When the Cypress Whispers

An exclusive Authorlink interview with
Yvette Manessis Corporon

By Ellen Birkett Morris

September, 2014

When the Cypress Whispers
by Yvette Manessis Corporon

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Yvette Manessis Corporon makes her living helping other people tell their stories as a senior producer on the television show Extra. But in 2007, she decided to tell her own story and began her first novel When the Cypress Whispers. The book, which came out this year, draws heavily on her experience as a child spending her summers in Greece with extended family.

“I didn’t take any workshops or classes. I wish I had.”

“I wanted this to be a love letter to Greece, the way I was raised, and the women in my family who always put family first,” said Corporon. She began writing with a promise to herself that she would take on the work one day at a time.

“I didn’t take any workshops or classes. I wish I had. Writing a first book is such a learning curve,” said Corporon. While writing the book, she read a lot and corresponded with her friend author Joanne Rendell.

Her work as a television producer helped her develop tenacity and a thick skin regarding other people judging the work. While television is a visual medium, she found she had to “dig a little deeper” when developing descriptions for the page. The novel centers on Daphne, the daughter of Greek immigrants, a widow and a chef, who is engaged to be married. Caught between old-world traditions and the demands of modern life, Daphne feels afloat. She is drawn back to Greece where she reconnects with her grandmother and becomes immersed in family lore and family secrets.

The story’s plot is a fictional take on a real life situation. Like Corporon’s own grandmother (or Yia-yia in Greek), the Yia-yia in the book helps others on the island of Erikousa hide a Jewish family from the Nazis during World War II.

Corporon said that as a child growing up she had been embarrassed to have a grandmother who “wore all black and made fish head soup and not rice crispy treats,” but when exploring her family history she knew that retelling the story of the family her grandmother helped save would honor her grandmother.

“I wanted to tell my family’s story about how they worked to save this Jewish family.”

“I wanted to tell my family’s story about how they worked to save this Jewish family. I also wanted to use the Greek myths I had learned as a child, to dive back into these and use them in the story to reflect and foreshadow Daphne’s life,” said Corporon.

The real life story had a happy ending. After years of searching, and with the help of researchers at Yad Vashem in Israel and Myheritage.com, Corporon recently found the family her grandmother helped save.

“I located grandchildren in L.A. and Israel. When I called to introduce myself and talk about our connection they had no idea what I was talking about. Their grandmothers never discussed the war and how they managed to survive was always a mystery, until I called to tell them,” she said.

She envisioned the book “as a love story between a woman and her grandmother.”

“I wanted it to be a quiet story that resonates. It isn’t about high drama, but inner reflection. It connects with people who have lived through something. In the same way, Daphne couldn’t hear the cypress whispers in the book until she had experienced loss.”

“Finding an agent was the most difficult thing. I got rejected over and over again.”

Corporon worked on the book for five years before it was acquired by Harper Collins.

“Finding an agent was the most difficult thing. I got rejected over and over again. It was easy for me to get the book into their hands, but over and over it didn’t speak to them,” said Corporon. She even explored self-publishing. She found the right agent when she queried Nena Madonia of Dupree Miller & Associates.

“The book connected with her and spoke to her. Though the process of finding an agent was painful, it was just like having a child. All the pain melts away and you feel that joy,” said Corporon.

Once the book was placed with Harper Collins, Editor Claire Wachtel urged her to emphasize the historic aspects of the book.

“For everyone who tells you it is not good, or not sellable, there will be someone who it will appeal to.”

Corporon advises writers to cultivate persistence and tenacity.

“For everyone who tells you it is not good, or not sellable, there will be someone who it will appeal to. Keep searching and keep putting it out there and your book will find a home.”

She also suggests that writers follow the old axiom “Write what you know.”

“The blank page is terrifying, Write from the heart and it will resonate on the page. Write your own story. Everyone has one. Find out what your story is.”

Corporon is currently working on her next novel, a darker tale that explores obscure Greek myths

About the Author

Yvette Manessis Corporon is an Emmy Award-winning writer, producer, and author. She is a senior producer with the show Extra. Corporon has received a Silurian Award for Excellence in Journalism and the New York City Comptroller and City Council’s Award for Greek Heritage and Culture.

About Regular Contributor
Ellen Birkett Morris
Ellen Birkett Morris is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in national print and online publications including The New York Times. She also writes for a number of literary, regional, trade, and business publications, and she has contributed to six published nonfiction books in the trade press. Ellen is a regular contributor to Authorlink, assigned to interview various New York Times bestselling authors and first-time novelists.