In my new novel, What’s Left, her aunt Pia arrives as a kind of Cinderella, but, my, how she arises from the ashes!

Gone from the final version is this tactile stroke:

When she starts exhibiting her love of fabrics – and textiles – as delights to both the eye and the touch, we could add weaving to her bucket list.

Along with this photographic suggestion:

And Thea Pia, perhaps Baba’s second favorite subject, after us kids, produces some of Manoula’s most insightful remarks. He did have some great models at hand!


Well, as it turns out, Cassia’s father had a number of favorite subjects in the family. Pia would have to come down a few spots, but it’s still quite a trove Cassia uncovers. Each of the women in the family can be seen embodying a unique style.

What is your idea of uber-feminine?


Roasted chicken and Cretan wine served for Christmas lunch in Greece. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

In the family, Cassia may have had food like this.



A central suggestion arising at the end of my first novel, which then shapes my new one, What’s Left, is that her father will be crucial in guiding the family in its embrace of Buddhist practice. Even if I cast that as spirituality rather than religion, it’s a big challenge.

In the course of multiple revisions, this was greatly toned down and redirected.

While Cassia’s concerned with more fully defining who her father was, the novel’s primary focus is on her. Here’s some background that’s much fainter in the final version:

Where had he come from, what prompted his interests, what were his pet peeves, what made him truly angry or truly delighted?

To make this little more concrete:

Some people contend my Baba was a lama. Not the camel-like pack animal from the Andes but a Tibetan Buddhist born in a humble city along the Mississippi, of all places. After college in Indiana and a broken heart, he looped into Dharma by way of, well, a hippie farm where Thea Nita also lived. And then he found refuge in something like a monastery. And then he magically returned here. You thought a monk couldn’t get married? Technically, no, though we’re dealing with an American twist in the mechanics of reincarnation. Or so they’ve told me.

In the end, much less of the responsibility falls on him. Rather, he helps establish an institute having a resident teacher, Rinpoche, who becomes his colleague.


For Cassia’s father, religion is a way of engaging life more fully. He might even say it is liberation from the tangles of daily life.

Let’s open our range of focus a bit wider.

Where do you go or what do you do to be free? Can you describe the feeling?


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.


I suppose I need to issue a spoiler alert. I cut this from later revisions of my new novel, What’s Left, since it felt redundant:

To be honest, most of my memories of Dimitri and Graham are fuzzy. Remember, I was little at the time.

Curiously, I have more early memories of Graham than of Dimitri. He was very gentle and knew how to play along. He would have made a great preschool teacher, I think.


Some of you will have vivid early-childhood memories, while for others, these will be a fog, at best.

I’ll be candid, I have few early memories of relatives when I was little. Who stands out most for you in your own family?


Koulourakia, melomakarona, kourambiethes, and kourambedes by Andrea Wright via Wikimedia Commons.

In the family, Cassia may have had sweets like these.


I suppose you’d want more details, even if this prompt’s redundant. So I cut it from the final version of my new novel, What’s Left:

Dimitri’s too alpha for all that. And too much a center of attention to observe anything long from the sidelines.


Some leaders are simply too competitive to stay out of the fray, but that doesn’t mean they have that extra glow, one sometimes described as charisma.

Certainly you know someone who usually winds up in the spotlight, especially at the helm of what’s happening. Tell us about him – or her! Are they good lookin’? Or is something else the attraction? Do they get your vote when it’s asked?


Closing time at a diner in Waterloo, Ontario. By Stefan Powell via Wikimedia Commons.

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


In the original draft of my new novel, What’s Left, her aunt Yin is a quiet, reserved character who remains largely in the background. Yes, she’s a certified public accountant and the mother of Cassia’s best friend forever, but she doesn’t venture far beyond that.

I have no idea what made me think of her as Japanese-American, other than a possible Buddhist connection – as it turns out, I’d say her faith is nominal. I do remember an incident in a Boston art museum where one visitor instinctively bowed in front of a statue of Buddha, which inspires the way Yin meets Cassia’s uncle Tito in my story. She’s dutifully impressed by his gesture.

But then I met someone who totally changed the way I envisioned Yin. She had some commonalities with Cassia’s aunt, including a career in big numbers. But she was brilliant, talented, and way-off-the-wall opinionated. Voila!

What a perfect foil for straight-laced Tito, even before I added her love of hard rock music or her taking over management of the events at the old church the family bought on a whim.

And then, in the ninth revision of my novel, she takes teenage Cassia under her wing as her assistant running the live shows.


My, how I’d welcome the return to my circle of the woman who changed Yin for me! She was such a breath of fresh air.

Have you ever met somebody who turned out to be quite different from everything you’d been led to expect? Care to spill the beans as to why?


Orthodox icon of St. Joachim of Ithaca hand-painted by monks at the Monastery of Osios Nikodemos at Pentalofos, Kilkis, Greece. (Via Wikimedia Commons.)

Cassia’s roots included inspiration like this.


Bella brings a love of reading to the family. She comes to campus to become a teacher, but other events intervene and she instead becomes the anchor of the family and its restaurant, where she runs the front of the store while her husband, Stavros, manages the kitchen. It doesn’t take long before she seems to know everybody in town. She’s that kind of person.

But that doesn’t prevent her from usually having an open book close at hand. She always manages to find time to read.

I’d credit both her daughter Nita’s success as a newspaper columnist and daughter Manoula’s founding of an influential small publishing house to her inspiration. The family does buy a bookstore, for one thing, before sending it on its own anew.


Bella also has enough Greek heritage to pass along some of the tradition. Here’s a bit of interaction between Cassia and her aunt Nita I cut from the final version:

They always called me Koukla, by the way, the same thing I sometimes call you.

What’s it mean, exactly? I know it’s a term of endearment, but I’ve just never followed up.

Thea Nita laughs. Oh, something like beautiful doll or baby doll, but it’s always full of affection. Koukla!


For many of us, daily life includes a lot of juggling, one activity or interest in contrast to another. Are you a multi-tasker? Or do you look at the term with derision? Tell us two or more things that frequently compete for your time. Do you have any tips for pulling it off?


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. (Rutland, Vermont)


Though he’s the youngest of three brothers in my new novel, What’s Left, her uncle Tito winds up as the family patriarch.

As much as Cassia would love for him to fill the emotional void created by the disappearance of her father in an avalanche halfway around the globe, he’s not naturally inclined to be the warm supportive figure she desires. Even her best friend forever Sandra, Tito’s daughter, would agree.

Still, he’s physically present, usually in suit and tie, when required.

And he’s married to Yin, for added friction.


A passage I trimmed from an earlier version gives you a taste of his sensibilities:

Tito, in turn, confirmed Baba’s astonishment at the amount of waste in the food chain, from the way a big pile of an ingredient might cook down into a condensed quantity – that, in addition to all the leftovers that came back on the plates to be washed.


There we have it, quantity over quality! Or appearances over essence. How crass it seems now!

Is there a significant event in your life when you really hoped someone in particular would be there for you – but wasn’t? What happened, and how did you react?


Louis and Michael Pappas preparing Greek salad at Riverside Cafe in Tarpon Springs, Florida, April 12, 1947. (State Library and Archives of Florida via Wikimedia Commons.)

In her family’s past, there may have been scenes food like this.