Maria Grazia Swan takes her readers on another great adventure, this time to Northern Italy. This latest novel keeps your interest from the time you pick it up until you finish the read (for me in one sitting). The characters are so believeable that you feel you are on this adventure with them. Her references to Verona, Venice and Vicenza allow you to invision the wonders of the cities. If you have ever visited any of these cities - you are there again - shopping in Piazza Erbe, attending the Opera in the Verona Arena, and visiting the Juliet's balcony. Intrigue follows where ever Mina goes. Where will we find Mina next? I can't wait!
About the bookWhen they say, “you can’t go home again,” they’re talking about Mina Calvi, twenty-something Italian transplant to California. Still nursing a broken heart, desperate to discover her place in the world, Mina arrives in the town of her birth in Veneto, Italy. In the decade she’s been gone, the village nestled at the foot of the Dolomites has changed much, yet remained oddly the same. Friends have moved on, family members passed away. Mina feels even more alone in her motherland than in America, and there seem to be too many bizarre deaths for such a tiny, serene village. Then a fresh chance at true love and a welcome bonding with a dear new friend give her hope. But the deadly secrets moldering in the centuries-old cemetery could rip it all from her and leave Mina emptier than before. Will she find herself or lose her heart again? Will Mina survive her Italian Summer?
Interview with Maria SwanMaria, you have several published books, not to mention short stories and articles. How long have you been writing, and how did you start?
Writing has always been my favorite form of escapism. Growing up in a small Italian town without television, phones, and only one theater controlled by the Catholic church, reading books I found in boxes in my grandparents’ attic was pure heaven. By the time I started elementary school, I discovered that kids loved to hear stories. Often I would trade stories for chocolate. I was hooked. Won my first literary award at fourteen.
Good for you! What’s the story behind the title Italian Summer?
Honestly, Italian Summer was supposed to be the title for my WIP. I’m a writer, I write fiction, and certainly I could come up with something a little more original. Then I went to Italy, my hometown, and I visited the places I write about and looked at the familiar corners and streets with clean eyes and took lots of pictures to bring back with me as to not forget what it felt like to rediscover the place of my youth. This was this past summer, and then I knew no other title would do. I’m getting misty revisiting the experience so dear to my heart.
Understandable! What’s your favorite line from a book?
How do you get to know your characters?
With the exception of my main character who is always female, Italian-born and living in the Unites States, the rest of my characters are based or inspired (take your pick) by a real person. I’m not saying they are a mirror image of such person; it’s more the case of how I perceive the real deal and how I translate such perception of the person into my fictional character.
Which character did you most enjoy writing?
Mina Calvi, without hesitation. It started with Love Thy Sister; it was first published in 2001 by a traditional publisher. When the business sold, I asked and received the rights back, sat on it for years, then self-pubbed in 2012. The real Mina is a well known Italian pop star, she was at the height of her career when I was in my 20s, and her voice was the background sound to some of my most memorable...encounters. I wrote Love Thy Sister while going through my divorce, thinking about Mina soothed my soul.
What would your main character say about you?
Stop writing and start living the fantasy.
What song would you pick to go with Italian Summer?
This is sort of funny; I have lines from "Hotel California" opening various chapters through out the whole book.
You get to decide who would read your audiobook. Who would you choose?
Sopia Vergara, because of the accent. The Mina’s series is told by Mina and Gemini Moon is first person, also with an accent...
What book are you currently reading and in what format (e-book/paperback/hardcover)?
I just started reading Shame, Alan Russell. It’s an e-book, but I own some of his older hardcovers. We go way back, met through Sisters in Crime when I was living in Southern California, and I like his writing a lot.
I don’t claim to be an expert on writing, but there are some writing techniques (or mistakes) that stand out to me when I read (e.g. when an author switches POV mid-scene). What’s one pet peeve you have when you read?
People using foreign languages or countries they know nothing about, but what really gets me is a book written in first person, we are in the character’s head the whole book and then in the last scene we are told something totally outside the story. For example, I read a book about a family decimated by hired killers, it’s told in first person by the survivor. In the last chapter she is discussing the deaths with a man she feels may be responsible for the killings and she casually drops they had been lovers in the past...helloo? Selective amnesia to trick the reader? No. Poor writing, the author needed some way out of the situation and improvised.
