Reviews Not on Amazon, Goodreads, or Any Major Marketing Publication

Getting a positive review from some of the big ones in the industry (Kirkus, Booklist, Children’s Bookshelf, SLJ) draws attention to a book. Online reviews are supposed to have a hand in a book getting more traction. While I am very well aware that saying “my mom says it’s really good” doesn’t mean a whole lot when it comes to determining the quality of a book, I didn’t ask for the people quoted below to tell me good things about THE WAR ON ALL FRONTS. None of them had to reach out to me with words of praise. Except for my sister. I asked her for a quote because she had told me she liked THE WAR ON ALL FRONTS but I needed something more than that for this post.

If you’re not sure if THE WAR ON ALL FRONTS is a book worth checking out, perhaps the people below can sway you.

“I had to stop reading because it brought back memories and feelings of the time.” Michael R

“I LOVED IT. Holy cow. You made [the era] come alive.” Maureen R

“Made me cry.” Kristal L

“Your books give me life.” Delainey W

“Moving and insightful…You’ll get into the heads and hearts of Anthony and Sam.” Stu L

“Amazing! You did amazing…I got choked up throughout the last part.” Jason B

“I adore THE WAR ON ALL FRONTS…a really great read.” Hannah B

“Sooooo good…I [got] mad when I [had] to put it down.” Joelle B

“Makes you realize how young the boys fighting in the war were.” Kathy Z

“A great read.” Leslie P

“Lots of big emotions…captured the time and the feelings.” Rena O

“You’re going to win awards for this one.” Katie L

“Brilliant…Rich, absorbing, satisfying…Nailed the ending…Ready for the HBO series.” Jim K

“Phenomenal.” Linda H

“Sooooooo good.” Susan G

“Vivid writing brings the story to life.” Elda R

“I loved it!” Ozge G.

“Loved Anthony and Sam’s story, [the army] nicknames, Suzy’s passion, Sam’s conflict.” Kathy O.

“Incredible!! Well researched. I can’t get over the scope [of the story]. Such an amazing job.” Sean J.

I think I wrote a pretty good book. Good to know I’m not the only one who thinks it’s worth reading.

What a Way to Spend a Day

Part of being an author is talking about your work. More specifically, going to an event of sorts to talk about your work. Almost two years after I was supposed to go to my first event as an AUTHOR, I finally got my chance two days ago when I went to Conant High School’s third annual Author Day.

Here are some thoughts:
First of all, what an amazing opportunity for students to engage with an author. I don’t think I met an author until I was out of college. I remember an author (maybe) visited my elementary school for an all-school assembly. She did some Q&A at the end and did not call me on so I never got to ask her how to get a book published.

Secondly, I know not every kid in the auditorium during first period is really excited to hear all about writing, and books, and all that fun stuff. As I went through my presentation and saw some kids on their phones and more than a few snoozing, I began to doubt is anyone was getting anything out of what I was saying.

Thirdly, I need to expand my presentation for the next event. It was not my intention to leave so much time for questions and we all know how high school students love to speak up and ask a question in the company of hundreds of their peers.

Fourthly, I am thankful for the girl who asked the question about writer’s block so I could give her one of the ten copies of MAN UP the school had bought to give away to students. She said she was working on a similar story and told me maybe my book would give her inspiration as she wrote it.

To quote my favorite song from Tick, Tick…Boom: “What a way to spend a day…I’m gonna spend my time this way.”

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.

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.

In Praise of Illustrators and Cover Designers

I am not done gushing over the beauty and wonder that is the cover of THE WAR ON ALL FRONTS but I wanted to spend some time with the cover of MAN UP, my debut that released in April, 2020.

Again, Erica Weisz from Trism Books designed it. She had asked me for images, themes, and anything that stood out about the book that might help her design the cover. I don’t remember much of what I told her but I know whatever I said did nothing to contribute to the cover we ended up going with.

As you can tell from both covers, Erica does a lot with very little. MAN UP’s cover is pretty much a view of a baseball diamond from behind homeplate that seems go on and on into the distance. The first design was more realistic with green grass and brown sand but it was the baseball that stood out to me. Erica has always utilized mixed media and I LOVED how it was a real baseball on this drawn field. And then she, somehow, decided to make the cover two tone blue instead of using more natural tones and I was blown away. Why was it blue? I’m not sure but WOW! And still, that real little baseball was on homeplate. There’s even a shadow. Again, the shadow that is doing so much.

I have no idea how Erica took my jumble of words to create the cover she did for MAN UP and then did it again for THE WAR ON ALL FRONTS. I’m not gifted in the visual arts. Thank goodness for the talented people who are.