Her uncle Graham certainly adds depth to my new novel, What’s Left.

For one thing, he’s a sign of the generational changes coming to the family and its business. Dimitri’s father, Stavros, never would have approved of Graham’s presence, had fate not intervened.

For another, he brings a type of gentle male to the story, a balance to Dimitri’s golden boy leadership. As a couple, they also help me narrow the number of cousins Cassia has close at hand – readers can handle only so many names, after all – and Dimitri and Graham weren’t about to adopt, from what I see. (Feel free to argue otherwise.)

I’m happy with the way Graham grows into the story. Like others who voluntarily join in the family – Cassia’s father and her aunts Pia and Yin – he’s crucial to its vitality and flavor. With the hint of 0ld-money comfort in his past compounded by a layer of black-sheep distancing, we find him rich in the social skills he applies as the face everybody in town comes to know in the family’s restaurant.

And then there’s the close friendship he and Cassia’s father build, based on their shared love of opera, especially.


Here’s how I portrayed him in an early draft of the novel:

Graham is another story. A year older than Dimitri, he’s far more experienced in the wider world. In settling with us, he no doubt gives up many sophisticated pleasures in exchange for small-town ambience and limitations. It’s not that he exactly needs a job, either. He’s free to work whenever and wherever he wants, or not at all, but here he throws himself into long hours just like the rest of us. If anything, he somehow takes what can be seen as our provincial ways as a personal relief from whatever he’s left behind, or even as some kind of cosmic humor.


I hadn’t thought about this, but about a year after drafting this, I met someone at a weeklong conference who has many of Graham’s comforting qualities, and we’re good friends now. It’s almost eerie.

Which character do you identify with more – Graham or Dimitri? Or should I ask, which one do you prefer more? And why?


Andy’s Diner (later the third home of Cafe Septième, demolished 2011), Broadway, Seattle, Washington, 1954. Seattle Municipal Archives via Wikimedia Commons.

In my novel, the family restaurant could have been like this.

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