Where’s home for you?
I was born in Italy, lived in five countries. Now I live in Phoenix, Arizona because that’s where my kids are.
Why did you decide to self-publish?
This is a little tricky. My first two books were published by traditional publishers. I already explained about Love Thy Sister. My second traditionally published book was a non-fiction, had an agent, and he sold the book and it was published in 2008. By 2008, people were already discovering Amazon.com and Kindle. Well I wasn’t one of them. By 2011, I decided to do something with Love Thy Sister and gave it to BookBaby because I had no idea what e-pub was and all that jazz. When the publisher with my non-fiction closed the doors, I discovered that both my non-fiction and the paperback version of Love Thy sister were sold in many places, except I wasn’t getting a penny. I’m not going to bore you with details, I was finally able to stop the nonsense and get all rights reversed, and I self-published Love Thy Sister as a Kindle, with the help of many good friends. Since then I self-published Bosom Bodies and the book got terrific reviews, so I wrote Italian Summer.
But wait, there is more. My second series, Gemini Moon, was sitting on the desk of my new agent for 8 months, I heard about Gemma Halliday starting her own publishing company. I go way back with Gemma, we had the same agent and same publisher back in 2008. I asked the agent to let me out of my contract, sent the manuscript to Gemma, and she released the book December 1st. It’s too soon for me to tell you about sales, but the reviews coming in are good...
What steps to publication did you personally do, and what did you hire someone to do? Is there anyone you’d recommend for a particular service?
I use an editor I trust and a person/company for my covers and formatting. Regardless of how great of a writer you are, you need an editor, believe me. I feel lucky I found the editor who edits without changing my voice. Not easy when you write with an accent. Here are the links: http://www.editingcrew.com and http://www.arenapublishing.org.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Volunteer. I volunteer in a strange way. I have a background in dress designing. You know, give me a piece of fabric, and a sewing machine, I’ll make you an outfit. Yes, I can! Well, now I make cage covers for a rescue group that works with feral cats, and I also work with a group that makes pillows for foster kids. I wish I could do more; kids and pets are so dependent on us.
What are you working on now?
On my computer is Venetian Moon, the sequel to Gemini Moon, and twirling in my head are Ashes of Autumn, book #4 of Mina’s adventures.
I can't wait to hear more about them all!
Excerpt from Italian Summer
Veneto-Italy. Summer 1992
The stench of death permeated the air.
Morning rain didn’t wash it away. Afternoon sun didn’t singe it away. It hovered, unaffected by the chirping of birds, the scurrying of spooked lizards or the skittering of pebbles under Mina’s shoes. She stopped by the open grave and watched the burly man digging inside. Sweat put a shine on his bald head. When he saw Mina, he rested the shovel against the dirt wall, waved away the flies buzzing around his furrowed forehead and squinted. “Giorno.” He wiped his face with the back of his gloved hand, exposing the large wet spots under his sturdy arms.
Ten years had brought little change to the way they buried their dead in her small hometown.
“How come it smells so bad?” she asked.
“We are exhuming bodies before their time. It used to be twenty-five years, now is eighteen or even fifteen, depending on the needs. This one here just wasn’t ready to come out yet. I have to make room for the next burial. We are out of space.” He shrugged, shield his face from the sun while looking up to talk to her. “Visiting someone?” His eyes settled on the potted plant of white cyclamens Mina held in her hands.
“My family’s crypt. Haven’t been around in years.” She turned her head toward the row of vaulted porticos running the length of the cemetery. “Calvi.” The sorrow she’d fought since morning caught in her throat.
“Oh, l’americana.” The gravedigger straightened up and moved closer to the dirt wall marking the tomb’s edge. He looked taller than she first thought. His body odor mixed with the nauseating sweetness of the pile of earth removed from the grave became overwhelming and Mina lifted the cyclamens to her nostrils in an effort to neutralize the smell. She stepped back, away from the empty hole. L’americana? Did he have her confused with Paola? Mina doubted she ever met this man before today and besides she was barely sixteen when she left for the United States and he looked to be in his late forties. Could he have been one of Paola’s schoolmates? A polite wave, then she turned around and headed up the path leading to the arched vaults and her family underground burial chamber. Well, the Calvis weren’t exactly her family. However no one in Italy knew about that and she intended to keep it that way. No need to rewrite her birth story now that everyone involved had died. Neatly marked graves lined row after row all the way to the steps leading to the portico housing the crypts.
