Write On: Beautiful Secret’s Dana Faletti on Globe-Trotting Writing Done Right

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Today for Write On we’ve asked our friend and fellow Pandamoon author, Dana Faletti, for her insight and expertise on transporting readers to another place with our writing. Dana is author of THE WHISPER TRILOGY, a young adult paranormal romance series, and her debut women’s fiction novel, BEAUTIFUL SECRET, is a sweeping drama of family secrets and forbidden love set in both France and Italy, coming October 11 from Pandamoon Publishing (Can’t wait for it? Pre-order it now here).


1) As an author who often draws from your Italian heritage in your own work, what do you find is essential for taking a reader to a particular place and culture?

For me, creating a sense of place it really about appealing to the senses. What is the character seeing, specifically, in that place? What types of foliage? Colors?  What does the place smell like? When you’re talking about Italy, smells and tastes are enough to go on for pages of setting up place. In Beautiful Secret, Italy is almost like a character rather than a setting, because the reader connects so strongly with it. I think this is mainly a sensual thing and partly because Italy is a sensual place.

 

2) That said, what do you feel are some common mistakes or cliches you encounter when reading or watching stories that represent Italian culture in Italy or here in the US?

So many TV shows and movies and even funny vemes portray the typical Italian mafioso or the typical Italian-American mama in her house dress, pinching her kids’ and grandkids’ cheeks and making sauce. Italy is also glorified in the media and in American culture as being one of the most romantic places in the world, as Italians are known for their tempers and their romanticism. We are that but we are so much more as well. We embrace our baseness as part of our humanity and don’t try to cover it up but  we also don’t apologize for our sophistications. Italians are a people as diverse as any and Italy is a country that’s full of contradictions. You can’t really nail Italy or Italians down as being one thing or another. Beppe Severgnini, one of my favorite writers on Italy says it so well-

First of all, let’s get one thing straight. Your Italy and our Italia are not the same thing. Italy is a soft drug peddled in predictable packages, such as hills in the sunset, olive groves, lemon trees, white wine, and raven-haired girls. Italia, on the other hand, is a maze. It’s alluring, but complicated. It’s the kind of place that can have you fuming and then purring in the space of a hundred meters, or in the course of ten minutes. Italy is the only workshop in the world that can turn out both Botticellis and Berlusconis.

3) How can authors avoid these common pitfalls? What have you found works best for you?

Personally, I only write what I know, what’s in me. My best writing happens when  people and experiences have moved me. Beautiful Secret bled right out of me. For a long time I wanted to write the story of what happened to my grandmother when she was unwed and pregnant as a young woman in Italy. After going there several times and visiting and falling in love with the people and the land, I had story after story to share. Beautiful Secret is the culmination of my stories, based on the people and places I love.

For others, I think the best way to avoid stereotyping is to only write what you know. If you research something, don’t just research it on google or on paper. You have to go to the source to really know something. In my editing process, it was interesting to answer questions about Italian culture. From the perspective of someone who has never been there, something in the text may seem unrealistic. My editor and I had many a laugh talking about truths of Southern Italy that are way stranger than fiction.

Also, only write what you’re passionate about. The love you have for whatever it is – whether it’s a historical time period or crime solving – will make you enthusiastic and authentic in your research and this will  echo in your writing.

Enjoying time at Saline Beach, which is featured in Beautiful Secret.

4) What led you to set portions of your upcoming novel, Beautiful Secret, in Italy? What about the country spoke to you as a writer?

Ahhh, everything about Italy speaks to me! Endlessly.  The moment you step foot into Italy, everything seems to be amplified. The food tastes fresher and brighter. People speak with unapologetic emotion. One of the most moving moments of my life occurred when I first landed in Reggio, Calabria.  I’ve written about it before.

I was 20 years old, on my first-ever European vacation with my parents. We had just flown from France, where we’d visited my great uncle and his family, to Reggio, Calabria, where my dad was born. On arrival into Titto Minitti airport, which is a tiny one or two terminal structure, we walked down the jetway and into the gate to find a gathering of forty-some people who were waiting. For us. For my father. These were great aunts, uncles, and distant cousins who remembered the tumultuous time when my father was born and perhaps hadn’t laid eyes on him since he was a baby. These strangers who were my family, filled the small space completely, their faces tear-streaked, their arms opened wide in anticipation of my parents and me. An overwhelming sense of love and acceptance and belonging slammed into my heart at that moment. Here were these strangers, crying out my name, pulling me to their bosoms and holding me as their tears washed over my skin, kissing my cheeks repeatedly. They’d never even met me, and yet they cared deeply for me. Why? Because I was family. And that was enough.

