Actual In Person Events: A Reflection

I had plans for book launch for my debut young adult novel, MAN UP, all set in stone in February, 2020. We all know what happened in March, 2020. Fast forward to April, 2020 and I scrambled to become savvier at Instagram, Facebook Live, and at being flexible and patient.

Fast forward again to May, 2022. Another book, another launch. This time IN PERSON. At my favorite Chicago indie bookstore. With people I love. With people who supported me. With people who came to hear ramble on about Anthony, Sam, and their story in THE WAR ON ALL FRONTS. It was magical. There was a cake with my book cover on it. Not some sheet cake from Jewel. But a HUGE cake that had to be three inches high.

The bookstore is in Lincoln Square, the neighborhood I lived in for two years while attending Columbia College Chicago. My parents were there, my agent, editor, a college roomie, NIAY classmates, my first college friend who flew in from Minnesota (she planned on coming to the MAN UP launch…what a great friend), and the first friend I made in my MFA program at Roosevelt. I choked up when he walked in having not seen him in almost eight years.

Suzy, the owner of The Book Cellar, knew this day was special and long overdue. During my introduction she shared how we made plans just like this about two years ago and we finally got our chance to see them through on May 19th. It was her idea to have the cake made because she knew that an overdue book launch experience warrants one.

My kids are adjusting to this, as Mom has “book things” to do now. They didn’t know that this is what it’s supposed to be like. I didn’t know either. I’m learning about the many opportunities to get my book title out there. There’s going to be more “book things,” kids. I’m not sorry about it. Be patient and understanding as Mom soaks it all up.

Photo: Suzy and I at The Book Cellar, her wonderful independent bookstore. If you want to order a book, please do so from them.
www.bookcellarinc.com

Historical Archives. Who Knew?

One thing you quickly learn when setting out to write a historical fiction novel: there’s a lot that you just don’t know. Google is great but doesn’t have every detail you need. And even if Google does have the answer, sifting through every website is laborious and time consuming. So, when I needed some information on the University of Wisconsin Madison, I first went to Google. Google led me to the University of Wisconsin Archives. Who knew such a thing existed! (Some people probably did, but I didn’t) The amount of information there was overwhelming and I had no idea how to navigate it. I needed some help. Well, there was a link to email the staff at the archives. Could I email them? Would they be willing to answer a question (or what turned out to be about ten questions)?

YES!! And they were excited to do so. They got me a map of the campus from the time period, an academic calendar for 1967-1968, an article that helped me understand the rules of the dorms. (Girls could be locked out if they stayed out past curfew). So much good stuff.

Think of it like this: my husband loves classic British cars. He loves to talk about them. I am not always a ready audience. If someone out of the blue called him and said, “Please talk to me about classic British cars,” he would be ecstatic.

That was the attitude of the historians at the archives. They got to do research, dig up some facts, and share their love of history with some random person. This random person is forever grateful.

Here’s the building where the magic happens:

Another Inspirational Lady

Last week, I talked about how my mom indirectly provided me with inspiration for a key detail in THE WAR ON ALL FRONTS. This week, I’d like to talk about another lady who has crept into a short story, a whole screenplay I wrote in college, and then found her way in this book too.

My maternal grandma, Lisetta Scaramella, née Alo, (I don’t like the word “grandmother” for some reason. It sounds too formal) was born in southern Italy in 1915 and came to America when she was 17 years old to reunite with her husband, my grandpa, and start a new life across the ocean. She died in 2004 at the age of 89. I wish I could properly imitate how she talked. It wasn’t a stereotypical Italian accent. She cut the consonants off the end of words. My mom told me she liked the name Gregory for my brother, but my grandma couldn’t say it. For those curious, my brother’s name is Chris.

Any time an Italian food is described in something I write, it comes from personal experience and observation. I was fortunate to live around the corner from my grandma. Many Saturday afternoons involved a phone call with my aunt on the other end, telling me, “Gram made sauce.” That was an invitation to come over, fill a bowl, and dip chunks of Italian bread in tomato sauce that had been simmering since the early morning. I am proud to say that on Christmas Eve, in honor and in memory of my grandma, I make sauce and meatballs, and that’s our dinner. It will never be as good as hers but I don’t expect it to be.

