Kimberly K. Robeson
 

Author/Narrator Divide

A few months ago, I was discussing a novel I was reading, SARAH’S KEY with a friend who was also reading the same book. Jenny then commented “de Rosnay’s husband is such a bastard. I could tell from the beginning of the book that he was a jerk.” When I heard her mention the author’s name and not the protagonist’s, I could feel my invisible teacher’s hat being put on. I wanted to talk about Roland Barthes theory “The Author is Dead”—that only readers matter and not authors. But, more importantly, I wanted to explain that the author and the narrator are not the same person! Sure writers write what they know, but primarily they create. Read: Fiction. Tatiana de Rosnay’s character, I agree, is a bastard, but the “arrogant Bertrand” and has nothing to do with de Rosnay’s “wonderful husband, Nicolas” as the author herself states at the end of her novel in a short “Q and A” section. In fact, she goes on to say, “Most of my readers are convinced I am Julia. At first this annoyed me somewhat, but in the end, I take it to be a magnificent compliment that I have created a character who could really exist and that women can identify with!”

As Jenny continued to rant about “de Rosnay’s husband,” I took off my invisible teacher’s hat without commenting, and instead remembered this astute author’s words. If a reader of RED GREEK TOMATOES thinks Thair is me, that the protagonist is the author, I, too, will take this as a compliment, because like de Rosnay said, at least I created a believable character. Ultimately, if my protagonist or any other character in my novel can make a reader feel some strong emotion, then I feel I have been successful. 

With this “Author/Narrator Divide” in mind, here are some questions and comments about RED GREEK TOMATOES as posed by the first few readers of my novel.

Reader 1: Having known you for over twenty years, I can’t help but notice right away that Thair sounds so much like you. I know she’s not, but how would you respond to readers that say: “Of course Thair is you!”? She’s almost the same age, lives in San Diego, is a Community College Professor, and is Greek-American. 

KKR: These similarities are obvious. To say I modeled her on someone else would be disingenuous. Yes, there are things we have in common—mostly what you mentioned as well as some belief systems. But Thair is not me. She is a character that has her own ideas, her own strengths, her own weaknesses. Her experiences are purely fictional. 

Reader 2: As I was reading your novel, I felt the need to go and give my own grandmother a big hug! I realized that I know so little about my own grandmother’s life. Do you know a lot about your grandmother, and how similar is your own grandmother to Thair’s yiayia? 

KKR: Again, like many writers, we write what we know, so when I imagined Thair’s grandmother, I am sure some of the love that was expressed from Thair came from the feelings I have for my own dear yiayia. I also took some of my yiayia’s background as a starting place for Thair’s yiayia. My grandmother was born on the island of Imbros and immigrated to Egypt during World War II, but the “Dina” in my novel, once more, is a purely fictional character with fictional experiences. (Oh, and my yiayia is alive and well!) 

Reader 3: I didn’t know you dated an Indian-American engineer! And, my goodness, I don’t know if your mom will like the depiction of Phaedra [Thair’s mother]. 

KKR: This was a comment that I can’t say took me completely by surprise because when I shared my novel idea with family members and good friends they said, “Oh, so you are writing a memoir.” I guess on the surface it could look like that, but the problem is if I called it a memoir, I would be in the same position as James Frey (and, honestly, based on what he told Oprah in his last interview, I feel sorry for the guy). Similarly, in my situation, I could never sell it as memoir because, simply put, what happens in the novel never happened in my life. The characters and events are FICTION. (I wish I could be as determined as Thair, 5’ 6” with long, lean legs!) Lastly, for the record, I never did date a sexy Indian-American like Ravi, and my mama is really a sweet, very open-minded woman who hates air-conditioning! 

Reader 5: So are you saying that the summer house in Kythnos, or places like Rancho Fierno, Metsovo, Meteora, Kamena Vourla are fictitious? 

KKR: Obviously, some of these places are real. And some are so real to me because I have either visited them recently, or they are places that I hold very dear in my heart. Rancho Fierno, on the other hand, is made up. Yes, it is a suburb and described as “suburgatory,” but it’s really just a symbolic place for a girl who did not feel comfortable in her “home”—or in her “skin.”  I would also like to add, I have nothing against the suburbs, especially now as I am a bit older and have a slower-paced life; in fact, I quite like the suburb where I currently live. 

Reader 3: When I finished your book, I felt like I was taken on journey. Was this your intention? And did you, Kimberly, have a similar life journey? 

KKR: I am sure writers have different intentions when writing a book. For me, I had an authentic tale to tell, so the words poured out of me. I wrote 90% of the novel in 7 months; I had been working on the other 10% for more than ten years. The entire novel “idea” has been in my head since 1998. When I finally carved time in my life to write full-time in February of 2011, the experience was magical. I know that sounds corny, but I followed Thair on her journey, and she surprised me many times! For example, the day she was sitting in a café in Encinitas, I had intended her to meet a Greek-American man, but instead—all of a sudden—my fingers were typing, and the man introduced himself as “Ravi”! And then he told Thair he was American with a mother from India. This was only one of the many surprises along the way that I encountered during my travels with Thair. So, no, I did not have a clear intention, but if readers can take a journey with Thair—a physical one (to Greece and back)—or an emotional one (into the black and back) then, as an author, I will be more than pleased. And as far as my own life, it has been far less tumultuous than Thair’s (thank God!) but—I must admit—writing Thair’s philosophies did solidify some of my own personal beliefs. 

Reader 1: I noticed you mention the band Linkin Park several times, and Thair says it’s her favorite band. I know you love Linkin Park, so this made me think that at times Thair really is you. 

KKR: Yes, Thair loves Linkin Park. And, yes, I do too! You will also notice I mention several authors and books; my first novel certainly had to include several of my “favorite things”!   

Reader 3: Thair has a very small family. It’s really just Thair and her mom. Why did she not have a brother or siblings—or even a big, fat Greek family? 

KKR: When I started writing this story, ideas and relationships were more important to me than characters. I knew I was writing fiction, not a family history. I am blessed with a kind husband; a solid, nuclear family; and a wonderful, extended Greek family; and even if they don’t find themselves in any of the characters of my novel, be warned: I plan on writing a second novel! (ha!) 

So, with that, let me conclude by saying, a BIG Thank you, Efharisto and Gracias to Bettina F., Daphne A., Vanessa G., Jean K., and Angelique R. for being the first five readers of my novel, and for the thought-provoking questions and comments.

And to the greater world out there, thank you for the taking the time to read this, and please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments.
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