An aunt unlike the others

In my original draft and early revisions of What’s Left, I tried to keep her aunt Nita relatively equal among Cassia’s aunts and uncles. This was difficult, since Nita had been an important influence on Cassia’s father, from college all the way up to his disappearance in an avalanche, was Cassia was 11.

There was no avoiding the fact that as Cassia wanted to know more about her father, she’d have to turn to her aunt Nita for answers.

In the ninth revision, though, I decided it was time for Nita to out-and-out become Cassia’s guardian angel, a role she’d fulfilled repeatedly for Cassia’s father. I think it was a brilliant flash, allowing much of the action in the new novel to take place during Cassia’s preteen and teenage years.

Read More »

Advertisements

Respectfully looking to the Amish

One of the themes running through my new novel, What’s Left, is an acknowledgement of what I’ve sometimes called “guerrilla economics.”

In one passage in an earlier draft of the story, I argued:

On the other hand, he just might learn along the way that the Amish keep to their ways not because they’re entirely sold on horsepower and kerosene lamps but because of the hedge their style puts around them, enabling them to keep their families and communities intact against the onslaught that’s devouring everything else.

Well, the Amish do provide the Swiss cheese essential to the family’s signature Streetcar sandwich, but there’s more. They’re a model of community, something Cassia’s family is also trying to do beside the college campus.

~*~

You can’t have it all – it’s an essential lesson when it comes to money issues if you want any freedom. Besides, where would you store it all? Who would even dust or polish it?

Again, this subject runs beyond the scope of my new novel, but there is a question of just how much is enough. For Cassia and her parents, they’re comfortable living modestly while successfully working in their world. And, no, they don’t live out by the country club or buy a new car every year, even when Cassia might see that as the way “normal” people might live.

What sacrifice would you be willing to make to pursue your dreams? (Give up your cell phone? Your laptop?) And what would you find’s essential to keep?

~*~

Greek Orthodox icon of the Virgin Mary of Mount Athos (and details) created by Father Vasileios Pavlatos in Kefalonia, Greece using the technique of Pyrography. (Via Wikimedia Commons.)

Cassia’s roots included inspiration like this.

Retired six years now

Through much of my working career, the question lingered: What do I want to be when I grow up?

The answer finally shaped up: Retired!

So it’s hard to think I’ve been retired six years now – make it seven if you include the early buyout that allowed me to work more flexibly in the newsroom for a year.

Frankly, I don’t feel retired – whatever that is. I don’t play golf or spend all day at the beach or play evenings of card games like bridge.

For me, what I wanted was more time to read and write and attend to Quaker matters and be out in the wilderness – that sort of thing. Do what Gary Snyder would call the Real Work.

My wife scoffed when she saw some of my early plans for retirement. Would I devote regular blocks of time to each pursuit? Would I rise at five to meditate and do yoga before moving on poetry or fiction?

Scoff? She was more infuriated that I wasn’t including time for household chores or gardening or togetherness along other kinds. Saw it as being self-centered.

~*~

Suffice it to say those early scheduling ideas are far from what emerged. They didn’t include swimming laps every weekday, thanks to the brilliant Christmas present of an annual indoor pool pass from my elder daughter, who wisely decided I needed more exercise, seconding a motion from my physician.

Nor did they include being performing in incredible choir in Boston, which takes up the better part of a day. Or, more accurately, an afternoon and evening. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever anticipate making music on such a high level.

Nor was blogging on those blueprints. It’s wound up occupying more time than I expected, but it’s also freed me from the submissions process in getting work published – so timewise, I think it’s a bargain. And that includes having my own small-press imprint on my Thistle Finch line here at WordPress.

~*~

I have been able to devote more blocks of time to the fiction, which has been satisfying, but I still feel myself pressed for time when it comes to doing all I want or should.

I’m still trying to make adjustments for the domestic needs, especially now that my wife’s back in the workforce.

The joke is I’m not really retired – I’m just not receiving a paycheck.

In retrospect, I’m surprised by how much writing I actually accomplished in my own time all those years I was employed. It gives me a deep well to draw on.

Another San Francisco connection

Cassia’s aunt Yin reinforces a San Francisco connection established with Cassia’s uncle Dimitri and his companion, Graham. In time, it’s one Cassia herself comes to experience, so far from her native Indiana, as I relate as early as the third chapter of my new novel, What’s Left.

~*~

A single visit to the Golden Gate city put it high on my scale. I’d return in a flash, given the opportunity. These days, living a hour from Boston, I’m near another great center with many valued connections to the world. And, yes, I still miss Baltimore.

What’s your favorite city? What would you urge people to do when they get there?

~*~

Octopus sun-drying at the Mama Thira restaurant in Firostefani, Santorini. Photo by Klearchos Kapoutsis via Wikimedia Commons.

In her family, her great-grandparents would have known scenes like this.

When Cassandra pipes up

My final revisions of my new novel, What’s Left, heightened the role of her best friend forever and first-cousin, Sandra – short for Cassandra. She’s now active from age 11 on (rather than being central to the final chapter alone) and provides some punchy counterpoint to Cassia’s discoveries and questions during their adolescence.

Some vital exchanges occur when Cassia is railing to be in a “normal” family, unlike theirs, and Sandra points out her own struggles fitting in – her mother’s Japanese-American from San Francisco, after all, rather than from Indiana where she and Cassia live.

Sandra also has a heated perspective on their three great-aunts that Cassia doesn’t quite understand. As for their Barbie dolls? You’ll just have to see.

Read More »