The Real vs. Imaginary in Sunsets in Oia
PART ONE: PEOPLE
My past as a journalist heavily influenced my decisions when planning and writing this novel. I wanted it to feel as real as possible for a fictional story. That's why I interviewed the people who helped me, read countless articles and books about Greek culture, and eventually flew all the way to Santorini to write the book. The knowledge I gained and experiences I had during that 10-day writing retreat provided invaluable inspiration, thus blurring the line between fact and fiction even further.
So, let's get it straight once and for all.
The story of Sunsets in Oia and its plot are fictional. However, a few pieces of the puzzle were inspired by things I saw and people I met on the island, so I will now lend my fans some clarification. Part One of this article focuses on the characters.
Nikos — I'm frequently asked if Nikos was inspired by a real person, perhaps a handsome Greek man with whom I had a steamy vacation romance during my writing retreat. Wrong! Nikos is completely fictional. He's merely a male fantasy of mine that I felt was deserving of being put in print. (Here's hoping my readers agree!) When it came to choosing his name, I decided to go with something that was easy to pronounce but was still obviously Greek. His surname was chosen after I searched through a regional online phone directory. I wanted it to be a family name that was common to the Aegean.
Pavlo — As mentioned in a previous blog post, I was guided in the research phase by my Greek music guru, Pavlo. I met him when he performed with his band in Ottawa, and we chatted on the phone a few days later. He offered great advice and helped turn me on to some of Greece's most influential folk-music artists, which in turn greatly influenced Selene's musical evolution in the book. I feel very fortunate to have such a talented friend and supporter, and naming this character after him was my way of paying tribute to his guidance.
Olivier and Hélène — This couple was named after two real people. Olivier is a friend I knew in Ottawa, who once told me an amusing story about how he hoped his life might be in the future. Its details inspired me to imagine him as a successful, middle-aged man and write him into the book. His "arm candy" got her name from an incredibly inspiring young Canadian named Hélène Campbell, who underwent a double-lung transplant in April 2012 at the age of 20 to treat advanced idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. While on the waiting list, she started an awareness campaign through social media to promote organ donation, which eventually gained the support of Justin Bieber, Ellen DeGeneres and the international media. Hélène's popularity triggered a drastic increase in organ donor registrations. Her story inspired me so much that I felt compelled to include her somehow in my own story.
The remaining supporting characters, including Andrew, Roger and Ryan, are essentially pure fiction. However, some of Sophia and Georgios' mannerisms (e.g.: Sophia's loud voice, Georgios' habit of stroking worry beads) were loosely based on observations of Maria and Spiro Kokkalis during my stay at Laokasti Villas.
Lastly, four individuals are mentioned in the novel who are, in fact, real people. Roman, the waiter at Terpsi, is written to exactly mirror the real man. I treated myself to dinner at that restaurant one evening and struck up a conversation with Roman, who later introduced me to some wonderful places in the village during the rest of my stay. We're still friends to this day. Additionally, three real-life musicians are mentioned in the final pages of the book. Rosendo "Chendy" León, Jesse Brock and Liz Carroll are hired to record in-studio with Selene. These talented musicians lent me their names so I could help make my fictional leading lady's reputation within the industry more realistic.
Please check back soon for Part Two of this article. It will discuss the real-life places around Santorini that served as settings for various scenes, as well as a few liberties I took with the island's geography.