Building a lingering legacy

As she asks her aunt Nita for details about the hippie era, she gets an earful. Here’s a passage that was condensed before the final version of my novel, What’s Left:

You know, peace and social activism. Environmental and ecological awareness. Racial and sexual equality. Sustainable economics. The whole spiritual revolution, including yoga and meditation. Education reform. Well, I miss the music – the fact it got lost in time. Don’t forget the health and nutrition angles, either – not just natural food and vegan. Farmers markets? We’ve certainly been participants on that front.

Weren’t there some communes around our Mount Olympus?

They’re hanging on, actually. The survivors turned into cooperative housing, where the members own their own homes but share the land. An interesting concept. Land trusts, too.

Thea Nita, you know how Theos Tito rants from time to time about the Establishment’s interference with the counterculture?

You mean, beginning with the CIA’s role in moving hard drugs into the country to undermine the peace movement? And Big Money’s work to undermine radical economics? Sure.

What do you make of it?

It’s another big book waiting to be written.

So we come back to politics?

Yes, Cassia. The nation’s divided by the fact we won’t look openly and honestly at the experience. Why should we be embarrassed by our hippie identity? Our antiwar righteousness? Our desire for liberty? There’s no real public dialogue, and that’s a disgrace.

~*~

OK, open up: Do you think the hippie generation should be embarrassed?

~*~

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, What’s Left. If only this one were pink, like hers. (Manchester, New Hampshire.)

Nearly everyone in town knew Bella

If we were making a movie version of my novel, What’s Left, who would you cast as her grandmother Bella?

This would be a big juicy part, starting with her romance with Nicky in the war years. And don’t overlook her working mom action with five kids in tow. By then, nearly everyone in town knew her.

~*~

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, What’s Left. If only this one were pink, like hers. (Manchester, New Hampshire.)

Climbing the family tree

When she sets out in the task that’s become my novel, What’s Left, she doesn’t expect to be creating a family genealogy going back through her great-grandparents. But there’s no avoiding it.

As I explained in an earlier draft:

Theirs is a unique odyssey – one where the final homecoming is far from its point of origin. As a tragedy, the suffering comes at unmapped turns in the quest for the American dream. As a comedy, well, there are hot dogs, hippies, Hoosiers, and hope. Take your pick.

She gets insights on her parents’ generation:

Thea Nita notes that children in her generation grew up hearing of the woes of the Great Depression as a staple of conversation at big family dinners. In our case, that included the diner shooting.

A good genealogist doesn’t turn back when the details get disturbing:

By now I’m rather astonished at the events Thea Nita’s uncovered. Every family has things it wants to keep secret, but as a journalist, she’s driven toward disclosure. What did I tell you about listening closely to arguments? The dirt that comes up, even years later? Or even in what might transpire in mother-daughter confabs.

~*~

Does it work for the reader? I certainly hope so.

One reason, I suspect, is because Cassia is part of a family that holds many experiences in common. They live close to one another, work in the restaurant or related enterprises, play and grow up together, worship in one of two streams they’ve blended. Whatever they have flows from a shared source.

~*~

Speaking of family, Cassia’s oldest cousin, Alex, would be quite a catch. Where would you want to dine with him – romantically or just as a friend?

~*~

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. (Rochester, New Hampshire)

Desire at first sight

My novel, What’s Left, springs from the ending of my first published novel, where our hippie-boy’s troubled journey finally brings him to true love and an embracing community.

Part of his epiphany is brought about by his colleague and guardian angel, Nita, when she hangs two portraits of her younger sister on her wall. Even as a professional photographer, he’s riveted. You could say it was infatuation at first sight. Or something more primordial.

And then, when he visits their family, the romance blossoms.

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Time to think of a Japanese touch

In the (highly unlikely) movie version of my novel, What’s Left, who would you like to see as her best friend, cousin Sandra?

Of course, that also means thinking of her blended genetic heritage and who could embody it.

~*~

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. (Claremont, New Hampshire.)

Bells of freedom ringing

Thinking of freedom, we can see it as personal expression as well as political opportunity. For some of us, that was a big dimension of the hippie movement.

The 50th anniversary of Woodstock is coming up next month. Normally, that would mark a jubilee, some even acclaiming it as a celebration of the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. Alas, the dark ages we thought had passed have returned from the dead, in intensified deadliness at that.

Jubilee, by the way, is drawn from the Biblical book of Leviticus, and it’s a most radical idea. Every 50 years, all the wealth in the land is to be redistributed. The scriptural passage is inscribed on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, so don’t tell me it’s not American.

~*~

One of the passages I cut before the final version of my novel What’s Left is one where she’s asking her aunt about the hippie experience:

I’ve never asked you about your own drug use.

OK? Can I say it was just enough to convince others I wasn’t a narc?

So were you really a hippie? I mean, you had such short hair!

You trying to say a hippie couldn’t have short hair? Don’t you know how radical my style was? You ever think I could conform to anything?

Well, you’ve indicated you weren’t stoned. I’m going down the list.

Have you considered the impact of the Pill? Or free love?

Oh, I’m so glad Cassia stopped talking like this! In the final version, she’s pretty snippy.

~*~

For the record, some of the truest hippies I’ve known weren’t promiscuous or do drugs. And some others never marched in a protest.

Still, as an image of the era, let me ask: What’s your impression of Woodstock? Have you ever been to a big, multiday festival? What’s your favorite music? How do you best express your free spirit?

 

Also on our big plate

In my novel, What’s Left, having her family own a restaurant opens another dimension to the story – the changing food tastes of the American public.

If Carmichael’s continued solely as a burger-and-fries joint, we’d have a much different type of story, one based on the day-to-day interactions of line cooks, dishwashers, wait staff, and a slew of customers. One of my daughters has already drafted an exciting and entertaining story based on her own experiences in the trade – now, if she’ll only get it published! Realistically, a restaurant like that would likely wind up in bankruptcy halfway through the novel – or maybe even the victim of arson, if not accidental fire.

So having Carmichael’s expand, as I do, shifts the focus to a revolution in the awareness of food itself. We have plenty to play with that way.

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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.

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.)