Back in January 2013, I interviewed author Eleni Papanou for my WordPress blog. I hope you enjoy it...
Welcome to the six hundred and twenty-ninth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with science-fiction author, songwriter, screenwriter and poet Eleni Papanou. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Eleni. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Eleni: I live on the beautiful island of Maui, Hawaii, and I've been writing poetry and song lyrics since my early teens. In my early twenties, a friend of mine asked I help him with his screenplay, and I realized I had an ear for dialogue and a natural understanding of story structure. I went on to write an awful novel and stopped for a few years and then I took screenwriting classes and wrote several more screenplays, and I haven't stopped since then.
Morgen: Scriptwriting is really hard. I wrote 102 pages of script for the now defunct Script Frenzy and although I love writing dialogue, I found it really bitty. I’m a prose writer through and through, but it’s just as well we don’t all write, or enjoy, the same thing. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Eleni: I write in all genres, but science fiction is my favourite. All my novels fall under the umbrella of visionary fiction in that a character's mind drives the plot forward. There is a definite spiritual aspect to it; however, it's never dogmatic. In my stories, I try to make them both entertaining and uplifting to the spirit. If a reader connects to some of his or her own inner-wisdom because of my story, that would be the best reward I could be given as a writer of visionary fiction.
Morgen: And even better when they let you know. What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Eleni: Unison is my first novel, and I write using my maiden name, Papanou.
Morgen: You’ve self-published, what lead to you going your own way?
Eleni: I was initially going to send out queries, and while I was pondering over self-publishing, my husband predicted I would go that route. He knows me well because that's exactly what I did. I always listen to my instincts—even if they scare me. They've always proven themselves to be right. I have a clear vision of how I want Unison to be told. It's part of a four-book series I've all ready plotted, and I didn't want it to be changed in any way. Another big reason for my venturing off on my own is I have a dream of one day publishing other visionary authors and helping put visionary fiction on the map.
Morgen: It’s great that you know what you want to do. So many people don’t have a clue – it took me over 40 years to find out. Are your books available as eBooks? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Eleni: Unison, and all my novels that follow, will be in eBook format. I have a Kindle and consider myself an eBook fanatic. My reason goes beyond the obvious convenience. The eBook format has opened the door for self-publishers and indie authors. It's a winner for readers as well in that it gives us more choices.
Morgen: Absolutely. My house has hundreds of books, and I hope to get to read them all but I love having hundreds of books on my iPad whenever I go away. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters?
Eleni: Damon, my main character from Unison is definitely my favourite character and not because he's the hero. He's strong and determined. Once he has a goal in his mind, he won't stop until he attains it. I wrote Damon to mirror my own spiritual journey, but he's moved way beyond me. I used him as my motivation to continue!
Unison is very cinematic because of my background as a screenwriter. In fact, I wrote it as a screenplay first, so it would make a great movie.
Morgen: Did you have any say in the title / cover of your books? How important do you think they are?
Eleni: Covers catch the readers’ attention first, so I think it's very important. I spent many hours designing my cover and think I finally have one I like. Another great aspect of self-publishing is I can always change the cover, but I'd prefer to get it right the first time, and I think I have.
Morgen: It’s a great cover. I can see it as a film poster. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Eleni: I have an ambitious production schedule for the next year. I'm currently writing another science fiction novel, The Sparrow's Whisper, which is a character study of twelve individuals after the destruction of Earth. I'll begin my edit on, Jessie's Song, a supernatural thriller. There will be another mystery release thereafter. I'm not trying to create any suspense here. I don't know which of my stories I'll choose. When I figure it out, I'll announce it. The second book in the Spheral series will be released by July 2013.
Morgen: Ambitious certainly, but you sound very determined and that’s half the battle with getting anything done. Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Eleni: I write seven days a week—even on holidays. I'm very hyper and would no doubt be labelled as having ADHD. I exhibit every symptom. I call it something different... being an artist. I find I must write everyday to stay connected to my work and to keep from getting bored. I suffered from chronic boredom ever since I could remember, and the best medicine is a dose of inspiration.
In my own experience, writer's block is a myth. The right hemisphere of the brain is a bottomless well of ideas. It's all a matter of knowing how to draw from it. I do so by meditating, hiking and working out.
Morgen: I’m very lucky too, that I never run out of ideas. I have folders of newspaper clippings but I’ve only used one piece so far (which became my short story Feeding the Father). Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Eleni: I'm definitely an outliner. I see the whole story from beginning to end and have to get it all down quickly. Oftentimes the ending will hit me first, and I'll work my way to it. Plotting is the most exciting part of the writing process for me. It's like I'm putting a puzzle together. Each piece comes to me in a different order, and I have to figure out where it fits. I never know what to expect next.
