It’s been a long time since I walked through the front door of my parent’s house, tucked away in the woods of Andover, New Jersey. The obligatory package of Greek sweets in hand, I hug and kiss my family as they welcome me home. My sister, author Kassandra Flamouri, just received the sample proof of her soon to be self published short story collection, and we are all here to celebrate her journey to success. The Roots of Our Magic: 6 Short Stories Inspired by the Folklore of Greece captures Kassandra’s desire to connect with her Greek heritage and the memory of our deceased grandmother. To honor our beloved Yiayia, we recreated our most vivid memories throughout our childhood of Greek entertaining traditions.
The first example of adhering to Greek social norms already achieved, I hand over the box of pastries as we sit down at the kitchen table. While visiting relatives in Greece with our father, we frequently made rushed trips to the zacharoplasteio for a little something to give our hosts that day. Now we sip hot tea, brewed from leaves of the flamouri, or linden, tree which serves as our namesake. Greek coffee sits off to the side waiting to tell a fortune from the bottom of the cup. Crunching on buttery koulourakia cookies dipped in spoon sweets, we begin to chat.
S: For the masses that do not know you as intimately as I do, tell us about your writing journey so far. How long have you been at this?
K: My writing journey probably began before I learned how to write. Writers are by necessity also avid readers, and I learned to love books at a very young age.My mom used to read books like Call Of The Wild and White Fang to me, and I still remember how I couldn’t wait to be able to read books on my own. I started writing at about the same time as I started reading, and I went through several phases. I started out with animals then moved on to Greek mythology. I was obsessed with elves for a while after I discovered The Hobbit. and Harry Potter was of course a formative influence. My first novel length work was a Harry Potter fanfiction that delved into Greek mythology. Every night, I would print it out what I’d written cut it up into little pages so my friends could sneakily read it during class.
After that, I promised myself I would one day write an original novel. It took a while, but four or five years ago I finished the first draft of Under The Willow Root and thought, hey, maybe I can actually get this published. So I started querying agents and got one or two requests for pages or the full manuscript. As I learned more about the industry, I realized that I needed to put a lot more work into learning my craft and building a platform. I spent the next year writing short stories and submitting them to various journals as well as completely rewriting Under The Willow Root. Several of my stories ended up published, and the new version of my book, which I re-titled A Garden Of Light And Shadows, got something like ten or fifteen requests from agents but no offers. Still, it was encouraging enough that I felt justified in really investing the time, effort, and money into continuing. So I shelved my first book and started drafting a new novel, armed with the skill and knowledge I hadn’t had the first time around, and kept writing short stories and flash fiction. That brings us more or less to present day, I think.
S: And what is this new novel? I’m pretending now that I don’t know you.
K: The working title is “In The Dark Of The Moon” and I’m so, so, excited about it. It really calls to mind a piece of advice that I always thought was kind of trite, you know, kind of Hallmark inspiration but now makes sense.
S: And that advice was…?
K: Write the book only you can write. When I was working on my first book I was like whatever, any book I write is going to be a book only I can write. But when I hit on the idea for “In The Dark Of The Moon” I thought, wow, this is it. This is what they’re talking about. I had fun writing my first book, but I was nowhere near as passionate about the story or the characters as I am now, and it’s a story that comes to life from a combination of experience and perspective and love that is unique to me. The book is heavily influenced by traditional Greek folklore – as opposed to classical mythology, which frankly has been done to death. I’m really excited about this because it’s something I’ve never seen done before, certainly not in the YA market. Even many Greek Americans don’t know much about the goblins and fairies of Greek folklore, and there aren’t a lot of YA books set in Greece. The ones that are usually feature the islands and summer romance, that kind of thing. So I think a YA fantasy book that introduces a fresh magic system and rugged, misty mountains instead of white beaches is something really special and a lot of people could fall in love with this less familiar image of Greece.
