Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Adriana Trigiani talks about The Supreme Macaroni Company, food, fate, and so much more

I first met Adriana Trigiani at BEA, at a special luncheon for the American Library Association. I was one of four authors speaking, and Adriana went last, which was a good thing, because she was so hilarious that none of us could have followed her. Way more famous than any of the other writers there, she climbed to the podium carrying all our books and said a bit about each one, urging everyone int he audience to buy our books immediately! My editor introduced me to her afterwards and Adriana gave me a huge hug. How could you not adore a person like that?

And adore her I do. She shot to fame with Big Stone Gap, followed by Big Cherry Holler, Milk Glass Moon, Home to Big Stone Gap, Lucia, Lucia, The Queen of the Big Time, Rococo, Very Valentine and Brava, Valentine, all of which top the bestseller lists. She's also written a cookbook, Cooking With my Sisters, and her books have sold in over 35 countries. Viola in Reel Life, is her young adult novel, and Don't Sing at the Table: Life Lessons from my Grandmothers is her peak into the lives of the women who meant the most to her.

But wait, there's more! A former writer/producer on The Cosby Show, A Different World, and executive producer/head writer for City Kids for Jim Henson Productions, she wrote Growing up Funny for Lily Tomlin, which won an Emmy nomination.She's also a screenwriter, who has written the adaptation of Lucia, Lucia and Very Valentine.

Her new novel, The Supreme Macaroni Company is the final installment in the Valentine trilogy. About juggling family and business, it's truly a book about the paths that fate takes us, and what we do when we get there.

I'm thrilled to host Adriana here. Thank you, thank you, Adriana.

Did you always know that you were going to do a trilogy about Valentine? And since, this is the final installment of the Valentine trilogy, I have to ask, do you miss her already? (Because I do.)   

I do miss Valentine! My dream was to follow a woman from 30 to 40 and tell her story in work and love and family. She's gotten more complex over time, but every woman I know becomes more interesting and more complicated as she faces life, figures out her career, motherhood, caring for aging parents and grandparents- being a good and faithful friend.  

You’ve been called a master of visual detail (Washington Post), an epic writer, and an ambitious and daring one, which is absolutely spot on. Your pages virtually breathe. So let’s talk about craft. How do you write? Do you know where the story is going or do you have only the barest idea? Do you map it out before hand or let it find its way organically?

Thank you for these beautiful compliments. I'm one of those people who has to write everyday- and I like a good eight hour schedule. I break it up- I rise very early and do several hours before my family is up- then, once the school day begins, I get back to it. I work at home, often outside in our backyard when the weather is good. Even when it gets cold, I head outside. Sometimes I know where the story is going, but even when I do, I allow for sudden inspiration that gives way to surprise. Surprise is often the mother of wonder.  Novels are such a great home for the art of wonder. I do an outline, and I spend months noodling with names. I keep a gold box of memorial cards with saints on them that my grandmother collected at funerals. Maybe this is why I write about Italians so often! 

All the information about shoes and cobblers just fascinated me. Tell us about the research, and could you make a pair of shoes if you had to?  My work is really about honoring the working person. And then, I dig in deep, honoring the person in my family who could do that particular work. I felt close to my grandfather when I went to Italy to learn how to make shoes by hand. I handled the tools he used on a daily basis, and learned how to discern the quality of suedes, leather and fabrics, not an easy task in Italy where everything has aesthetic appeal.
I think I could make a pair of shoes- but you're also talking to someone who thinks she could ice skate in the Olympics with enough practice. By the way, I've never ice skated, but when I was a kid and saw the Ice Capades, I was crazy about the skaters and those wild Vegas costumes and thought, "That's the career for me." I'm one of those people who thinks she can do anything- and I can, I guess, in my imagination. However, the art of shoemaking, like any art form, is based in technique- and technique is hours of practice. Then, the designer has to have an eye- and the strength to deliver elements that will please the customer. I like the unexpected element in a shoe- that makes my happy when I look down at my feet. I am a lover of the craft, not a designer, and certainly not an artisan. I believe the artist becomes a master craftsman when she spends decades refining her craft. It's not about liking shoes- it's about living shoes. 

