Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest Christine Simolke author of Children of Italy: Love Secrets & Betrayal.
Norm: Good day Christine and thanks for participating in our interview.
Christine: Thank you for the opportunity. I’m excited to be interviewed by the founder of bookpleasures.com.
Norm: Please tell our readers a little bit about your personal and professional background:
Christine: I am a former middle school language arts teacher/group cycling instructor with a master’s degree in English education. I’m married and have two sons, two dogs and two cats. I love to read, run, take group exercise classes, dance with my husband, and cook. When my youngest son entered high school, about 7 years ago, I quit teaching to work on writing full time.
Norm: How did you become involved with the subject or theme of Children of Italy: Love Secrets & Betrayal and what were your goals and intentions in this book? How well do you feel you achieved them?
Christine: When I was in graduate school, I wrote a paper based on an interview I’d done with my maternal grandmother, an Italian immigrant, who came to the United States in the 1920’s with her mother and sisters to join their father, who had been in America for 12 years. I thought their story would make a great historical novel. I hoped to write it, someday, but life got in the way. After my children got older, I took writing classes, went to writers’ conferences and wrote several middle grade manuscripts. I finally came back to my grandmother’s story, because the older I got, the more appreciative I became of what a tremendous undertaking it was for her family to leave Italy. Their story became one that I felt compelled to tell. I thought in some form or another it was the story of many Americans.
My goal with Children of Italy was to tell an immigrant story that focused on the sacrifices and the struggles of one Italian immigrant family, especially focusing on the consequences of infidelity, discrimination and separation.
Readers, both of Italian and non-Italian heritage, who have contacted me, have said that they could relate to the themes of family, love, longing, infidelity, discrimination, poverty and isolation that the characters suffer in trying to settle in our great country to make a better life for their children. This makes me happy, because though I set out to write a book about my Italian family in the context of historical fiction, I wanted to create a story that would be relatable for readers of all nationalities.
Norm: What are some of the references that you used while researching this book?
Christine: When I began to write Children of Italy, my grandmother, Giovanna, had been dead for 8 years, but I used what she had told me, and I then interviewed her younger sister, Evelina, who was very forthcoming about the flaws of her father and the hardships of being an immigrant. Her remarks gave me the idea for the conflict in the main plot, her father’s infidelity, and the subplot, which centers around an uncle with a secret who moved to the US about the same time.
I also read several books about the time period and Italian-Americans. My three favorites were LaStoria: Five Centuries of the Italian American Experience by Jerre Mangione & Ben Morrale, The Italian Americans by Maria Laurino, and American Passage: The History of Ellis Island by Vincent J. Cannato.
Norm: What would you say is the best reason to recommend to someone to read the book?
Christine: Though the book takes place in the 1920’s, you don’t have to be a history buff to enjoy the story. The issues the characters face are timeless: wanting a good life for your children, infidelity, young love, keeping secrets, longing for someone or something, discrimination in several forms, love of family, revenge, suspense. I think it’s relatable for young adult and adult readers alike, as the main characters range in age from early teens to early forties.
Norm: Which character was the easiest to write? Most difficult?
Christine: Evelina, the youngest daughter of Luigi and Appollonia Falconi, was the easiest, because she has so much personality. Her character is based on my aunt who is feisty, smart and witty. I wanted to portray her as I know her and do her justice. When she read the book and said she loved it, I was thrilled. (She’s also quite candid and would have told me if she didn’t like it.)
The most difficult was Isolde, “the other woman.” I have never had the urge to “steal” another woman’s husband; so I had to really use my imagination to get inside her head and determine her motivations. I didn’t want to paint her as entirely despicable. And though I don’t think many readers will sympathize with her, at least at the outset, I wanted her to be relatable in terms of her feelings and her longing to be loved, even though she’s the story’s villain.
Norm: What is the most important thing that people DON’T know about your subject/genre, that they need to know?
Christine: I think some readers who aren’t interested in history think that historical fiction isn’t for them; but a good story can take place in any time period, and if you read a story whose characters and plot grab you, you might just like learning a little about another place and time, even if you aren’t a history buff.
Norm: What was the most difficult part of writing this book and what did you enjoy most about writing this book?
Christine: The most difficult part was devoting hours to sitting still in one place to get the story down. I’m not good at sitting for long periods of time. What I most enjoyed was bringing the characters in my head to life, coming up with a suspenseful story and the research. I really enjoyed reading and learning about early Italian immigrants, an awesome group of courageous, tenacious people.
Norm: Are you a full-time writer? How does that affect your writing? As a follow up, do you write more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two? Please summarize your writing process.
Christine: I am now a full-time writer and have been for the past seven years. For me, it’s the only way I can do it. When I was working, I didn’t do well writing in the evening. I like complete solitude, so I have to write when no one else is home. I can’t concentrate with distraction.
My writing process: I’ve tried both: making detailed outlines and a more organic approach. Intuition works best for me. I have a basic story in mind and think about a scene and then let it take me where it will. It’s like a movie playing in my head with the characters taking a scene as it comes with a natural progression of events based on their personalities and the prior events in the story.
Norm: What helps you focus when you write and do you find it easy reading back your own work?
Christine: I like to go for a run first thing in the morning and think. Good ideas come to me then or when I sit outside with my laptop. Something about being outdoors helps me focus. I also try to dedicate a certain number of hours to “work.” If I get restless, I do research to mix it up a bit.
I don’t mind reading back my own work, because I really like to revise. Although, sometimes it’s disheartening, because you read something that you thought was fine the first time and find that it’s awful the second time. That’s when the English teacher in me comes out, and I take a red pen to words that I, at first, thought were just right.
Norm: In fiction as well as in non-fiction, writers very often take liberties with their material to tell a good story or make a point. But how much is too much?
Christine: I suppose it’s too much if it doesn’t ring true. Even if you’re writing fiction, the story has to be somewhat believable within the confines of the genre. So if you take too many liberties, your readers will call you out on it. Discerning readers will see right through your unrealistic story.
Norm: What process did you go through to get your book published? Did you have it professionally edited?
Christine: I first had one of my former writing teachers, who is also an editor, edit my manuscript. Then I wrote query letters to over sixty literary agents. (I’d read that J. K. Rowing, the author of the Harry Potter series, was rejected by more than sixty agents.) Though I’d read in Writer’s Market that the rejection rate was 98%, I so believed in my novel that I thought I might fall in the 2% who were accepted. Alas, I did not receive any offers of representation. A friend suggested that if I was determined to have my book traditionally published, I should try querying independent or small press publishers, since they generally will accept queries directly from authors. That’s how I found my publisher, Hawkins Publishing Group. They liked my story, and I liked them. It took two years from the date that I signed with them for Children of Italy to be released.
Norm: What is next for Christine Simolke?
Christine: I am working on two projects: the first, picks up the story of the Falconi family where Children of Italy left off; and the second, is a YA suspense novel about a teenage boy who is trying to rescue a missing girl.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and Children of Italy: Love Secrets & Betrayal?
Christine: Children of Italy can be ordered online at AMAZON.COM or BARNES & NOBLE. Readers can watch a book trailer at VIMEO.COM (Children of Italy Book Trailer) or youtube.com. They can read about Children of Italy and me on my Amazon page or on my publishers WEBSITE
Norm: As this interview draws to a close, what question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer.
Christine: What’s the best part about having your book out there in the reading world?
Connecting with readers and reviewers to hear their thoughts, not only about your own book, but about other books, too. It’s awesome to talk about books with other book lovers!
Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors