Stephanie: Born and raised in Iowa, Teresa Neumann and her husband now live in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, a beautiful place they and their children have called home for several decades. In addition to writing and interacting with her readers, Teresa loves to travel (to Italy, of course) and fiddling on her violin with other musicians. You can find Teresa’s books on Amazon, or on her website at http://www.teresaneumann.com
Teresa, it is a pleasure to be interviewing you! Your first novel, Bianca’s Vineyard was absolutely wonderful and moving. Please tell your readers about, Domenico’s Table.
Teresa: Although Domenico’s Table – the post-war sequel to Bianca’s Vineyard – is about a different branch of the Bertozzi family, it is also inspired by a true story.
One of the main characters in DT is our cousin Domenico Sacchelli, the gregarious proprietor of a stunning bed and breakfast property he inherited from his grandparents situated in the mountains of Tuscany overlooking the Ligurian Sea. His pizzas, made with his own olive oil and cheeses in a wood oven, are to die for.
I was inspired to write the book during our first visit to Domenico’s farmhouse, or fattoria, which he rents out every summer to a former Nazi soldier who had stormed the mountain during the war and commandeered his home. Domenico was a child at the time, but he recalls the terror of that day when he and his family barely escaped with their lives from the onslaught.
The fact is, many Italians continue to bear deep resentments and anger towards Germany because of atrocities that occurred during the war. Little wonder then, that when Domenico first began renting out his fattoria to the German soldier and his family, it created quite a stir among his neighbors. Domenico would joke that he was simply being smart and “turning the table” on the Germans by making money off their former enemies, but over the years the two men developed a friendship.
I took this remarkable story and added an international ensemble of fictional characters, some heavy doses of drama and intrigue, loads of dreamy Italian locations, tension-filled romance, and a sprinkling of light-heartedness and came up with Domenico’s Table.
Stephanie: It certainly is a remarkable story. I’m currently reading your novel and I’m enjoying it so much! I feel as if I’ve drawn so close to your characters and they feel as if they’re family.
I’m sure your readers-who have not read your sequel as of yet- want to know…Are any of the characters in Bianca’s Vineyard in Domenico’s Table?
Teresa: Yes, but dare I mention who without spoiling the surprise? Let’s just say that Bianca Corrotti is the narrator in Domenico’s Table, as she was in Bianca’s Vineyard, and that the “mystery” of Armida’s locket is resolved in the sequel.
Speaking of characters, I should let readers know that Rem Malloy – a delightful Italian-American tour operator – is organizing a Bianca’s Vineyard & Domenico’s Table Book Tour in Italy next year. His highly acclaimed Seattle-based travel company, Italy4Real, is currently solidifying an itinerary that will include several days in Tuscany where we will meet some of the characters in my books, see locations mentioned in them, visit Armida’s gravesite, and perhaps even have a dinner at Domenico’s fattoria on Monte Montignoso, hosted by the intrepid chef himself. Rem wants to keep tours small — no more than 8 people. Anyone interested can contact him at 1-800-554-5170 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org Just ask about the Bianca’s Vineyard Tour.
Stephanie: You give vivid details of what war was like during that period and for the people. What was your research like? Where you able to speak with anyone who lived during that time? Or were there letters you were able to look over?
Teresa: In addition to travelling frequently to Italy to visit family, we also have family and friends in Germany. Their help was invaluable when it came to research and translations. I was also able to interview my husband’s elderly Italian cousins who lived through the war before they passed away. What a privilege that was! Other family members in Tuscany spent days showing us many of the sites and monuments pertinent to the war, such as the infamous Sant’Anna and locations along the Gothic Line.
Stephanie: How wonderful to be able to travel to Italy. I’ve always wanted to go there.
How long did it take you to write Domenico’s Table?
Teresa: It helped that I had a good idea for the sequel before I began, but still, it took about a year to write and get it into print.
Stephanie: Were there any challenges?
Teresa: Certemente! With BV the plot was there for the telling. I simply wrote the story of my husband’s grandparents as it actually happened, filling in here and there where I needed to. But with DT, I had to develop the plot to a much greater degree, which stretched me as a writer.