Morgen: That’s what I love about just getting an idea and going with it, and what I love about fiction; you never know what’s going to come out. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Eleni: I use Myers Briggs personality types which makes a very realistic character. I also draw from my own weaknesses, of which there are many! In case you're wondering... I'm an INFP.
Morgen: I had to Google that (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/INFP – introversion, intuition, feeling, perception). It made very interesting reading. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Eleni: I find the opposite to be true. I find the better I get, the longer I edit. Because of this, I edit as I go along. It makes it less overwhelming.
Morgen: That’s probably very wise. I do a mixture of both; sometimes I just want to get the story out, other times I’m not in a hurry because I have the plot more fixed in my head. Do you have to do much research?
Eleni: I do a lot of research, particularly in my science fiction stories.
Morgen: What point of view do you find most to your liking?
Eleni: First person is my favourite because it allows me to become the character. In the end, I pick the voice that's best for the story.
Morgen: Do you write any poetry, non-fiction or short stories?
Eleni: I write a lot of poetry. I'm incorporating several in the current manuscript I'm working on. One of my characters likes to slam, and I had fun writing her scenes.
Morgen: I bet. I’ve not spoken to many poets who have been to slams but they look like fun. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Eleni: Some of my screenplays and one meandering, self-indulgent novel. They were part of my learning process, and I may rework them into something that works. Never say never!
Morgen: Absolutely. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Eleni: As I've never sought publication, I've never had a rejection, but I've dealt with many disappointments in writing. I almost quit when my work was harshly criticised. My father-in-law sent me a quote, "Control your own destiny, or someone else will," by Jack Welch. I'll never forget those words because the moment I read them, I returned to my writing. I only dealt with writers whom I could learn from. As my writing improved I realized the reason I took the negative criticism so harshly was because I wasn't confident in my own skills as a writer. I honed in on my weaknesses until they became my strengths. Now, I can take any criticism because I know my work is good. It took me years to get to where I am now, but the climb was worth it because I have work I'm proud to have written.
Morgen: Having rejections can feel very personal but they’re not criticising you as a person. Most of the time it’s just not right for them. Do you enter competitions?
Eleni: After my book is out, I may enter a few. I haven't done so all ready because I don't see them as making a difference in books I choose to read. Like all readers, I skim through the back cover blurb and read the reviews. That's usually how books are bought, and I keep that in mind as a self-publisher. In the end, it's about writing a great book with strong characters whom you like and can relate to.
Morgen: It is indeed. Dare I say it, I think the characters are more important than the plot, because if the character is weak, unrealistic or two-dimensional, the reader won’t care what happens to them. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Eleni: It all depends on how you define success. If someone desires to go mainstream I would say an agent is very important. If you're a visionary who wants to be in charge of the whole process, from writing and designing the book cover, to making all the decisions about how to promote your book, you're better off doing it yourself.
Morgen: Which I do. :) How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Eleni: In addition to Linkedin and other social networking sites, I've started blogging about my current work-in-progress, Sunrise.
Morgen: What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Eleni: I like how a story takes over my life. During the course of my writing and editing, the book is on my mind from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep. This makes me more appreciative of my free time, most of which I spend with my husband and two daughters that I homeschool. When I'm engaged in activities with them, it's the only time my mind takes a break from my story.
My least favourite aspect of writing is editing as it takes a lot longer for me to complete than writing the book. After I'm done, it never feels finished, even when I tell myself it's time to move on to the next book.
Morgen: Most authors have said that marketing is their least favourite aspect (usually because it’s so time-consuming) but mine are editing and research. I’d love to just write the first draft and hand it over to my editor to let her sort it out, but it wouldn’t be fair (or logical). What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Eleni: If you want to be a happy writer, write what comes from your heart, irrespective of what you think people want to read. It's the only way to bring out your true voice.
Morgen: Which readers will appreciate, and there’ll be someone out there for everything you write. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Eleni: It's funny you ask this question because I do a particular meditation exercise whenever I need advice. It involves thinkers, whom I admire. So...my guests are: U.G. Krishnamurti, Socrates and Nikolai Tesla. I never cook for them, but if I did, I would probably start them off with some garlic nan served with a variety of chutneys. I would follow it up with Chana Dal, Aloo Paneer and coconut spiced basmati rice. For dessert, I'd give them a choice between a slice of baklava or some carrot halva...with a scoop of mango ice cream on top.
In my meditation, Albert Einstein, The Buddha and Gopi Krishna are also invited!
Morgen: That sounds like it would be a fantastic experience. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Eleni: "Control your own destiny, or someone else will," by Jack Walch. As I've mentioned before; it saved me from giving up on writing.
Morgen: You clearly have passion for it which I think drives many authors (myself included) on. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Eleni: My days are full, and I used my hobbies as a mental break from writing. They include digital collaging, writing music—and after a year absence—I returned to sing with the Honolulu Blend Show Chorus. They're a female barbershop choir that recently became chartered by Sweet Adelines, International. I'm so proud of them! I also recently attended my first poetry slam, and I'm hooked. It's such a great way to release stress, along with working out.
