Thursday, May 16, 2013

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Authors Lynne and Valerie Constantine

Lynne and Valerie Constantine, Co-Authors
Lynne and Valerie Constantine shared the experience of growing up together in the U.S. as second-generation sisters in a Greek family. They drew on this experience to write CIRCLE DANCE, a novel reviewed as a “real page turner” “with lots of twists and turns” and “all about real people:” two second-generation Greek sisters and their adult life experiences. Reviewers are quick to add that, “This story will resonate with Greeks and non-Greeks alike.”

Although the two sisters enjoyed collaborating on CIRCLE DANCE, they are currently working on individual projects. Lynne has finished the first draft of her next book, a thriller, and is going through the editing process. Valerie is working on a contemporary novel.  

Don’t miss the excerpt from CIRCLE DANCE at the end of the interview.   

Q: What inspired you to write CIRCLE DANCE?
Lynne and Valerie Constantine: The realization that our experience growing up as second generation Greeks was one that our own children would not share was the inspiration for CIRCLE DANCE. We had talked a long time about collaborating on something together and the more we talked, the more we liked the idea of telling a story about family from our experience growing up in a close knit and very large Greek American family. We thought this would be a wonderful legacy for our children (and eventual grandchildren) – a look into an old country/new world drama that they would never experience as third and fourth generation Americans.

Q: You write about a Greek-American family. How universal is your story? Could it be a story about any family?

Lynne and Valerie Constantine: There is a two-fold answer to this question. First, the Parsenis family happen to be Greek but they could be any close family. The struggles they face are universal – realizing and nurturing one’s own identity; generational differences; growing into independence and confidence; divorce to name a few. So on that level, the story is about our humanness.

Secondly, there is the added element of their ethnicity and heritage. However, we all have cultural roots somewhere outside of America, it’s just that in CIRCLE DANCE those roots are recent. Second and third generation Americans may find the story more immediate, but certainly the story is universal.

Q: What is it like writing together as sisters? Do you typically agree on plot points? Does one of you excel at character development and the other at setting and plot? How do you decide when you disagree?

Lynne and Valerie Constantine: There are pros and cons to collaboration, but we both agree that the pros far outweighed the cons, especially for a first novel. Writing is a solitary experience and can be a rather scary one as well. It was great to have someone to bounce ideas off, to talk about characters and even to banter with the dialogue. There was also the added advantage of being accountable to one another in our commitment to write so many pages a day. It ratcheted up the self-discipline factor.

The disadvantage to writing with a co-author is that, by necessity, the book starts off as very plot driven vs. character driven.  We created the plot together over a series of many meetings and then assigned chapters to each other on a weekly basis. With this method, it is more difficult to allow the characters to evolve as organically because of previously agreed upon plot lines. This was one of the major driving factors in our decision to revise and rewrite parts of the book last summer and re-launch it in the fall. We both felt we knew the characters well enough to go back and change things based on how they would actually act vs. what we had originally plotted.

We each have our strengths and weaknesses, but they seem to complement each other in a way that works. There were some disagreements and sometimes it was difficult to give or to hear criticism, but we were both determined to put feelings aside in order to produce the best work that we could.  When there was a disagreement, whoever felt most passionately about it typically got her way.

Q: Your reviewers praise your “character development”… “The Constantine sisters have created characters you become invested in; they’re real and identifiable.” How do you create engaging characters?

Lynne and Valerie Constantine: We spent a lot of time talking about the characters as we created them. We developed character sketches that in addition to physical traits, included things like: pet peeves, favorite book, unconscious motivations, regrets, dreams, and hopes. Much of what we came up with we knew would never make it into the book but would form a basis for writing the characters as real people. When we edited the book we would always ask, “Is this something he or she would say, or do?” If it didn’t ring true then we would modify it.

Q: How would you define “hero” and “villain?” Does CIRCLE DANCE incorporate heroes and villains?

Lynne and Valerie Constantine: I would define a hero as one with integrity and bravery – bravery in facing self and others honestly, integrity in the way they lead their lives. A villain is the direct opposite – one whose own desires and well being come before others, even if that means bringing harm to or the downfall of another.

There are both in CIRCLE DANCE, although I would argue that there is no perfect hero and no perfect villain, either in literature or in real life.  The closest character to a true villain is Stewart. He is a tragic figure in that his inability to overcome his upbringing blinds him to the blessings in his life and prevents him from enjoying the love and acceptance finally available to him.  Peter is another character who has villainous qualities that are disguised by his charisma and charm and do not emerge until the end of the book.

