The most difficult issue I have as a writer is insuring that words going down on paper are telling a story and not just occupying space. Often, on idea will come to me as I’m writing and not a second before. I might have a general idea of the story, but the details come later. After writing, I might ruminate on what’s been written and go back later to delete it all. I’m in the process of doing just that with my current story, Alice’s Summertime Adventure. It sounds so bucolic. Alice lives in south Jersey, not far from the Delaware Bay. She is going to spend the day sunbathing in her yard. I could smell the mossy smell of peat and scrub pine, and even the motor oil of a trawler leaving for a fishing trip. And then reality set in and I remembered that readers want something more than the visceral memory I have of the Jersey shore. That is where the real story telling comes in; the journey of Alice and her children. It will not be a light hearted read.
The Greeks of Beaubien Street has its origins in my love for Greektown. It is the birthplace of my family’s traditions. We didn’t go to church like some Greek families; to the big Orthodox Church in Detroit. We also didn’t speak Greek, nor have many relatives around who spoke it, or go to Greek School. After my grandmother died, our relatives migrated to California, leaving my family alone in the Detroit suburbs. We no longer had the benefit of other Greeks around us. Our family still loved to eat however, and that meant trips to Greektown to shop, to the Eastern Market on Gratiot for fresh meat and cheeses, and to a little Greek grocery store on Joy Road. I distinctly remember refusing a night out with girlfriends as a teenager because my father was putting on a spread for my mother’s large, English extended family. They came in droves to eat. So our “Greek” life centered on food. It was what made us Greek. I wanted to capture that in my story, but realized that few people want to read my about childhood memories. I would have to come up with a story that was intriguing enough to spend precious time reading. I think I succeeded.
I fantasized about what Greektown meant to me and what it might have been like to live there. I imagined a community of people who lived in the apartments above their businesses. At first, I thought it might be a safe, warm loving place to raise children. By the time my characters are living in Greektown though, it is no longer inhabited by Greeks. They are isolated from other Greeks, just like I was growing up.
Over the course of the book she makes several heartbreaking discoveries about her family. They are in contrast to the horrors hidden by the rose gardens surrounding the house of murder victim Gretchen Parker. The white, cottage-like Cape Cod in the quiet Detroit suburbs was the antithesis of Jill Zannos’ home. The Parker’s house looks so inviting, but don’t be deceived.
I definitely don’t write warm and fuzzy. Where does the darker stuff come from? Today, another long conversation with my aunt revealed that she believes everything I have experienced in my life is leading up to these stories. It gives some meaning to some of those I regret. There are events in The Greeks of Beaubien Street that shocked me as I was writing, as though I were reporting the crimes committed. I deliberated whether or not to leave the more shocking material in the book when I came to the conclusion that the perverse stuff is purposeful. It forces the reader to make a judgment about the perpetrator, and hopefully, make a comparison with the simple, Greek father.
Yesterday, as I was writing Alice’s story, I started sobbing as a part popped into my head that was almost too much for me to contemplate. Where the idea came from is an unknown, but it is devastating. My husband came in to my office to make sure I was okay when he heard me crying. He asked me why I insisted on writing about topics that cause pain. The truth is that I am intrigued with the deepest of human emotion. Death, betrayal, humiliation; they are all experiences that I am eager to delve into. I want the reader to feel the emotion of the sufferer. All of it. The good, the bad, and the ugly.
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