“Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity.” –Hippocrates, Greek Physician 460 BC – 370 BC
A handsome man and the beauty of a Greek island . . . what more could a grieving woman ask for? In author Sheila Busteed’s romantic novel Sunsets in Oia, unexpected romance stirs up the life of one woman who finds solace after tragedy. Filled with raw emotion, Sunsets in Oia captures the essence of exotic locale Santorini as two people connect and find a way to heal from devastating circumstances.
Interviewer: Christy Campbell
In Sunsets in Oia, you’ve created a story in such a beautiful setting. Tell us about the plot.
Sunsets in Oia tells the story of an unexpected romance that blossoms in the wake of tragedy. The story begins with Selene Doherty, the front woman of a Wellington-based rock band, who arrives on the Greek island of Santorini soon after her parents are killed in the Athens riots. Selene decides to hide away in her bequeathed summer home in the village of Oia as her grief and confusion begin to consume her. However, soon after her arrival, she crosses paths with her childhood friend Nikos. He ends up being a great shoulder for her at a time when she needs one most. But there’s also an attraction between them, a connection that soon bubbles into a summer romance. Selene struggles to move forward with her life, but Nikos ends up being the key to discovering a new path for her future.
Your main character, Selene, is a professional musician. How did you develop this character?
I started working as a freelance music journalist when I was 17 and, over the course of nearly a decade, was fortunate enough to meet hundreds of talented musicians. Those experiences left a profound impact on me and the role music plays in my life. When I started developing Selene’s character, I turned to one particular musician to help introduce me to Mediterranean folk music: Pavlo Simtikidis. We chatted at length about the artists who have influenced his hybrid style of music, and he offered me great advice. From there, I just threw myself head-first into the culture and its music, trying to represent it as honestly as I could in the book. Because of all this, creating Selene felt very natural.
Were you inspired by any particular musicians when creating Selene?
Pavlo, of course, was a huge inspiration, as was Jesse Cook, whose music has held a prominent position in my personal collection for 15 years now. There’s also my all-time favorite artist, Sarah McLachlan, whose songs really drove a great deal of the emotion in Selene’s character. I also felt particularly drawn to Paolo Nutini’s Sunny Side Up album while writing my book. He has such youthful energy, and yet that album’s songs reflect so many influences from before his time. He’s definitely an old soul. Also, during my research I came to know plenty of music by some of Greece’s greatest performers. They really drove Selene’s transformation.
The death of your main character’s parents opens the story with tragedy. Why did you choose to go this route?
I knew from the very beginning that I wanted this novel to be more than just a romance; it would also be about Selene’s personal evolution. But I needed a trigger for her quarter-life crisis as well as a way to root the story in reality. I had followed coverage in the news about the rioting and unrest in Athens and around Greece due to the financial crisis. I felt those events would be a good anchor for the story, providing a backdrop that convinces Selene to turn away from a path focused on commercial success to do something that is more enriching to her soul. It made sense to me to have Selene discover that new path, as well as love, while on Santorini. The peace I experienced while writing on that island greatly contrasts the otherwise hectic world in which we all live.
Give us the back story on why Selene’s parents die as a result of riots.
The details about their death are limited in the book, but they’re killed when the strike on May 5, 2010, turned violent. I tried to represent the ensuing riot, with young protesters tossing Molotov cocktails into buildings, as accurately as possible. Although it doesn’t say so in the book, I imagined that Frank was helping Cora board up her gallery nearby. As they were rushing away from the area, they were caught in the explosion that led to their deaths.
The novel has a very unique setting – the island of Santorini – and much effort is spent describing Selene’s surroundings. How was this accomplished?
As soon as I decided to set the novel on Santorini, I knew I couldn’t possibly recreate it without returning there. After all, I had only spent a few hours in Oia years before when a cruise I was taking with my family visited the island. So, after months of research, I packed my bags and flew to Santorini for a 10-day writing retreat. While there, I chatted with locals a lot, trying to learn everything I could about the village, and used my observations and some of my own experiences to build the setting and certain scenes. The vast majority of the places mentioned in the book are real-to-life; very few of the spots mentioned are altered or imagined. I wanted readers to feel like they were truly on the island.
