Friday, May 8, 2015

Author Spotlight for Eleni Gage

Today, I have Eleni Gage, author of The Ladies of Managua that was reviewed by me yesterday.  Click here to check it out.  :)

ELENI N. GAGE (@elenigage) is the author of The Ladies of Managua (St. Martin’s Press; May 5) and a journalist who writes regularly for publications including Travel+Leisure, The New York Times, T: The New York Times Travel Magazine, Dwell, Elle, Elle D├ęcor, Real Simple, Parade, and The American Scholar. Currently Executive Editor at Martha Stewart Weddings and formerly beauty editor at People, Eleni graduated with an AB in Folklore and Mythology from Harvard University and an MFA from Columbia University. She lives in New York City with her husband and their two young children.


Write Where You Go

Writing instructors often advise, “write what you know.” I prefer to write where I go, setting books in places that I’m just discovering. Maybe it’s a holdover from having studied Folklore and Mythology in college and reading ethnographies, anthropological accounts of going into a community, living among that group, and observing and writing about them. There was a lot of talk about the ethnographer’s “insider-outsider status”; the writer was in the community, but not of them, a perspective that allowed her to notice things that those who had always lived within the group might have taken for granted. 

The “insider-outsider” role was instantly comfortable for me, perhaps because I’ve always been a part of two different cultures. My father is Greek and my mother is American. Just before I turned three we moved from New York to Athens, Greece. When I was seven, we relocated to Worcester, Massachusetts. Driving there from New York, where our flight from Athens landed, my mom pointed out that we had just crossed into Connecticut. “What language do they speak in Connecticut?” I asked. 

Clearly, I wasn’t great at geography. But I knew from a young age that people are different, and live differently, from place to place. While the role of an ethnographer appealed to me psychologically from the start, when I became a writer it drew me professionally as well. I often joke that I choose the setting for my books based on the places that I want to travel. My first, the travel memoir North of Ithaka, describes the year I spent living among senior citizens in the tiny Greek mountaintop village of Lia, overseeing the rebuilding of my grandparents’ house, which had fallen into ruin during the Greek civil war. I had an amazing time, attending gypsy weddings and nomadic shepherd conventions and getting to know my heritage, and myself, better. 

My second book, the novel Other Waters, told the story of an Indian-American psychiatrist who thinks that her family has been cursed and travels from New York to India to save them. Researching the book allowed me to visit India three times, bathe in the Ganges, tour Hindu temples, and ride camels in the desert—and write all of it off on my taxes (one of the few financial perks of being a writer!). 

And I wrote the first draft of my new novel, The Ladies of Managua, during seven months in which my family and I lived in the colonial town of Granada, Nicaragua, where my husband had been sent for his work as a coffee trader. There were parrots in the yard, monkeys in the trees, and sherbet-colored churches along the streets. Plus, there was really affordable child care, which let me spend my afternoons writing a novel about thee generations of Nicaraguan women, each with her own secret, who uncover old wounds, set out on new adventures, and learn to place love over resentment. 

Writing while living in the setting of you book is so inspiring; it’s definitely the way to do it if you can. But now that I have a full time office job, and living abroad for extended periods is impossible, I have to fall back short research trips, and the passion that brought me to writing in the first place: a love of reading, which allows you to immerse yourself in countless new settings without ever leaving your home.

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