A Writer's Life in Rome & Tuscia
January 16, 2014
Thanks to Geneva-based mystery writer, JJ Marsh , creator of the exciting Beatrice Stubbs mystery series, for including me in this blog tour on the writing progress. See her insightful updates on the writing process and follow her interviews with contemporary writers here .
For this blog tour, I was asked to answer the following questions:
The Writing Process: What am I working on now?
Currently I am involved in a project I never dreamed I’d do: a screenplay of my first novel THE ETRUSCAN and I am finding it very hard going. Firstly because my novel presents multiple points of view on a central love story that has an open ending. In the book, there is a narrative frame constructed from a shifting third person point of view with a first person narrative / diary inserted at the core. This device allowed me to maintain an ambiguous status for the central story narrated by the main character, Harriet: is the text found in her journal a true account, a dream, an allegory, a roman a clef, a work of fiction? Who is the shape -shifting count, Federigo del Re, really? Different readers have had very different reactions to the characters and storyline. In working with the screenplay, I find that I cannot keep the same ambiguity and maintain multiple viewpoints with the same flexibility that you can in fiction. So that, along with the general compression of time and action required, is quite a challenge. Working on this screen play may influence my fiction technique in the future, too.
I am also involved in other projects too: a final draft of my writing textbook based on the Soul of Place, for which I am still thrashing about for a proper title. Exercises from this book have begun to appear in places like The Writer ( Katabasis, Your Journey to Hell and Back, June 2013; Crafting a Quest Narrative: Pilgrim’s Tales upcoming in March) and editing of my memoir, Postcards of a Tuscan Interior, sections of which have appeared previously on my website. One section was recently nominated for a Pushcart prize. I have two novels in different draft stages. The Brotherhood of Miguel a spiritual adventure novel set in Rome and elsewhere is in its final draft. I am doing a sequel to my recent Signatures in Stone entitled Melusine, in which the heroine Daphne must solve a mystery related to mermaids in Bolsena lake.
Last but not least I am working with Southwestern artist Carolyn Florek of Mutabilis press to create a Tarot deck based on my mystery novel SIGNATURES IN STONE, set in Bomarzo’s monster park. Pieces have been posted on Signatures Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/SignaturesInStone
How does my work differ from that of other writers working in the same genre?
One aspect of my work is that it combines genres or sometimes spills over borders . The Etruscan is literary fiction, but also a mystery, and to some, an intertextual puzzle with elements of pastiche. Some readers find in it a Rebecca –like atmosphere, with modern gothic overtones, others find it nineteenth-century. And yet its unreliable narrator, open ending, ambiguity, metafictional aspirations and altered chronology at the end are meant to be “experimental,” or at least deviate from the forms of mainstream fiction. I was pleased that one critic likened it to The Magus, as it was partly my intent to create a strange story with surreal elements.
Katherine’s Wish, based on the last five years of Katherine Mansfield’s life, was the product of much research and piecing together of fragments. It has been called “fictional biography,” “creative scholarship,” “creative nonfiction,” and a work of historical fiction. Signatures in Stone, instead is definitely a mystery story: but is it a house mystery, a murder mystery, or an art history mystery? It is a bit of all three, there being at least three separate mysteries, existing on three different levels, that must be solved. I like to work with different forms and bend them in new shapes.
Why do I write what I do?
I am inspired by places, by the soul of place. For my books set in Italy, I have had years to absorb influences and crystalize them into fiction or nonfiction. It was a very short visit to the Prieure, outside Paris where Katherine Mansfield died, that set in motion a process that would end in Katherine’s Wish. I guess I find myself stumbling over or into what some critics might call landscape narratives, stories embedded in places which we intersect from time to time.
How does my writing process work?
After an initial spark of inspiration, I work in spurts, sometimes spending long uninterrupted periods at the computer and not stopping until I am satisfied. But I try to leave something out at the end, to have an idea where I am going to go next when I pick it up again. Once I have something substantial, several pages of something that hangs together, I print out and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite, but first I need some kind of draft to work with. I find it very hard to schedule time every day for fiction writing, although I do write most every day – essays, reviews, blogs, etc. but I need a special kind of psychic compression to work on fiction
Now I would like to introduce the three writers who will be continuing this blog tour next week : Click on their names to visit their websites.
