Friday, July 9, 2021

Part 2, On Being Back Home




Last Saturday, I passed along views I’d shared with London’s Financial Times about the Greek Aegean Island of Mykonos that I call home.


This week I have more to reveal, as expressed in Q&A interviews I recently gave to several Greece-based magazines.  Whether or not they’re ever published is beyond my control, but hey, if you want to maintain your bona fides as a fiction writer you must tell it like it is. That may seem counter-intuitive, but you need to have gained your readers’ trust if you expect them to accompany you on your inevitable leap from the improbable to the impossible.


For example, how many people do you believe are murdered each year in Iceland?  Answer:  Less than one per year for the past several decades, though in 2017 there were four…still not enough victims to go around for all the fantastic Iceland crime writers doing their incredibly believable thing.


So, buried within the following back and forth are the elements I draw upon to turn Greek islands into believable murderous venues, even though the murder rate in Greece--long regarded as one of the safest countries in the European Union—is the same as in Iceland.


Bottom line: Build trust and believable murders shall follow.


Q.        Could Greece be a paradise? If not, why is it not?


A.        One visitor’s paradise can be another’s hell.  A place filled with welcoming gregarious locals might be a recluse’s nightmare.  Warm blue-green seas and broad sandy beaches are not likely to be favored by those who prefer to hide from the sun.  Museums exhibiting locally discovered antiquities dating back thousands of years could be utterly boring to some, as would be a 24/7 partying atmosphere for others. Although it’s hard to imagine how dining daily at the source of the healthy Mediterranean Diet could possibly be other than paradise for all, there are inveterate processed snack food addicts.


What I can speak to is Greece’s attraction for me as a mystery writer. There is no place on earth more closely linked to the ancient world than Greece.  It is the birthplace of the gods, the cradle of European civilization, and the bridge between East and West.  Spartan courage, Athenian democracy, Olympic achievement, and Trojan intrigue all sprung from this wondrous land, and in our modern world Greece’s position remains critically important.  Just look at a map to see how many of the greatest issues facing today’s world are centered in Greece’s Mediterranean neighborhood. I’d venture to say that no western country is closer to what challenges our planet than Greece. All of that makes Greece a paradise for me as a mystery writer–especially when you toss in its seas, beaches, museums, people, partying, and food.



Q.        Why did you choose Mykonos to live instead of one other Greek island?


A.        I first visited the island thirty-five years ago when a friend suggested I travel to Greece. She believed I’d love it there, and she was right. After spending a few days in Athens, I flew to Mykonos.  From the moment I stepped onto the tarmac at the Mykonos airport, I felt as if I were home. That first day I happened to pass by a jewelry shop on my way into town from my hotel, and though I forget how the proprietor lured me inside, the next thing I knew I was (unsuccessfully) dodging drinks, pastries, and candies. Unbeknownst to me, I’d stumbled upon the most beloved man on Mykonos.  A consummate gentleman and fervent booster of the island, he had an extraordinary circle of local, national, and international friends, all of whom made a point of regularly stopping by to say hello to him. 

 Over the years he and I developed a deep friendship, sharing our birthday parties, watching out for each other’s children, and attending together many a Mykonian panigyri, concert, baptism, wedding, and funeral. Without my realizing it, he’d subtly turned me into a Mykonian—or at least as close to that elevated status as a non-Greek American could hope to achieve.



Q.        What could an American love in Mykonos?


A.        On Mykonos, Americans will find the embodiment of their nation’s classic success story, one achieved through dedicated hard work, creative entrepreneurship, and a relentless never-give-up attitude. During my thirty-five plus years on the island I’ve witnessed an extraordinary metamorphosis among the Mykonians, and for those who remember its pre-Jackie Kennedy Onassis years the changes are of cosmic proportions. Going back further, it’s hard for those not touched by the island’s World War II-induced days of starvation and depression to imagine Mykonos as impoverished as it once was.  Today, it’s a world-renown 24/7 summertime playground for the super-rich, and the long-impoverished Mykonian people now number among the wealthiest per capita in Greece. It is where visitors from around the world come to celebrate among like-minded folk, and to recharge their batteries for new challenges to come.



