What would Barney have been without the family restaurant? As the middle brother, he seems content to stay put. While still a teen he masters what it takes to run a burger-and-fries joint and could continue with those skills the rest of his working life. Nor does he display the ambition his other two brothers thrive on, either. In short, he’s more or less happy where he is – especially once Pia brightens his existence.

My new novel, What’s Left, won’t let him rest there long. He’s destined for some greatness of his own.

It’s not that there weren’t conflicts. As I noted in a passage since deleted from the novel:

He could have fled, of course, as his elder brother had. But for whatever reasons, Barney chose to stay and serve. Keep his mouth shut, then, and continue sweeping and chopping and composting.

And so he moves up in the restaurant. Still, he’s been active in antiwar protests, which really pissed off Pappa Stavros. In some ways, you might consider Barney the biggest hippie of the lot, maybe even more than Thea Pia.


Well, I have some second-cousins who took over my great-uncle’s plumbing business, unlike my dad, who became a corporate accountant instead of continuing my grandfather’s shop.

Individual personalities come into play. I don’t see Barney wanting to handle the money-side of the restaurant business, had all the responsibility fallen on him.

What do you think? Could he have become an auto mechanic? Taken an assembly line job? Something else? Would he have still been happy? Just what was a hippie living at home, anyway? Do you know anyone who’s like Barney?


An ancient Greek sculpture of an old woman, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Photo by Marlith via Wikimedia Commons.)

Cassia’s roots included inspiration like this.



In my new novel, What’s Left, her uncle Dimitri holds a Master’s of Business Administration degree from Stanford University but acknowledges the value of hands-on learning. As he argues with her father-to-be in a passage I cut from the final version:

Maybe you haven’t recognized you already received a Master’s Degree, in part, from your experience in that old rambling apartment across town, back before you even graduated. Your Ph.D. came on the rails under the big city. Most universities teach speculation, which is completely different from knowledge. What they teach often changes from day to day and hour to hour.


You know the expression, “Garbage in, garbage out,” and I want to use it as a nickname for a young adult who shows up around here all too often. When his head’s not stuck up his arse, it’s on the Internet.

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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.

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I can’t imagine What’s Left, my new novel, without her aunt Pia – short for Olympia. She’s one of the characters created especially for this book, unlike the ones we inherited from the end of my first published novel, and she emerges as a parallel to Cassia’s father. At key points, they work together as a sharp creative team in the transformation of the family restaurant and its holdings.

If anyone could pose a romantic rival to Cassia’s mother-to-be, wouldn’t it be Pia?

She’s the flower child, the hippie chick, and then the earth mother – the height of femininity, from one of his perspectives. She also reintroduces Cassia’s family to its ethnic culture, especially the concept of kefi, or living with gusto (and much more). She’s the one the children naturally turn to for comfort or playful. And she has style to spare.

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When her uncle Dimitri turns to an astrological chart as support for his sales pitch to her father-to-be, this passage was included in an early version of my new novel, What’s Left.

Come on now, Dimitri! You don’t expect me to believe any of that mumbo jumbo!

I seem to recall you said the same thing about meditation, back when your lover wanted you to sample it, Nita says, entering the kitchen.

Suppose I was trying to tell you about the subways for the first time, right now? If you hadn’t already tried it, you wouldn’t believe a word I told you.


I eliminated it from the final version for several reasons. One, I felt that by now her future father was far enough along in his spiritual practice to be ready to listen to arcane thought systems, even if he might challenge their validity. Also, I felt this relied too much on a backstory that was no longer relevant to the work at hand.

But Cassia’s family, from her great-grandmothers on down in the New World, likely felt otherwise.

Have you studied or practiced astrology? Palmistry? Tarot? The coins of I Ching? Some other arcane pathway, like the tea leaves or coffee grounds Cassia’s great-grandmothers might have consulted? Or do you know someone who undertakes any of these? What’s your perspective? Any personal insights?


Greek goddess, 4th century BCE, part of a statue in Musee Royal de Mariemont. Photo by Ad Meskens via Wikimedia Commons.)

Cassia’s roots included inspiration like this.


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.

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A crucial moment in my new novel, What’s Left, occurs when her uncle Dimitri tries to convince her father-to-be to quit his career and move in with them, without actually offering him an income or much else.

As I noted in an earlier draft:
Manoula remembers all of this clearly. Says her brother’s chuckle perplexed Baba. Here’s her ensemble extending some kind of ambiguous invitation, on the one hand, and simultaneously affronting his professional portfolio, on the other.


Unlike Cassia’s Baba, I’ve tended to make big moves like this more deliberately. Even so, some of my moves, in retrospect, still amaze me. Relocating with all of our goods in a U-Haul without an apartment awaiting us halfway across the continent was one of them.

But throw the promise of hot love into the mix? Now it gets interesting!

Tell us some decision you’ve made that might seem irrational to those around you. How did it turn out? Would you do it again, given the chance?


Moussaka with Greek potatoes at Psaropoulo, Hydra, via Wikimedia Commons

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