This aspect of Italian culture is probably what speaks most loudly to me. Even as I am sucked up into this memory, I’m crying.

5) You create a real lushness of setting and culture in Beautiful Secret. What was your research process like in preparation for your novel?

Most of the places I describe in Beautiful Secret are places I’ve seen and experienced. Bibba, a dance club that is the setting for a pivotal scene in the story, is based on a disco my own cousins took me to. Zio Nino’s French and Italian homes are real places, where I’ve spent weeks of my life. Valanidi is Guiseppe’s hometown and Trunca is the mountain town where my grandmother, Maria grew up. Trunca truly does seem as if it’s plucked out of time, existing entirely in its own personalized era.

Much of my research involved asking my cousins a gazillion questions. I have never personally driven from Revin, France to Valanidi, in Reggio, Calabria, but my cousin from France does it every year. He mapped out his route for me and gave me details about the stops along the way. One funny tidbit is this-  during editing phase, my copyeditor questioned me about Michel, one of the main characters, stopping for “delicious coffee” at a gas station across the Italian border. She asked how gas station coffee could be delicious when most people view it as disgusting. I giggled when I read this, knowing that terrible coffee is probably impossible to find in Italy. They don’t do terrible coffee. The minute you cross the border, the taste of the coffee changes. On swallowing the first sip, you know you are in Italy. My cousin detailed to me where he always stops for his first Italian coffee after he crosses the border on his long drive.

San Nicola Church, another important location for Beautiful Secret. How so? You’ll have to read the book to see. . .

 

6) What other advice would you give writers who want to enfold a unique cultural heritage into their writing?

Again – writing what you know, where you’ve been, the cultures you are passionate about. Immerse yourself in the place, the people. For me, that’s really the only way to know a culture well enough to set a book in its country.

7) One final question: If you had to choose one aspect of Italy that constantly draws you back to its place and culture, what would it be?  

That’s easy. My family. The place where my father was born. Most people who plan a trip to Italy imagine all of the things and places they will see. Rome, The Vatican, Pisa, perhaps. Me? I’ve been to Rome, and I enjoyed the history there. I would like to travel through other parts of Italy, but Calabria, specifically Valanidi, always beckons me back. It’s like there is a magnet on that mountain, and I’m drawn to it with an inexplicable force. And when I get there, it’s like I can finally breathe. Like I’m home.

Dana with her extended family, enjoying some quality time after what was certainly a fabulous dinner.

5500 Miles: Life Lessons on #TheRoad

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Our family of 5 (including myself, my hubby, and our 3 teenage children) decided our family vacation this year should be a wanderlust-ful road trip where planning was thrown into the wind (along with all of those hours spent poring over Travelocity and TripAdvisor in search of travel revelations) and we instead simply hit the road with a few destinations in mind and let the wind and I-80 carry us onward.

I was not keen on this idea, being a born planner and finding great solace in knowing where I am going, when I will be there, and when I will return home and be able to sleep in my own bed. But, the family had spoken and the resounding call was, “Be Spontaneous!”

5500 miles and 2 weeks later, I can honestly say that I learned a lot on this trip and, more importantly, being set free from the burden of hotel reservations and travel deadlines was, in fact, GLORIOUS.

In other words, spontaneity proved to be more than just tolerable. It was, indeed, a great deal of fun.

Thinking of a Road Trip yourself? Check out below my

4 Lessons from the Road

. . . one planner to another ;>)

 

Lesson 1: There is no shame in feeding your family Taco Bell hunched over a petite and shabby hotel table at 10pm

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Here we are “Living the VIP Life”

At home, we eat mostly home-cooked meals. Kale and quinoa make regular appearances on our dinner table, along with a variety of undefined root vegetables that I should know the names for but don’t. In other words, we try to feed our family clean and nutritious food. Enter our extended road trip, featuring unknown destinations, endpoints, and available feeding opportunities.

Many small towns or freeway exit ramps do not offer fresh, local food to the uninformed traveler. Instead, across America we found the most prominent feeding opportunities available to us when we were exhausted, at the end of a long day driving, and searching for some sustenance before collapsing at our hotel were fast food and, even more specifically, Subway or Taco Bell (McDonald’s being surprisingly absent from many of these locales). And so there we were, eating a Grande Meal and then some at the end of a long day, huddled like vagabonds around the little table.

And you know what, it was delicious!

