In my original draft and early revisions of What’s Left, I tried to keep her aunt Nita relatively equal among Cassia’s aunts and uncles. This was difficult, since Nita had been an important influence on Cassia’s father, from college all the way up to his disappearance in an avalanche, was Cassia was 11.
There was no avoiding the fact that as Cassia wanted to know more about her father, she’d have to turn to her aunt Nita for answers.
In the ninth revision, though, I decided it was time for Nita to out-and-out become Cassia’s guardian angel, a role she’d fulfilled repeatedly for Cassia’s father. I think it was a brilliant flash, allowing much of the action in the new novel to take place during Cassia’s preteen and teenage years.
The move also means Nita has a more prominent place in the action of the story.
She’s the one who invites Cassia to help organize her father’s photo collections, including the endless negatives, after his death. Nita even arranges for the family to pay Cassia, as if she were working a shift in the restaurant. She suggests strategies for tackling what has been left in disarray, and of arranging their materials. She’s open to conversation as equals, rather than talking down to her niece. She listens without casting judgment.
Their dialogue makes their discoveries anything but ancient history. They’re working a puzzle together, and each new detail raises a host of fresh questions.
There was no need to say the obvious in the final version:
Thea Nita was always busy, but unlike Theos Titus, she’d make room to welcome you, hear what you were up to, let you know she cared. She was just very efficient about it.
Sometimes I realize just how lucky I am to simply be alive. The list of near-misses on streets and highways would be a long one. More subtle, perhaps, are the individuals who interceded on my behalf or lent an ear when needed or simply showed up at a critical moment, unheeded. Sometimes they were even long-term mentors.
Have you ever had someone who served as your guardian angel? Have you been one for somebody else? What happened?
Cassia’s roots included inspiration like this.