For me, her uncle Tito originates as a problematic character. I have no idea what prompted me to create him nearly five decades ago in the closing chapter of my first published novel, but he does change the dynamic of the family that Cassia’s father-to-be joins.

Having five siblings rather than four avoids the symmetry of two brothers and two sisters, for one thing, and as an odd number, five pushes us away from possible gridlock. But advancing the story another generation, as I do in my new novel, What’s Left, means we’ll have more characters to follow, once we add spouses and children.

Without him, my new novel would be tighter, since all of Cassia’s close cousins would come from Barney and Pia. Well, maybe Dimitri and/or Nita would have to be recast, too, losing some of the story’s diversity and depth. The plot itself would likely pivot on the sibling rivalry of Dimitri and Barney, and I’m not sure we’d have the impetus for expanding the family enterprise that I, for one, find exciting. The status quo could continue, with the story’s focus on day to day interactions more than transformation of the larger community. The mantle of patriarch, too, would fall differently.

Having Tito does reveal his eldest brother Dimitri in a contrasting light. Both are numbers-oriented, concerned primarily with management and investing. But when it comes to money and to family, their hearts are in different places, even when Tito continues the liberal benefits and conservative fiscal practices of his socialist-capitalist brother.

Having Tito also allows their middle brother, Barney, to develop more independently. As it is, he’s free to be a culinary artist rather than production-oriented businessman like their father, Stavros.

Curiously, when Cassia’s railing about wanting to be in a “normal” family, she fails to see her uncle Tito as fitting that role. For whatever reasons, she never really warms up to him, even when he’s the father of her best friend forever, her cousin Sandra, and the husband of her mentor, Yin.


Looking back, I’m seeing how some of my friends’ parents opened the dynamic within my own household. For a while, Hap and Pauline were like second parents, and I often felt more at home there than in my own house. (And, I’ll admit, the food and music were both better.)

How have your best friends’ parents provided you memorable opportunities or support?


Slim Goodies Diner, Uptown New Orleans. Photo by Steven Depolo via Wikimedia Commons.

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

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