In my debut novel, The Deep Space Between, there is a character who is my protagonist’s aunt named Tristana Evans Lastra. Seraphina, my protagonist, calls her Aunt “T”; her aunt’s best friend calls her “T.”
This is for a very good reason. It’s a nod to my own Aunt T. Thaina Brown-Brake was my mom’s older sister. She was the lynchpin of the family between the Browns and the Caswells as there was discord between my mom and her side of the family, for reasons not necessary to go into here.
Aunt T was the only non-immediate family member who called me after 9/11. When she found out I wasn’t leaving NYC, where I lived at the time, she threatened to drive up to New York and pull me out herself. I hadn’t spoken to her since my sister’s wedding in 1997 (because life and I was young…no other reason) and yet she still called to let me know she cared.
She was also the only family member to find out where I lived (I moved a lot) and made sure to send me Christmas cards and gifts on occasion as well. Again, while we rarely talked, I knew she was there in the background, thinking of me. She was also the only family member besides my immediate family to RSVP yes for my wedding. She was unable to attend due to health concerns at the time, but she really wanted to come.
For all those reasons, I put her in my book. But they are not the main reason.
In 2019, I had a yen to go on a road trip with my husband, Paul. I love road trips. They were the only way we traveled the US as a kid, because we couldn’t afford to pay for five airline tickets and because there’s a lot of adventure to be had on the journey to your destination. Paul also likes road trips, mainly because there’s a lot of the US he hasn’t seen and because it’s very different from a road trip in the UK, where you end up in a completely different country were you to drive the 18 hours we chose to drive.
One of the places I hadn’t visited, but wanted to, was Savannah. And I felt it was time to visit my mom’s side of the family, who lived a few hours from there just south of Macon. I hadn’t seen my Uncle Mike or Aunt Candy, or my cousins Mikey and Derek, since Thaina’s wedding 30 years before. Thaina sent pictures and updates over email, so I knew they were doing well, but I didn’t know…