Speaking engagement with the Folsom Ladies Book Club.
Here is an interview I gave regarding my novels.
**Q&A with Vincent B. “Chip” LoCoco**
We are joined today by New Orleans writer, Vincent B. “Chip” LoCoco. Welcome.
CL: Thanks for having me.
I have a few questions today that I think our readers would love to know about you and your work. Here we go.
Please give us the title and genre of your book and a 30-word or less tagline:
CL: The title of my book is A Song for Bellafortuna. It is an inspirational Italian Historical Fiction novel concerning a young man’s desire to free his Sicilian village from the domination of one family’s long reign. For years, the beautiful, yet secluded, hilltop village of Bellafortuna, Sicily, was a great producer of wine and olive oil. The entire village prospered. However, after the arrival of the Vasaio family, production dwindles and the villagers soon find themselves in crushing debt to the Vasaios. Only young Giuseppe Sanguinetti has the courage to face the Vasaios and try to remove them from power.
Tell us a little bit about your cover art. Who designed it? Why did you go with that particular image/artwork?
CL: Bellafortuna is a fictional village located in the hills of Sicily. I always knew I wanted a cover that screamed Sicily. Ana Grigoriu of Stuttgart Germany designed the cover. She was wonderful to work with on this project. She came by way of a recommendation and I could not have been more pleased. The villagers produce wine so not only did it have to be a village but it also needed vineyards. She captured the entire feel with the photo she picked.
Who is your favorite character from your book and why?
CL: That is such a hard question to answer. Of course, Giuseppe Sanguinetti is the protagonist, and the character I thought most about during the course of writing. However, his father, Antonio, is the one character who I really would say is my favorite. Without giving too much away, let’s just say his love for his son in unending, and he could not stand to see his son fail.
How can we contact you or find out more about your books?
CL: The best way to contact me is by way of my website. www.vincentlococo.com. There you can sign up to get updates, news, blog entries, giveaways and keep up with my other novel, Tempesta’s Dream – A Story of Love, Friendship and Opera about an aspiring opera singer growing up in Milan.
Who are some of your favorite authors that you feel were influential in your work? What impact have they had on your writing?
CL: I am always asked this question, and my answer never changes. J.R.R. Tolkien was the one. He inspired me to love to read, to love the concept of “a story”, to get lost in a created world, and to love great storytelling. All of those things had an impact on my writing. When I think of an author, I think of him.
Any writing rituals?
CL: After two novels, I have become known as an Italian Historical Fiction writer. That does seem appropriate as before I was even given that moniker, my writing ritual always involved earplugs in my ear usually listening to the great opera arias sung by the world greatest singers, di Stefano, Pavarotti, Domingo, Gigli, Callas, Tebaldi, etc. If that does not put you into an Italian romantic vein, than nothing will.
Do you meet your readers at book signings, conventions, or similar events?
CL: I do and I really enjoy meeting them. I have also been asked to give talks about my novel. I will admit I can’t stand just standing in front of an audience and reading from my novel. My books are released as Audiobooks with professional narration. Bob Neufeld, my reader, does a much better job reading my book then I ever could. So instead, I like to discuss the book in the broader text of Italy and music, which is a vital component of my novels. Of course, I have musical selections played and the audience has a wonderful time learning about different locals and listening to the wonderful music. Throw in a bottle of Chianti, and it’s as if you have been transported to Italy.
Thanks so much for sharing a little bit about your writing and your novels.
CL: Well, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks for having me. Ciao.
The wonderful book site, Layered Pages, has selected A Song for Bellafortuna, as the book to be featured on their site. Check the link below for more information.
Here is our latest review on Amazon for Tempesta’s Dream:
A COLLOSAL BEAUTY OF A NOVEL. LOVE IT, LOVE IT, LOVE IT. LoCoco is a genius in writing fiction with opera. A round of appaluse for this magnificent novel.
