This month it’s our great pleasure to interview Jeffrey Siger, author of the Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis series of mystery novels, set on the island of Mykonos.
GIB: When did you first fall in love with Greece?
JS: Thirty years ago, a friend told me to try Greece for a holiday. She said I’d love it, Mykonos in particular. She was right. Even though I’m not Greek by birth, I felt my heart was Greek the moment I set foot on the tarmac at the old Athens airport in Glyfada. What attracted me to Greece then, and has me now living on Mykonos more than six months a year is the Greek people. No question about it.
GIB: How did you start writing?
JS: About twenty years ago I bumped into a friend at a party and we fell to talking about things we had in common, one of which was a shared desire we’d each suppressed while building our careers: creative writing. A day or so later I received an email from her that started out, “Once upon a time.” She’d written a scene. I wrote back with a scene picking up where she’d left off and over the next few months a fantasy novella evolved. We’d not exchanged a spoken a word the entire time, just emails. Then one day out of the blue she called and said, “Jeffrey, you’re very good at this, you should try writing real books.”
At the time, I was name partner in my own New York City law firm. I had a lot more important things to do than start down that struggling writer’s road. At least that’s what I thought. Still, I became more serious about my writing; finished a couple of novels, had a few agents, and received a plethora of publisher rejections. But still, I couldn’t bring myself to give up my day job even though I realized how much more I preferred writing to practicing law.
Then I made a startling discovery: I would not live forever. I decided to unite my loves of Mykonos and writing, walk away from my law practice, and write full time among the people and politics of Greece. And I’ve never looked back.
GIB: Have you written any other books?
JS: I’ve written nine novels, five in my “Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis” series (Murder in Mykonos (Mystirio Sti Mykono), Assassins of Athens (Mysthrio stin Athina), Prey on Patmos: An Aegean Prophecy (Mystirio stin Patmo), Target: Tinos, and Mykonos after Midnight, and four as “drawer novels,” meaning that’s where they shall remain as a testament to the concept of “learning experience.”
I’ve also contributed essays to a series of How To Books on writing called The 21 Writers Project.
GIB: How do you feel about Greece’s current plight? What do you think the outcome will be?
JS: Although I’m certain many will disagree with my take on this (after all it is Greece) I see Greece as finally starting to get its act together. Samaras appears to have risen to the occasion and his coalition partners—seeing no future for themselves outside of the coalition—are accepting that the only viable choices for reviving the country are between bad tasting medicines. Ultimately, out of all this pain, there might come the opportunity for Greece to “reboot” and get its priorities back in sensible order.
Still, I think it will take a decade for the country to recover, assuming necessary reforms are implemented. If not, well…what can I say.
This summer will be telling. Hopefully yielding a bright light at the end of a not so distant tunnel…and by that I don’t mean a locomotive bearing down upon us. 😎
GIB: What’s the funniest experience you ever had in Greece?
JS: My best friend was a jeweler on Mykonos. His wife had left him a year before, and as a consummate gentleman and clearly the most respected man on Mykonos, he could not bring himself to date. He thought it would reflect badly on his family and reputation to do so before divorced.
His collaborators in his shop kept hounding him to get out into the world… and on Mykonos you need go no further than your front door to participate. One day a well-known woman invited him to attend a “major” late-night party she was throwing at a taverna on one of Mykonos’ beaches, and with his collaborators prodding he agreed to go, provided I went with him. Being single, I said why not.
It was about a twenty-minute drive to the beach and I’d spent the entire time trying to get him to relax, telling him to be open to the adventure of meeting new women, to smile at them all, be himself, and let things go wherever they led.
By the time we got there he was psyched to get out into the “scene.”
Panos (that’s my alias for my friend) knew the owners of the taverna so we went in through the kitchen door to say hello before going into the party. The daughter saw us first and with a look of shock on her face said, “Mister Panos, what are you doing here?”
He smiled and said, “Jeffrey and I are here for the party.”
Her eyes darted back and forth between us as we headed to the door into the taverna.
“Did you see that look she gave me?” said Panos. “I knew it was wrong for me to come to this party.”
I said, “Relax, you’re imagining things. She’s just surprised to see you out. All you have to do is remember what we talked about in the car and you’ll have a good time.” I smacked him on the back, swung open the door, and off we were into the midst of Mykonos’ Annual Feather and Shell Ball.
Now, for those of you who don’t know what the Feather and Shell Ball was all about…and I can assure you that neither Panos nor I did before that moment…in those days it was the gay event of the season on the island.
I leave to your imagination where all those feathers and shells were applied.
I still remember the look on Panos’ face. I never saw a jaw so close to the floor on a standing man. Our hostess was on us immediately, shepherding us toward the head table. I started to laugh, but caught myself long enough to whisper in Panos’ ear, “Forget all the advice I gave you. You’re on your own.”
We all had a lot of friends there, and so it was a lot of fun, but my most memorable moment came after our hostess picked Panos to choose and crown the Belle of the Ball from among all those in competition for the title.
It was a particularly poignant moment, one filmed for German television, and if anyone ever comes across a tape of that moment, and you see a traditionally dressed Greek man crowning a Gypsy Rose Lee look-alike, look closely. You’ll see his eyes are fixed elsewhere, on a conventionally dressed, silver-haired American at the head table laughing so hysterically he has his napkin stuffed inside his mouth.
Ah, the unexpected joys of Mykonos. And yes, the wife came back. So, I guess you could say the Fates played a hand in keeping Panos faithful to the principles that guided every moment of his life…and gave his buddy an unforgettable story in the process.
GIB: What are the best and worst meals you’ve ever had there?
JS: My best meal continues to be a panegyri I attend each summer at the home of old-time Mykonian friends. They prepare everything fresh from their own gardens, animals, and winery. It is a grandparents through grandchildren operation, all playing a part…spouses’ families too. There is no better place on earth to be than in their garden staring out across the Mykonos countryside toward the sea while sipping Temi’s homemade wine for experiencing what island life should be all about.
As for my worst meal, well I was in the restaurant business in New York City for a while, so I’m pretty forgiving of random mistakes. But not for conscious abuse. My worst experience by far was in a self-described upscale restaurant where the bill for a single plate of fruit following the meal was 60 euros. When I questioned the charge, the waiter said “It’s 15 euros per person,” even though he admitted the size of the portion remained the same. Care to bet whether I paid that charge? What ensued you might call the waiter’s worst experience with a customer. 🙂
GIB: What’s your single most cherished memory of Greece?
JS: I have so many that might qualify, but in the context of my journey to relocate to Greece as a writer, there is one that stands out above all others. As I mentioned before, I’d walked away from a very successful law practice to pursue my love of writing full time. Beyond giving up a substantial income, I’d abdicated my name-partner “position” in society’s pecking order. Not that it mattered to me, for if it had I wouldn’t have done it. BUT, I still could not help but wonder whether I had “it” as a writer—that subjective something so important to each of us pursuing this solitary craft.
Soon after my book first book was published in Greece by Aikaterini Lalaouni Editions (first in Greek, then in English), I was surfing the Internet looking to see what mention there might be of Murder in Mykonos. I came across a site for Elefteroudakis, Greece’s largest bookseller, punched in the name of my book, and stared at the page trying to comprehend what I saw.
I carried my laptop over to a Greek-friend and asked if that page said what I thought it said.
He looked at it, smacked me on the back and said, “Yes, according to Eleftheoudakis, Murder in Mykonos is the #1 best selling English-language book in all of Greece!”
I’m still pinching myself over that most cherished moment.