Is there one particular man who inspired the character of Nikos?
Nikos, as a character, is a fantasy of mine, almost like an apparition at first. He’s a mysterious man of few words, defined more by his actions. At the beginning, he’s almost too good to be true, but as the book progresses you get to see more of his humanity. While he is an imagined character, I admit there are bits about him that were inspired by one particular man. To protect his privacy, I won’t name him. But I will reveal that we met while I was on the island, and he ended up being my muse. It’s not a stretch to say that art imitated life in this regard.
What was the hardest part about writing this novel?
I wrote a huge amount of the first draft while on the island, but didn’t quite finish it. Returning home and having to finish the story in different surroundings proved difficult. But I’d have to say that the editing and revision phases were most challenging. This was a very emotional story to write, so I had to force myself to detach and look at my own work objectively in order to improve it. That was a very testing exercise for me. I tend to get very attached to my words.
You chose to include some rather detailed love scenes in the book but don’t personally label it as erotica. Why is that?
Sunsets in Oia is, first and foremost, a love story, and a great love affair cannot exist without great sex. I felt compelled to demonstrate Selene and Nikos’ connection on every level. I chose to write their love scenes in such great detail because doing otherwise would have contrasted the level of detail employed throughout the rest of the book. Growing up, I was always bothered by authors and film directors choosing to censor love scenes or show them in soft focus, only hinting at the passion being enjoyed by the characters. It never seemed natural to me. Of course, though, our culture has typically shied away from anything to do with sex; it belongs in the shadows, hidden from the world, and anyone who openly embraces it gets labeled as immoral, inappropriate, a slut or a deviant. But I think the tide has turned in recent years. Projects like “Sex and the City” and “Fifty Shades of Grey” have brought the topic of sex into the mainstream, and people aren’t as afraid to embrace their sexuality as they used to be. I, for one, fully embrace mine. That’s why I wrote the scenes the way I did.
Sunsets in Oia was only very recently released. What are your hopes for it, specifically?
I have a fantasy scenario in mind in which my book is adapted for the screen, and I get to co-write the screenplay and serve as the film’s consulting producer. Who knows if that will ever happen, but a girl can always dream.
Like Selene, you have left your home country for new adventures abroad. What brought on your decision to move to South Korea?
I felt very bored with the way my life was going in Ottawa, and my wanderlust became increasing difficult to suppress. I knew that, no matter how much I kept travelling, I would only ever be sampling a place’s true culture as a tourist. I wanted to take more risks and know what it was like to live abroad. I finally realized that I had to just go for it, stop talking about the things I wanted to do and actually go do them. So I did. Now, here I am living in Busan, half a world away from everything familiar, and I know that this experience has already changed me profoundly.
When you think of a setting for your next novel, which exotic locales might you choose, if doing so?
I haven’t decided yet if my next book will be a sequel to Sunsets in Oia or if I’ll develop something completely different. However, I have a feeling that my experiences in Asia will play a role in whatever I write. Korea is fascinating but there’s still so much more that I want to explore while I’m on this side of the world.
What hobbies do you enjoy when you aren’t working on a manuscript?
I’m never short of options for hobbies here in Busan. I enjoy going hiking in the mountains or spending time with friends at the beach. Exploring the city and photographing it is quite exciting. I’m trying to learn more Korean, but it’s quite difficult. I’ve been playing a lot of pool lately with other regulars at my favorite neighborhood bar. I’ll go dancing every once in a while, too. Or, if I want to spend a quiet night at home, I’ll put on some good music and do some cooking.
What advice can you offer to other burgeoning writers?
I think it’s important to maintain realistic expectations. Struggling writers, like starving artists, are a dime a dozen, and becoming as successful as J.K. Rowling or E.L. James is unlikely to happen. It’s more important to focus your energy on producing quality work rather than create something that will please the lowest common denominator and earn you money. If you stay true to your vision and dedicate yourself to mastering your craft, the fans will eventually follow.
Where can readers find out more about Sunsets in Oia?
For more information about my book, please visit my website at www.sheilabusteed.com, and follow me on Facebook, Twitter and GoodReads. Or, if you’re really eager to get in touch with the soul of this book, take a trip to Santorini. I promise you won’t regret it.