S: It certainly sounds special! Tell us about the story.
K: “In The Dark Of The Moon” follows Chrysa Markou, a newly orphaned Greek American teenager, who goes back to Greece to live with her grandmother after her parents die in a fire. She has a bit of a hard time adjusting to life in a small mountain village, and her burgeoning powers as a magissa, or witch, aren’t helping her fit in. She learns the fire that killed her parents was no accident, and her mother’s ghost is lingering between life and death because the killer, an ancient, corrupt sorceress known as Skia, is after Chrysa. So Chrysa has to try to balance staying on track with the life her parents wanted for her – you know, going to college, becoming a successful doctor, stuff that will be pretty familiar to a lot of immigrant children – and navigating this whole other world of magic and danger. She has to find and defeat Skia in order to set her mother’s ghost to rest and protect her village, but she doesn’t want to give up on the future she had planned. The core of the book is Chrysa coming to grips with the fact that making her parents proud might mean embracing the magic within her and forging her own path.
S: But that’s not what we’re celebrating today. Tell us about this lovely book here.
K: Well, it’s my first self-published work, a bilingual collection of short stories inspired by Greek history, mythology, and folklore. We’re just getting together to celebrate the fact that I now have an honest to god physical book, even if it is only a proof copy. It’s an amazing feeling to actually hold in my hands something that used to exist only in my head or on a computer screen.
S: What gave you the idea to publish a bilingual collection? Was it hard to do?
K: Well, I had a set of Greek-themed short stories, but short stories collections are notoriously difficult to sell. I knew I needed an angle and, really, a purpose. You can’t just send something out in the world and expect it to be a success if no one wants it or needs it. So I thought there might be a need for imaginative, engaging material for language learners who want to build their language and grammar skills through reading. And, yes, it was hard to do. Luckily I found an awesome translator who was just as passionate about the project as I was, and he was a joy to work with. But it was certainly tricky making sure that the translations preserved the style and intent of the original stories. My Greek isn’t good enough for those kinds of nuances, so I spent a lot of time on the phone with my dad. And don’t even get me started on the self-publishing process. People who say that self-publishing is the easy way to get published have no idea what they’re talking about. Like none at all. Just getting the manuscript ready for print had such a steep learning curve, and there’s still marketing and distribution still to figure out.
S: When can we expect to see this collection?
K: The release date is March 25 – Greek Independence Day, which I thought was fitting. There’s still a lot to do–I’ve tracked down a few Greek book bloggers and authors, and one author, whom I really admire, has agreed to read my book and provide a blurb which is just so exciting. So things are still in the works, but we wanted to get together and enjoy what I’ve accomplished so far.
S: You’ve definitely earned it! I look forward to planning your official launch party in April.
Our father, arrives to help up read the coffee grounds the way our grandmother used to do so well, telling us fortunes with words we barely understood. We move to the sitting where Kassandra has created her version of a casual meze spread, thrown together by countless Greek hosts during an impromptu visit from a friends and relatives like us.
Kassandra’s How To Simply: Traditional Greek Meze Platter
Throw together the following elements into an effortless spread for last minute entertaining –
- Feta Cheese – sprinkle with oregano & drizzle with olive oil
- Roasted Peppers – roast & preserve peppers in jars to use at a moment’s notice
- Kalamata Olives – a staple for any mere platter. Try a variety of Greek olives for an extra flair
- Dried Fruit & Nuts – pistachios & figs are the personal favorites of our father
- Toasted Pita Triangles – a big crusty loaf of country bread will also work
- Go the Distance: Americans can easily spot the familiar dolmadakia on a meze platter, so include these stuffed grape leaves if you are looking to show off your authenticity!
- Incorporate the guest’s gift into your spread so that everyone can enjoy it together – Happy Entertaining!
Stay Tuned for pics of the Roots of Our Magic Proof Celebration Party and the Greek Meze Cocktail Party Planning Kit!