Tempesta’s Dream: A Story of Love, Friendship and Opera
Reviews For Tempesta’s Dream
FROM HISTORICAL NOVEL REVIEW: by Mirella Patzer
“What this novel does well is that it combines the history of opera in Italy, specifically at La Scala di Milano, with a poignant friendship and love story. It covers all the famous opera singers and composers, as well as some Italian history. It is evident the author did a great deal of research and is passionate about opera and Italian life. At times, there were many sections that read more technically instead of prose-like, and this made the story flow more like a creative non-fiction book than a novel. But the bones are great. Beneath all the information, there is a beautiful tale of friendship and love. This is a wonderful book, accurately written, that will give readers an indepth knowledge about opera with its many performances, singers, and composers. It is a wonderful introduction to the world of opera! “
FROM THE ITALIAN AMERICAN DIGEST:
“Food. Women. Opera. Italy. There is an inherent passion in each, and Vincent B. “Chip” LoCoco’s fascination with these obsessions darts off the page in Tempesta’s Dream: A Story of Love, Friendship, and Opera (Cefalutana Press: New Orleans, 2013), an easy-to-read, optimistic tale. One cannot help but acquire insight into these four gems and learn a few new opera names, Italian places or Italian words previously unknown to the reader.
Giovanni Tempesta is a simple man with a single aspiration to become an opera tenor on one of the most prestigious stages in the world; that is, La Scala, in his hometown of Milan. His life goal, already a long shot, is made more difficult when he falls in love with Isabella Monterone, whose prestigious family cares little for a poor, untrained musician like Giovanni.
Giovanni backs his way into becoming a student of the once great Alfredo del Monte, a teacher with a sketchy past who, of all people, could be the single one person in the world to help Giovanni find the break he needs to fulfill his dream. However, Alfredo might also be the catalyst to bring about Giovanni’s failure, and the reader spends a significant amount of time wondering which it will be, which makes the tale all the more delicious.
More than just a typical page-turner, Tempesta’s Dream is many things at once, with something relentless and compelling between the book covers for everyone. Readers are drawn to the positive enthusiasm the author yarns together. LoCoco, a New Orleanean and former Jesuit High School state champion baseball player LoCoco takes the reader on an adventurous ride that combs the breadth and depth of all human experience, while touching upon Italian: geography, history, opera, food, and women.
But what makes the narrative all the more endearing is the one single thing for which every human creature yearns—something to live for, with the courage and the passion and drive to follow one’s dream.”
FROM MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW:
“Giovanni Tempesta has long dreamed of becoming an opera singer in his home town of Milan, Italy; but despite his talents he lacks the money for proper training and his dreams seem futile until he meets and falls in love with the wealthy Isabella Monterone, whose father, a powerful Judge, is less than thrilled about her infatuation with a poor musician with no future.
Banned from their household and forbidden to date his love, Giovanni feels all his dreams and goals are lost…and then he stumbles upon a rest home for musicians established by the great opera composer Verdi, meets up with a retired opera singer with a secretive past, and discovers in him a mentor who can help Giovanni realize his ambitions.
Tempesta’s Dream: A Story of Love, Friendship and Opera is not a singular story of ambition nor even of romance, but a blend of patterns, circumstances, and relationships that lead to vast changes. Its setting is partially driven by its powerful protagonists and partially because many elements of the novel are based in reality (the convent described is based on an actual convent while stories about historical operas and their conductors and participants are all based on actual opera lore.) The author grew up in a household steeped in an appreciation for opera, so he is in the perfect position to provide a novel filled with authentic opera references and atmosphere.
Because he was raised in a home filled with music appreciation and Italian passion, it’s hard not to suspect that these two driving forces are the real foundation of Vincent B. “Chip” LoCoco’s ability to create story filled with atmosphere and musical insights far beyond the usual observations of an outsider.