The character closest to a pure hero in the story is Sophia, the wise YiaYia (grandmother) whose life is an example to her granddaughters of virtue, forbearance and forgiveness.

Q: Your reviewers like that “The story pulls you in almost immediately, and doesn't let up until the last page.” How do you build this suspense?

Lynne and Valerie Constantine: Editing, editing, editing. Seriously though, having other people you trust read the drafts and make their comments, having a good editor, and then putting the book down for awhile and picking up again for more editing – these are all the things that help improve the pacing and storyline.

Aside from the two main storylines of the sisters, there is a sub-plot regarding the family business that adds quite a bit of intrigue. This story line is interwoven with the other two and adds to the tension of the book.

Q: How helpful was your personal background to creating your story?

Lynne and Valerie Constantine: It was an important ingredient, perhaps the most important. The fact that it was a background we shared was important as well. We talked about so many stories we had heard growing up, so many shared experiences. They were the heartbeat of the story.

Q: Do you write largely for entertainment, or do you also try to deliver a message? To educate or inform?

Lynne and Valerie Constantine: I think both. Certainly we wanted the book to be entertaining, but we also hoped to send a clear message about what it means to be a family – the traditions, the expectations, the disappointments – and how central these lessons of family are to the people we ultimately become. We also wanted to dispel some stereotypes about Greek families and portray the segment of Greeks that have fully assimilated yet still hold firm to their traditions and customs.

Q: Why are you a writer? What’s next? Will you be writing another book together?

Lynne Constantine:  Being a writer provides me an entrée to a variety of different worlds and allows me to live vicariously through my characters.  I tend to become bored when I finish a project – for me it’s all about inspiration and creation. As a writer, I am limited only by my imagination. I find it gratifying to breathe life into a story and watch what unfolds. I feel extremely grateful to have found a profession that ignites my passion and allows me to follow my heart.

I’m currently working on a thriller. The first draft is complete and I will be spending the next several months editing and refining my research.

Valerie Constantine:  I am a great people watcher. I remember sitting in a classroom, or large gathering or on a bus and wondering what someone’s life might be like – what their house looked like, what kind of family they came from, the job they had. It’s like going on an adventure into a place you’ve never been or seen, something so very different from your own life. That is the world I can disappear into when I write – I can imagine other lives and other places. I love this make believe world and my characters become people I mentally and intimately live with as I write. Someone once told me it’s a great profession for someone who likes to tell lies. I’m working on a contemporary novel right now.

As much as we enjoyed writing together, at this point we are working on different projects but wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a sequel or prequel to CIRCLE DANCE.

Q: Tell us something about yourselves. We know that you are sisters. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Valerie Constantine: I love spending time with my kids who are now grown and living all over the U.S. I’m involved in community philanthropic organizations and also volunteer in work to end human trafficking. We live in Annapolis, a beautiful town on the Chesapeake Bay where we enjoy nature and bird watching. And I love reading – fiction, non-fiction, newspapers, magazines – if it’s printed, I’ll read it.

Lynne Constantine: I love to read and spend time outdoors. We live near the beach and my favorite activity is to take the kids, a good book, and our beach gear and spend the day relaxing while inhaling the salt air. I like to spend time at the gym or walking.  I also enjoy photography and putting together video slide shows and digital photo albums. I’m involved in my church and local community.

We try to get together as often as possible and usually Skype or talk every day. When we can steal away for a weekend, our faces are sore from laughing so much by the end of it. We understand each other in a way that no one else does. We are looking forward to attending Thrillerfest together this July in New York.

About Lynne Constantine

Lynne wrote her first book, CIRCLE DANCE, with her sister Valerie. CIRCLE DANCE was a legacy of love fueled by the desire to pass on to their children the traditions and experiences unique to them as second generation Greek Americans. Lynne was raised in a close-knit family surrounded by an extended family and “adopted” family through the Greek community.

Lynne attended Hellenic College where she earned her undergraduate degree in Human Development. She went on to earn her masters degree in Business Administration at Johns Hopkins University.

A native of Baltimore, Maryland, Lynne relocated to the New York area with her husband and children. She enjoys traveling, spending time on the beach and taking walks with her family and their adorable golden retriever. 

Lynne is currently at work on her next book, a thriller.