So different from American cemeteries where grass covered the grounds and the markers were simple and unassuming creating the illusion of a green, peaceful meadow. Italians had an opposite type of relation with their dead. Graves had borders made of bricks, granite, or wood. Unique and massive headstones told the story of the dear departed with statuaries, lamps and flowers, lots of flowers. It was all meant to let the world know this was one beloved soul. During spring and summer, most flowers were fresh, elaborate creations with messages printed in gold letters on gaudy ribbons woven between ferns, blooms and even balloons. Mina glanced at her modest plant. Cyclamens were her grandmother’s favorite. A token of the Dolomites, the mountains surrounding the valley. Mina wanted to focus on her destination, but she couldn’t shake the disturbing feeling of the gravedigger watching her every move and the persistent smell floating through the cemetery. A few people walked around the place. All women. Changing water in the vases, pulling weeds from the tombs. Only buzzing bees disturbed the silence until Mina’s feet landed on the thick slabs of granite forming the floors of the arched corridors. The coffins were below ground inside neatly organized drawers. In essence, the floor she walked on was the crypt ceiling. Each family owned crypt sat between two arches so it was architecturally defined. A massive iron ring centered on a square block of granite was the only indication of the spot where a crane would be hooked to lift the cellar-like opening when a new coffin had to be lowered.
Her open toed sandals clicked against the stone and the echo resonated in the domed arcade. As a child Mina dreaded walking on those slabs because they weren’t sealed together, only cut to link into each other like giant pieces of a puzzle. The first time she witnessed the lowering of a coffin, she had nightmares for weeks. After that she refused to visit the cemetery for a long time, afraid the stones would slide off and she would fall below among the rotting bodies. Even now, all grown up and with the place bathed by the midday sun, Mina carried a faint memory of distant fears inside her. None of that mattered when she reached the Calvi’s crypt and her grandmother’s forever-sealed smile welcomed her. The rest of the pictures in the oval ceramic frames were of people she hardly remembered, and that included her step grandfather. A fancy wrought iron lamp cast an amber reflection on a dried up fern placed in the center of the back marble wall where names and pictures were posted. Mina went to remove the dead plant, stopped and ran her fingers over her nonna’s framed smile. It felt cool to the touch, unlike Mina’s tears landing on the back of her wrist.
The ache she’d been carrying in the middle of her chest for so long caught her off guard and her tears turned to sobs. It was okay to cry. It was okay to mourn. Paola’s picture should be next to Nonna, even if her body wasn’t. After a while Mina felt a sense of relief being there alone no longer sorry for herself because of that. She replaced the dead fern with her cyclamens. Her fingers touched her forehead to do the sign of the cross, a built in Catholic ritual she had not been able to shed. Ave Maria, Gratia plena. She concentrated, trying to remember the prayer her grandmother taught her.
A hand touched her shoulder.
About the author :
As a young girl, her vivid imagination predestined her to be a writer. She won her first literary award at the age of fourteen while living in Belgium. As a young woman Maria returned to Italy to design for—ooh-la-la—haute couture. Once in the U.S. and after years of concentrating on family, she tackled real estate. These days her time is devoted to her deepest passions: writing and helping people find happiness.
Maria loves travel, opera, good books, hiking, and intelligent movies (if she can find one, that is). When asked about her idea of a perfect evening, she favors stimulating conversation, tasty Italian food and perfectly chilled Prosecco—-but then, who doesn’t?
Maria has written short stories for anthologies, articles for high profile magazines and numerous blogs tackling love and life. She engaged her editorial and non-fiction skills for Mating Dance-Rituals for Singles Who Weren’t Born Yesterday. Her romantic suspense novels Love Thy Sister and Bosom Bodies are available at Amazon.com.
Connect with Maria:
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Buy the books:
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