Q.        How is everyday life for you in Mykonos? 


A.        Despite all my years on Mykonos, at times I still feel as if I’m wandering about a parallel universe, silently feeding off the ubiquitous energy generated by excited visitors from around the world who come to the island for the sole purpose of being part of its anything goes tourist season madness.


I offer no criticism, for once I was part of that scene. Up until a few years ago, I’d generally be up for breakfast at 10:00, start writing at 11:00, head to the beach at 15:00, have lunch at 17:00, return home for a nap at sundown, and be out on the town by midnight to meet up with local friends and shopkeepers for conversation and dinner.  Then we’d be off to the bars and clubs, which generally don’t start jumping until 2:00.  There I’d often remain until sunrise, gathering research from talkative international political and business folk who should know better than to ramble on to a writer who is spending more time with his pen and notebook than his drink.


These days I spend less time out and about after 2:00, and more time writing. Some might take that as a sign of maturity.



Q.        What's your idea of happiness in Mykonos?


A.        Free diving with friends off a deserted coastline, cooking our catch on a driftwood fire, and sailing back home as dolphins race alongside us tops my list.  A close second is taking a stroll at sunset along a beach while looking across the sea toward the nearby Holy Island of Delos, the birthplace of Apollo, god of light, and his twin sister, Artemis, goddess of the hunt. As I walk where the ancients once did, watching the sun set into the sea as they must have done, I wonder how akin their thoughts at such moments might be to my own.



Q.        Do you have a Mykonian bucket list?


A.        I finished off that list years ago.  Once I accepted the principle that writing is a lousy way to make a living but a wonderful way to make a life, yet still decided to take the leap from name partner in my own New York City law firm to fledgling writer, any bucket list fantasies faded away. After all, what possible bucket list item could rival having no more to do each morning than wake up on an idyllic Greek island and write whatever came to mind?  Besides, it’s a whole lot sexier to be labeled a writer than a lawyer. 



Q.        How did your legal culture influence your writing?


A.        As a Wall Street lawyer, and later as a name partner in my own New York City law firm, I learned to be factually accurate and convincing in marshalling facts to support contentious legal propositions.  I also learned through my first-hand knowledge of serious matters making headline news that what’s reported is not necessarily accurate (we’re not talking fake news here), and that those who command public adulation are just as fallible and confused as the rest of us. I’ve employed those same skills and perceptions—coupled with an imagination allowed to run wild—to create mystery-thrillers providing far more than just a fast-paced story.


When I decided to leave the practice of law at the peak of my career to live in Greece and write full-time, I realized that in one year as a lawyer I’d likely earn as much as I would over my entire career as a writer. Still, I took the plunge because I’d also concluded I would not live forever (I should add that only one of those two assumptions seems assured.).  Surprisingly, I found making that decision remarkably easy.  Many who sincerely want to take such a step fear change will cost them whatever status they’ve achieved in their society’s hierarchy.  I’m not one who worries about that sort of thing; I believe your best years always are ahead of you.


Q.        People read your books as travel guides to Greece. Is it a mystery?


A.        When I wrote my debut mystery-thriller, Murder in Mykonos, I didn’t think in terms of creating a series.  I intended to write a standalone novel describing the character of an island I knew well through an exposition of its people, culture, politics, history, and geography.  When that book went on to be the #1 best-selling English-language book in Greece, and made The New York Times’ radar list of hardcover best sellers, I realized I had a series. I also recognized that in going forward I must continue to plumb the character of whatever venues I chose to feature in each new book.   


As for the mystery behind why people read my books as travel guides, no one was more stunned than I to learn that Fodor’s Greek Islands Travel Guide highlighted my book in the introduction to its section titled, “Mykonos After Dark.”  



Q.        How do you respond to bad reviews on your books?


A.        Bad reviews?  You mean there are such things?  I consider anyone who takes the time to read a book of mine, and then puts in the additional effort of preparing a review, is entitled to his or her own opinion.  If they actually paid for the book, so much the better.



Q.        What do you most value in people?

A.        The ability to make and maintain good and honest friendships whenever and wherever they can. It takes time, dedication, understanding, and at times sacrifice, but the return on investment is immeasurable.