Phrases in Italian and English pepper his story: these are presented with translations side-by-side for quick enlightenment. There’s also a series of quick references to how the protagonist attained his deep love of opera (from a father also passionate about music, who never realized his own dreams of making a name for himself in opera.)
How did this love pass between generations? Tempesta’s Dream leaves nothing to wonder about the process of evolving passions: “Giovanni Tempesta loved how every night his father would take an opera libretto and make it into a bedtime story. Unlike other kids, Giovanni’s father did not read nursery rhymes to his son at bedtime, but instead read opera librettos to him, relating to his young son the great stories and legends of operas written centuries ago.”
What a son does with his father’s dream and how he integrates it with his own evolution: now, that’s the stuff of legend – and the foundation of Tempesta’s Dream’s compelling plot.
As Giovanni comes to realize and express his real passion, he discovers more than a mentor in his newfound teacher, using his lessons to rise above the frustrations of his life: “Alfredo said, “Always sing with passion. When you sing Aida, let Verdi live through you. At the heart of the opera is passion. I know you know the role. But feel it.”
What happens when Giovanni lives his passion and how he changes his life to take his rightful place in the world of opera greats (and in his love’s life) makes for a powerful novel of dreams, debts, and an effort that gives an old man and his young student a new lease on life.
Tempesta’s Dream is all about the music, it’s all about passion, and it’s all about pursuing one’s dream. Anyone who wants inspirational reading (and who want to be immersed in the world of music as well as Italian opera) will find this a moving, engrossing story.”
FROM PENN BOOK REVIEW:
An Intelligent and Entertaining Lyrical Journey
A treat for opera aficionados and newcomers alike.
“Aspiring opera tenor, Giovanni, brings vivid life to his art with a rare operatic talent. Although he is little more than a café singer, he vows to make his dreams come true; to one day sing at La Scala, a world-renowned opera house in Milan. His talent is never doubted, but like any 25 year old, he’s looking for a window of chance. Giovanni is such a tenderhearted, vivid character—it’s as if the reader is literally listening to his voice that is described as “rich and dark in quality.” Not only does Giovanni need to realize his dream for himself, but also for his late father; who narrated operas for bedtime stories and brought his son up with the sounds of the great, operatic tenor, Enrico Caruso, constantly playing in the background. The author’s harmonic prose leads progressively into an operatic aria where Giovanni feels as if “lighting had struck him between the eyes.” He encounters the most beautiful young woman with striking eyes and dark hair; he believes it to be fate. Although Isabella’s father, a prominent Judge, looks down on Giovanni, their relationship becomes all-consuming.
While Giovanni begins to study with Signor Alfredo del Monte, a retired tenor who lives at the Casa Verdi, it seems as if he’s received his big break; the one that will take his career to the level that he and his father have always dreamed about. Giovanni, in a rather beautiful scene, states: “God gave me a gift, my father gave me the passion, and my love gives me the desire. I need to sing. Creado al destino.” Will Giovanni get everything he’s ever wanted—a career as a famous performer and Isabella? Or will he become an old restaurant singer with an unrealized dream as many others in Milan? This is a story of love, friendship, and passion.
Tempesta’s Dream is a rare, beautiful story with passion and opera pulsing through each page. LoCoco has woven a unique novel with exceptionally developed characters and realistic dialogue and a well-balanced narrative.”
FROM LITERARY CHANTEUSE:
“This story revolving around opera, with a look at the struggles an opera singer faces while trying to make it in a competitive world, had an appeal for me from the very beginning. Giovanni is a wonderful character with raw talent and a true heart. I loved the crash course on operas and their composers as well. Moments of emotion, from both happy to sad, feeling Giovanni’s despair to his triumph kept me enjoying every moment. Adored this book and is now added to my personal favorites.”
