I’m a graduate from Hofstra University who majored in theater but didn’t have the gumption to bang on doors and deal with rejection. I stayed in the field that put me through college, managing an optical store and working as a lab technician making eyeglasses. But that never filled the creative void I felt from never having fully pursued my dream, so I found other ways. I wrote and directed a couple of children’s plays for my daughter’s elementary school class and for our church Christmas pageant. Then, without realizing it, I ended up running a small side business, making decorative cookie favors for special occasions. I made them for my daughter’s class one time, and before I knew it, people were ordering them from me. Along with that, I found myself taking orders for platters of my Greek pastries during the holidays.
Something prompted me to start a food blog, sharing not only the recipes, but also the traditions and stories that went along with the particular food I shared the recipe for. And that led to me writing restaurant reviews, sharing recipes and writing feature articles for the regional magazine, Boating Times Long Island.
So here I am a mom of two, ex-actress, optical technician, food blogger, freelance writer, baker, and debut novelist. But what truly defines me is my never ending optimism, my love for life, my family and friends, and my insistence that I will never be old.
Tell us about your latest book.
EVANTHIA’S GIFT is a multigenerational love story rooted in Greek heritage. The story begins in the 1950’s and takes us through the 1990’s, chronicling the lives and loves that unify two families.
What do you have coming out in the future?
EVANTHIA’S GIFT is Book One in The Gift Saga. I am currently working on Book Two. In the meantime, I share stories and memories through my food and recipes on my food blog, cheffieskitchen.wordpress.com.
Is your book a stand-alone or a series?
EVANTHIA’S GIFT is slated to be a trilogy. I named it a saga and not a trilogy so no to limit myself if I decide to add a fourth. I am considering adding a companion cookbook as part of the series. Between some of the chapters, I’ve included a few recipes to enhance the cultural experience for readers.
Why romance and what makes your particular brand of romance special?
The first piece of advice I’d received as a writer was to write what you know and to write what you love. I read romance and women’s fiction. I enjoy a good love story and I wrote one from the point of view of the people from my own heritage and others I’d known and observed.
What makes this love story special is that it speaks to young and old – to all generations. It is two love stories in one book, set in two different eras. And I think what is interesting is how the tone of the book shifts when the era changes. Nostalgic for the older reader, eye opening for the younger ones.
The story continues in the 1970’s as Dean and Demi Papadakis, and Sophia Giannakos attempt to negotiate between two cultures. Now Greek-American teenagers, Sophia and Dean,
who have shared a special connection since childhood, become lovers. Sophia is shattered when Dean rebels against the pressure his father places on him to uphold his Greek heritage and hides his feelings for her. When he pulls away from his family, culture and ultimately his love for her, Sophia is left with no choice but to find a life different from the one she’d hoped for.
EVANTHIA’S GIFT is a multigenerational love story spanning fifty years and crossing two continents, chronicling the lives that unify two families.
I draw inspiration from many places. The inspiration to write this book came from the death of my mother. I began writing as a way of working through my grief, and it somehow took on a life of it’s own. I never imagined it would become a complete book. Many aspects of the book honor her life, culture and heritage. It is not her story, but for anyone that knows her, certain traits and events are recognizable. Inspiration also came from my constant need to observe life around me. I’m a people watcher. And of course I drew from my own life, emotions and experiences.
Do you ever base your characters on real people in your life?
I absolutely have based characters on real people in my life, and it’s caused a guessing game amongst the people I know. The most obvious character is the one based on my mother, Anastacia. She lives in my mother’s timeline. She arrives in America the same way and for the same reason. But that is where it begins and ends. Their path in life is not the same. Their stories are not the same. Many of their personality traits are similar – their kindness, love for family, loyalty, and grace.
The character of Irini, one of the protagonists is based very closely on a real person. But most of the other characters are combinations of several people I know to form one person, along with my wild imagination.
Sophia lives in my timeline, therefore she has many of my experiences, but she also has many of my older daughter’s talents and personality traits. My younger daughter, who is twenty 25, has speculated that she is a nine year old boy in the novel. Everyone has their theories. Most of all, everyone wants to know if there is a real Dean out there, or is he just a figment of my imagination?
What authors inspire your writing?
I think the better question is what authors inspire me. I think each author has a voice of his own. I admire many authors, but to try to write like them would not only be impossible it would be empty. It wouldn’t be flowing from my soul. I come from a theater background and we had to read all the classic plays starting from ancient Greece to modern times. I appreciate the works of Aristophanes, Moliere, Chekhov, Ibsen, Shaw, Hellman, and Williams. I’ve read more plays than I can count. Of course Shakespeare is in a class of his own and one of my favorites. I love the classics. And in works of fiction novels this is true as well. I’ve read Steinbeck’s East of Eden many times, and the same is true for Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. But I am inspired by contemporary authors as well. The one that comes to mind is Sylvain Reynard. His Gabriel Trilogy is unforgettable. I am in awe of the beauty in his use of language, and his knowledge of art, history, religion and culture.
How have your real life experiences influenced your writing?
