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.

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Food as the new cultural touchstone

My wife came across an article that noted the primary cultural focus in 21st century America is fine food and wine. It’s what intelligent people discuss, even argue about, in casual conversation. And just look at all the writing focused on it today.

A related factor the article raised was that in modern history, in each century one nation has dominated in one art form rather than many. That’s had me thinking, even though I think America led on two fronts in the 2oth century.

Here are ten examples that spring to my mind.

  1. Painting and sculpture. 16th century Italian masters.
  2. Theater. 16th century England. Shakespeare is unrivaled.
  3. Painting. 17th century Dutch masters.
  4. Painting. 19th century France culminating in Impressionism.
  5. The symphony. 19th century Germany towering in Beethoven and Brahms. Do we think of Vienna as essentially German?
  6. The novel. 19th century England and America. Moby Dick and Huckleberry Finn may be flawed but they remain original masterworks.
  7. Opera. 19th century Italy. Verdi and Puccini remain the core of the repertoire.
  8. Ballet. 19th century Russia. Its great symphonists excelled here. And look where the great dancers and teachers still come from.
  9. Movies. 20th century America. (Shall we consider Hollywood as a nation unto itself?)
  10. Popular music. 20th century America as jazz and then rock evolve. (Note that this happens more in the eastern half of the country – New Orleans, Kansas City, Memphis, Cleveland, Nashville, but especially New York.)

I’ll leave it to others to look for the food trends over time. 

What else would you add to this list?

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.

 

Ten ways ‘High Jinks’ is new and improved

My newest book, Pit-a-Pat High Jinks, is a thorough reworking of my earlier Hippie Drum and Hippie Love novels.

Here are ten ways the result is new and improved.

  1. These events are now seen a generation later by the protagonist’s daughter, Cassia, even if she has to pinch her nostrils closed while admitting some of the love scenes. She’s not as vocal here or as perceptible as she is in Daffodil Uprising, but she nevertheless instills a critical distance. There are good reasons so much of this era still puzzles her.
  2. Many of the characters are renamed, starting with our hippie boy, Kenzie, and they’re now more fully developed. The backstory for Shoshanna, especially, emotionally blew me away while revising her part of the plot.
  3. Drummer has evolved. He’s now Kenzie’s best friend and an integral counterpoint to the happenings, as is his pit-a-pat on his very private collection of drumheads.
  4. This is the ’70s rather than a blend with the ’60s. Woodstock has happened, and the movement is heading off in many new directions. One of them is what’s supposed to be a hassle-free back-to-the-earth lifestyle like the one Kenzie’s landed in.
  5. The two earlier novels are woven together. Originally, in the first one, Kenzie usually fails to land himself in bed – a reflection of the reality that in the hippie era, not everyone was getting laid all the time. That version focused more on his housemates and friends in town. In the other story, he’s far more successful sexually, though the events still lead to the same ending. In the new blended novel, he’s one hot dude, though it’s not always obvious how much of the action is a consequence of his imagination or dreaming and how much matches reality.
  6. The blending instills a clearer plot line. His farmhouse and his social circle around campus are given balance, and his sequence of lovers advances his wisdom.
  7. Kenzie’s attraction to Buddhism is more fully explained. The Tibetan practices transform him, inside and out.
  8. The playful, even dizzying thrust of the original two novels is now countered by meaningful times of loneliness and brooding. Being hippie, after all, was no guarantee of always being happy. Quite the opposite. It often involved extremes of feeling.
  9. This novel is now character-driven, rather than running along the surfaces of its actions. The actions grow largely from their individual emotions.
  10. It’s all about connections. The people Kenzie meets lead to new adventures and first-hand discoveries.

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Pit-a-Pat High Jinks

 

Ten once-exotic foods that have become commonplace

Americans’ food choices expanded unbelievably in the generation between the events told in Daffodil Uprising and What’s Left. Admittedly, Cassia’s mother had grown up with a wider awareness of dietary options than had her father – her mother’s Greek heritage relied on olive oil rather than Crisco, for starters, and running a restaurant meant keeping an eye open for new options. Roasting a lamb for Easter would have been in her mother’s background but probably made her father’s side cringe. Still, it’s mindboggling to think how exotic some of today’s common dishes were just a half-century ago.

