I love sharing new authors with my readers. Today I'm putting Effie Kammenou in the hot seat and questioning her about her life and book.
It’s nice to speak with you, Melissa. I’m a first generation Greek-American who lives on Long Island with my husband and two daughters. When I’m not writing, or posting recipes on my food blog, cheffieskitchen.wordpress.com, you can find me cooking for my family and friends.
My debut novel, Evanthia’s Gift, is a women’s fiction multigenerational love story and family saga, influenced by my Greek heritage, and the many real life accounts that have been passed down to me. I continue to pick my father’s brain for stories of his family’s life in Lesvos, Greece, and their journey to America. My recent interview with him was published in a nationally circulated magazine.
As an avid cook and baker, a skill I learned from watching my Athenian mother, I incorporated traditional Greek family recipes throughout the book.
I hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Theater Arts from Hofstra University, and I’ve worked in the optical field for over 30 years.
Thanks! It sounds like you have an interesting life. Now on to some personal questions. If you could go back in time to when you were seven years old, what wisdom or advice would you pass on to yourself?
Seven? That’s a tough question. I had a perfect life at seven years old. I was in second grade, I had a baby sister, and a stay-at-home mom who couldn’t have been more loving and attentive. When I was nine, we moved from Queens and into a house on Long Island. Life seemed to change at that point. It took me a while to acclimate, plus my grandfather in Greece died shortly after the move. It was a horrible time for my mother. I think the advice I could have given to my nine-year-old self was that I needed to comprehend what my mother was going through and be more helpful with my sisters.
For what are you grateful?
I am grateful for my family more than anything. We are all very close. My children and my two sister’s children were raised more as siblings than cousins.
It should never be taken for granted that we live in a time and place where we can take care of ourselves properly—blessed with innovative medical care and as well as favorable living circumstances.
I am grateful for every moment I am granted on this earth.
If a zombie virus took over the world, how many days do you think you could last before you were infected? And what would you do to postpone the inevitable?
You ask some very interesting questions, Melissa. I think I would be one of the longest survivors. I have strong anti-bodies and I would take sanitary measures to protect myself as much as possible. What might shorten my survival would be my desire to help those who are ill. I couldn’t let people die without trying to help them.
If there was no chance to make it through, I don’t think I would do too much to prevent being infected. I wouldn’t want to live if everyone I loved is gone. But if there was even an ounce of hope, I would do what I could to stay uninfected, while still helping others. Maybe one of the haz-mat suits?
What television sitcom is most like your family? Why?
Well, we always joke in my house that Raymond, from Everyone loves Raymond, is a little like my Raymond. For a smart man he does things that we just don’t understand. We always say he’s an enigma. I don’t have a family like Raymond’s, though. My family is more like My Big Fat Greek Wedding in some ways.
What’s your favorite thing to do to relax?
I come home from work, kick of my high heels and cook. Cooking relaxes me.
Let’s find out a little bit about you as an author. Did you always want to be an author?
No, not that I was aware of. Although an old childhood friend and I wrote a play once. As long as I can remember, I wanted to be an actor. It’s what I majored in in school—theatre. But I did have bits of my book’s story in my head for a long time and thought I might write it one day.
What authors had an impact on you growing up and as an adult?
With my theater background, I studied all the classic playwrights from ancient Greece to modern day, but Shakespeare still holds my heart. As for fiction, I love the classics there as well. Jane Austen and John Steinbeck are two of my favorite authors.
I also enjoy lighter women’s fiction and romances. Nora Roberts, Jude Deveraux, Sophie Kinsilla, Adriana Trigiani, and Sylvia Day are among the novelists I read most often. But the one that has captured my attention the most is Sylvain Reynard who wrote the Gabriel series. His use of language is breathtaking, and he keeps me intrigued with his knowledge of literature, religion, art, history, and culture.
Do you have any “must haves” with you while you’re writing?
I usually sit by my computer with a glass of ice water or a steaming cup of tea with lemon and sugar.
When I was writing certain sections of the book, I kept my mother’s picture by the monitor.
How did you decide to write a Young Adult story? Do you feel passionate about that age?
Evanthia’s Gift is not a young adult book. The storyline includes a young adult plot at certain points in the book, but I would ask parents to decide for themslves if the book is appropriate for a teen under seventeen. With what I’ve seen on the television being promoted as teen shows, I’m sure the book is fine for that age group, but I would still leave it to the discretion of the parent.
What have you learned the most from being in the writing business?
How much there is to learn! From all the steps to creating a finished project to the promotion needed to get your book noticed, it’s been quite a learning curve.
Tell us about your latest release:
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.
Praise for EVANTHIA’S GIFT:
Magnificent 5 Stars
Exceptional, outstanding and award worthy were the first words that popped into my mind after I finished reading this book. A surface description of this story could be easily stated by saying; it’s a 50 year generational Greek family saga that’s filled with multiple love stories, devastating betrayals and heart breaking secrets. That depiction alone would be enough for anyone to be drawn to this book. But the essence of “Evanthia’s Gift” is held within each character created in this masterpiece; that is the true heart and soul of this book. I could feel the struggles within each to come to terms with their past mistakes, recognizing their self-worth, all the while staying steadfast to their beliefs and for some, finding inner peace. I started reading this book late one evening with the intent of reading a few chapters and then going to bed. I found myself incapable of putting the book down… several hours later I was wiping away the tears to get through the last chapter.
This superbly written emotional story comes full circle in the end, which reminds us all just how precious love and family really is.
--Stephanie Lasley, from The Kindle Book Review
For More Information
- Evanthia’s Gift is available at Amazon.
- Pick up your copy at Barnes & Noble.
- Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.