“It’s impossible not to feel the passion that Chip LoCoco has for the opera. This passion is personified by Giovanni Tempesta. I really enjoyed this beautiful novel. It’s hard to say that it’s a novel about a man’s passion for the opera only… It really is a man’s journey to realizing his dreams despite many obstacles. Giovanni was a beautiful human being. He was a man that loved the opera but put his dream on hold because he was helping his family and because he couldn’t catch a break. When he met Isabella it felt like it was similar to Romeo and Juliette. They were both held apart from each other because of Isabella’s dad. LoCoco is a beautiful writer. He was able to eloquently portray the passion of the opera through Giovanni’s passion and dedication to becoming an opera singer. His struggles made him even more endearing. This was a beautiful and passionate story about fulfillment!”
FROM ANTONIO MAGNOCAVALLO: PRESIDENT OF THE CASA VERDI
This is a letter received from the President of the Casa Verdi – the nursing home in Milan established by Giuseppe Verdi for retired musicians and which figures prominently in the novel.
Caro signor Lococo,
Solo ora, a distanza di mesi, la ringrazio per avermi inviato il suo libro.
Il ritardo è dovuto al fatto che preferisco ringraziare consapevolmente, dunque dopo aver letto il libro inviatomi.
E così posso farle i miei più vivi complimenti per il suo bel lavoro, che valorizza Casa Verdi ed i suoi Ospiti.
Dear Mr. Lococo ,
Only now, months later, I thank you for sending me your book.
The delay is due to the fact that I prefer to thank knowingly after reading the book sent to me .
And so I grant to you my warmest congratulations for your great work, which enhances the Casa Verdi and it’s guests.
Reviews For a Song For Bellafortuna
FROM PRIMO MAGAZINE:
Italians settled all over America. Not just the cities but also the quaint small towns had among their residents newly arrived immigrants from Italy. Besides the opportunity for work, many Italians wanted to settle in a place with some familiarity from where they came. Italy is replete with small villages situated atop steep mountains and in remote valleys. What they found in small town USA was not entirely different from what they knew in Italy: A small yet industrious community surrounded by breathtaking scenery.
Vincent B. “Chip” LoCoco’s transports readers to small town Italy in his stunning new book “A Song for Bellafortuna.” The book is one part tribute to the beauty of Sicilian rural lands and one part suspenseful drama. The setting is Bellafortuna, a hilltop village in a wine and olive oil producing section of Sicily. The sheer beauty of the farm valley forever attracts main characters, father and son, Antonio and Giuseppe Sanguinetti. LoCoco writes: “Even though Giuseppe had lived in Bellafortuna his whole life, the views offered by the valley still revealed to him new vistas every time he traveled there…Mulberry trees, with their gnarled branches, shimmered in the light of the setting sun alongside grapevines, olive trees, and wheat fields…Behind most of the homes were the vineyards, laid out perfectly, row upon row. A gentle breeze carried the smells of oleander, rosemary, and lavender from the nearby yards. Giuseppe whispered to his father, ‘E bello.’”
The Eden-like environment camouflages what is a village in turmoil. The rich Vasaio family has strangled the life out of residents through a host of schemes, including loans to poor farmers at exorbitant interest rates. Foreclosures are frequent as good families must leave their homes and possessions. The plot centers on the rebelling of the Sanguinetti family and the courage of young Giuseppe to face down the village’s tormentors.
“A Song for Bellafortuna” reminds us of the tempestuous past of Sicily when war between the classes was common. Small villages tended to show the extremes of wealth and poverty. Wealthy parents tended to send their children to boarding school, as a way to hide class conflict back at home. As LoCoco reminds us,the informality of village life often lifted the veil of what was hidden. He writes: “Giuseppe turned toward Santo. ‘That is where you are wrong Santo. Your family has brought nothing but misery to the village…go down into the valley and see how these people live. With such fertile soil and bountiful harvests, ask yourself why they live in such squalor…”
“A Song for Bellafortuna” is an outstanding achievement by an Italian American with a passion for Sicily. The intriguing plot not only entertains readers but serves as a conduit to better understand rural life in Sicily.
