Born and raised in Oakton, Virginia, Angela Panayotopulos describes her hometown in ways only a writer could: “A town of rolling hills, sun-kissed deciduous forests, slow-trickling creeks, and people who jog along the streets and greet with a smile and a wave.”
Nowadays, the 24-year-old Greek-American splits her time between the U.S. and Greece. Her father is from the small town of Soudenaika; her mother was born and raised in the center of Patras. Don’t ask her to choose which country she likes best, though, because she will tell you “both.” In fact, Panayotopulos is conducting her Greek Reporter interview sitting in a beautiful locale somewhere in her European motherland.
After receiving a BA in English and MFA in Creative Writing from George Mason University, the young author sat down to write her first published book, “The Art of War: a Novel.” It was quite a process, she says, having to “nurture it until it becomes strong and independent enough to stand on its own two feet, loving and encouraging it all the way,” but it was all worth it as she reaps the benefits of seeing her work come to life on the page.
In our interview, Panayotopulos provided some insight on what it was like trying to get a novel into the hands of readers, how it feels to get positive feedback on her first venture in publishing, and what other young Greek writers can do to follow in her footsteps.
How did you come up with the idea for your first novel, ‘The Art of War’?
I think I’ve been writing stories and novels for as long as I could pen a legible sentence. I can’t guarantee that, but I do know I’ve been scribbling ideas and characters down ever since I can remember reading and writing. This novel began in a Creative Writing class. I tend to write best under pressure. For a short story assignment, I decided to write about something I was familiar with (Greek culture) and breed with something surreal and “out there.” Somehow, I spun a tale about a Greek artist held captive in a church by Nazi soldiers, forced to create murals against her will – first with paint, then with blood. My professor and classmates found so many vignettes erupting within this one story, they were overwhelmed by the tangents (as was I). They had plenty of questions (as did I). So, I chased for the answers. “The Art of War: a Novel” was born pretty rapidly after that.
What’s the best way to describe the book?
“The Art of War: a Novel” is, first and foremost, a story about the prevailing power of love and the brutality of war. It is about the necessity of belief in all that is good, even—rather, especially—during a reign of darkness. It is about appreciating the light that chases the shadows. I like to think of it as a canvas of characters and stories which would not be overlapping if not for the greater force of WWII. They all come together, and they learn to make the best of it. Rich with undertones, themes, and symbolism from Homeric myth and Norse legend, the novel also draws from the stories and memories of real survivors of WWII. My goal was to create something that is in turn, heartwarming and haunting. Did I [achieve it]? Maybe. You tell me.
What was the process like to get it published?
It took time, certainly. Patience and perseverance. But it was very exciting! It’s the sort of thing where you have to pour in heart and soul if you want to reap what you sow. It’s a lifetime experience, too – it taught me that it’s not enough to do what I love, but that I also have to support it.
The book has received some rave reviews. How did it feel to read them?
Ahh, it’s the best feeling you can have, after the publication of a novel. There’s that delicious heart-pulsing-maniacally feeling you get when you’re completing something major, you know – be it a novel, a marathon, a painting, a four-year degree – and you tell yourself, “see, knew you could do it!” Just the creation itself is fulfilling. But reviews are the reflection of your efforts. Here you see if you have indeed created something that warms other people’s hearts or tickles their minds. That’s when you’ve created something worthy, something that might make an impression. A book – like a life – is a message to the world. At least let it be inspiring. If the world gets the message, it’s a very comforting feeling.
Do you have any tips for aspiring young Greek writers who want to be authors?
Something I heard in passing a long time ago: write what you love, write what you want, but never write a line that you’d be ashamed to have read aloud by someone in your epitaph. And I try to live by this unwritten rule. Your books are your mirror, your truth, and your unique perspective on life. Subconsciously or not, I believe they reflect what we have hidden within us.
Also, don’t underestimate the power of good people in this world. Greek will help Greek – ethnically, we are an incredibly bonded family, especially outside of the motherland – but Good will also help Good. Accept the selfless help of a person. You may never be able to repay him or her personally, but you can one day repay; you, in turn, will have the opportunity to selflessly help another. A man’s character is shown when he does something for someone who will never be able to repay him. My father taught me this. Since then, I look for it. Each time I begin to lose faith, I see another example. I’ve been blessed to discover such kind souls along the entire journey of this novel – from the encouragement at the beginning, to the reception here at the end. So never give up. When one door closes, look for the window.
What are you working on next?
I’m considering a sequel to ‘The Art of War: a Novel,’ but I may leave that in the back-burner a bit. It depends. I have a few more ideas wrestling each other in my head; we’ll see who the victor is. But I’m pretty sure the next adventure will be far more surreal, possibly darker, and (hopefully) even more meaningful
“The Art of War: a Novel” is available in paperback and for Kindle. For more information, visit: www.art-of-war-novel.com or check out the Facebook page @ https://www.facebook.com/The.Art.of.War.Novel