By Angela Panayotopulos
A little more than two years ago, I completed my MFA in Creative Writing at a much-loved, much-missed George Mason University, tackling the goal head-on to finish the three-year program in two years, working long hours to fend for myself and studying long hours finish with honors. Somewhere between that time, I managed the team at the So to Speak, practiced and taught Greek dancing, and enjoyed the company of my friends. By the end, I had a degree in my hand, a few words of wisdom still ringing fresh in my ears (“sometimes, a turtle is just a turtle”… anyone?), and a story branded in my mind.
And then? Insulated steel frames and vehicle identification numbers. Ah, of course. After school comes “the real world,” and I found myself working in the construction and automobile industry. Inevitable, I suppose, when you’re born in a family of engineers and car mechanics. And yet I loved each new experience, embracing it as something unique and unexpected and educational. Especially once I realized that the best writer is the living human—the one who tackles life headlong. Our experiences and observations transform into our considerations, and fuel our musings and our dreams. If you live your whole life in a box (they call it a cubicle now)—and I sometimes have—and you are a very gifted writer, you’d make a box seem interesting, I’m sure. But if you live your life in a boundless world and enjoy wrestling with the pen… simply imagine all you’ll have to share.
I digress. Awesome random experiences aside, I didn’t want these experiences to become my permanent essence. And you can’t write much when you’re too tired to. Like many others in a similar position, I had an epiphany so deep it was nearly sacrilegious: this wasn’t what I’d studied for, it wasn’t where I’d reach my potential, it wasn’t what I really wanted to live for! So, transforming the real world into a part-time world, I launched my freelancing career on the side, introducing the term “freelancer” to my family, my friends, and 99% of the folks who asked what I did for a living. (I can’t blame them; feels like I’d been living pre-middle-ages before job-hunting for writing jobs while abroad, because I’d never even heard of freelancer. But that’s what I’ve become. It’s pretty cool. It even sounds pretty cool. But I almost wish it involved holding a lance.)
Writing for others is educational, rewarding, and can be fun—and, hey, in time there comes a paycheck. But if you really think of yourself as a writer, I don’t think you can ever stop thinking about what comes from inside your heart, and not just that which comes from other’s heads. And I guess I can call myself a published author, now. This time, 98% of the population does actually know what I’m talking about, which is refreshing.
THE ART OF WAR: A NOVEL was born at GMU, where the seed of the idea was sown in Dr. Helon Habila’s creative writing class. I watered and weeded it as my thesis with the help of some very amazing people, meanwhile immersing myself in the literary, musical, cinematographic, and oral legacy of WWII. Today, I’ve forgotten many of the specifics that I’d learned, I’m afraid. But it warms my heart that those specifics are still alive—in all those legacies, my little book a shadow among them—and accessible to each of us if we only have the will to find them.
I’ve said this before, and I believe it profoundly: a book, like a life, is a person’s message to the world, consciously or not. Writing my book was an inevitable process of discovery—of history, of other people, and certainly of myself. I tried to conjure the human condition in the way of the writer (at least what I consider to be a way): at once theoretical (which sounds detached) yet infused with fervor, passion, devotion, a seeking of truth, and an unleashing of imagination (not so detached, eh?). I tried to imagine myself in the scenes of my story and the shoes of my characters (those lucky enough to have them), wondering if I was or could be as fearless or as flawed as they, warming to the humanity of it all, chilled by the inhumanity of it all, still amazed at all of what I’d read and what I’ve written—only because, for me, it feels so real.
THE ART OF WAR: A NOVEL is, first and foremost, a story about the prevailing power of love and the brutality of war. It is about the necessity of belief in all that is good, even—rather, especially—during a reign of darkness. It is about appreciating the light that chases the shadows. I like to think of it as a canvas of characters and stories which would not be overlapping if not for the greater force of WWII. They all come together, and they learn to make the best of it. Infused with undertones, themes, and symbolism from Homeric myth and Norse legend, the novel also draws from the stories of real survivors of WWII: memories that are heartwarming and haunting in turn.
So I guess you could say, this is my message to the world, cradled within the whispering pages between two covers. From me, to you, with the power of love, and the memory of war.
Photos courtesy of Angela Panayotopulos.