There is such feeling in the book--and such food! And there is my favorite line,  “Love is only real and true when it makes you feel safe.” Can you talk a bit about that glorious line, please?

Well, I think about this a lot. I am married, and I think about commitment a lot. As an artist, I hope to be adventurous- but the truth about love is that over time, you have to love security as much as you love discovery. When I fell in love, and I remember this, I needed dramamene. I had to really navigate that surrender- as it's not really a comfortable place. I need my solitude and I like standing outside the circle and observing everyone else- but when it's your heart you're giving away, to someone, who hopefully deserves it, it's the ultimate sacrifice. As an artist, it's as if I observe the world in a state of challenge- and as you know, as you read my books, I'm fascinated by work and love- I'm forever fascinated by why we choose the person we choose to love- over say, that person over there. And then, that great mystery, a long marriage, is a rubics cube. And it's different for everyone. Now you know why I write so many books- I really haven't come close to figuring it out. 

The Supreme Macaroni Company has a lot in it about fate. Do you believe in fate or do you think we make our own destinies?

I really don't know! If you want to see the world differently, have a baby. I used to believe in fate, but as a mother, all I have is control of this moment- and even then, it's an illusion.  The best part of my job is hearing the stories of the women who read my books. They have such an effect on me- A young widow in Youngstown, Ohio shaped The Supreme Macaroni Company. When a woman tells me she's a widow,  I always ask, "Did you like him?" We always have a big laugh over that. And sometimes she says, "No I didn't." but most of the time she says, "I was crazy about him."  I guess the best answer for your question is- yes there's fate, but you have to make your destiny too. 

You’re both an award-winning playwright, television writer and documentary filmmaker. Do you prefer one medium over the other? is it difficult to switch gears? You’ve written a script for Big Stone Gap, which you are also going to direct, and I’d like if it was difficult to change the story so it would work for film (if indeed, you did change it). Did the book come alive for you in different ways as a script? Was there anything you had to give up?

As I write this, I'm up early in Big Stone Gap prepping for the day to go out with our cinematographer Reynaldo Villalobos. The script is written, the roles are cast- the producers are the plane on their way here. The best way I can describe it is this. It's as if all the elements of the novel have come to life and I have invited them here to play their parts. Every location is a pop up book that folds out and opens up, and I stand before it, acknowledging the layers.  I will write about this experience later, but for now, I don't know where the writer stops and the director begins. I was on the phone with one of our actors the other day and he spoke of the character with such knowledge, it was as if he wrote it. And I put my feet up and surrendered. In the beginning was the word- but in the middle and at the end is also the word. The story. 

I would be amiss if I didn’t mention your extraordinary generosity towards other writers (what other writer would bring up the books of the other writer/speakers and promote the before launching into her own hilarious sparkling speech?) How and why does such kindness come about?

Kids, I'm a middle child. Once a middle child, always one. I want everybody to get their share of m&m's- and by the way, they deserve it. I know what my fellow authors go through- and any way I can help ease their burden, I will do. I didn't get here because I deserve it- I got here because I was surrounded by love and support and a keen understanding that the world needs art. Needs writers. Need stories. Like a good cook feeds your body, we're in the feed your heart and imagination and soul business. Anything I can do to help- I'm there. 

What’s obsessing you now and why?

I'm obsessed about the American dream. I am the beneficiary of some big immigrant dreams, and in my gratitude, I look for signs of it everyday, and hold out hope that it is alive for the new immigrants.

What question didn’t I ask that I should have?  

They were perfect- thank you! xoxo


Carol Fragale Brill said...

Caroline and Adriana, thank you for this wonderful interview.
Adriana, I love knowing about the gold box of your grandmother's prayer cards. Your books have taken me so many wonderful places, taught me much about craft, and helped to make me a better writer. You've made the most of your inherited immigrant dreams--and helped this Italian-American writer dream big, too. thank you
carol fragale brill

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