Kitty Johnson, a dear friend from Minneapolis, brought a gift on her recent visit. She had found a 1993 St. Paul Pioneer Press article about my just-published novel, Sinister Paradise and had framed it. (See photo.) Coincidentally, at the publication party of The Santorini Setup two days earlier, I had mentioned that my new novel is a rewrite of Sinister Paradise.
So, what is the back story of SP/TSS? In 1979, I strapped on a backpack, donned Red Wing steel-toed boots, and flew to Athens. I was in that sweet spot of life—I’d finished my Masters degree and had not yet started a career. A six-week solo jaunt in Greece, my spiritual touchstone, seemed the perfect way to celebrate my freedom before finding a job.
A few days into the trip, I was sitting on a curb studying a map of Athens, when a young woman stopped to see if I needed assistance. She was a student at the American School. A lesbian. She invited me to spend a few days at her place in the upscale Kolonaki neighborhood. She was renting a room at the apartment owned by a photographer who worked for the State Department traveling around the Mediterranean taking pictures at U.S. embassy functions.
“Is he CIA?” I asked.
“That’s my suspicion, but he’d never admit it,” she said.
Through the apartment owner, I met other embassy staff as well as the son of a wealthy Greek industrialist who owned an 80-foot yacht. (Alas, I never stepped foot on it.) I spent several days absorbing the exclusive lifestyle of the foreign service and American students, an experience few tourists have.
The following week I took a ferry to Santorini and walked up the zig-zag steps to the main town of Thera. Donkey rides were available, but I was pinching drachmas and took the free route—my legs. I stayed at a quaint B&B at Kamari Beach with black sand so hot it could burn feet. I explored the archaeological site at Akrotiri, visited the ruins atop Mesa Vouno, and generally bummed around the beautiful but eerie island, a remnant of a massive volcanic explosion over 3000 years ago.
Back in Minneapolis, I got a job with Control Data’s Education Company. One project involved writing short stories for a reading program. Lesbian literature was starting to flourish and given my forays into fiction at work, I thought I’d try writing a lesbian novel. I loved suspense and mystery books, so I settled on a suspense story set in Greece using bits from my travels. Writing a novel was harder than I had anticipated, though. And I needed more data!
Four years later, in 1983, I returned to Greece to gather more information. For several years, I continued to work on the story in fits and starts. Finally, I took two suspense/mystery writing classes at The Loft Literary Center and joined a writing group that emerged from those classes. With the group’s encouragement, I finished my novel, and in 1993, Madwoman Press published Sinister Paradise.
See the next entry for Part Two of how my first book turned into my fifth book.