What was your inspiration for Big Trouble in Little Italy?
On a sleepless night in Rome, I was awoken by the sound of an owl. I walked out into the foggy, dimly lit cobblestone street to get a closer look at this Italian owl and was instead greeted by a Strega Nonna, a grandmother witch, who entrusted me with the storyline to Big Trouble in Little Italy.
But hold on, I need to make some notes, because I just found a new story line.
So, here’s a little backstory to get us to the answer of this question. I have been writing for a hundred years. It took me a long time to find my voice and style. I wrote five full length books that were just…weird and experimental and over 500 pages. Then, one night, this line woke me up (for real): “And there it was; that oh shit sinking feeling in my gut. Someone punching me, and I didn’t even see the fist heading my way.”
It’s not the best line ever written, but it was fun. That the moment I let go of a lot of expectations I’d put on myself and decided to just have fun and be me. That line that woke me up came with a few characters and an awesome situation that was ridiculous…so I started writing a book called Someday We’ll Know. (Yeah, someday we’ll know why I chose this title, because this phrase was never once used in the book.)
At this time in my life, my sister had moved to Italy and I had just returned from a solo visit from her apartment. So, I was high on ‘single woman traveler’ fumes. (It’s a thing, trust me. No need to look it up.) Now, I was slowly writing this book, and the main characters needed movement, and remember, I was still high on Italy, so of course, that’s where my characters found themselves. When I finished the book, it still felt a little…forced. So, I went back, thinking to rewrite a bit and ended up rewriting the whole damn book, and it was sooo much better and so much fun and I loved everything that was happening. Thankfully, I also found a title I liked and let a few people read it. The thing is, when I gave it to my friends, I found myself saying, just stick with it, when you get to page 80, it really takes off.
Well, when you tell people that a few times, you find yourself curling your hair one day and telling your reflection: you moron, then start the damn book on page 80! So I did just that.
I gave the book to my beta readers and was greeted with many angry text messages about how they didn’t sleep because they stayed up all night reading my book. I knew I had something good then.
Now, I can tell you exactly what the inspiration was for the path my main characters take through Italy. It just happens to be the same path my family took when we made the Great Griswold Family Vacation to Italy in the early 2000s. You might be asking yourself, after all the revisions and changes, did the line that woke me up make it into the book? It sure did: “If I hadn’t been sitting, I’m pretty sure that ‘Oh Shit’ sinking feeling, the shock in my gut, the feeling of someone punching me square in the stomach, would have leveled me.”
How did you research the picture perfect setting of Italy?
Well, get yourself a cuppa and let me tell you. The main setting for Big Trouble in Little Italy is Florence, Italy. I was lucky enough to travel there the first time when I was 18 years old. (With my high school choir.) I began to appreciate my Italian heritage at that moment in my life. My family is Italian, we come from Genoa. (Of course, after an Ancestry.com DNA test, turns out I'm a small percentage Italian. But I feel like I'm 61%.) Well, after that high school trip, I returned to my life in California with a yearning to travel back to Italy. I went to college and studied history, think Romans and Greeks. And I wrote. And I dreamed of traveling and researched traveling. (Which is really helpful when you are a starving writer, you can escape pretty easily to the places you want to visit.) Fast forward a few years... When my sister moved to Italy, her continual exploration of Italian culture really opened up the country to me. Along with the movies, books and guides of Italy that I obsessively read.
Oh yeah, and then my sister married an Italian man and I thought, well, they are probably going to have Italian babies, and I’d sure like to know how to talk to them. So I studied the Italian language for six years until I was decently fluent. Then I started visiting once a year. Because when you don’t need to pay for a hotel or meals out, it’s a cheaper trip.
I’ve visited my sister a lot over the years and every trip, I take off by myself and walk the streets of Florence all day, always taking notes, always immersing myself in the little things, always talking in my broken Italian to locals, and always writing long journal entries. I used a lot of my first impressions as well as what I know of being a local for this book. This past spring, I visited Florence again and took my time retracing the steps of my characters…who were retracing some of my own steps. Talk about life imitating art; or is art imitating life now?
Who is your favorite character in the book and why?
Tonino. He was a pretty large character in the original version, but I cut him out because he was no longer part of the storyline. But I missed him so much that I wrote him into this final version as a taxi driver in Rome. That is a true story. But seriously, I've been thinking about this question for a while now and I'm having a really hard time choosing one character. Therefore, I’m going to give you a nice pretentious answer: I feel like the city of Florence is a character, so she’s my favorite.
What else can readers expect from you? Anything else in the works? (hint hint)
Oh, hold on to your horses. So, THIS month! September 20th! A spin-off of Big Trouble in Little Italy is being released; it’s called Simply Protocol – after big trouble in Italy, here comes Hollywood. In Big Trouble in Little Italy, there is a three-month time frame that is skipped over. Well, Simply Protocol fills in those blanks. From a different character’s point of view.
But get this, in February of 2023, The Italian Holiday (a stand-alone rom com) will be released. THEN Carlo’s book (you’ll also meet Carlo in Big Trouble…) his book is slated for release in June of 2023!!!
I’m telling you, I’ve got plans, my friends. I’ve been writing for years and while I was writing my books, I was writing other books next to those books. I’ve taken a leap into the indie publishing realm and as of today, I have a five-year publishing plan…but when I think about it, I hyperventilate a little and I get dizzy and the owl witch starts to hoot strange messages…
But I also get really really excited. I can’t wait to introduce new readers to the characters in my head, who have quirky adventures while delving into the food, culture and of course, coffee in the places they visit. Places that aren’t so pretend. If that’s not enough to read, I have a blog that has a lot of pretty pictures and words and stories about Italy as well as other topics, even witches. www.nicolesharpwrites.com