Demi: Your new release “American Kid” tells a WWII family’s story set in Greece. What was the hardest part of writing this historical recount?
Connie: Many years ago, I was bowled over by the true but unimaginable story of an American family trapped in Greece, with no way to return home to the U.S. after the outbreak of WWII. “John,” narrator and the actual American kid of my book, related his family’s compelling story to me. After I finished my first book, “Austin Lunch,” I focused on interviewing John and writing the account of war in the village where his family sought refuge in “American Kid.” Having that first book experience under my belt was exceedingly helpful. John’s story was so thought-provoking, I felt compelled to learn accurate background information on WWII Greece and began researching history to corroborate John’s memories to the actual events. For me, researching was the hardest part of writing “American Kid.” I interviewed Chicagoans and Californians who had been Greek kids during WWII. In 2006, my husband and I went to Greece where I had the opportunity to actually visit the lovely village where the ugly wartime story took place. There I was able to interview villagers who also remembered the Nazi occupation. Those villagers and other eye-witnesses of the brutality the Nazi army waged on innocent civilians revealingly and accurately corroborated John’s engaging and incredible story.
Demi: What ways have you found to reach readers beyond bookstores and libraries?
Connie: Outreach into my local community here in Southern California began with my first book, “Austin Lunch.” Back then, a good friend volunteered to invite about 15 of her friends to her home one evening to hear me speak about my book. I was quite nervous as I had never done anything like that before. At the end of my talk I asked for questions. One gentleman raised his hand by extending 3 fingers into the air. Holding my breath, I hesitatingly asked, “What is your question?” “I don’t have a question,” he replied, “I want to buy 3 books!” I couldn’t believe the warm, enthusiastic, and generous response. After that, I reached out to my local church community. When they learned I had written a book of interest, I was invited to be a speaker at one of their community events. The enthusiastic response warmed my soul and also succeeded in selling books. When that worked, I reached out to local seniors clubs, book clubs, book stores, libraries, other churches, etc. I learned that organizations need speakers for their scheduled meetings and events. Authors can be those speakers. I also went back to Illinois, where “Austin Lunch” takes place, and spoke to libraries, church groups, etc. I am doing the same with “American Kid.” In fact, the esteemed women’s club of our South Bay and a group of L.A. academics have invited me to speak about “American Kid” this fall.
Demi: After garnering a back cover testimonial from Michael Dukakis on your latest book, I know my readers would LOVE to know how you made that happen.
Connie: My personal introduction to former Governor of Massachusetts and 1988 Democratic candidate for U.S. President, Michael Dukakis, also began with my first book, “Austin Lunch.” He, like me, is the child of Greek immigrants to the U.S. “Austin Lunch” is a story of surviving the Great Depression. It’s about my own family. My husband was the one who pushed the reluctant, somewhat shy, me into phoning Gov. Dukakis at his U.C.L.A. office. Dukakis teaches there at the School for Public Policy during the winter session every year. My husband located the appropriate U.C.L.A. phone number. Hesitant, because I believed this important and famous man would never want to talk to little old me, I dialed. After a typical ring tone, a male voice said, “Hello” and I nervously explained, “My name is Connie Constant and I’d like to leave a message for Governor Dukakis about the book I wrote that was just published.”
“You’re talking to him,” was the response. “Governor Dukakis??!!” I verified. He was amiable and patient while I explained my book.
His response? “I’d love to read your book!” A few months later he emailed me his very warm, positive, and enthusiastic comments about “Austin Lunch.” He had related to it!
When I contacted the governor, pre-production, about my second book, “American Kid,” requesting a blurb, which could be used on the book cover, he was as gracious and generous as ever. As an American, he also related to and enjoyed “American Kid.” Lesson: Don’t let your reticence limit you. Important and famous people are approachable. Michael Dukakis is an especially friendly, considerate man.
Demi: Were there any surprise moments along the way?
Connie: There have been many, including great reviews about “American Kid” on Amazon. Yet, the most unexpected happened last week at a local community event where “American Kid” was on sale. The seller was explaining the subject of the book to a tall, blond woman as I approached the counter.
Spotting me, the seller went on to introduce me. “This is the author of this wonderful book.”
The 50-ish serious looking woman stared at the title, American Kid: Nazi-Occupied Greece Through a Child’s Eyes, and then confronted me. “My father was in the German army.”
Taken aback by her challenge, I uttered, “In WWII?”
“Yes!” she answered.
She looked too young to be Rommel’s daughter, and I was curious. “How old was he?”
“Sixteen!” she replied. “Did he have a choice? I queried. “No,” she snapped.
“Well that tells the whole story,” I explained. “There happened to be two kind German soldiers in my book.”
That’s when she walked away. End of story.