In what order should I read your novels? Great question! LUCIA, LUCIA; THE QUEEN OF THE BIG TIME; ROCOCO; and THE SHOEMAKER’S WIFE are stand-alone novels. The “Big Stone Gap” series flows in this order: BIG STONE GAP; BIG CHERRY HOLLER; MILK GLASS MOON; HOME TO BIG STONE GAP. The “Valentine” series is as follows: VERY VALENTINE; BRAVA VALENTINE ; and a third VALENTINE novel (set to be released in fall 2013). And “Viola” is a three part series too! VIOLA IN REEL LIFE is the first book, followed by VIOLA IN THE SPOTLIGHT, and a third VIOLA book to come!
How do you pronounce your name?
A-dree-on-uh Tree-johnny. My father named me. His father’s people were from a small town in Bari on the Adriatic-that, and he liked Linda Evans on the television drama, The Big Valley. Her character was named Audra, and my dad always called me Audra.
What was it like to grow up in Big Stone Gap, Virginia?
It was a lot of fun. I have the same friends I had since I was six years old. It was great: Friday night football, the marching band, and lots of small town glamour. I wouldn’t trade it for growing up anywhere else in the world. If you haven’t seen the Blue Ridge and Appalachian mountains, you must go. They are divine.
If you wrote your autobiography, what would the title be?
I Feel Good About my Neck and Bad About Everything Else (an homage to one of my favorite writers, Nora Ephron.)
Who were your early influences as a writer?
My mother was a librarian and my dad was a big reader and loved poetry. He was a garment manufacturer like his parents. My dad was also a very talented musician, a wonderful pianist who played in a very fizzy jazz style. My grandmothers were both master craftswomen. Lucia Bonicelli was a wonderful designer and seamstress. I marvel at the dresses, suits, and coats she designed and built for my mother and her twin sister. My father’s mother, Viola, was a crack businesswoman; she worked in garment factories all of her life, and eventually she and my grandfather (who was a machinist in sewing factories) opened their own. My mother’s father Carlo was a glorious shoemaker. I come from a long line of artists who owned their own businesses. It never dawned on me that I wouldn’t work hard, or that I wouldn’t express myself as an artist. It’s in the DNA.
Do you have any pets?
We adopted Smokey the cat from a shelter. She really enjoys clawing taffeta (lucky me).
Has motherhood changed you as a person?
Motherhood has changed everything. I was a will o’ the wisp afraid of nothing (!) until I had a baby. Now, I’m a worrier, but at the advice of my fellow mothers I’m deep-sixing the guilt. It’s good for a child to see parents who love their work and gain satisfaction from it. It’s good for a child to see us make mistakes and then own them. It’s good for kids to have real parents who are present and flawed- and coping and trying and reaching and succeeding and failing and trying again: in fact, I think it’s integral to their well being.
What side are you on in the working-outside-the-home mother versus the stay-at-home mom?
Which SIDE? Are you kidding me? We’re all in this together. I am a girl’s girl all the way. There isn’t a mother on planet earth who I cannot relate to or have a good conversation with-really, this has been a revelation to me! Now about work, work, work. My mom stayed home and then worked and my grandmothers always worked in tandem with home life; it’s very natural for me to juggle and not think about it too much. When I worked as an office temp (when I was single), I’d see moms with three and four kids schlep in from Staten Island at seven in the morning-and they were doing it to provide education and a good life for their kids. When children are taught to value how hard their parents work and when they understand the difference between necessity and privilege, everyone wins.
How has your life changed since you became a full-time writer?
Well, I’ve been a full-time writer since 1989. First in television and film, and now in books, with a couple projects per year in film and television still. I started out writing plays for the theater, and I have a feeling that someday I will do something in that arena again. I’m very excited to be working on young adult novels; I’m one of five sisters and my girlfriends are the best. I love writing about the journey, our journey as women. I never know what subject will pique my interest. One of the reasons I love living in New York is that I’m exposed to great stories everyday.
Wasn’t it hard to make the leap from small town life to the big city?
I had a nice intermediate step between the enchantment of southwest Virginia and New York City. I went to college in South Bend, Indiana, at Saint Mary’s College-and LOVED it. It was the perfect way station for me to gain some knowledge, some education and some perspective. South Bend is a medium-sized city, with the University of Notre Dame anchored in the midst of it, and it was wonderful! I met great writers (David Hare), heard amazing lectures and went to concerts for the first time. My professors were amazing. And, as you can see from the previous answers, an all-women’s college was a natural fit for me. I made great friendships there, and with lots of my theater buds from Notre Dame. I was very lucky they admitted me!
Why do you love New York City so much?