FROM HISTORICAL NOVEL SOCIETY:
Bellafortuna, Sicily, is a magical, beautiful place, where the buildings glow golden at dusk and the people treasure the things most important in Italian life: good wine and opera. But the townspeople live in poverty, every penny going to repay old debts to the ruling Vasaio family. It has been this way for three generations. A chance meeting between the local wine merchant’s son, Giuseppe, and the great tenor Enrico Caruso, and an unlikely friendship between Giuseppe and the only son of the current Vasaio family patriarch lead to a chance for freedom from debt. If Giuseppe can convince Caruso to perform at the town’s annual summer festival, then the interest charges on the townspeople’s debt will be lowered. If not, the musical and political groups that are the lifeblood of the townspeople must be disbanded forever.
I absolutely adored this book from cover to cover. Everything about it evoked small village Italy. The characters and events were completely believable, as well as memorable, and the book managed to provide me with a strong education in opera without my even noticing – almost.
I have only two minor criticisms. First, at the beginning of the book the author tends to tell you about events rather than taking you through them and letting you experience them. Second, Italian phrases are scattered throughout the book, followed by a translation in parenthesis. This is a bit cumbersome and inhibits slightly the flow of the story. I would strongly suggest the author finds a good technical editor – for it would be worth the investment. Overall, however, this was an absolutely delightful book and I highly recommend it.
FROM THE ITALIAN AMERICAN DIGEST:
Coming off of his first work Tempesta’s Dream: A Story of Love, Friendship, and Opera (Cefalutana Press: New Orleans, 2013) New Orleanean author, lawyer, and former Jesuit High School and Loyola University baseball player, Vincent B. “Chip” LoCoco again takes the reader on a figurative and literal journey through Italy in a spellbinding, historical fiction novel of a young man’s desire to free his Sicilian village from the domination of one family’s long reign.
A Song For Bellafortuna (Cefalutana Press: New Orleans, 2015) is set in Bellafortuna, Sicily, at a time when the city was a halcyon producer of wine and olive oil, and where the entire village flourished. Then, an evil Vasaio family enters the scene and in a flash the entire village somehow ends up under their reign of tyrannical debt. Through the goodness of a rival Sanguinetti family and only through them can the village be saved.
Almost surprisingly, however, the power of a Verdi opera morphs into a mantra, Nabucco, and captivates the people. The Sanguinetti family, through their own flawed past, launches a strategy that will result in an all-or-nothing outcome. The reader gets swept away at this point, turning pages until he encounters the outcome.
In due course, the author himself reveals his end-message ironically in the beginning of the book in his dedication (to his children Matthew and Ellie): I hope this book helps you to see that to be fully human is to live for other people, no matter what you are facing personally. This message, after Hurricane Katrina took our home and our possessions, shines even brighter for it is the measure of our true worth.
If you are interested in all things Italian; if you are interested in human relationships; if you are intrigued by the states of the human dimension; if music or opera are your loves, A Song For Bellafortuna is a must-read.
FROM JOHN KEAHEY: AUTHOR OF SEEKING SICILY AND HIDDEN TUSCANY
LoCoco’s “song” offers readers a lyric that transports us through a once-prosperous village overwhelmed by turn-of-the-century Sicilian pathos and which allows us to follow its people to redemption, both collectively and individually. It introduces to us oppressed villagers who, led by a young man with a unique solution, were able to win back their former glory. In the process, we are overtaken by these characters and their village “glistening in its golden glow from the setting sun.” Within these well-crafted pages we find beautiful descriptions of the Sicily and its people LoCoco clearly loves, and the seeds of hope, available to all.
FROM ITALOPHILE BOOK REVIEWS:
The subtitle of this book is An Inspirational Italian Historical Fiction Novel, and it is that, as well as being a clean fiction coming-of-age novel suitable for tweens, teens and adults. It is also a celebration of Italian opera.