Q.        Does inspector Kaldis plan to... retire?


A.        Not likely. Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis’ Special Crimes Unit is charged with investigating matters of vital national concern, including official corruption. Considering the plethora of intrigues lurking just below the surface on hundreds of Greek islands, and in at least as many mainland towns and villages, Kaldis has more than enough adventures to keep him and his crew busy for decades, if not centuries. Besides, his wife Lila prefers that he keep his day job, because every so often she gets to join in on an adventure.



Q.        Inspector Kaldis embarks Naxos in your book. What captivates him on the island?


A.        Over the past thirty-five years I’d taken many a day trip to Naxos with my free-diving buddies. But in 2018 my wife and I visited for a week, and immediately fell in love with everything about the place. Friendly welcoming people, dramatic colorful history, a fiercely independent spirit, and magical breathtaking landscapes abound on this largest and greenest of the Cycladic islands.  But what sold me on setting A DEADLY TWIST there (#11 in the series) is the serious societal issue I pictured playing out as the background for my plot.   All my books cover such an issue, and on Naxos I found the perfect locale for a subject I’d Iong sought to address, namely the universal dilemma facing virtually every desirable tourist destination on earth--simmering conflicts between advocates seeking to maximize tourism and defenders fervent to protect the old ways.



Q.        What is your most treasured possession? 


A.        That’s an easy one to answer: My children and grandchildren, and for those who wonder why I left my wife off the list, let’s just say I have more sense than to dare characterize that treasure as a possession.





Jeff’s upcoming events

Thursday, August 11
Fish & Olive Gallery—Halki, Naxos Island, Greece
European presentation of A Deadly Twist on the island where it is set
Learn more

Thursday, August 26, 5:00-5:50 p.m.
Bouchercon 2021—New Orleans, LA
New Orleans Marriott—La Galeries 2, 2nd Floor
Moderator, Mystery of Crafting Thrillers Set in Foreign Lands

Friday, August 27, 11:00-11:50 a.m.
Bouchercon 2021—New Orleans, LA
New Orleans Marriott—La Galeries , 4-5. 2nd Floor
Panelist, Thrillers in the World of Politics




  1. Hah. You're wise regarding your thoughts on SWMBO, but not so wise regarding your children and grandchildren: they are not your possessions, you are THEIRS. And don't you forget it, buster! (I'm happy for you making it, at long last, back to your heart-home.)

  2. Thanks, EvKA, and on my progeny's power over moi, I stand corrected...and wiser.

  3. Jeff August 11is a Wednesday, please verify date and time for the vernissage! We’re targeting your soirée for a Naxos or bust reunion. CJ Counelis aka shrewofamherst

    1. I'll see what I can find out and message you. I'm only performing at, not organizing the event, and as we know, time is relative over here. :)

  4. Wise words Jeff! You are, most certainly, one of the most fervent philhellenes and probably the most read of the modern fans of Greece! We are most proud to have you among us. It warms my heart to know that you have made and maintained true friendships in Mykonos but also throughout Greece! Have a marvelous, adventurous and creative stay in your second homeland! Much love and respect!

    1. That's so wonderful and considerate of you to say, Skywalker. Thank you from the very bottom of my deep, dark, mysterious, Greece-beating heart. :) I'm sincerely moved by and appreciate your kind words.

  5. Thanks, Jeff! Interesting thoughts. On your first comment, I once was in Turkey and chatting to an English couple about how much I was enjoying the local food. They looked rather blank, and when I'd finished, they told me about an English pub nearby that served English pub food and beer. They went there every evening. They invited us to join them. We passed. Your case rests.

    1. You made me laugh at a similar memory I have from here, Michael. As the cliche goes, it takes all kinds of cuts to make up a tourist sausage...or something like that. :)

  6. You are living the dream, Jeff! May you have many more years of peace and enjpoyment.I am glad that y ou got back home.May you always return.

    1. Thank you, Tonette! I'm thankful for many things, but nothing more so than my wonderful friendships.

  7. Your love for Mykonos and your Greek friends and neighbours shines through so much! Lovely interview.

    1. Thanks, Marina. Greece and the Greeks make it easy. :)

  8. What a lovely description of a happy life in Mykonos. Dolphins alongside a boat? Something most of us won't see.

    Good thinking not to include your partner as a possession.