Constance Constant, author of Austin Lunch and American Kid, spoke with The National Herald about her books and writing process. She told TNH that she and her husband were taking a trip to the Midwest. “I’ve been invited to speak about American Kid at the National Hellenic Museum in Chicago, on October 22, as part of their Oxi Day commemoration.
Then, on October 26, the Philoptochos of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church of Ann Arbor, Michigan has invited me to give an American Kid book talk. I am looking forward to both events. I am especially pleased to be speaking at Ann Arbor, because that city plays a key role in my book.”
Constant added, “I have always been interested in history. In writing my first book, Austin Lunch, I became more interested in Greek history and Greek-American history. John’s story involved so many aspects of history: U.S.; Greek; World (as in WWII); and, surely, because John is Greek-American, also Greek-American history. I, sadly, have found that people outside the Greek community are unaware Greece was “in” WWII, let alone that Greece was viciously occupied by the Nazis. Unfortunately, the Greek peoples’ heroic resistance to the Nazis has been forgotten or overlooked. In doing research for American Kid, I saw, first hand, that while shelves in American public libraries are filled with books on WWII, a minuscule number of those books, if any, are about Greece in WWII. Few WWII history books tell about what it is like to be an innocent child victim of WWII, let alone an American child trapped in the war. Also, I found John’s and his family’s story is so unique that, having written a book already, I felt the importance of writing a war story (especially WWII in Greece) from a child’s point of view. It became important to me to write the war story of the mother, Katherine, a courageous, real-life heroine. The American family represents millions of other families in the world during the war who endured fear, starvation, and horrific violence. Sadly Innocent families in some parts of the world are still suffering the repercussions of war. When will it ever end?
TNH: Did John contact you initially to write his story?
CC: No, John did not contact me to write the book, I suggested the book to John. When I first met John and learned he had been an American kid trapped in WWII, I heard a very brief synopsis of his story and it stuck in my heart and my mind. After becoming a published author with Austin Lunch, I suggested to John that I write his WWII story. He had an interest to tell his story and agreed to reveal his war experiences to me. John’s recollections were vivid. Even though some memories were emotionally difficult for him to express, sharp recollections easily poured out of him. He recalled fascinating aspects of village life. Many readers have commented on how American Kid is an interesting chronicle of Greek villagers’ connection to the earth, their customs, lifestyles, and the self-imposed “rules” by which Greek villagers ran their lives and their village in the 1930s and 1940s.
TNH: What was the writing process like for this book?
CC: The writing process began with doing much research on WWII, especially WWII in Greece. I also interviewed adults, both in Greece and in the U.S. (other than John and his siblings) who were children in Greece during the war, including adults who were children in the same village (as John’s family) during the war. The experiences I heard from these people corroborated John’s story. I also visited the Greek village in Laconia, where, along with the rest of the village’s citizens, John and family had been terrorized, and occupied. In the spring of 1944, as the war was ending in an obvious loss for the Germans, Nazis soldiers arrived to do more harm to the villagers, attempting to burn down the village. A few burned but unrepaired, unoccupied houses still exist in the village.
TNH: How long did the book take from idea to publication?
CC: It took about eight years from the decision to write the book until I had a hard copy of a published “American Kid” in my hand. During those eight years, I was not writing full time, eight hours a day, because I had other responsibilities to take care of. When I was writing, I worked at the computer for about three hours in the early morning, the hours I do my best thinking and writing. During my eight-year writing project, I constantly thought about the book I was writing, even while taking walks, while cooking, washing dishes, etc. I wrote and then constantly edited to improve the wording. I encountered the problems every writer meets in putting thoughts down on paper, hoping to capture a reader’s interest. I find that although I write on the computer, I actually need to see my words on paper in order to edit them. I was constantly tweaking my writing. Self-editing and re-writing is, for me, a constant and vital part of improving one’s writing- great exercise for the brain.