The air was unusually chilled for early November in NYC, but despite the dropping temperature, sweat trickled down the back of Anastacia’s neck. Unable to wish away the nausea that was taking hold of her and too ill to sit through her last class, she’d left the NYU campus, hopping on an uptown subway to return home for the day. She’d been lightheaded and queasy the past few days, but nothing as violent as what she was currently feeling. Waiting at the crosswalk, the aroma of garlic and cheese permeating from a nearby café antagonized the volcano that was about to erupt in her belly, and she prayed she would get home without incident.
At last, Anastacia ducked into her apartment building, closing her eyes, and offering a silent thank you to the heavens for the safety and comfort of her home. Once inside her foyer, she removed her coat, hung it in the closet and glimpsed herself in the mirror hanging over the Bombay Chest. Pale skin and sunken eyes replaced her usual olive complexion and healthy glow.
I just need to sleep off whatever this is.
Her husband, Jimmy, was not expected home from work for several hours, and she hoped to be feeling better by then.
Suddenly, the sound of voices startled her. She walked through the living room, following the noise. She almost forgot the motion sickness that forced her home earlier than usual as the guttural sound of rhythmic moans grew louder, interrupted only by a woman’s shrill laughter. Anastacia forced her legs to follow the cacophony and found herself at the doorway of her bedroom. She stood there frozen. Seeing, but not believing. Tears sprang to her eyes and dripped down her cheeks, and she began to shake uncontrollably. Anastacia attempted to speak, but bile rose to her throat, rendering her incapable of uttering a word. Then, a cry that seemed to escape from her very soul, revealed her presence.
In that second, they knew she’d witnessed their betrayal. Anastacia was taken aback by the look of pure satisfaction that flashed across the naked woman’s face. A face that held not even a hint of guilt or remorse.
Her husband’s face told a different story. Shock, fear, maybe regret. For getting caught. It couldn’t have been more than a few seconds, but so many thoughts bombarded her mind that it was as though she were moving in slow motion. But then, the impact of it all slammed into her, and she ran.
Jimmy jumped up, wrapping himself in a bed sheet.
“Ana! Wait!” He pushed the woman off him. “Get off me! Move! Get out of here.”
Barely making it to the bathroom, Anastacia leaned over the toilet, expelling the contents of her stomach.
“Ana,” Jimmy pleaded, coming up beside her.
“Get away from me.” She wiped her mouth with a towel, straightened up and gathered all her strength to push past him.
Jimmy blocked the doorway.
“Ana mou, I’m sorry. Please. Let me explain. Sagapo. I love-”
“Don’t touch me or ever say that to me. You’re disgusting. You both are.” She ducked under his arm, but he grabbed her wrist.
His touch seared her to the bone and she pulled away. She was shamed, shaken—broken, but there was no way she was going to let him see it.
“I said don’t touch me. Never come near me again.”
“It’s not what it looks like. She… it was all her. I never meant to… Ana, please.”
“It looked like it was both of you. Now let me pass,” she spat. He lifted his hands in surrender and stepped aside as she pushed her way past him through the narrow bathroom doorway.
In the hallway, the woman stood, watching, gloating. Although she and Anastacia both had dark brown hair and similar Mediterranean features, she lacked the poise and grace that Anastacia exuded.
“Get out of my home,” Ana ordered her. “I never want to see you again.” Anastacia stormed out her front door, slamming it behind her. Doubling over, she thought she might heave again, but she drew in a deep breath and continued down the hall to Soula’s apartment. She frantically knocked on the door. When she opened it, Soula took one look at her best friend and she hugged her.
“Ana mou, what is it?
Between gasps and cries, Anastacia relayed the entire humiliating scene, as well as Jimmy’s despicable attempt to explain the unforgivable.
“What do I do now?”
“We go upstairs and talk to your uncle,” Soula said. “He will know how to handle this.”
“How can I tell him? What will my parents say? How could I be so stupid? What will Uncle Tasso think?”
“Of you? Nothing different than before. Of them? They will get what they deserve. Come. We will go together. I will tell your uncle if you cannot.”
How did you decide on your story plot?
The plot came naturally. I had a basic idea in my head for a long time and I kept developing it. It was my mother’s death three years ago that had me deveolping a character and storyline based on her. I combined what I had already plotted with this new story to create a family saga.
How did you choose your characters names and location for your story?
Since the characters are mostly Greek, I used Greek names. Some I simply liked the sound of and some were names of people in my family. For example, my paternal grandfather was Alexandros. Not only do I love the name, but I honored my grandfather by creating a loveable character using his name.
As for the locations, I chose NYC and Long Island because that is where I grew up. I wanted a connection to what I was writing. Other than Athens, the locales in Greece were not places my family was from. I decided to use other islands and cities because the book is fictional. Someday, I may write the true story of my family.
Do you have a favorite scene? Why?
I couldn’t possibly narrow it down to one scene, but I do have favorites. If I told you which ones, though, I would give away spoilers. I can say I am partial to the ones that are emotionally driven.
Do you have a character that you identify with? Who and why?
I believe when you write characters, each one has bits of the author in them. Naturally, I identify with Sophia and Demi because they live in my timeline and grew up where I grew up. But there are habits, moods and emotions in almost every character that I can claim as my own.
Let our readers know how they can get a hold of you…
Goodreads page https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/26069535-evanthia-s-gift
Food blog https://cheffieskitchen.wordpress.com
Fan contact e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Is there anything else that you want to share… feel free!!
Yes! I love hearing from readers. I’ve made many social media friends through messages on facebook, goodreads and my food blog. It’s great to be able to connect this way.
Thank you, Melissa.
Thank you Effie!!