When you write from your soul, it is usually because you have experienced what you are writing. I tap into an emotion, past or present, and put a little of myself in each character. Many of the events in the book have happened in some way. I may have changed the details, or changed the context in how or when something happened and to whom, but the basis is there, and I can feel it when I write it. If it is something that I witnessed, or that someone told me, I approach it as the actor I once was, and bring the character to life.
What do you like to do when you are not writing?
When I am not writing I spend time with my family and friends. I like to cook and entertain. I live on Long Island and spend time on the East End discovering new wineries and dining and shopping in the Hamptons. I like to swim, play tennis and dance. I hate the winter and live for the summer. Sitting by the pool with a good book is a great day.
How did you come up with the title of your book?
Coming up with the title was more difficult for me than writing the entire book. Originally, the title was AND I LOVE HER, after the Beatles song. The song has an important meaning to Sophia and Dean in the story, but the title never sat well with me. The book is split into two parts – Anastacia’s story and Sophia’s story. The title worked for Sophia’s storyline, but not for her mother, Anastacia. I needed a title that would pull the whole book together. Another author friend of mine and I sat and brainstormed possibilities. It was she that felt a very Greek name should be in the title, and that would distinguish the book from others. She also thought the gift is what tied the story together, and she was correct, but it was a small portion of the story. Because of the name change, I went back and rewrote sections of the book where the gift comes into play. I believe the book is better and richer for this rewrite.
What celebrity would you chose to play the main character(s) in the movie rendition of your book?
This is a funny question. The reason being that my co-workers and I spend hours casting the movie versions to our favorite books. Because this book is so personal to me, it is hard for me to cast. I have visions in my head of who these people are, and they are real to me, but not stars. They are their own persons. But the discussion has come up and people are trying to cast my characters. The character of Sophia is modeled after my daughter, but she is her own person also. When I envision her, I picture Mia Sara. If you remember her from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, she is the description of Sophia. She is too old to play her now, unless she plays her in the 1990’s. But the young Mia Sara is whom I see as the 1970’s teenage Sophia. I have no one for Dean. I’m working on it. I have him in my head though. For the older Anastacia, I can see Melina Katakarenes. And for Alex, her husband, I can see John Stamos in a serious role, playing a distinguished professor with a tragic past.
What is the easiest part of the writing process for you?
The easiest part of writing for me is getting my story down on paper. Perfecting it is another story, but the ideas and the storyline seemed to flow out of me. I surprised myself because I had the basic story in my head when I began, but I expect the get stuck at some point, but it never happened. To this day I believe that my mother’s spirit was guiding me through the whole process.
Which of your characters is your favorite and why?
Do I need to choose one? That would be impossible.
I love Anastacia because my mother was the inspiration for her character, and if it weren’t for her, the book would have never been written. Like my mother, family is everything to her and she would give up anything for the ones she loves.
Alexandros is the man every woman wants. He loves with his heart and soul, and it is forever. He is strong, devoted and passionate. He is a good husband and a wonderful father. His past could have made him bitter, but only made him more compassionate.
Sophia live when I did, how could I not love her? She is a blend of my older daughter and me. She has many of my experiences and emotions, and my daughter’s talent, intelligence and sensibility.
Dean is a combination of many boys I knew when I was young. The reader will want to ring his neck at times, but the author understands him. He is the schoolgirl crushes I had, and the boys I grew up with that had to struggle with controlling parents. I love Dean, hate him, pity him, and every other emotion you can think of.
Who or what are your inspirations/influences?
Everything influences me and inspires me, and you never know where the source will come from. For this book it was my mother, my Greek heritage, my childhood, the stories I’d heard all my life, my mother’s experiences with a nasty relative, and teenage angst.
Recently, something really bizarre happened to my daughter. Something worthy of story telling. The sequence of events might not work for Book Two, but I’m already thinking it might be a good subplot, used differently of course, for Book Three.
What is your preferred writing environment?
I have a computer room/office with a large screen Mac desktop. It’s ideal for me. I like to work when no one is home, or late at night when everyone is asleep, so I am uninterrupted.
What is your favorite quote?
“You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.
It was hard for me to choose, but that is one of my favorites. It was so hard for him to say it, and when he did I was torn between feeling heartbroken for him and thinking he deserved it when she told him off.
Do you have any advice for other writers and what is it?
My advice is to follow your dream. We live in an age where anything is possible. Ten years ago, my book would not be on the market. I would still be searching for an agent, hoping someone would take me on as a client while my book sat in a slush pile. I sent out queries, and every author should. But if you get nowhere, paint your own destiny. There is nothing to stop you. The advice I will give is to do it the right way. Do not cut corner and don’t take shortcuts. I had beta readers, a critique partner, many drafts, a professional editor (a must), a professional cover designer and inside formatter, and proofread many times and get a fresh pair of eyes or a professional.
Wild Card Question.
As an author, what is the one question that you wish people would ask you, but no one ever has and what would your answer be to that question?
That if the book got successful and an offer was made to make a movie or mini series of it, would I want to play one of the roles?
First of all, people have already told me it would make a great movie, but no one asked me if I would like to be in it. What would my answer be? Hell yeah! I was after all an actor before I decided to delve into writing. Okay, I haven’t acted in many years, but the desire never leaves you.