Morgen: I’ve been to (and read out at) some open mic nights but not poetry slams as such. I write very little poetry but think it would be fun to go to. Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Eleni: There are too many books to list, but I like Stephen King's On Writing, and I recently finished Stephen Pressfield's, Do the Work. He's very motivating.
Morgen: Stephen King’s is the most suggested in these interviews. I’ve not heard of Stephen Pressfield’s book (or him, to be honest) but the title’s great. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Eleni: As long as people read books, our future looks bright.
Morgen: I agree, and I do think more people are reading than possibly ever before… or will be, with the ever-increasing popularity of eBooks. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Eleni: At my website http://philophrosyne-publishing.com and my Amazon page is http://www.amazon.com/Eleni-D.-Papanou/e/B00BBFYLGC
Morgen: Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Eleni: What inspires you, as a writer, to interview other authors?
Morgen: Over the past 19 months I’ve been stunned at how many authors there are who want to take part. I’ve had to start cutting down on the interviews I’ve run (although I’ve created another blog – http://morgensauthorinterviews.wordpress.com – for simpler Q&A-style interviews). Considering I more or less ask the same questions (the only way how to do them, at one a day), I’ve so surprised at how different the answers have been… and therefore how differently we all work. Just knowing how hard we all work is inspiration, for sure. Thank you, Eleni.
I then invited Eleni to include an extract of her writing and these are the opening paragraphs from Unison.
Time is relevant to sound. An infinite voice sings life into this universe, and I’m but one note resonating within this expanse of boundless potential. While that’s an easy abstraction to grasp, my own potential remains elusive. After eight parallel lifetimes I’ve been adrift somewhere between struggle and mastery, both of which I now see as an illusion. I decided to chronicle my seemingly endless journey in an attempt to identify what I am.
I first realized there was something unusual about me in my ninth year, shortly after winning the lottery to go on a camping expedition. Wade and I took some climbing classes to prepare for our hike that would take us halfway up Emerald Mountain. Because of our age, we were restricted to the beginner wall that soon offered us no challenge. When Headmaster refused to move us to the next level, we waited until the athletic center closed for the night and snuck inside to climb the advanced wall. The ropes and harnesses were locked away, and we ascended without them. I found it difficult to handle the grips that were positioned for longer limbs and fell during my descent. After Wade yelled out my name, the outside world disappeared.
My awareness returned in the hospital, but my body remained unresponsive. I screamed and cried out in silence as I heard a doctor tell an Overmaiden I was in a coma and wouldn’t last beyond the week. Seven days later I was still alive, but my condition remained unchanged. To alleviate my increasing restlessness, I imagined myself exploring the deathlands. They fascinated me since I learned about them at school, but the poison left over from the Great Cataclysm meant I could never visit them. The Earth I created had no limitations. There were no fumes to contaminate my lungs and no scourge to keep me from venturing too far beyond the dome. My arms morphed into metallic wings, and I flew over crumbling cityscapes that swayed like ghosts within the murky gray atmosphere. I searched for other lifeforms, but all I could see in every direction was a ceaseless expanse of decay and ruin.
And a synopsis of her latest book…
Illness doesn’t exist in Unity thanks to a healing implant, and criminals are rehabilitated through reintegration, a virtual reality simulation. In this seemingly idyllic community, Damon 1300-333-1M is condemned to relive his life until he uncovers a suppressed memory that will lead him to the shocking truth about his origin. The trouble is Damon’s memory of his past lives are triggered only when Flora, a girlfriend from his first incarnation, arrives to arrest him for the assassination of their leader, the Overseer. And she didn’t come alone. Master Kai, a well respected elder from Unity, is following her, and his arrival will trigger a violent showdown that will leave Damon and Flora dead. Lifetime after lifetime, Damon must convince the woman he still loves of his innocence before they’re killed again, but he must first convince himself that what he’s experiencing is real.
Eleni Papanou wrote her first poem when she was an outcast at school. Honoured with the name, “Greek Freak,” she started to feel like one and believed life was plagued torment and endless suffering. It wasn’t until years later she learned she could transform her pain into a creative and meaningful life. This came after a spontaneous kundalini awakening that set her on a spiritual path that constantly tested her to her breaking point but also taught her the Universe had a sense of humour. She started laughing more—mostly at herself whenever she caught herself taking things too seriously. After many years on her path of self-rediscovery—along with the addition of a husband, two daughters and a bout with cancer, Eleni had a lot to say. She always loved the art of storytelling and thought fiction was the ideal way for her to describe her experiences.
Eleni lives on the beautiful island of Maui, Hawaii and likes to spend her free time with her husband and two daughters that she home schools.
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