What am I working on?
I am halfway through a personal essay on World War I. I like a challenge, but I am, of course, out-of-my depth.
I recently finished a final edit of my new novel The Sicilian Wife, which will be published in the spring of 2015. It is my first and maybe my last literary mystery. When I began the book, I intended to challenge most of the conventions of the whodunit formula. I certainly didn’t intend to name the culprit. I wanted the readers to figure the solution out for themselves. With each new draft I was prodded – and gradually convinced – to shape a more conventional narrative, or at least, a proper conclusion. I sacrificed most of my lyrical darlings, but the result has more suspense and stronger characters than my usual.
Why do I write what I do?
As long as I can remember, I told myself stories. I tuned out the world and let my imagination loose. Eventually, the purpose of my stories changed – at least partly. I write not to hold off the world but to enter and to explore it. The process of writing is a method of thought and of coming to understanding. My characters are often caught between two cultures, migratory, displaced, uncertain in their identity. I don’t choose these characters: they choose me. Or that is how it feels. My father was English, my mother Italian. Growing up in two cultures and two languages, made me suspicious of a single point of view or a dominant narrative. I always end up with at least two types of narratives in my books. My nonfiction book Finding Rosa interwove autobiography, biography, history, and travel writing, as well as explanations of Alzheimer’s biology and effects. The Sicilian Wife integrates elements of a police procedural, crime fiction, folk tales, classical allusions, and contemporary Italian history.
How does my work differ from others in the same genre?
Hard to say since I don’t stick to one genre. I don’t claim that I am unusually original. Each of us who writes from her or his heart will create distinct works, because we are individuals. I like playing with genres and forms, imposing limits and challenging them. Working within limits sparks energy and creativity. In all my writing I try to move inward and outward, finding the connections between here and there, emotions and ideas, the personal and the political, memory and history, the individual and society.
How does my writing process work?
It depends on what I’m working on. The nonfiction book on my mother started with an essay about my experience taking care of her once she became demented. The material ended up at about a halfway point in the book. I did tons of research, then I started at what I thought would be the beginning and wrote a hundred pages. I tossed them when I realized I needed a through line.
The literary mystery was inspired by a story I heard years and years ago. I knew the end and had to figure out how to get my characters to that point. But in the writing and rewriting – this book took years - I found the original ending, which I had thought was the point of the book, didn’t work. So revision, revision, revision. One of the most difficult things for me is finding the right rhythm for the work, managing to weave in digressions while keeping the reader hooked.
Each time I write a book I am feeling my way, learning what shape it needs to take. Uncertainty and discovery make the process worthwhile.
In turn, I tag Genni Gunn for the next stop in the Great Blog Tour.