The story pauses at times to provide the reader with small histories of operas that appear in the book. Even some of the librettos are reproduced for the reader. And a choral work plays an important part in the story, just as it did in Italy’s history.
The story begins in Sicily in 1897 and follows a young man along his life’s path that is filled with love for his village, his father, and for opera.
Like all good coming-of-age novels, the protagonist, Giuseppe, discovers love and life and makes a momentous decision that changes his life forever, but in this novel Giuseppe does it all to a subtle accompaniment of operatic music.
The author brings to life a time when opera was part of every Italian’s daily life. As the author says: “Musica, and especially opera, can touch a person’s soul in a way that nothing else can. … It can bind the listening audience together.”
The author paints a picture of the era before motorcars, when agriculture provided the most employment. One gets the feeling of the slower pace of life. Journeys take longer. Distances feel greater.
Giuseppe’s father, Antonio, treats his son to many trips, having the boy join him on business trips all over Italy, to places like Milan, Florence, Rome, Palermo.
Through his journeys Giuseppe gets an education that is greater than the other villagers. He sees a bigger world where things change or are better than where he lives. This inspires him to try to help his fellow villagers.
The author has a stylized voice, giving the book a fairytale feeling. He uses very formal dialog, perhaps trying to better convey the era to the reader. There are Italian words in the text to remind the reader that everything they are reading is actually happening in Italy and in Italian.
There is a strong moral message in the book. “Never be afraid to stand up to the powerful. The alternative is fear and degradation.”
The only thing I missed was an Afterword to explain what in the novel was history and what was invention. Some of this was explained in the book itself, but a little more at the end would have been lovely.
This is a gentle coming-of-age story with a happy ending. A young boy grows up to be an inspiration to his friends and family, and even his enemies. He discovers love and a purpose for his life. This is a clean novel suitable for tweens, teens and adults. If you enjoy Italian opera, or are curious about it, this book will have a special appeal for you.
Please visit my full and illustrated review at Italophile Book Reviews. I received a review-copy.
FROM READER’S FAVORITE 5 STAR REVIEW:
“Vincent B. LoCoco writes a heartwarming piece of historical fiction in A Song for Bellafortuna. Set on a hill is a beautiful Sicilian village, Bellafortuna. The community has a long and rich ancestry. Due to the iron control of the Vasaio family, poverty engulfs the once thriving village. Almost everyone is in debt to the ruthless family. However, the soul of the Sicilian community remains: good food, good wine and opera! The idea of freedom has become just a hope, an “idealistic dream,” yet they will always have their music. One young man is willing to take a stand and make the hope a reality. A chance meeting, an unlikely friendship, and a song and a prayer put in motion the making of a miracle. The faith and fate of the village are in the hands of young Giuseppe Sanguinetti.
If you love food, wine and opera, you will be delighted with this novel. Vincent B. LoCoco’s love of opera is depicted through the historical events portrayed within the plot. He captured the essence of the Sicilian culture, especially regarding the value of ancestry and music. The landscape scenes are described with sensory illustrations. The reader can see the colors, smell and taste the food and wine, and hear the music throughout the narrative. LoCoco wrote with patience; the action of the narrative is serene, yet completely captivating. Page by page, the tension and the wonder heighten as the plot ascends to its climax. During the falling action, LoCoco uses the flashback technique to reveal the events that were intentionally left out, bringing the work to its final outcome. The ending was moving and I was left with a shiver and goosebumps. A Song For Bellafortuna is a beautiful tale of antiquity.”
“A Song for Bellafortuna” by Vincent B. “Chip” LoCoco was a beautifully written story. Just like his previous book, “Tempesta’s Dream.” Every aspect reminded me of the opera that he often writes about. His writing is very rhythmic and his plots very passionate. Giuseppe was a very memorable character, it was obvious that his heart and soul belonged to his family and honoring them.