If you’re the last person to leave Detroit, don’t forget to turn off the lights. This is the first sentence of my new release, THE WELCOME HOME DINER, and contemporary Detroit was the primary inspiration behind writing this book. There were other motivating factors—insight into the food business, personal intimacies—but I’ll get to those later.
I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, and am the only member of my Rebel-yell family who saw fit to defect, leaving home to attend the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. My Aunt Jane deems any place north of South Carolina as Yankee Land, and my family was—and continue to be—amazed that I live happily in territory with snow, hail and ice storms that can whip out power for days.
My first job after graduating was writing spin for a Manhattan public relations firm, the largest in the world at that time. On a pauper’s salary, day-to-day beat me down and eventually I moved back to the tranquility of Ann Arbor, known to locals as The Bubble. Typical of most large university towns, I’d imagine, it’s a city where all races, denominations and sexual orientations are welcome. Small businesses and fast-growing tech companies thrive on university trickle-down and the city attracts and embraces an eclectic cultural mélange.
Ann Arbor is only a forty-five minute drive from inner city Detroit. One may as well, however, be tunneling from Oz into a war zone when making the trek to explore some of its more downtrodden communities—neighborhoods, for instance, where THE WELCOME HOME DINER is set.
Detroit’s roadmap to economic desolation is old news: the riots in the sixties followed by the frantic white exodus to the suburbs, incalculable wealth and future tax dollars in hand; crack decimating forgotten neighborhoods, turning them into crime-infested ghettos; city schools and infrastructure nose-diving into third-world chaos, culminating in Detroit having the dubious distinction of being the largest municipal bankruptcy in US history.
As Samantha, one of my characters put it: “…There was blame enough to pack the city landfill. And when the car industries collapsed under a government corrupted by greed, it was as if someone poured gasoline over the city and lit a match. And the fiddler played while Rome burned.
I get that. I live in the fall-out. Every day I trudge through the ruins of our burnt-down, boarded-up, graffiti-stained neighborhood. It’s as if the area’s been erased, but the outline remains. A few intact homes, such as ours, serve as commas in a run-on sentence of skeletal frames lining our street. I’ve become desensitized. It’s a feeling that might be shared with someone who lives in a war-ravaged city that was once beautiful. Like Syria or Lebanon. But this is the United States.”
But these days the tide is shifting, mirroring the plot of my story. Detroit, like a phoenix, is rising from the ashes. I’m prone to cheerlead the underdogs in my fiction. People are generally my target, but Detroit—a city in the mist of reinvention—is worth championing.
Politics and current events could shape a person the same as they might shape a metropolis. For example, London, in the Tudor period, was often personified as “the shameless whore of Babylon”. This unsavory parallel was drawn because of a widespread loathing with the evils and corruptions of the established religion. Today, who would be Detroit?
I liken the city to a grizzled, weathered boxer who was once a legend in his heyday. In the midst of new wealth and fame, however, he’d wallowed in substance abuse and weakened. One match, an opponent beat him down until he was close to death. Hence, he’d entered rehab, but his recovery was excruciatingly slow. When he was fit to return to the ring, he was not what he’d been in his prime, but the past had taught him lessons and he was wise. The final round he goes the distance, knocking out his opponent and winning the match—or so we hope as we watch the new Detroit unfold.
A vintage diner situated in a depressed neighborhood in Detroit, once owned by my former daughter-in-law, was also a tremendous influence on the story. Hanging out at her diner, I got to know the neighborhood and put faces on the folks whose issues are written about in the news.
For this book, as well as for my debut novel, THE PROMISE KITCHEN, the writing process began with my camera. A visual person, I took dozens of photographs capturing an emotion, which I channeled into words. I also drew on my own experiences having owned a specialty food shop in Ann Arbor for twenty years.
Creating a cast to populate a story is one of the great, cathartic joys of writing. Of particular pleasure to me is developing flawed characters––living in and reconciling with––the shadows cast by their equally flawed parents. That said, readers will find lots of humor, recipes and romance between the sheets. I hope you’ll find THE WELCOME HOME DINER to be an entertaining read.
Peggy Lampman’s passion is writing novels, which use food-centric and romantic themes as a means for breaking down familial and cultural barriers. Her debut novel, THE PROMISE KITCHEN and THE WELCOME HOME DINER, reflect this fascination. She grew up in Alabama and planted roots in her college town of Ann Arbor, Michigan where she owned a specialty food store and wrote a food column.
Find out more about her on her Website https://peggylampmanbooks.pubsitepro.com/
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About THE WELCOME HOME DINER
Betting on the city of Detroit’s eventual comeback, cousins Addie and Samantha decide to risk it all on an affordable new house and a culinary career that starts with renovating a vintage diner in a depressed area of town. There’s just one little snag in their vision.
Angus, a weary, beloved local, is strongly opposed to his neighborhood’s gentrification—and his concerns reflect the suspicion of the community. Shocked by their reception, Addie and Samantha begin to have second thoughts.
As the long hours, problematic love interests, and underhanded pressures mount, the two women find themselves increasingly at odds, and soon their problems threaten everything they’ve worked for. If they are going to realize their dreams, Addie and Samantha must focus on rebuilding their relationship. But will the neighborhood open their hearts to welcome them home?