As an author, you do receive a lot of emails from readers asking questions beyond the novel they have read. One I often am asked is where do I write. For your viewing pleasure, here it is. It’s a small, camp style desk and chair, and a few literary inspiration pieces either on the desk or on the walls, – no, not the wine rack – that just happens to be in the corner. It’s very relaxing, quiet spot that overlooks my patio and gardens.
A quick interview I gave regarding Tempesta’s Dream.
Here is an interview I gave regarding Tempesta’s Dream.
MJN: At a closer look, the subtitle of Tempesta’s Dream – a story of Love, Friendship and Opera – is a little paradoxical. Coming from a family of classical musicians, anything involving opera would be modified with words like “rivalry” and “backstabbing”. Perhaps, Italians are more forgiving and generous that Russians?
VL: Oh, I am sure the competitive spirit runs amuck in the opera world. As for my novel, the subtitle refers to the characters in the opera.
Love – Giovanni Tempesta falls in love with Isabella, the girl who he has always dreamed of in his operatic worldview. He grew up on operas, and strongly believes at love at first sight.
Friendship – Alfredo, a blind retired singer at the Casa di Riposa, takes young Giovanni under his wing and teaches him how to sing opera, but more importantly, a friendship is formed that transforms both of them.
Opera – The real protagonist of the story. The story was a means by which I could pass along my adoration and passion for opera to my readers.
MJN: In the past months I have interviewed several other authors whose novels revolve around careers of musicians, including The Red Priest’s Annina. Would you say that historical novels with a musical theme are their own category?
VL: I couldn’t agree more. I am known as an Italian Historical Fiction writer, which is the closest way to describe my style, although not perfect. I really think I am more of a Musical Historical Fiction writer. There have been so many before me, who have written about composers, conductors, singers and such. It really should be it’s own category.
MJN: You currently live in New Orleans, which has been a pilgrimage site for many authors, artists and musicians seeking inspiration. Tell us about the effect that the city has on you.
VL: It’s true I live in New Orleans, but more than that I was born and raised here. So I am fully confident that what I am about to say is biased. So be it. I have travelled a lot, been to many different cities, and no where, and I mean no where, do you get anything like the French Quarter. This is the Latin Quarter in Puccini’s La Boheme. A place where tourists walk over the same stones that the Pirate Jean Lafitte strolled; the same places where late night meetings occurred hatching a plan to rescue Napoleon from exile. A place where ghosts feel just at real as the tourists. Often, I take my computer down to the Quarter, find an outside café, get a coffee, and transport myself to Europe and began the writing journey. It is a magical city.
MJN: Tell us a little bit about the awards that your books have won. I’m talking about the 2014 Pinnacle Achievement Award in Historical Fiction. When you submitted your novel for consideration, did you think that you had a high chance of winning the award? Would it be beneficial to read novels who won in the prior years, just to get an idea of what the judges’ tastes are like?
VL: I would not spend my time reading novels to see what the Judges like. I think it’s more important to make sure your novel is the best it can be, and is ready for submission. Here is an example. An early draft of my second novel, A Song for Bellafortuna, was submitted to the William Faulkner Writing Competition. It was named as a Short List Finalist. Then the novel went through a major revision with my agent in New York. It became a great book. That novel was awarded the distinguished Indie Brag Medaillion Award. I often wonder if I had submitted it after those revisions to the William Faulkner Competition, would it have had a better chance of winning. My advice, leave nothing on the table. Make sure your book is ready to go.
MJN: Your novels are set in the country of your ancestors. One of my early loves was an Italian gentleman, who defied every stereotype imaginable – lethargic, blond, blue-eyed, Protestant. He hated his mother and pasta. A living negation of every Italian stereotype! Are there any pervasive ethnic stereotypes that you hope to counter through your literature? Or do you occasionally indulge the unenlightened masses and give them what they expect in terms of portrayal of Italians?
VL: He hated his mother and pasta. There is no such Italian man. This is a great question and one that really makes me take a pause. Of course, we all have Italian stereotypes in our minds. But the more I ponder this question, I think my answer would be that the story’s protagonist and the locale is usually set first in my mind. Then the story develops as the character develops more and more throughout the writing of the story. That is the fun part of writing. When the story begins to take you places you never expected it to. I remember reading a letter J.R.R. Tolkien wrote one day while at work in the early stages of Lord of the Rings. He stated in that letter that he had just introduced Black Riders into the story, and that he could not wait to get back to writing to discover more about them. Writing is a journey. So, at least for me, I don’t think I write from stereotypes, but instead I just follow the story where it leads.
MJN: What a great interview. Thanks for your time.
VL: Thanks for taking the time to get to know a little bit about my writing career and me.
This past Sunday, we took our daughter to Arnaud’s for Brunch for her birthday. Arnaud’s is located in the French Quarter in New Orleans and is one of the classic, French/Creole old line restaurants in the City. At Brunch, a Dixieland Jazz trio plays jazz greats. They came up to our table and sang happy birthday to our little group. Then asked us if we had a request. I asked them to bring a little Italian into the French spot. Lo and behold, the Gumbo Trio, played a perfect jazz rendition of O’ Sole Mio, with Italian vocals sung by of them. It was outstanding and one of those magic New Orleans moments. Of course, I sang along, and with deep regret for my family, the musicians complimented my voice. They may never shut me up again.