I’m certainly glad we are in a position to afford healthy and local food on a regular basis at home, and realize many families struggle to access that quality of food (an issue which is worthy of an entire blogpost on its own), but in the microcosm of our family roadtrip, I found it freeing and fun to eat a few meals that were more out of desperation than discovery. And, as we ate our bean burritos and tried to sauce up our tacos with limited elbow room, we had a good family laugh that last well into the next day.

Lesson 2: Just Buy the National Park Annual Pass

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If you are heading out west, then you are bound to here the call of our amazing US National Parks. Once you get out into the longitude of the Dakotas, you are in line with a spectacular set of Park options. Even if you think you will only go and see, say, the Badlands in S. Dakota, and maybe the Rockies, I am here to tell you that (if you are anything like me) you are fooling yourself.

Inevitably, what will happen is that you will hike one National Park, be astonished by its wonders, and find yourself saying, “Well, it’s only 3 hours to . . . ” and then off you go to your next National Park destination. In all, we went to the following National Parks or Monuments:

  • Badlands National Park
  • Wind Cave National Park
  • Rocky Mountain National Park
  • Arches National Park
  • Bryce Canyon National Park
  • Zion National Park
  • Grand Canyon National Park
  • Petrified Forest National Park

I mean, just look at the map:

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Tons of options for you, each just a few hours apart.  We eventually made it all the way to the Grand Canyon because it was only a few hours away from Zion and we figured, if we made it this far from home, how could we not take our kids to see  one of the natural wonders of the world?

So, buy the annual pass and it will pay for itself within the first two or three parks you enter. Plus, you’ll feel like a Real Boss when you get to skip the entrance line kiosk and instead just swipe your card and breeze on through into the park. Worth. Every. Penny.

Lesson 3: Listen to the Rangers, not the Masses

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Just before it all went to hell. . .

At Bryce Canyon National Park, we were warned off from doing any serious hiking by  Ranger at the Visitor Center who informed us that storms were rolling in later that afternoon and the Canyon gets many lightning strikes during a storm, which obviously is a danger to hikers.

But, when we arrived at the Canyon and its many trails we were met with hordes of people enjoying the views and embarking or returning from hikes. We figured, if they are doing it, well. . .  (I know the irony of this group pressure, given that I am the mother of 3 teens who regularly talks with them about following your own instincts, etc.).

Regardless, we headed off on our 3 mile hike through the canyon, assuming illogically that being surrounded by masses of people would protect us from any natural injuries. The first 3/4 of the hike were lovely. The towers of the canyon were gorgeous and unique, and the trail took us through a variety of formations within the canyon.

Then came the climb up, where we needed to move ourselves up a 1/2 mile of switch backs straight up the side of the canyon to get back to the top and our car (and, as it would turn out, safety).

It is at this point in our hike that the storm began to roll in, with thunder from not-so-distant lightning booming into the canyon. I will be honestly–it was very scary to be surrounded by steep cliffs, no cover, and yet try to protect your children even as you are persuading them to go faster up the cliffside.

We eventually made it back safely and headed straight for the car, as throngs of people still remained on the top of the canyon looking on even as lightning struck close by.

Lesson learned: People as a group are idiots (myself included). Listen to your Rangers!

Lesson 4: Family Rules Need Adjusting On the Road

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With 3 children (and being outnumbered), we try to run a household with clear rules that are consistently enforced. It’s how our family functions the best. But, being on the road for hours at a time, and then hiking, and then seeking out food and shelter each evening, I found that my own parenting stamina was waning, much as the politeness and rule-abiding of my children waned as well. On our trip, I learned the importance of ignoring churlish behavior from my kids that would have otherwise been dealt with promptly at home.

Why did I ignore it?

Because, when you put 5 human beings in a car and hotel room 24/7 for 2 weeks, people start to rub on each other like sand paper. No matter how much you love each other, you will annoy your loved ones to no end by the end of your trip, and they you. Granted, all of that will be forgotten as you look back fondly on all the memories you made, but this will be inestimably easier if you use planned ignoring more than you punitive intervention.

Meaning: When you don’t like your kid’s tone of voice or phrasing as you ask them to pass you up a pack of crackers, ignore it. No need for discipline.

Meaning: When you hear your two youngest debating who would win in a death match, ignore it.

Meaning: When your spouse asks why you need to buy lettuce for the sandwiches and your oldest child nabs the final packet of mayonnaise and you are stuck with mustard, ignore it.

On a condensed road trip, open communication is not nearly as important as maintaining some semblance of familial sanity.

Take a deep breath. Let it out. And move on.

Once home, you can reinstate the rules with gusto. Until then, though, relish the freedom that comes with simply ignoring your children as they yell “Shut Up” at each other for the 6th time. I know I did.