Past loves in the mirror of fiction

Reworking the novels that now stand as Daffodil Uprising and Pit-a-Pat High Jinks also had me elbows-deep in some unfinished emotional detritus left in my personal past.

I feel I’ve pretty well examined and released the baggage from my larger intimate relationships – the failed marriage and a subsequent broken engagement, especially.

The novels, though, started churning up unanticipated buried feelings elsewhere.

Anger at my first lover, for one. I had long suffered disappointment, guilt, and depression after we shattered apart, and then let her fade into what I thought was oblivion. But, as I’m told, feelings are what they are – you can’t control them. As I relived my college years, I realized how much of my own leftward change came about because of her. Moreover, in the ensuing decades, I’ve never had another partner who could so sensitively respond to what I was writing at the time and suggest changes. Still, I can now see how she never could have been the wife I’ve needed, no matter how intense our passion or, like Kenzie with his Liz, how shallow my understanding of her or even her self-centeredness or my own.

The anger, though, still hit as a shock. It just wasn’t something I had ever felt permitted to admit. You’re not allowed to feel that toward the one you love, not according to my upbringing or code of conduct. Now, however, I could come up with a list of offenses, as well as moments when I should have confronted her actions or even broken off, if I had only possessed enough backbone.

Another set of emotions swirled up around the character now known as Shoshanna. While Kenzie is quite smitten by her, he’s never able to make much sense of her romantic history, at least as she presents it. Like him, I’ve always tried to put a positive spin on events, and like him, I’ve always been a sucker for the promise of talent. Over the years, though, I’ve also learned about the long-lasting impact of abuse – physical, verbal, or sexual – as well as similar harm from an alcoholic parent. As I revised, I found myself – intuitively, it seems – connecting that dynamic to her past. I started weeping. It didn’t have to be true in regards to the original inspiration for the story, but it certainly advanced the character and her motivations. No, I wept for what such buried damage had done to women I’ve loved, to myself, and to my relationships. Too often, the bruises remained out of sight, out of the possibility of awareness, taboo. But no longer.

Judith, meanwhile, took the reality of violence much further, into kink. I was once dropped by a lover after her ex-boyfriend showed up in town and they went out. She simply vanished for the night, from my perspective. As she said afterward, when she told him about us, he hit her – beat her, actually, in her words – and she felt better. She insisted the manhandling absolved her guilt, as if she had anything to be guilty about. I was appalled and confused. I really knew very little about her, by her own choice. A decade later, another lover had a similar connection to physical aggression, and my non-violent nature doomed any future to our initial attraction. It had been presented as a fault on my end, by the way, a matter of shame or weakness. And she had been so exciting. Shall we say I was left feeling quite conflicted?

Revising my fictional character, though, allowed me to scrutinize this forbidden zone, no matter how troubling. I was also seeing how much further my first lover had wanted to explore than I was ready to venture. She really had no sense of her own vulnerability – or ours. In the end, she had me seeing how not everyone in the hippie world was really Peace & Love oriented or even satisfied with Flower Power romance.

As Kenzie was reminded, not everyone wanted marriage or even a soul mate.

It’s an insight that still jars me, looking back on my zig-zag journey to here and all that I missed out on along the way.

So here we are, all the same.

 

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Maria would have to be a firecracker

In the still-in-my-dreaming movie version of my new novel, What’s Left, who would you cast as her great-grandmother Maria?

She’d have to be a firecracker, for starters.

~*~

Maria Pappas serving the “perfect Greek luncheon” in Tarpon Springs, Florida, June 27, 1947. (State Library and Archives of Florida via Wikimedia Commons.)

In Cassia’s family’s past, there may have been scenes food like this.

Who could portray Barney?

In the still speculative movie version of my new novel, What’s Left, who would you have portray her uncle Barney?

From my perspective, so much would have to depend on the eyes. Something soulful, at the start.

~*~

A plate of popular summer Greek food: gemista or yemista (Γεμιστά), tomatoes, peppers (and sometimes eggplant and zucchini) stuffed with rice. Photo and cooking by Badseed via Wikimedia Commons.

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

Mixmaster? Just look at ‘Pit-a-Pat High Jinks’

Sunbeam’s Mixmaster quickly became a staple of 20th century American kitchens. Didn’t we all grow up with one? The line about radio interference, by the way, refers to the way the machine could disrupt the AM radio signal you were trying to listen to, often elsewhere in the house.

What, me as a Mixmaster?

Just look at the topics percolating in my novel Pit-a-Pat High Jinks.

Here are ten:

  1. The early ’70s. The counterculture movement has changed. It’s no longer centered in a handful of big cities or a few isolated communes but is now found across the country, often revolving around college campuses.
  2. Back to the earth. For those who move out into the countryside, the new digs could be perplexing. Most of the hippies came from the city or suburbs, and few knew much about gardening or raising chickens or general household maintenance or even cooking. It could be a steep learning curve.
  3. Intentional households. Settling in with a group living together presents unique problems, even when it’s not a full-fledged commune. Just what are the advantages and disadvantages, anyway?
  4. Friends and housemates. Kenzie arrives in a place where he knows only one person but quickly encounters a host of friendly new faces. And through them, his adventures really take off. Where would he be without them?
  5. Each one is different.
  6. That first full-time job. Learning to cope can be a challenge.
  7. For Kenzie, this arises as Tibetan Buddhism and its daily practice.
  8. Couch surfing. The term hadn’t been coined yet, but here he is, spending many nights in friends’ apartments rather than back at the farm.
  9. His best friend’s collection of drums provides a counterpoint to the narrative. Just listen to how expressive this can be.
  10. Personal healing and growth. Kenzie undergoes a transformation through this time of seeming retreat. He emerges stronger, more caring, and happier, especially.