There’s a scene with Anthony’s grandma in THE WAR ON ALL FRONTS. Every description and character trait is rooted in fact. I wonder what my grandma would make of the fact that I published two books when she could barely read or write because when and where she was born, that wasn’t something girls really got to do.

She might not have been able to read a book, but she’s in this one.

B/W Photo credit: Tonya Brescia 2001
Other photo: selfie before cell phones 1999? Maybe? Love her expression in this one. Classic Gram!

Tomatoes, Lettuce, and Pickles Only

Inevitably, an author will get asked if something that happens in a book or if a character is real. In the case of THE WAR ON ALL FRONTS, I can safely say none of it is autobiographical having never been a gay young adult in the late 60’s. However little snippets of my life found their way into the story. Here’s a preview of something pretty special in the book:

Anthony and Sam’s main way of communication is letters but I found out that soldiers were often expected to read their letters aloud to one another.How could these boys express their feelings for one another and how much they miss each other if they couldn’t write that? They would have to use some sort of code. I had to think of a buzz word that had special meaning for them. I made a list of possibilities but don’t remember any of them because they weren’t any good.

Without knowing my secret code, I wrote the first chapter where Sam eats dinner with Anthony’s family (as he often does) right before Anthony leaves for Basic. I read somewhere that soldiers often wanted condiments in care packages because it made their rations taste better. This made me think of my Italian mom who DOES NOT like any condiment. Ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, none of them. I always thought this was an Italian thing but learned my aunts did not share in this hatred. I could hear my mom’s shock and disdain for this request and decided Anthony’s Italian mom would also scorn condiments. It was supposed to be something funny to break up the tension of Anthony’s last meal at home.

As a joke, in his first letter to Sam, Anthony tells him to send ketchup. And a lightbulb went off. That’s it! Ketchup! They would declare their feelings for each other through condiments. It was funny. It was original (I think). And it felt natural.

So many times a minor piece of research turned into something that proved vital to the book. Combine condiment care packages with my mom’s hate for them and I had my secret code. Sure, my mom’s hostility towards ketchup made for some intense childhood visits to Burger King but it provided me with such an important thread in this book.

Two Hippies and a Soldier

I was going to do a longer list of secondary characters and share some fun stuff about them but then I realized that would give away some things that I’d like to stay a surprise, so here’s a few that I can tell you about without spoiling anything:

Suzy

Freshman at the University of Wisconsin
British Literature major
From Ithaca, NY
Sam’s lab partner in Biology
Belongs to Students for a Democratic Society (SDS)

Gloria

Suzy’s friend
Gets on Sam’s nerves A LOT
Is on academic probation

Eddie Capstone

From Lexington Kentucky
Twenty years old
Meets Anthony at Basic Training
Called Capper by his fellow soldiers
Has a girlfriend named Lorraine

Anthony and Sam: Fast Facts

You probably know THE WAR ON ALL FRONTS is about two young adults in the late 1960’s named Anthony and Sam. But, you probably don’t know much else. Let me tell you about them:

Meet Anthony:

Italian- American family
Has a younger sister, Maria
Played baseball in high school
A White Sox fan
Has worked as a mechanic for the past year
His dad is also a mechanic
Loves the Beach Boys
Dad fought in WWII

Oldest grandchild on his mom’s side
Not the best student
Loves Clint Eastwood movies
Lives on the southside of Chicago
Misses his mom’s cooking while deployed in Vietnam
Loves Sam McGuern

Meet Sam:

Of Irish heritage
Has an older brother, Jimmy, in the Air Force
Was the manager for the basketball team in high school
Wants to become a history professor
Was obsessed with the United States presidents when he was younger
His dad is a successful salesman
His mom worked as a telephone operator before getting married
Loves rock and roll music

Favorite bands are The Rolling Stones and The Doors
Was class salutatorian
Lives on the southside of Chicago
Never passes up a chance to eat at Anthony’s house
Loves Anthony Lorenzo

Dear Santa

There are bunch of obvious things on my Christmas list this year: an end to the pandemic (I thought we were on our way for a couple weeks back in the summer), for my family to be healthy and happy, and for the chance to welcome THE WAR ON ALL FRONTS into the world in a more traditional way come May. MAN UP was released in April, 2020 and the Instagram party from Story Studio, the chat with YA author Jeff Garvin, and my Facebook Live Launch was thrilling and fun. As much as covid wants to kick everyone while they’re down, it can’t take away the fact that I have a book in the world.