Every year after Easter, I love reading the mass readings as the Apostles began to spend more and more time with the risen Lord and as the infant Church slowly begins to grow. It’s fascinating that these broken followers of Jesus suddenly are imbued with the strength and determination to bring the light inside their heart to the world.
No story better epitomizes this than the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. They are devastated at the death of Jesus when suddenly they are joined by a stranger who turns out to be the risen Lord.
As they walk along, the stranger discusses scripture with them. “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” When they reach their destination, they beg the stranger to stay with them, which he does. He continues teaching them. And at dinner, he breaks bread and they recognize him. Can you imagine being taught the entire history of salvation by the Lord. Luke’s gospel explains what it felt like to those two men after Jesus had departed from them.
“They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
I love that image. They are so excited by this experience, they rush back to Jerusalem to find the Apostles to let them know they had seen the Lord.
So I invite you this Easter season to take the walk with me to Emmaus and read about the birth of the infant Church.
Just wanted to give a shout out to the Folsom Ladies Book Club who invited me to discuss A Song for Bellafortuna last week. It was a well spent afternoon. I loved meeting you ladies and discussing my book and its characters. There really is nothing more exciting for an author than to sit and listen people discuss their take on your work.
Keep reading. Your book club is special.
We watched Jesus Christ Superstar Easter night and all I kept thinking the whole time was – this was what TV was made for. Entertainment. And what better way to entertain than music. Be it broadway, concerts or opera, this medium can bring the music right into your home and places you right on the stage to watch this talent up close.
I hope the trend continues to bring musical theater to television.
Today begins the season of Advent. For me, Advent is the most wonderful time of the liturgical season. With all the hustle and bustle of Christmas, Advent reminds us to always keep the purpose and reason behind Christmas in the forefront of our minds.
One small way this is accomplished by Christians is the nativity scene put up in the home. A gentle reminder that Christ’s birth should be our focus. So with Advent beginning today, I thought a brief reflection on the origin of the crib would be appropriate.
It dates back to the 13th century in Italy, and my favorite Saint, Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, or has he would forever be known, St. Francis.
Francis had recently returned from visiting the Holy Land where he had venerated Jesus’s traditional birthplace. In 1223, as Christmas neared, St. Francis found himself in the town of Greccio, Italy. There lived in that town a man by the name of Giovanni Velitta. Francis called upon John about two weeks before Christmas and said to him, “If you desire that we should celebrate this year’s Christmas together at Greccio, go quickly and prepare what I tell you; for I want to enact the memory of the Infant who was born at Bethlehem and how He was bedded in the manger on hay between a donkey and an ox. I want to see all of this with my own eyes.”
Signor Velitta brought everything St. Francis needed to create his Nativity scene in the forest on the outskirts of the village. St. Francis sought and received permission from the Pope to create his scene. He arrived in the forest and got to work creating the scene.
On Christmas night, the villagers of Greccio flocked to the scene out in the forest. They carried candles and torches to light the night and scene. The crib had been set up inside a small cave in the forest. There was a manger, hay, a donkey and an ass, and humans in the role of the biblical figures.
The scene was described by St. Bonaventure, a contemporary of Francis. He said that the villagers and friars crowded around the scene, as mass was led by a priest (Francis was a deacon, not a priest.) He writes, “The brethren were summoned, the people ran together, the forest resounded with their voices, and that venerable night was made glorious by many and brilliant lights and sonorous psalms of praise.”
What was most written about by biographers was the sermon given by Francis that night. Thomas of Celano, another contemporary, writes: “The saint of God stood before the manger, uttering sighs, overcome with love and filled with a wonderful happiness….He sang the Gospel in a sonorous voice, a clear and sonorous voice, inviting all to the highest rewards. Then he preached to the people standing about and spoke charming words concerning the birth of the poor King, and the little town of Bethlehem.”
From that event in the forest of Greccio, the idea of a crib spread all over the Christian World, and soon cribs were found in churches, and most importantly, people’s homes.
St. Francis, with his unbridled devotion to the poor and to poverty, I believe wanted to use the crib as a reminder to all of how Jesus came into the world; born in a simple food trough for animals. In today’s world, the crib not only reminds us of that, but it also assures that we remember in the crazy, busy, commercialized world what Christmas is all about.
Prima Donna of the Opera
All names for the great Greek/American Soprano, Maria Callas.
Maria owned the opera stage in the 1950s, singing all over the World including at the Metropolitan and La Scala in Milan.
Often paired on stage and record with the tenor, Giuseppe di Stefano, Callas brought forth from the music pure emotion and pathos.
A thought hit me just the other day. There are people in this world who have not heard or seen her sing one note.
In today’s busy world, take a three-minute break and watch this clip from Puccini’s Tosca. The performance is from Covent Garden in London. The year is 1964. Franco Zeffirelli, the great movie and opera director, was the stage director for this performance.
An opera singer can be put into two simple categories. The first one hits all the notes, sings a perfect line, and the technique is spot on. In other words, a wonderful singer, but all rather boring and bland. The other type of singer exposes their very soul on the stage. It’s all emotion and power. That’s an exciting singer. That’s Maria Callas.
You see her very being. Her performance is a window into her soul. What a talent.
Author of Tempesta’s Dream and A Song for Bellafortuna