Today I’m pleased to welcome Linda Fagioli-Katsiotas author of The Nifi, a memoir which inspired Linda’s blog and Your Own Kind, a fiction novel. Linda kindly answered a few of my questions.
1. Tell us a little about Your Own Kind.
It is 1974. Alexandros is a young man who has left his rural Greek village to come to New York to work in his cousin’s restaurant. The restaurant is in East End, a small seaside village fifty miles from New York City—not exactly what Alexandros had expected when he heard he’d be going to New York. Sarah is from a small town in the mountains of New York State. She has moved to East End to escape the sins of her past. Of course, they fall in love—no surprise to the readers. But a difference in culture and tradition stands in their way, as Alexandros is betrothed to a girl back home and Sarah has a secret that would deter Alexandros regardless of the situation. Add to that, one son of Turkish immigrants—a love-sick adolescent, whose jealousy, thirst for revenge and misinterpretation of events set in motion a series of actions that lead to violence and heartbreak. Maybe life would be easier if people would just stick with their own kind. But what does that actually mean? This book explores that theory.
2. What inspired the book?
I married my Greek immigrant husband in the early 1980s. We eloped because it was frowned upon on both sides of the family, regardless of the fact that we were so in love and so compatible. In addition to that, I’ve been teaching adolescent immigrants in my local school district for the past 25 years. It’s been incredible to me how some of these children will not talk to each other simple because of their own ethnicity. For example, one boy from the Dominican Republic refused to work with one from Haiti. Even though those two countries share an island, the children had been taught to dislike each other before they’d ever met. Situations such as these coupled with the current anti-immigrant sentiment, prompted me to write something with a theme of understanding what “one’s own kind” really means, but also, it gave me an outlet for my experiences with immigrants as well as my own experience as a foreigner in Greece. I’ve either witnessed or experienced hilarious miscommunications that occur due to language differences. And they’re just too funny, not to be shared. For example, an Italian girl at the high school, frustrated with the numerous exams she had to take one day, couldn’t quite pronounce the plural of “tests” and declared to me—quite loudly: “Mrs. K., I have so many testes!” Maybe she’d heard the word in biology class and thought the teacher was talking about an exam rather than the male anatomy. There are several such miscommunications like that in the book. Some lead to a few laughs and some lead to disaster.
3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you? How long does the process take you from first line to completed novel?
Your Own Kind took me about two and a half years. I had a general plan and I knew what I wanted to say, but the characters kind of took on a life of their own and led me to different places.
4. Having written a memoir, The Nifi, and now a novel, what are the differences and similarities to writing fiction and non-fiction?
I had no idea I was going to write a memoir. I just wanted to record my mother-in-law’s story as a married woman in an arranged marriage in the devastating rural poverty of Epirus Greece and my own experience living in Greece as a foreigner in a small village. I wanted to be sure it was written down for my children but then I realized that my kids were not quite as interested as I, and might never read it, so I bound it in a book to make it more appealing and self published it. I was pleasantly surprised to see people buying it. In fact, most of the sales are in the United Kingdom.
While writing the memoir, I had to stick to the truth, but I really wanted to change events and make my mother-in-law’s life work out differently. That thought led me to the idea of creating my own place and own characters and dealing with them however I chose. Maybe we fiction authors are just control freaks looking for a universe to laud over.
5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?
When I’m not writing, I love to read. I never have enough reading time. I also like to lie on the beach like a dead tuna and stare listlessly out to sea, but that’s a seasonal pastime.
6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?
Can we delete this question? I really don’t know. I always love most the latest book I’m reading.
7. I like to end my Q&A’s with the same question so here we go. After all the questions you’ve been asked about your writing, what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?
Why do you write? Writing is my drug of choice. If I were writing from inside an MRI, I suspect my brain would show activity in whatever area it is that activates when a person uses opiates. No matter what is happening in my life or the world around me, a few moments at the keyboard wash it all away and make everything more manageable.
Thanks very much for answering my questions and for appearing on my blog.
Thank you so much for inviting me!
About the book:
“This is a story of yearning and desire, of the basic need to connect with others and the expectations of culture and tradition that sometimes keep us from real love, a love that is truly with someone of our own kind. It is 1974. Alexandros is a young man who has left his small village in the northern mountains of Greece to come to New York to work in his cousin’s restaurant. The restaurant is in East End, a small seaside village fifty miles from New York City—not exactly what Alexandros had expected. His lack of English and his frustration at having ended up in a place not much bigger than the one he left, create tension that is only increased when he unexpectedly falls in love with Sarah. Sarah has come from a small town in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State, to work in East End and to escape the sins of her past. And her growing relationship with Alexandros is threatened by more than just language and culture after she befriends Kereem, the neighborhood paperboy. Kareem is a budding adolescent, too young for Sarah but infatuated beyond reason. His jealousy and thirst for revenge propel his actions before he can see the cruelty in them. Though Alexandros, Sarah and Kareem, have grown up in drastically different worlds, they come together in East End’s 1970s culture of free flowing drugs and permissive lifestyles. And with one misguided decision after another, they set in motion a series of unstoppable events that lead to violence and heartbreak. Maybe life would be easier if people would just stick with their own kind. But what does that really mean?” (picture and synopsis from Amazon)
Your Own Kind is currently on Amazon deal at 99p. You can find out more here.