Nita Zapitapoulos is a special character for me. Long before she becomes Cassia’s aunt, in my new novel What’s Left, she appears in all four of my Hippie Trails volumes as a guardian angel and colleague for Cassia’s future father. She also appears obliquely in notes to my Hometown News novel as a journalism professor.

The character was loosely inspired by a sidekick’s descriptions of the girlfriend he’d come to visit. I may have even met her at the time, although I’ll confess she wasn’t of Greek descent at all. I wish I still had the letters with his lavish descriptions of what so attracted him in his whirlwind adventures. She and I may have even passed each other in the same newsroom while working in different departments; I, though, have never been a photojournalist.

A few years ago, far from where all this took place, a mental connection flashed for me during a conversation after a committee session. “Did you know …?” Yes, she remembered him. We’d both lost contact with him decades ago.

In real life, she’s quite different from the impressions that prompted my fictional character. Still, from everything I see now, I’d say they’re both pretty amazing.

This perspective is much livelier in the final version:

His shots of Nita, we should note, go back another half-dozen years, before he even knew of our family. And Nita provides her own perspectives on the entire range of his photos.


As I review this, I’ve just come from the hospital, where I was visiting someone else who could have been another Nita. You wouldn’t believe how many friends were showing up to visit, even when limited to five minutes apiece.

Nita has a rare talent for seeming to know everybody in a community. Not just knowing, either, but caring about them. Tell us about someone you know who fits that description.


Portrait of Gypsy woman by Vikentios Bokatsiambis (1856-1932) via Wikimedia Commons.

Cassia’s roots included inspiration like this.

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