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Literature

Greek-American Stephen Eoannou on His Novel ‘Rook’

August 12, 2022

NEW YORK – Buffalo, NY-based writer Stephen G. Eoannou, President of William McKinley AHEPA Chapter 91, has written a novel titled Rook, based on the life of Al Nussbaum, a man that FBI director J. Edgar Hoover once called “the most cunning fugitive in the country.” The book, described as historical fiction noir, chronicles Nussbaum’s exploits, including fleeing from New York with the FBI hot on his heels. Eoannou spoke with The National Herald about the book, his upcoming projects, and how his Hellenic heritage influences his life and work.

TNH: How long did the book take from idea to publication?

Stephen G. Eoannou: I know exactly the start date and the end date. I was standing in my kitchen flipping through the Sunday paper when I saw an article titled ‘The Strange True Story of a Buffalo Bank Robber-Turned Crime Novelist,’ written by Charity Vogel. By the time I finished reading that Buffalo News article, I knew I wanted to write about Al Nussbaum. I was fascinated by the double life he led— family man and bank robber. That was November 4, 2012. On November 5, I went to the Buffalo Central Library and started researching Al. I’m not sure when I started the first draft, but the research began the day after I read that article. Rook’s publication date was June 28, 2022, so it took almost 10 years from that original Sunday morning inspiration until the novel hit the bookstores. During that 10-year period, I wasn’t working exclusively on Rook, however. I wrote Yesteryear, which will be published 2023, and After Pearl, which will be published in 2025. Both will be published by SFWP, which also published my short story collection, Muscle Cars.

TNH: What is your writing process like, do you prefer writing at certain times of the day?

SE: My writing time has always been from 5-7 AM. This is not by choice. I have a day job, so I need to get my writing done in the early morning. Something strange happened during the drafting of Rook, however. I woke up one November morning and I couldn’t get out of bed to go to my attic office. I was awake, but I just physically could not get out from beneath the covers. It was dark outside, and the house was cold, and I just couldn’t do it. After a couple days of missing my writing time and feeling awful about myself, I realized I could just bring my laptop downstairs. After that, when the alarm would go off, I’d turn on the light, grab my laptop and start by polishing what I’d written the day before and then move forward when I was satisfied with the previous day’s polish. No coffee. No tea. No incense or candles. I just grabbed my laptop and dug in. I wrote Yesteryear and After Pearl the same way. I try to write every day. Some days I may produce pages, other days a few lines, but it all adds up.

Rook by Stephen G. Eoannou. Photo: Kathryn Gerhardt

TNH: What inspires you the most as a writer?

SE: I wrote for 30 years with not much success before Muscle Cars came out. I’m not sure what kept me going, what kept driving me to get up at 5 AM to try to improve my craft during those dark years. I think what inspired me was a gut feeling that this is what I was supposed to be doing, that writing was the only thing I was even a little bit good at so I should keep working at it. Now that I’ve started publishing on a regular basis, the idea of growing my body of work is inspiring to keep going, to get better at every aspect of the creative process. I’m proud of myself for not quitting and I’m curious to what’s waiting for me down the road with my writing.

TNH: How does your Hellenic heritage influence your life and work?

SE: My father’s and grandfather’s immigration experience in the 1920s has greatly influenced my work. I grew up listening to my Dad’s stories about Buffalo during that time and how all the Greeks lived in the same neighborhood and all the kids went to school and Greek School and church together. But the stories I loved the most were the ones about my Pappou’s restaurant on Genesee Street and all the characters who ate and worked there. My Pappou died and my father and uncle sold the restaurant before I was born, but the New Genesee Restaurant and my Pappou appear in Rook, Yesteryear, and After Pearl. I always say my best stories are the ones I stole from my Dad. I think both he and my Pappou would’ve gotten a kick out of reading their stories in my books.

TNH: Where in Greece is your family from originally?  

SE: My mom’s side comes from Sparta and my father was born in Lofiskos, a small village in Evia. About five years ago I visited there with 10 of my cousins. It was the Eoannou Traveling Circus! But it was a great experience, especially seeing my family’s humble beginnings. I haven’t been back because of COVID, but my niece is getting married in Athens next year and the entire family is looking forward to that.

TNH: What are you working on next?

SE: As I said, Yesteryear will be published in the fall of 2023. I’ll begin the final line edits on that soon. Yesteryear is about Fran Striker, the man who created the Lone Ranger in Buffalo in the early 1930’s. It differs from Muscle Cars and Rook in that there’s more humor and a sprinkling of magical realism in this noir novel. Yesteryear won the 2021 Eyelands Book Award for Historical Fiction, an international literary award based in Greece and judged by Greek author Gregory Papadoyiannis, so Yesteryear is off to a good start. I can’t wait for that one to come out.

Rook is available in bookstores and online: https://www.sgeoannou.com.

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