Patricia Borlenghi, published by Bloomsbury, is the author of children’s books, adult fiction, and food memoirs highly praised by Jamie Oliver, and now publisher of Patrician Press, a small independent and courageous literary press located in Essex. http://www.patricianpress.com/bookauthor/patricia-borlenghi/ She is about to publish her historical novel Zaira about a peasant girl coming of age and improving her status through self-education in late nineteenth century Northern Italy. See her blog @ Patrician Press Blog
Adrianne Kalfopoulou, poet, critic, and essayist, lives in Athens where she teaches at the Hellenic American University. She is also adjunct professor of creative writing for NYU and teaches in several international workshops. Her poetry collections are available from Red Hen Press. Her blog, Greek Voices, Inside
offers an insider’s perspective on the current turmoil in Greece.
Teresa Cutler Broyles has been writing professionally since 1992, traveling to Italy regularly since 2000, and teaching writing (and film) classes since 2001. In 2008 she combined these three passions and started her business, TLC Writing Tours, and leads Writing and Cultural Tours to Italy. When she’s not traveling and teaching, she writes Young Adult and historical novels, travel essays, and creative nonfiction. Twitter: @TLCWritingTours. Facebook
January 14, 2014
The fisherman was clad in ragged cutoffs soaked in sea water, the only garment, I believe, he owned. His tangled hair, shoulder- length, had been streaked by sun with strands of almost hennaed blond. The setting: an islet off the coast of Crete whose only inhabitants were wild goats; whose only structure, four poles erected on the beach, thatched with twisted boughs of wild thyme. There beneath its fragrant yet insufficient shade our companions on this excursion were laying out a picnic on a tattered, tar-stained sheet.
We had set off at dawn from a nearby village across water as smooth as oil. Seven of us packed in that little boat, the Eleutheria, without a single life-jacket: my friend, Pandelis; his fishing partner, Vanghelis; Vanghelis’ wife, two sons and mother-in-law who looked askance at foreign girls in scanty tops spending their summers here. While Vanghelis and the boys secured the boat, the women unpacked the lunch: tinned sardines, home -pickled olives from their trees, like tiny, shriveled raisins; tomatoes; slabs of goat cheese; thirst-quenching cucumbers; green- fleshed melons. Beer, water, and the ubiquitous raki.
Pandelis turned to me. “Come . We get food. ” With fishing knife strapped to his waist, a bucket swinging from one hand, he led me teetering along a slippery shelf of rock above the tidal line. When I lost my footing and splashed down into a pool, he jerked me up with stern warning.
“Watch out! There may be …..” he paused, searching for the English word, “Morays. Your toes --- their lunch,” then grinned, waiting to see the effect of his announcement.
The crevice in the cliff wound down to a grotto where low tide had exposed row on row of glistening purple sea urchins. He plunked down his bucket to observe them with approval. “A man not starve here,” he said. Unsheathing his knife, he pried a first specimen free, sliced it through, and held it out to me . A black and orange gelatinous mass quivered in its spiny cup. Stooping to the water, he dunked it once, swirled the tip of his knife inside it, then scraped the slimy contents into the palm of my hand . “Freshest food in Greece, “ he said. “Taste.”
I never cared for sea food except scallops when I was younger. Even the sight of the shucked oysters my father relished used to make me nauseous as a child. How was I going to refuse food from a Greek for whom hospitality is sacred? If only I had a slice of lemon.
He frowned at my hesitation. “Eat,” he commanded.
I pushed the salty, spongy stuff into my mouth, then spit it out, unrepentant.
Producing a hip flask from his back pocket, he offered it to me. The searing taste of 40 proof raki removed all trace of the offending substance. I wiped my lips with the back of my hand.
Pandelis shook his head in feigned disgust. “You will never be a Greek.”
This essay originally appeared in Alimentum Literary Journal, Winter 2012