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.)
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On to a new generation

My newest novel, What’s Left, springs from the ending of my first published novel, where her future father lands in a bohemian band of siblings who’ve just taken over the family restaurant after a car crash killed their parents.

It’s a lot of responsibility on young shoulders.

~*~

Sometimes, when you put a dish together, the balance is off. It can even mean starting all over. What do you think of this?

At home, Tito and Diana, still in school, need to make sure their siblings are up to the job of parenting and running a house. What about their grades, the laundry, cleaning the bathrooms? Who pays the bills? Who’s really in charge, for that matter? The two youngest do work part-time at Carmichael’s, where they don’t need to be told they’re under public scrutiny. The balance at Big Pink, meanwhile, is undergoing adjustment.

The two youngest do work part-time at Carmichael’s, where they don’t need to be told they’re under public scrutiny. The balance at Big Pink, meanwhile, is undergoing adjustment.

In his final half-dozen years Pappa Stavros had been uncharacteristically aggressive in his dealings, not to mention bad loans to his buddies or timing.

~*~

What I know of the food business is all second-hand, but I still wonder about taking leadership of an enterprise as a young adult. In my early 20s as second-in-command of a small newsroom, I was given surprising leeway and yet I’m still grateful for the stability provided by my older boss – even though I’m not sure he was always the most mature in some of our gunfights with the wider community.

We did have a great corner restaurant, though, run by two brothers and their wives. Just a coincidence, if you’re thinking of Cassia.

Have you ever worked in a restaurant? Doing what? What’s your strongest memory?

~*~

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. (Manchester, New Hampshire.)

WHO WOULD PLAY HER BABA?

One of the glories of a literary work comes in creating the entire scene and its characters in your own head. Still, a common referent nowadays is in our familiarity with movies and television actors and actresses. Many of them even become “celebrities” whose every sneeze is flashed across social media.

In an imaginary movie version of my new novel, What’s Left, who would you have portray Cassia’s father, Baba?

I’d be tempted to have him be rather faceless, actually, maybe ethereal or even a large puppet. But you probably would go for something far more realistic.

~*~

Dinner at Elia restaurant in Kos, Greece. (Photo by Michal Osmenda of Brussels, Belgium, via Wikimedia Commons.)

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

NORMAL? YOU MEAN LIKE FITTING IN?

Though she’s grown up in an extended bohemian family, Cassia’s able to cope with being different from many of her classmates – up to the point her father vanishes in an avalanche halfway around the globe. The other kids have fathers – that’s normal, or so she thinks. And then, in a flash, she and her home aren’t normal.

To see just how atypical they are, check out my new novel, What’s Left.

~*~

I just couldn’t pour this down the drain. It needed to simmer much more:

Her father was also a dreamer – or at least an idealist – a dimension that often inhibited him from asking hard questions or anticipating a full range of obstacles in a course of action. And he had an innate aversion to conflict.

What Thea Nita has confirmed is that Baba carried a sense of not quite belonging in the consumer culture of America. He had rightly concluded the ultimate flatness of his birthplace had nothing to do with its landscape and everything to do with a wider loss of stimulation, imagination, and inventive discovery – all further inhibited by social conformity rather than any acceptance of eccentricity. He recognized the potential for more, much more – something he encountered first in science and the fine arts and later in direct spiritual experience.

~*~

And then there’s her mother’s side, where they live – where he, too, has chosen to place his life.

Reflecting on the emotional cost of an upbringing like that in my own life has me realizing just how debilitating it has been. Like him, I found ways to escape and still somehow “fit in.”

Let’s get back to the basics. Would you say you’re “normal”? What would you like to change about yourself or your situation?

~*~

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. (Manchester, New Hampshire.)

ONE KIND DEED INSPIRES ANOTHER

When she begins her investigation in my new novel, What’s Left, she may think her generation’s quite different from her father’s.

But her family does run a family restaurant, and that gives her a different insight:

We can always count on someone looking for a handout at the back door. We’re happy to oblige them. And they’re happy, too – the word spreads.

~*~

Restaurants are often staffed by an underworld of their own, or so I’m told. And some of the characters aren’t that far removed from the folks looking for a handout.

I’m surprised to see how many people in my own community remain invisible, especially when your eyes look instead to “normal” society.

Have you ever gone to a “soup kitchen” or charity food pantry? Have you ever worked in one? What was your experience?

~*~

If Cassia’s great-grandparents had only bought this house instead! And it’s almost pink … (Manchester, New Hampshire.)

INTRODUCING THE ELEMENT OF ORTHODOXY

For most Americans, Christianity is contrasted between Protestant and Catholic. In the past, or so it seemed, you were born into one or the other, and in my neighborhood, it took a long time to mix. Even now I find many people are surprised to discover how much variety exists on the other side of the line. (Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, etc., or Italian, Irish, Polish, German, Hispanic, French, French-Canadian, etc.)

It takes some doing to realize just how different Eastern Orthodoxy is from the strands of Western Christianity we’ve known. And then you get into the variations there, starting with Greeks and Russians.

In my new novel, What’s Left, the family lives at a distance from the nearest Greek Orthodox church, so its connection to the faith is stretched thin at the beginning. Still, it’s part of their identity.

While I do relate some of the customs they rediscover, I don’t do much with the dietary limitations for Advent and Lent – essentially, vegan with no oil or alcohol. How’s a professional cook supposed to do his job if he can’t sample the food? (Any of you facing this conundrum are invited to tell us how you address it.)

So what about other traditions of dietary limitations? Kosher, for instance?

~*~

Do you observe any dietary restrictions? What’s your experience? Have you ever fasted? How long?

~*~

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. (Manchester, New Hampshire.)