Be among the first to read my newest novel.

 

Mixmaster? Just look at ‘What’s Left’

What, me as a Mixmaster? Just look at the topics percolating in my novel What’s Left.

Here are ten.

  1. Questions of personal identity. For Cassia, this moves from a desire to fit in with what she considers normal for her peers and classmates and turns into something more solitary Goth before she hits stride as a rock concert manager.
  2. Questions of just what, exactly, identifies a family. Hers has its landmark restaurant as well as a circle of close cousins and siblings she calls the Squad. But she’s still missing her dad.
  3. Greek-American experience. She grows up in her mother’s extended family, the fourth generation after two brothers and their spouses, two sisters, arrived in Indiana from Greece. It’s a colorful tradition.
  4. Family owned-and-operated business. Their landmark restaurant means the kids learn to work early, and their parents often have to miss big events at school or sporting events. It also presents uniquely troubling aspects when company clashes erupt or a member dies and inheritance taxes are due.
  5. Guerrilla economix. Her uncle Dimitri advocates a community of small-is-beautiful economics using the restaurant as its base. Seeing himself as a socialist capitalist, he champions generous worker benefits, funding worthwhile startups, and creating considerate rental housing.
  6. In this family, even its initial hot dog joint adds distinctive touches. When they acquire burger-and-fries Carmichaels’, they look for local sources to give them an edge, especially in their daily soups and specials. And then when they branch out into upscale and vegetarian lines, the thinking turns especially creative.
  7. Bohemian life. There’s Gypsy, from one direction, and hippie, from another. And Cassia’s aunt Pia, so full of kefi, makes the most of it.
  8. Keys to success. Cassia soon realizes the ideal of the self-made man is an illusion. Her family is a model of working together, even mentoring. Her father’s fame would have never come about without their support.
  9. The Dharma. Members of her family, especially her father, take up Tibetan Buddhist practice before she comes on the scene. It gives her a dual outlook on religion and spirituality.
  10. Emotional loss and recovery. Cassia loses her father to a mountaineering accident when she’s 11, setting her on a course to recover whatever she can of him. But ultimately everyone in her family suffers a deep personal loss, and how each of them addresses it leads either to bitter despair or else emotional growth and wisdom. Guidance often appears in the most unexpected times and places.

 

Sometimes the story goes its own way

Considering his love of mountains, I am surprised that I didn’t have Kenzie heading off on mountainous trails on more of his days off work. He was certainly living close enough, if he wanted to drive a few hours each way.

Instead, it’s swimming at the secluded lake those two summers as well as riding the underground rails of Gotham one weekend of each month.

Sometimes, then, what happens all depends on the people you’re with or are meeting.

That’s how it worked for me, in a situation similar to Pit-a-Pat High Jinks.

Maybe Kenzie just thought he’d get the mountaintop opportunities later? Or maybe just not quite where he planned?

Allowing for a fairy-tale dimension

Admittedly, in my new novel, What’s Left, her family has a lot of good luck – accompanied by enough bad things for balance.

In the early drafts, I liked the fairy-tale, larger-than-life tone – as befits the “best movie ever” or “best novel ever” lists of upwards of ten thousands of listings that I hear from younger voices around me. Still, I’m a bit too Aristotelian to allow more than one as the best of anything, and I’m not referring to Cassia’s great-grandfather Ari here, either.

No, I’m thinking of the fact she’s in a close-knit extended family that’s prospered. In this case we have three brothers who’ve worked tightly together. A more common example in today’s society would be the three brothers who will never again speak to each other after their mother’s estate is settled. And that’s before we get to their children, the cousins who barely know each other, unlike Cassia’s.

There’s her aunt Nita, who’s negotiated a contract to assure she owns her daily newspaper column.

The adults who’ve joined in the family get along well together, something that’s never a given.

And Cassia herself lays claim to a rare happy childhood, up to the point when tragedy strikes when she’s 11.

I never intended this optimism when starting out on this work – it’s just where the narrative wanted to go. If the novel originated, as I think it did, in revisiting the aspirations of the hippie experience, what follows fits well as a foil to directions American society has since taken.

By the way, I do love fairy tales, especially in their more ominous, early, unrefined versions. The kind where Rapunzel’s pregnant or Cinderella’s stepsisters lose their feet.

There are a few of those touches in Cassia’s tale, too, just in case you wonder.

~*~

Put yourself in the story. Or have Cassia stop in your neighborhood for a visit. Where would you want to dine with her? Create something imaginary, if you want, or simply take her (and us) to one of your favorites. (For some of our neighbor girls, it would definitely be the Creperie.)

~*~

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. (Dover, New Hampshire.)