Writing What We Don’t Know by Anna Papadopoulos (Plus a FREE Book)

Congratulations to Ronda! She wins a free ebook copy of Samaritans by Anna Papadopoulos!

Happy Mother’s Day! Today we have author Anna Papadopoulos here to tell us about her inspiration and writing journey for her new book, Samaritans. It’s about three generations of Greek-American women. The youngest travels to Florida in search of her missing lover who also happens to be a married woman from her small home town.

Anna is giving away an ebook copy of her book, so be sure to leave a comment below to be entered into that drawing. I select the winner on Friday, May 15.

Good Luck!

Writing What We Don’t Know
By Anna PapadopoulosLayout 1

Cassandra is the youngest of three generations of Greek American women whose scars and secrets have all but obscured their fierce love for one another. Five years after her mother’s death from an overdose of pain pills, Cass is a reformed juvenile offender on a quest for true re-forming, but few in her small, class-conscious Indiana town can forget her past. Only her increasingly distracted grandmother, Sophia, is on her side.

Then her lover, Jennifer, disappears. Once again, suspicious eyes — especially those of Jennifer’s husband, one of the town’s most influential men — are turning toward Cass. Desperate, Cass drives her battered Buick to Florida’s Gulf Coast to find Jennifer.

What follows is a journey of love and devastation. Cass is aided by Bill and Kaye, a recently retired minister and his wife who are each binding up wounds of their own. The three of them begin to heal one another. Then Bill and Kaye’s angry teenage grandson is sent to live with them, and startling news from home forces Cass to confront long-buried truths — and a future on her own terms.

Samaritans is about the people who care for us when we are stranded on life’s road, and how those roles switch and switch back along the way.

“Write what you know,” we are told, but fiction writers make stuff up. We tell lies for fun and profit, as Lawrence Block so aptly put it. Yet accuracy, or authenticity, is still important. Even the most well written, cleverly executed story will leave readers cold if it doesn’t speak to their experience in some way, if it seems unrealistic or implausible, or if it just doesn’t ring true.

This goes beyond fact checking. Don’t get me wrong — fact checking is important. You want to make sure your World War II soldier wasn’t born during the Great Depression (unless lying about his age is part of the plot) and that someone isn’t tooling along and listening to a car radio before cars were equipped with radios. Getting these details right is only part of the picture.

Writing my novel, Samaritans, challenged me to get not only the facts but also the feel right, and this often requires research. By research, I don’t mean sitting in a library jotting stuff down on index cards (does anyone still do that?). I mean discovering, connecting, and asking.

For example: I wrote what I know as a Greek American woman, but the experience of two of the three generations of Greek American women in the story would have been pretty different from mine.

Sophia, grandmother of main character Cassandra, was born in Greece — but I was having trouble working out exactly when, and under what circumstances, she came to the United States and settled in Chicago. When and where did she marry? Was her marriage arranged? I knew Sophia was highly intelligent and had been a good student as a young girl. It made sense that she would have at least had a fleeting dream or two of a career . . . once her daughter was older, could she conceivably have had one? I also couldn’t figure out what Greek pet name Sophia might have used for her granddaughter.

Helen, Sophia’s daughter and Cassandra’s mother, came of age in 1960s Chicago and thought being a nice Greek girl was about as cool as — well, trusting anyone over thirty, I guess. She met her future husband at Wrigley Field during the summer of 1968. A friend of mine, a baseball fan who’d lived near Chicago around that time, helped me with the description, including the view from way up high. This was one or two paragraphs out of the whole book, but I still wanted it to be right.

The bigger question I had about Helen was: What consequences and reactions would she have faced for a premarital pregnancy by said future husband — a non-Greek? It was a time when old standards and new realities were crashing into each other and the pieces were getting mixed up together.

Constance Callinicos is the author of American Aphrodite: Becoming Female in Greek America (Pella Publishing Company, 1991), a book that helped me flesh out the backstories and present realities of both Sophia and Helen. Callinicos shares her own experience and that of many other first and second generation Greek American women. Some of the stories and vignettes are filled with a level of oppression that is hard to grasp and painful to read. I contacted Connie after reading the book, and she was kind enough to speak with me by phone and email. One important point she emphasized was the difference in mindset between the Greek immigrants who came to the United States before World War II and those who came after.

The other area where I was most concerned about authenticity was the background of my character Bill Thomas, a retired United Methodist minister who grew up in the segregated South and was a pastor in Alabama during the civil rights movement.

Enter, providentially, a book specific to both the Methodist church and Alabama: When the Church Bell Rang Racist: The Methodist Church and the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama by Donald E. Collins (Mercer University Press, 1998). Collins and many other young men entered the ministry in the early 1950s with an earnest desire to serve and make a difference. However, the institutional church, while preaching equality and brotherhood in theory, strongly resisted the move toward desegregation and civil rights. Racial and political tensions ran so high that a white pastor who advocated any departure from the status quo would risk his ministry and perhaps his life and the lives of his family. Collins ended up leaving the church and ministry in 1968. He and his wife and four children moved to Seattle, and he went back to school and became an investment banker.

I contacted him by email, explained my project, and asked if I could run a few fictional scenarios by him to make sure they were plausible and authentic. He agreed, and I made two important discoveries: 1) I was way off with a couple of assumptions I’d made about life and ministry in the segregated south and 2) even though I conceived the character of Bill before I ever found Don’s book, the similarities between the fictional Bill and the actual Don were striking. Both were born in the early 1930s in Alabama to families that employed one or two black servants. Both entered ministry with hopes of making a difference in a world of injustice and suffering, and both walked a dangerous tightrope between ministry and survival.

The fictional Bill also went back to school in the late 1960s with the idea of teaching, but he wound up back in parish ministry. He would retire and move to southwest Florida, where he and wife Kaye meet Cass.

You’ll have to read the book to find out how all of these characters and their worlds collide. To paraphrase the popular disclaimer: This is a work of fiction — but I’ve done my best to keep it real.


Anna Papadopoulos is a native of the American Midwest, where she lives, writes, and listens for the stories that need to be told.

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15 thoughts on “Writing What We Don’t Know by Anna Papadopoulos (Plus a FREE Book)

  1. Thanks, sequimmorgayne and Linda, for stopping by — and to Jove for the guest blog opportunity! The research was actually a lot of fun for me, as I got to connect with and hear the stories of people I otherwise might not have. Being an information junkie helps, too. 🙂

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  2. Your book sounds very interesting…and I can relate about writing down facts and notes to keeo even the fictional book believable…I have notebooks instead of index cards. 😉

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  3. Your research reminded me of a Greek family that lived in our house when I was a child. There was a lot of Greek immigrants in my country after WW II.

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    1. In Czechoslovakia? I did not know that. My grandfather, along with many other Greeks, came to the U.S. around 1906 in search of a better life. The Greeks who came to the U.S. — and, I imagine, other places — after World War II had a much different mindset, according to what I’ve gathered. After World War II it was more about being displaced . . . very sad.

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