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.

Up to age 11, when her father vanishes in an avalanche halfway around the globe, Cassia takes her close-knit extended family for granted. It’s the way life’s supposed to be, right?

And then? It’s not.

Central to my newest novel, What’s Left, is the question of just what makes a family. Is it Mommy, Daddy, and the kids? Or something much more vital?

Revising a story is like tweaking a recipe. Sometimes you can eliminate an ingredient altogether. And so this bit was cut out:

Think of the daily specials … meatloaf, mac’n’cheese, roasted turkey, ham … we’ve been rich that way.

Yiayia Maria, meanwhile, has often been described as a real firecracker – someone who’s both beloved and aggravating. She adapts and she doesn’t.

Her daughter, Bella, sits at the focal point of all this.


Could we define family in terms of its comfort foods? I could look to Grandma’s fried chicken or Gran’s tapioca float, but that also points to a definition of family based on its women. An interesting concept, actually.

And following that line of thinking raises another question: So where do the men fit in? Somewhere around the grill on a summer afternoon?

In my new novel, Bella is a grandmother Cassia never meets in the flesh, but she exerts a powerful influence all the same. Well, in some ways, I may owe my love of c lassical music to a grandmother who died before I was born. Could we look at family then as a stream of something from the past that shapes our own existence?

What would you say a family is? What would you like a family to be?


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