O'Fallon Progress

O’Fallon resident’s novel ‘pays subtle homage to life in southern Illinois’

O’Fallonite Annie Sereno recently published her first work of fiction “Helen of Troy, Illinois,” a romantic comedy with some historical background rooted in southern Illinois.
O’Fallonite Annie Sereno recently published her first work of fiction “Helen of Troy, Illinois,” a romantic comedy with some historical background rooted in southern Illinois. Courtesy photo

With the timeless works of Homer and Greek mythology to guide and inspire her, Annie Sereno, of O’Fallon, graduated from reader to author with the recent publication of her new romance novel, “Helen of Troy, Illinois.”

“I’ve lived in O’Fallon for 23 years, and, while I fictionalize the town of Troy for the purposes of the story, the book pays subtle homage to life in Southern Illinois,” Sereno said.

She was struck by the dense concentration of southern Illinois cities with Greek names, like Athens, New Athens, Troy and Homer.

Greek civilization has had a vast impact on today’s society in terms of government, like democracy, literature, architecture, philosophy and even iconic titles like Nike, Olympus and Hermès Paris, Sereno said.

“I even drive an Odyssey vehicle, and there’s even a Helen of Troy beauty supply company, so it’s a very alive and vibrant part of our society what the Greeks have given us,” she said.

Annie read Edith Hamilton’s “Mythology,” and Homer’s “The Iliad” for the first time when she was 13.

“I always find myself returning to the power of Greek mythology’s enduring legacies and the fact that we relate to them always — the notion of a hero, the appeal of wonder woman,” Sereno said.

A lifelong reader, Annie Sereno has always devoured the written word with what she describes as a ravenous appetite.

“I read and write veraciously for what most consider to be a passive activity, but it is a far from that for me,” Sereno said.

While it is a work of romantic fiction, Sereno said she draws from her wealthy knowledge of the lore and legends of the ancient Greece.

The Trojan War, a decadelong war fought over Helen of Troy, the daughter of Zeus, for her attempt to flee to Troy away from her betrothed Menelaus to be with her new love Paris, son of the Trojan King Priam.

“She caused so much damage, but it’s fascinating that this woman would have such power and such impact, and the character of Helen of Troy is depicted in literature and art through the ages — it still fascinates people, and of course her image changes according to the culture,” Sereno said.

Fascinations aside, Sereno said doesn’t like that “Helen got away with the war.”

“She goes back to Menelaus, has children and lives her days out like nothing ever happened remaining relatively unscathed for having caused so much destruction,” Sereno said.

But she is always subject to reinterpretation, which she said, “I think is the strongest testament to a powerful legend and an image, which she is an enduring one.”

In her new book, Sereno said, Helen feels like her life is in a shambles and nothing goes right for her, but she is beautiful in and out.

“It’s a comedy, so she thinks that her messy life is payback for the original Helen of Troy’s crime of causing the war, so that’s my hook,” Sereno said. “There are a few R-rated scenes but it is, on the whole, funny and warmhearted.”

Bringing her characters to life, Sereno goes old school putting pen to paper, not by tapping away at a keyboard.

“If you’re a writer, you live with stories all the time, and you have to get it out of your head, free your mind, clear the mental clutter to make room for more,” she said.

She said she started writing “Helen of Troy, Illinois,” five years ago, and has since churned out three more books.

“You can’t stop, and you’re bound to get better and more efficient, and I think and write in terms of scenes and chapters, not words or page counts like others. I live with my characters for a long time, and I plot meticulously and drop delicious hits along the way,” she added.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and archeology from the University of Pennsylvania, Sereno’s education continued at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, where she earned a master’s in British and American literature.

“The unsung heroes of our society teachers had such an enormous impact on my life and my education in general, but particularly teachers — they are just so giving, and they open this world to you that you never knew before,” Sereno said.

The book is available from Amazon ($9.25 in paperback and $3.99 for Kindle), Barnes & Noble, Bouroughs Publishing Group, Kobo and Smashwords. For more information visit: anniesereno.com.

About the book

  • Helen of Troy, Illinois, is back home in the heartland to wage a war — with nothing to lose but her heart.
  • With a bank account on life support and a resume of dead-end jobs, Helen Hubler left Manhattan for Troy, Ill., to sell her family property. The only interested buyer is the hot veterinarian next door — the same man who destroyed the career of her recently deceased college boyfriend whose last request she refused.
  • Guilt bolsters her resolve to resist Dr. Gordon Ruckman’s offer and to wage a little war in the bargain. Her messy life might be payback for the original Helen of Troy’s crime, but this is one battle she’ll win. Even if her heart, like the original Helen of Troy, has a way inside for a determined hero.