Well, I need it! Every morning I wake up here I’m happy. I love my neighborhood (Greenwich Village), my stoop, the girls at D’Ags who make great coffee, my daughter’s school, her friends, the moms I’ve met through Lucia, the small shops, the magical winding streets-I could go on and on! A date night with my husband at Valdino’s- we sit in the window and have spaghetti and red wine; it’s just a romantic place. I love grabbing a girlfriend and going up to Bergdorf’s for lunch. I love going to Little Italy and seeing my peeps who look like me. I love the theater, even when it’s bad. When it’s good-well, theaters like the Cherry Lane in Greenwich Village are loaded with history-it’s inspiring just to attend. I am jazzed through and through by this city. Underneath the energy, though, there is a pulse and I have a lot of energy and it just enhances my energy level. I feel I can do anything living in New York City. It’s spectacular.
What does your husband do?
He’s the lighting designer at The Late Show with David Letterman. We are big fans of Mr. Letterman at my house; he is TiVoed every night.
You don’t stay up late?
Almost never. I go to bed so early because I get up early to work.
What is your most valued possesion?
I can’t pick just one! But here’s a few: my father’s journal of a trip he and my mother made to Italy where they followed the path of Dad’s grandfather from Venice across to the Mediterranean Sea; my grandmother Viola’s “everyday” wedding band which she gave me when I was married; the wedding ring my husband gave me; a box of letters belonging to my father written to him by my mother; my grandfather Michael’s films which he shot from 1935 to 1965; my daughter’s first wool coat; and a letter left on my pillow by my great uncle, a writer, when I visited Italy for the first time.
Your books sometimes touch upon social issues, like the controversial mining technique of Mountain Top Removal. Are you a political person?
I believe that an artist is writing (or painting, or composing, etc.) about the emotional landscape of a culture. The feelings. The why behind the action. And sometimes the greater world pushes through. It certainly did in HOME TO BIG STONE GAP. My social consciousness was developed at a very early age by the social justice work of the Glenmary order of priests and nuns in southwest Virginia. They didn’t just talk the talk, they lived there (still do) and ministered to folks who needed it. We had one Jewish man in southwest Virginia who made Passover dinner with the Catholics, and I never forget the bond we shared then and still do. And when you read my books, you know I love the commitment and the fun of the local churches in BIG STONE GAP. Whether it was a covered dish supper or a canned food drive, there was always something going on. As for Mountain Top Removal, when I was on the Diane Rehm Show (NPR – nobody better – LOVE her!) we had calls about it. I happen to believe that engineers are brilliant- and they could come up with a better way to mine that’s just as cheap. They just need to find it. When I talk to the retired miners, they know a better way. We should listen to them so we can save our jobs, our future and our planet.
ROCOCO was a departure for you. You wrote a male protagonist. How was that different for you?
It didn’t feel different at all. I just heard Bartolomeo in my head instead of Ave Maria or Nella or Lucia Sartori. I love that book and those characters. Toot could have been a novel – love her.
Can you tell us about the BIG STONE GAP movie?
We’re hard at work on casting the movie, and we plan to film it in 2013 in Big Stone Gap. It’s a very exciting time. We are pulling together a stellar cast, and my dear friend and brilliant artist, Rosanne Cash is composing the score – her first. We’ll keep you up to date with the details on the movie.
You spoke with my book club and we’d love to come and be extras in the film. What should we do?
Email my trusty assistant Ally at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are any of the other books being made into movies?
I wrote the screenplay for LUCIA, LUCIA for producer Julie Durk. I would love to make Rococo into a movie; and from time to time I still write television projects, which I always enjoyed!
Are the recipes in the books real?
Absolutely! Try them, and please write to me and let me know how the dish turned out.
You wrote a young adult novel VIOLA IN REEL LIFE. What led you to do this?
When I look back on the reading I did as a girl, I was inspired and enthralled by books, and I wanted to try and capture the energy of that time for my younger readers. Lots of teenagers read the BIG STONE GAP series. QUEEN OF THE BIG TIME is a particular favorite, maybe because the novel begins when Nella is 14. I get lots of emails from students, and that means the world to me.
Why don’t you blog?
It’s all about time. I’d rather answer your emails personally, so that’s how I spend that part of the work day. If I blogged, I couldn’t answer your emails, and the emails you send are WAY too much fun to give them up.
What is your VALENTINE series about?
The series is about a family of shoemakers in Greenwich Village told through the eyes of the 33 year old apprentice, Valentine. It’s an intergenerational comedy- and it was bliss to slip into the shoes of the master craftsman Teodora (79 years old when the novel begins), her daughter Michelina “Mike” and then, the voice of the novel “Mike’s” daughter Valentine. I am crazy about this world (family business and family dynamics) and these characters. I went to Italy and observed shoemakers, and fell madly in love with Costanzo Ruocco on the Isle of Capri, and he features prominently in the plot of the book. My grandfather Carlo was a shoemaker and I relied heavily on the memories of my mother and her twin sister. When I went to Italy to meet with the shoemakers, it turns out my mother and aunt have very good memories about the process. Emotionally, it was very moving, as they remembered their father who died so young at the age of 39. The “Valentine” series is as follows: VERY VALENTINE; BRAVA VALENTINE ; and a third novel set to be released in 2013.