Memoir is one of the most difficult genres to write and sometimes to read simply because the story is true. No One Crosses the Wolf: A Memoir by Lisa Nikolidakis presents her harrowing life experience after attempting to distance herself from her volatile Greek father and then being drawn back into his darkness in the wake of a murder-suicide.
According to the book’s description, “her need to heal and reclaim her life would propel her back to her father’s origins, seeking elusive truths about the man who would become a killer.”
A prize-winning writer and professor, Nikolidakis spoke with The National Herald about her book, the challenging and rewarding aspects of writing her memoir, and her upcoming projects.
TNH: You delve into some serious issues in the book, how long did the process take from idea to publication?
Lisa Nikolidakis: I began writing this book the day after my father died, so this took 17 years total— three years taken off to work on another project. I was able to get to this version of the book— the final version— because I arrived at a writing residency with two quotes that wouldn’t stop swirling around my brain: Mary Karr’s “Whatever people like about you in the world will manifest itself on the page,” and “You learn from the part of the story you focus on” from comedian Hannah Gadsby’s special Nanette. In the world, I’m funny, and the book was decidedly not that. And the version of it I’d been revising? I had nothing left to learn from it. When those quotes collided, the answer appeared: I had to tear the book apart and tell my story anew.
TNH: What was the most challenging aspect of writing the memoir?
LN: There’s a book by James Hollis, Swamplands of the Soul, in which he breaks down psychologist Carl Jung’s take on happiness and argues that the goal of life is not happiness but meaning. It’s important to cross the swampland of the soul— to go to those dark places we all have inside of us. That’s Socrates’ “The unexamined life is not worth living,” right?
But I don’t think anyone would ever suggest you set up camp in a swampland, and in working on this book for so many years, that’s what I did. Have you ever tried to set up a tent in a swamp? Bad idea.
I have no regrets about writing this book, but I do wish I’d known how to take better care of my mental health while working on material that is so difficult. Getting my equilibrium back after so many years of it being off-kilter was, by far, the most difficult part of it.
TNH: What was the most rewarding aspect?
LN: My time in Crete was among the most profound I’ve experienced. To be surrounded by the family I’d never really known— to feel such unfiltered love and joy with them— showed me a different side of family. My father fled his village when he was just 17 or 18 years old. They thought of him well— as an almost mythic hero who escaped and made it all the way to America. It was helpful to witness that kind of admiration for him. It showed me that no one is simply a villain. We are all intensely complicated— even abusers.
TNH: Have you been back to Greece recently?
LN: I have not, but I greatly look forward to my return. Hopefully, next time it won’t be in July. I’m ready to see Greece when it’s not blazing hot! Lol.
TNH: What are you working on next?
LN: I’ve got a few projects in the works! I’ve completed a collection of short stories— half take place in different parts of Greece, half are the first-generation Greeks in the States— and I’m expanding one of the stories into a novel. In terms of nonfiction, I am at work on a book about chronic illness, invisible disabilities, and animal science.
No One Crosses the Wolf: A Memoir by Lisa Nikolidakis is available online.
More information is also available online: https://www.lisanikolidakis.com.