Tying the loose ends together from the first book and yet doing it in a way that would allow the sequel to be a stand-alone novel, was another challenge.
The most daunting challenge of all, I believe, is getting the final manuscript to publication and then marketing it. There are deadlines to deal with and so many minute, permanent decisions that – once the book is in print – can’t be changed. I love meeting and mingling with my readers, but marketing my own work is still a foreign concept, which is why I am eternally grateful for my precious reviewers and Goodread fans!
Stephanie: What is the hardest aspect of writing historical fiction?
Teresa: I love research – perhaps too much. It’s easy to get bogged down in facts, and although it’s essential to be historically accurate, if factuality comes at the expense of characterization, it can dull the reading experience considerably. After all, if someone only wants the facts they’ll read a textbook on the subject. Historical fiction is, in the end, about story. It’s a delirious blend of fact and fiction; a sort of melding of the left brain and the right brain. So, I have to work hard at fleshing out my characters and making facts come alive for my readers.
Stephanie: Research can be time consuming but well worth it.
What are some of the fiction parts to the story?
Teresa: The basis of Domenico’s Table, as mentioned above, is inspired by a true story. The rest – the German soldier and his haunting past, his granddaughter and her American stepsister – have been fictionalized.
It’s true that Domenico’s father had to hide in their chestnut tree to escape detection when the Nazi’s stormed their mountain, but the story of his mother and their neighbor is not.
Readers often ask me about Marco, Domenico’s handsome co-laborer at the bed and breakfast. His looks and persona are based on our real cousin Marco, who was a Milanese model for some time, but is now a happily married father living in Rome. The rest, however, is fictionalized.
Stephanie: Marco is one of my favorites! Is there a novel you are currently working on?
Teresa: Yes, and it’s set in the early 1970’s. The main character is Italian-American, but it takes place entirely in California. The title of the book may be a bit misleading – A Year in the Company of Freaks – but to all my faithful Italian-American readers out there, trust me, I’m sure you’ll still relate to it.
Stephanie: Sounds wonderful! I can’t wait to read it!
What is your favorite historical event?
Teresa: WWII, because all of humanity’s inherent shortcomings and virtues came together on such a grand, global, gory scale. My father and uncles served in that war and their stories never cease to amaze me. America’s Civil War is also a source of great intrigue. My ancestors fought each other over the North-South divide, so maybe it’s a personal thing, although I must admit I’ve always had an odd fascination with military history in general.
Stephanie: It looks like we have a lot in common with our family tree as far as family fighting in wars. Military history is very fascinating.
What is your favorite all time novel and why?
Teresa: There are so many great classic and modern novels to choose from, Stephanie, how can I pick just one?!
Stephanie: I can’t pick one! It’s a tough question!
Teresa: Of all the books I’ve read recently, my favorite is The Shoemaker’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani. Granted, I’m a sucker for all things Italian, but her novel in several parts is quite nearly a masterpiece.
I cut my teeth on Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Dickens, and Hardy, so they were my first literary loves. Milton’s Paradise Lost blew my mind. Was completely smitten with Sigrid Undset’s Nobel prize-winning trilogy Kristin Lavransdatter.
Thinking of the Civil Was, I was reminded that Southern writers are my favorite! I think a truly great novel will mess with your head. You’ll think about it for days and it will not only resonate in your soul for the rest of your life, but it becomes a mental landmark in your worldview. I can’t hear about tornado tragedies, for example, without thinking of Leif Enger’s Peace Like a River. I should also mention that I rank Southern stories and
writers — Tennessee Williams, Flannery O’Connor, The Help and The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood — as among the best literary talent this country has to offer. I find them utterly irresistible and they almost never fail to captivate me.
So if I can only pick one all-time favorite novel, for the above reasons the prize would go to Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo. I mean, Jean Valjean? Javert? Fantine? The story and its characters are simply timeless, as are the themes of hope, redemption and restoration.
Stephanie: Teresa, it has been a pleasure chatting with you today! Thank you for your time!