Friday, February 19, 2016

Interview with Effie Kamenou, author of 'Evanthia's Gift'

Effie Kammenou is a first generation Greek-American who lives on Long Island with her husband and two daughters. When she’s not writing, or posting recipes on her food blog,, you can find her cooking for her family and friends.

Her debut novel, EVANTHIA’S GIFT, is a women’s fiction multigenerational love story and family saga, influenced by her Greek heritage, and the many real life accounts that have been passed down. She continues to pick her father’s brain for stories of his family’s life in Lesvos, Greece, and their journey to America. Her recent interview with him was published in a nationally circulated magazine.

As an avid cook and baker, a skill she learned from watching her Athenian mother, she incorporated traditional Greek family recipes throughout the book.  

She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Theater Arts from Hofstra University.

For updates on the release of Book Two of The Gift Saga 
Follow Effie on Twitter @EffieKammenou, 
Contact Effie at
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Can you tell us what your book is about?

Evanthia’s Gift is a saga that follows the lives of two Greek - American families, particularly Anastacia and her daughter, Sophia. Through their struggles and heartbreaks, as well as their triumphs and joys, these two passionate women strive to create the life they’d dreamed of.
A love story spanning decades, Evanthia’s Gift is deepened by tradition and heritage.

Why did you write your book?

In 2012 my mother passed away after battling pancreatic cancer for two and a half years. I was trying to be the strong older sister, a compassionate mother and aunt, and a supportive daughter to my grieving father. I never allowed myself to fully express my emotions. One night I sat at the computer and just started writing. It was my way of working through my grief.

I’d heard stories all my life of my mother’s childhood in Athens, and her experiences during WWII as a child. My father had his own stories growing up in NYC, his tales of how his family came to America and for what reason, and his own experiences as a flyer in WWII. I took all those stories and gave life to several characters.
Although the story is fictional, pulling from true stories was my inspiration, as well as a legion of emotions running through me.

Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?

Anastacia is sweet, moral and hardworking. Her plans were derailed when she found her husband in bed with another woman, and soon after discovered she was pregnant. Many women in 1956 would have felt stuck, with no choice but to stay with the husband, but Anastacia makes a life for herself and her child free from him. It does leave her wary of becoming involved romantically, even when she meets Alexandros, a man truly worthy of her.

Alexandros is the man every woman should be adored by. He’s a man of honor and integrity—a man who as a boy witnessed personal horrors—yet grew into a man of tolerance and compassion, not cynicism.

Sophia is the talented, levelheaded daughter of Anastacia. She loves with everything she has, and has eyes only for one—Dean. Sharing a special bond since birth, the two friends become young lovers. But her love for her heritage and his disdain for it break them apart, and Sophia is shattered. In spite of her own unhappiness, she is a great support to her friends and family in times of need.

Dean is a stubborn, rebellious teenager who goes out of his way to avoid making his parents happy. They put pressure on him to uphold his heritage and Dean fights them at every turn. It costs him the love of his life, and he pulls away from his family, until he comes to some realizations about the repercussions of his actions.

Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?

It’s a combination of real people and my imagination. My mother’s life inspired parts of the story. The character of Anastacia is based on my mother in many ways. They both came to the US for the same reason and were both sweet, loving women. Their love for their family is the same and they both had a sister who was less than honorable.

The second part of the book is Anastacia’s daughter, Sophia’s story, and she lives in my timeline. Sophia grows up in my town, is the same age as me, and has many of the emotions I remember growing up. But she has more of my daughter’s personality. She’s focused, smart, levelheaded and talented. Sophia has a group of close girlfriends who play an important role in her life. These girls are based on many people I know. They are combinations of people to form new characters and not based on any one person.

Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel or do you discover it as you write?

Yes, for the most part. I knew where I was going with the story. I knew the basic plot, but as I wrote, it became deeper and more detailed. I wanted a story of substance and I think I achieved that.

Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?

In this case, it’s settings. The book begins in NYC which has a personality of it’s own. The settings move the story forward. Later, the families move to Long Island and life is quite different in the suburbs. The families travel to several locations in Greece where they have family. It’s in Greece where the past and the present collide.

Open the book to page 69.  What is happening?

Page 69 begins chapter 7. Jimmy, Anastacia’s ex-husband, sees her with a child and comes to the conclusion that the child could be his. He approaches Anastacia’s uncle who had paid him off to get him out of her life, but with this new revelation, he wants to extort more money out of him.

Which holiday is your favorite and why?

I like them all, and in my home we make a big deal of everything. I love Christmas—the shopping, baking and decorating. I love how pretty everything looks and the joy the holiday brings.

I love Easter equally, but for different reasons. The Lenten season and the beautiful church services are spiritually renewing. You can tell by reading Evanthia’s Gift how much Easter means to me. I describe many of the services in enough detail for the non- Greek Orthodox reader to gain a mental image of the beauty of these ancient traditions.

If we were to meet for lunch to talk books, where would we go?

Either my back yard in the summer, where we could sit by the pool and enjoy the weather and my cooking, or a quiet café in NYC where we could sit for hours.

What do you like to do for fun?

I’ve always been a very social person. I love to cook and bake, and I entertain often. I love to dance, and I attempt to play tennis with my family. I also like to explore the different towns and wineries on the East End of Long Island, as well as travel to places I’ve never been.

Can you tell us about your family?

My husband, Ray, works in NYC. He’s an accountant who runs a family wealth group in a trust company. He loves his down time, playing tennis or swimming, and is an avid reader—mostly biographies and historical subjects.

My oldest daughter, Eleni, is a 6th grade teacher. She’s currently working on her PhD in administration. In addition to that, she is a tennis instructor during the summer, and in the evenings she teaches ballet at a dance school.

My younger daughter, Alexa is a graphic designer and film editor. She works for a major magazine in NYC, mostly art directing their food photo shoots and doing the layouts for those pages. She’s very creative and talented, and I am always impressed with her work.

What do you like the most about being an author?

I like the self-expression and the creativity. I can’t begin to explain the satisfaction and sense of accomplishment I felt by finishing the book. And the fact that people are responding in such a positive way to the book is even more rewarding.

What kind of advice would you give other fiction authors?

I am still taking all the advice my fellow authors are willing to share with me. But I will say this. I have never met a community of professionals so willing to help each other. Every author I have reached out to has responded, and was more than willing to help and steer me in the right direction.

My advice? Reach out to authors. They will help you. But the biggest piece of advice I can give anyone looking to publish or self-publish, is not to rush. Take your time and do everything as it should be done. Make sure your manuscript is ready for publication. It took me almost three years to write Evanthia’s Gift. It’s a long book – 548 pages. Get a critique partner and beta readers. Their suggestions will improve your work. When you think you are done and you think you have tightened your manuscript as much as you can, get a professional editor. And don’t skimp on the cover. Contract a professional whose work you admire. First impressions are crucial, and readers often judge a book by its cover.

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