Interview by Joyce Strand on Strand’s Simply Tips

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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.


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