About Valerie Constantine

Valerie Constantine was born in Baltimore, Maryland. She has always loved books and spent many nights reading by the light of her bedside lamp until 3 a.m. (Those were the days when she was able to stay up that late.) She graduated from Nancy Drew to Shakespeare and went on to study at the University of Maryland where she received a degree in English Literature. She is an active community volunteer working with Free the Slaves in Washington, D.C. – an organization that fights human trafficking – and also with Caritas Society of St. John’s College Annapolis, which raises funds for student financial aid. In her spare time she reads, kayaks and travels. She spends part of the year in England and lives in Annapolis, Maryland with her husband and Zorba, their brilliant King Charles Cavalier.

Young, smart and beautiful with everything figured out – or so they thought. Born into a prosperous Greek American family, sisters Nicole and Theodora have achieved the perfect balance between the old world rich in Greek tradition and the freedom of life in America. Headstrong and independent, Nicole plunges into life head-first, too often ignoring the risks. Her talent and astute business acumen make her the perfect heir to her father's empire, but his old-world attitudes prevent him from giving the top spot to a woman. Nicole's world spins out of control when she falls for a married senator who shares her heritage and her dreams. While struggling to navigate previously uncharted moral waters, she uncovers treachery and corruption that will break both her sister's and her father's heart. The decisions she makes will affect the happiness of those closest to her and will define the woman she is to become.

The young and conventional Theodora weds and quickly learns that marriage is not the paradise she envisioned. She must soon confront the growing suspicion that her husband is not the man he seems. Forced to endure the constant disdain and disapproval of her patrician mother-in-law, she resigns herself to the fact that she will always be considered an outsider. As she struggles to succeed at her marriage, she seeks the wisdom and council of her beloved Greek grandmother who has been happily married for over half a century. Ultimately she must come to terms with the reality of her own life and take responsibility for the role she has played in deceiving herself.

 As the dramatic plot unfolds, the two young women must confront deceit and betrayal and their own shortcomings – while they struggle to preserve the values they cherish. Set in Baltimore, Annapolis and the tiny island of Ikaria, Greece, Circle Dance provides a view into the lives of a dynamic family that has successfully achieved the American dream without abandoning the customs and traditions handed down through their Greek heritage. Artfully intertwined plots bring generations together in a dance of rejoicing and mourning, loss and healing that will keep readers enthralled until the last page.



            Theodora wouldn’t be wearing that rapturous smile if she knew what her fiancée had done last night, thought the woman in the third row. She almost felt sorry for her. Almost. It could have been her up there—would have been—until she’d discovered that Stewart’s abundance of charm and good looks was in perfect proportion to his lack of character and moral fiber. Not that she really cared all that much for morality. She did, however, care about being made a fool. Stewart was enjoyable, like an expensive meal, as long as you knew what you were buying. She’d made the right choice when she’d left him and married his best friend. Her husband’s devotion was unwavering and she squeezed the hand holding hers gratefully. How sweet of Caroline to invite them and how generous to insist they stay with her and Graham. It had been reminiscent of old times. The second to last step leading to their old hiding place still squeaked. Of course, with everyone else sound asleep, they were the only ones who heard it.

            Nicole’s gaze swept across the church, filled to overflowing and bathed in white roses and baby's breath.  Sun poured through the tall stained glass windows, intensifying the grandeur of the gold candelabra and icons.  She glanced down at the white crowns waiting to be placed on the heads of the bride and groom, and was struck again by the ritual of the Greek Orthodox wedding ceremony.  There was no mistaking the joy on Theodora’s face, and Nicole thought that maybe she had misjudged the situation.  Theodora was always the more levelheaded of the two.  Perhaps she was feeling more left out than she thought.  She was standing up here as her sister’s maid of honor and she would choose to be happy for Theodora and embrace her new brother-in-law. She caught Theo’s eye and they smiled warmly at each other. 

            The priest nodded at Paul, signifying that it was time for the rings, and taking them, made the sign of the cross on the foreheads of Stewart and Theodora.  This was performed three times.  He then handed the rings to Paul, who stood before the couple and placed the gold rings on their fingers.  While the priest chanted a prayer, the rings were interchanged three times.  The crowns were then placed on their heads and also interchanged three times, all in the name of the Holy Trinity.

            Sophia dabbed at her eyes with a corner of the white handkerchief she held in her hand.  She looked away from her granddaughter and remembered her own wedding sixty years ago.  The small village church had been packed with all those who lived on the island.  Her mother spent months working on the handmade dress Sophia had worn.  She was just a child, she thought, with no idea of the magnitude of the vows she was taking.  It seemed as though only a moment in time had elapsed and yet she sat here where her children had been baptized and married.


Lynne Constantine:

Valerie Constantine: 

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1 comment:

  1. The cover of Circle Dance is gorgeous. Really great interview.