An American lawyer gave up his career and became a “Greek” thriller novelist
Updated: Jul 6, 2020
An English translation for my most read CNN article...
Jeff Siger, 75, didn’t intend to write 10 books about Greece.
But Greece cast a spell on Siger, and from his visit to one of Greece’s islands, Mykonos, he discovered hidden stories.
In an interview I had with him for CNN Greece, Siger describes that he feels Greek and that his adventures in Greece made him part of the country’s society.
But Siger didn’t start as a writer; he only dreamed about becoming one… His father believed that Siger should be a lawyer instead, as he wouldn’t be able to make money as a writer.
His fate had it otherwise…
After a couple of years in law, Siger met a friend at a social event and told her that what he truly loved doing was writing. She decided to help him.
“The next day she sent me an email and wrote: 'Once upon a time there was a…' So, I wrote back; over the next six months, we wrote a novella together,” said Siger.
That was the first step in what was going to be Siger’s dream job. As he kept writing books, another friend told him that if he wants to be serious about book writing, he needs to quit his job and do it full time.
“Even though I knew that I would make more money in one year as a lawyer than I ever hope to make in my entire career as a writer, I wouldn’t be happy,” said Siger. “So, I did it. I walked away from it at the age of 55, and I never looked back, and I’ve never been happier.”
For his first book, “Murder in Mykonos”, Siger was inspired by his favorite island in Greece, Mykonos. He wanted to combine everything that made up the island, including its politics, its society, and its people.
“The best way to get into it was to show how an island would react to a threat such as a serial killer,” he said. “The next step was taking this serial killer and making him possibly be four, five, or six different people to explore the different personalities on the island.”
He explains that a murder fractures society and that wound can only be healed if the mystery is solved, which makes for a perfect story.
And that’s how "Murder in Mykonos" became the number one bestseller English book in Greece.
But why did Siger pick Mykonos of all places?
When Siger visited the island for the first time, he felt at home. Without knowing it, on his first walk on the island his career started…
“I was walking from the hotel to the town and a man from a jewelry store says, ‘Hello, sir, come in’, and I thought ‘here we go. I’m going to get hassled for jewelry.’ That guy and I became best friends; his name was Tasos Stamoulis,” said Siger. “Over the years he introduced me to so many people... I became part of the community because of him; they called me the ‘American Mykoniati.’”
One night, Siger and Stamoulis were eating at a Greek restaurant. Even though throughout the time Siger and Stamoulis had been friends, Stamoulis had told Siger not to write a book about a murder in Mykonos because he’ll cause problems to the island, that night he changed his mind.
“That night, I walked him back to his home, and the next day I get a call first thing in the morning informing me that Taso had a massive stroke. I never saw him again…” said Siger. “On his funeral, as I’m standing by the coffin, I just looked up in the sky and a vision came to me of exactly how I should write that book.”
Siger fulfilled Stamoulis's wish and wrote “Murder in Mykonos,” which also marked the beginning of his career. For all the books that followed, Siger was able to collect information by meeting people and learning about life in Greece.
He thinks that Greeks are simultaneously closed and open people: they won’t give you a lot of information at the start, but once they trust you they’ll tell you everything.
Siger believes that he was able to bring unique stories to life because he became part of Greece.
The media has called him, “Greece’s thriller writer, a literary star.”
His books don’t have to be read in a specific order. The reader can pick any book he/she likes to read without having problems understanding the characters or the plot.
Siger doesn’t have a favorite book; he calls all of his books “his children.”
But he believes that his third book, “Prey on Patmos,” a book that brings to light the secrets of Mt. Athos was the most challenging to write because he was afraid of the response of the Greek church.
To his surprise, people were shocked by Siger’s ability to learn Greece's church secrets, and the book became one of his favorites.
This year is the first year because of the coronavirus, Siger won’t be able to come to Greece, but he sees the positive side.
In one of his books, he warns the islanders in Mykonos to protect the identity and integrity of the island from foreigners.
“Outsiders try to profit off the island and control Mykonos,” said Siger. “The pandemic has shut the island down; now it looks like it was in the 70s. This is an opportunity for the Mykonians to say ‘I’m taking my island back.’”