ANOTHER UNSEEN INFLUENCE ON HER LIFE

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

In my new novel, What’s Left, her maternal grandparents are both dead before her birth – they’re victims of a late-night collision on a rural highway. But they cast a big influence over her life, all the same.

Stavros and Bella are second-generation Americans, bridging hard work and success to establish the family restaurant, Carmichael’s, as the campus landmark it becomes.

Read More »

POOLING THEIR FAMILY RESOURCES

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.

In my new novel, What’s Left, the family’s nest egg was built by living on one income – in a single household – while everyone worked at the restaurant. The surplus went into savings and investments. Once the kids come along, their earnings also go in the pooled income, to be drawn out for college or marriage. Over time, as the family grows, the house has parents, grandparents, kids, aunts, uncles, and cousins. What a circus!

As for pocket money? Take it from the till? Some places, yes. And some places, no.

They’re about to start over, in a way, when Cassia’s father-to-be shows up.

Read More »