But if I can dream a little and go beyond the things that I never would have thought would be a huge concern of mine at this time two years ago, here’s what I would ask Santa for: to be on a panel of fellow authors at a book festival or writer event (preferably in person), meet the wonderful women who founded HFChitChat (a writing community on twitter devoted to historical fiction, have another DIY writing retreat with my NIAY pals, have one of my books selected for a book club, and enough money to support all the authors I admire so I can buy any book I want.

Might be a tall order given the current circumstances but I’m going all out.

THE WAR ON ALL FRONTS Has a Cover!

Isn’t it beautiful?

Authors like to geek out about their covers. Allow me to do so now:

• The army green: In the original version the words were all in black. The use of army green is awesome.
• The notebook paper with the confetti edges: Sam and Anthony can only communicate via letters while Anthony is fighting in the Vietnam War. It is such a big part of the story and I love it.
• The stick figures. The two boy stick figures. Their little stick heads bent toward one another, holding their little stick hands. One figure even has a flat top and a duffel bag. I almost cried when I first saw these guys. They’re perfect.
• The shadows. I have no idea what to make of the shadow of my two little stick guys but it adds something. I might have my English teacher hat on a bit too tightly here, but I imagine the shadow is cast because of a sunset. A day is ending with something new beginning and neither of the little stick guys know what’s in store. I know what’s in store, and I’m not going to lie little stick guys, it’s going to be rough.

Erica Weisz at Trism Books is an amazing illustrator and artist. She asked me what images and themes came to mind when I thought about the book and she took those phrases to come up with this incredible cover.

Please cross all your fingers and toes and hope that we can welcome this book into the world in a more traditional way come May 7th and you can see this book on a shelf in person.

Danielle Steel, I am Not

I read an article a couple years ago that said Danielle Steele sometimes writes for 22 hours a day, not even taking a bathroom break or stopping for snacks. I don’t remember if anything was said about a bedpan under the desk. This method would never work for me. I love snacks too much and often use them as a reward for completing the smallest of goals. When I taught high school English, my coworkers would say how they spent eight hours at a Starbucks and graded all these essays. Again, not me. I would set a goal to grade two or three in a sitting and then find some snack to reward myself for my hard work.

I wrote Man Up in increments of 400-700 words. Seven hundred words was a pretty good day. Eventually, those hundreds of words over the course of months and months added up to a whole book. The War on All Fronts was written in a similar fashion, but maybe it was about 500-800 words at a time. Apparently my stamina was growing. A couple times I broke the 1k mark.

A member of my writing community introduced me to the Pomodoro Method in which you focus on a specific task for about 20-30 minutes. Several times during the revision of The War on All Fronts I used this method. I found that I could sometimes write 600 words in 25 minutes. If that was the case why wasn’t this book finished a long time ago? I have no idea. But it was the same result as the first book. Those hundreds of words. Those half hour blocks. They eventually added up to a whole book.

Use the bathroom. Eat the pretzels. Scoop the ice cream. And write more words!

Sam and Anthony’s Favorite Songs

Sam and Anthony might love each other but not always one another’s taste in music. If they have some coins burning a hole in their pockets, what songs would they choose to play on the jukebox? Many authors have a playlist that served as background music while writing a book, these are the ones that were on repeat in my head while writing The War on All Fronts.

Sam’s Favorites:

“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stoness

“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” by the Beatles

“Somebody to Love” by Jefferson Airplane

“Hello, I Love You” by The Doors

“Break on Through (to the Other Side)” by The Doors

Anthony’s Favorites:

“God Only Knows” by The Beach Boys

“Sloop John B” by The Beach Boys

“Turn! Turn! Turn!” by The Byrds

“Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” by the Beatles

“We Gotta Get Out of This Place” by the Animals