Here are ten:

  1. Broccoli. And zucchini and summer squash, which show up on a lot of national chain restaurant plates. Hey, even fresh parsley.
  2. Yogurt. Seriously, even before you add granola, another upstart.
  3. Tacos. For that matter, anything Mexican like burritos or quesadillas or margaritas. We’ve even added a holiday every May just to celebrate this development.
  4. Salsa. And sriracha and any of those Texas hot sauces. Whatever happened to ketchup?
  5. Sushi. I still can’t believe you can get it at the grocery.
  6. Thai. For that matter, anything Asian. You know, this extends to Vietnamese and Indian and even authentic Chinese. For me as a child, chop suey on top of wormy dried noodles, both out of a can, were as adventurous as it got for miles around.
  7. Pasta. Yes, any of those various Italian noodles. Our spaghetti used to come with sauce in a can. Seriously. And a spaghetti dinner was typically a fundraising event in a church. Oh, and it was still pronounced EYE-talian. Ouch!
  8. Espresso. The word itself conjured up images of beatniks. And now? Just think of all the gourmet coffee storefronts and drive-throughs. Not just Starbucks, either. You no longer have to explain cappuccino or latte or café au lait apologetically, thank goodness. Many of us even make our own.
  9. Flatbreads. As in wraps, especially, though they can be the foundation of a good pizza. Well, speaking of breads, add baguettes and croutons to the list of advances. We’ve really come a long way, baby.
  10. Real cheese. Not the processed stuff. We now have so many glorious choices we could do another Tendril on just this one item. Hallelujah!

History? Pizza had recently entered the mainstream. And wine was still a daunting frontier.

What would you add to the list?

Mixmaster? Just look at ‘Daffodil’

What, me as a Mixmaster?

Just look at the topics percolating in my novel Daffodil Uprising.

Anybody got a boxed cake mix? That was a popular use for this kitchen gadget. Here’s an English Sunbeam Mixmaster model A24, circa 1969–72. (Wikimedia Commons photo by Mitch Ames.)

Here are ten:

  1. The Sixties. As the subtitle says, this book is about the making of a hippie. It’s a turbulent time.
  2. The Establishment. The military-industrial complex and its old-boy network hold undue sway on the direction of the university, often at the expense of the students or faculty. How can their power trips be thwarted?
  3. Marijuana and other illicit drugs. Recreational substance use become commonplace, a unifying element for many youths. But it comes at a cost.
  4. Free love. The Pill changes sexual relationships, no doubt about that. But romantic relationships are still tricky.
  5. Antiwar protests and the military draft weigh heavily on young adult American males. It fuels anger, fear, and a sense of helplessness.
  6. Mentors and elders. While Kenzie comes to Daffodil to be nurtured in a fast-track fine arts curriculum, the place he really finds guidance is among his peers – especially the elders in his dorm and his future sister-in-law Nita. They are crucial to his personal growth.
  7. Community and network. Kenzie’s interactions with dormmates and, later, his housemates plus select others are essential for his survival and advancement. It’s not healthy to be alone, no matter how independent you imagine yourself to be.
  8. The practice of an art. Photography is central to Kenzie’s self-identity, but he is still looking to see exactly where that leads. Having a concert pianist as a roommate adds to his comprehension as an artist. And then there’s his dorm’s little literary enterprise, pushing him in an entirely different direction. How far can he bend?
  9. High hopes and broken promises. Kenzie and his circle are so green and full of dreams. The university itself recruits him for an enterprising career track, and then his passionate embrace of the lover who fuels aspirations of soul mate send him even higher. But not everything is rosy, and the disillusionment can be crushing.
  10. The American Midwest. Kenzie’s roots in Iowa and his new surroundings in southern Indiana give a particular flavor to the developments. It’s not as out-of-the-way as they think.

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TEN WAYS THIS ‘DAFFODIL’ IS NEW AND IMPROVED

My new novel Daffodil Uprising is a meatier, more emotional work than its earlier incarnation, Daffodil Sunrise.

Here are ten reasons.

  1. The people and events are now seen from Cassia’s perspective. Just look at her snide commentary for amusement and relief. Really.
  2. Many of the characters have been renamed, starting with the one who would become her father in What’s Left. They’re more fully developed, for sure. In the previous version, the dorm inmates ran as a pack. Now they’re spread out by age and interests, and three of them serve as wise elders for the newbies.
  3. Her father’s reasons for coming east to Indiana are more clearly defined. As a photographer, he’s part of a fast-track program in the fine arts.
  4. Two new characters introduce elements of fantasy and paranormal. The Victorian elements in the earlier version are now amplified.
  5. The focus in now more on their emotions in reaction to the happenings.
  6. The story is now character-driven, more than erupting from the plot.
  7. This is about boyz, especially, trying to make sense of a confusing world, even before they get to the girls.
  8. This version, for all of its light playfulness, is now more baroque and brooding. That matter of loving a flower child, for one, is far more difficult than you might imagine. Or, for her, that matter of sticking with someone as flawed as Cassia’s future father could produce a really baffling relationship.
  9. More dark sides of the era are introduced. It’s not just early questions about vampires or ghosts on the campus, but the violent fringe of the time, too. Just what are they to make of the protest bombings or the drug overdoses, for instance? Or their failure to live up to the responsibilities of living together?
  10. This is clearly focused on the Sixties rather than reaching out into what would come after. It’s the making of a hippie, in particular. Hey, just don’t blame him.

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