Sunday, July 17, 2011

Kimberly Menozzi -- Expat Author Interview

Author Kimberly Menozzi
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Kimberly Menozzi’s Ask Me if I’m Happy is “a literary read with a strong romantic core” set mostly in northern Italy where Menozzi lives. She's in Tennessee right now promoting her books.

Allen: Hey, Kim! Welcome to I Must be Off! You’re going to be in Tennessee, my home state. When? Where? Give us the low-down.

Menozzi: Thanks, Christopher! I'm happy to be here. Actually, I've been in Tennessee since the very end of May, and I'm staying here through the end of August. I come here every year to see family and friends (with the occasional side-trips to Florida and Kentucky for the rest of my family), but this year, there's going to be a special event: on July 23rd, I'll be hosting a launch party for Ask Me if I'm Happy's US release in Newport, TN. I'll be doing readings and signing copies of the book, as well as having Q&A sessions after each reading. It'll be at the Comfort Inn in Newport (exit 432B) from six to eight p.m., and the public is most definitely welcome.

Allen: I hope you have a great turn-out, Kim. Let’s turn now to your novel. Emily Miller, the main character of Ask Me if I’m Happy, struggles constantly with the disorientation of not knowing where Home is. If I asked you to fill in "Home is where the _____ is" for Emily, how would you do it and why?

Menozzi: That’s a good question. I think I’d have to alter it a little, though, and say “Home is where your self is” in Emily’s case. As in, the self being the real you. I have found over the years that it doesn’t matter where you are or who you’re with, if you’re not happy with yourself or don’t really know who you are or who you want to be, you’ll never find your “home”. Emily is suffering from this but doesn’t realize it because she’s so caught up in believing that her problems stem from what others have done to her. This is, in part, because of her relationship with her mother and to a lesser degree, her late father.

Allen: The Italian language plays a major role in the novel. I live in Germany and speak German most of the time, so I understand the need to represent an expat's thought process bilingually; but for those who live outside the expat box, can you explain why using Italian alongside English is so important to the story?

Menozzi: Well, for one thing, I was hoping to convey that, after a certain point, it’s the language they’re actually speaking with one another unless it’s otherwise specified. I may or may not have succeeded in that effort. (laughs) 

Another reason for the use of Italian was to really put the reader in the middle of the scenes. Although Bologna is a university city, so you encounter English there as well, it’s not like being in Rome or Venice or Florence - there’s a little more of the disconnect in communication if you don’t speak Italian.  

Also, there are some ideas which can be expressed in Italian which English just can’t convey. If the reader speaks some Italian, they’ll get just that little something more from the story which a reader who doesn’t understand the language might not. I’m hoping those readers will try to find out on their own what those words or phrases meant.

Allen: It was clear to me that Emily/Emilia and Davide at a particular point started speaking Italian--although the language was transcribed in English--and the reasons for Emily's desire to speak Italian were also clear to me. How about a little Italian lesson? Perhaps one of the colorful expressions Davide uses?

Menozzi: Oh, thank goodness for that! I'm glad to know that I got that across clearly.
An Italian lesson, eh? Okay, let me think… Davide's not exactly prone to off-color expressions, being a rather well-educated and polite type of guy. However, there are a couple of especially regional phrases/curses that Davide uses frequently in the book. One is Porca Vacca which translates literally as Pig Cow. Another is Vacca Boia which translates as (and I'm not kidding) to Cow Executioner or Cow Slaughterer. They are mild, sort-of-substitute swears, like when an English speaker says darn or shoot instead of the obvious curse words. These phrases are rather satisfying to say, too, during a moment of stress or disbelief, because they have all the punchy, crunchy syllables necessary to feel like a good swear. Although they still can't touch my favorite, which I won't mention because I'm in "polite" company. (Hint: it's the Italian equivalent of the "F word". 

Allen: Ask Me if I'm Happy and Alternate Rialto are classic romance stories, right? Wrong?

Menozzi: Honestly, I’m not entirely sure how approach that question. It’s definitely not a genre romance (as in “Romance with a capital ‘R’.”). It doesn’t strictly follow the conventions of the genre, but it does have certain elements which would make it appeal to readers of romances. Author Nell Dixon – a romance writer herself – said it was a “literary read with a strong romantic core.” I loved that - I actually cried a little when I read it. I think it’s the best description I’ve seen for the story as a whole.

Throughout the writing of the novel form of the story, I considered it a “coming of age” story with adult protagonists. Both Emily and Davide have to go through a lot to understand why they’re in the situations they’re in, respectively. A theme I’ve found myself writing about more than once is how we tend to sabotage ourselves in our relationships, how we claim we want something but reject it when we find it. Why do we do that? Why do we not realize we’re doing it? Emily and Davide both have trust issues, and for understandable reasons. For me the story is seeing how they resolve - or don’t resolve - those issues and how that affects them.

Allen: Give us the story on the story. How long did it take? What transformations did it go through? Tell us a little about how the book was accepted for publication.

Menozzi: From absolute beginning to absolute finish - from first draft of the first form to the final edits, that is - spanned nearly three years. Actual writing time on that was probably closer to two years and a few months.

Ask Me… started as a short story called “Lo Sciopero - The Strike” and was roughly twelve pages long. It kept growing and evolving, thanks to my participation on sites like Urbis and, later, Authonomy, and went from short story to novella to oh-heck-let’s-just-make-it-a-novel-and-be-done-with-it over a period of roughly eighteen months. It then became a novella called “Connections”, but so many people asked me what happened next that I found myself listening to Davide’s side of things (“Un Romantico a Milano - A Romantic in Milan”), and then the back-and-forth between Davide and Emily began (“Bentornata a Bologna - Welcome Back to Bologna”).

Because it appeared on Authonomy in the early days of the site, it came to the attention of a few people who went on to put together Diiarts. We became online friends soon after. I went to London for their company launch, and they asked me if they could publish Ask Me…, and I said yes.

Unfortunately for me, things didn’t exactly go smoothly there. After a very short, sold-out print run and modest e-book sales with overall positive reviews, I was told that my original publisher wanted to focus on Historical Fiction and the rights to my work were given back to me. Luckily, I found another small press willing to take a chance on my writing, and now the books are both available via Amazon or through CreateSpace.

Allen: Unfortunately, lots of emerging--and even established--writer have problems with publishing companies. What have you learned from the experience? And what's the status of Ask Me if I'm Happy? How can readers find it now?

Menozzi: I've learned that it's absolutely vital to have a publisher who is willing to communicate with you. If they keep secrets or don't think you need to know what's happening with your book, it should be clear that is likely to lead to trouble later on. If you have questions - not necessarily anal-retentive, nit-picky questions, but real questions, like when you can expect your royalty statements and payments, or what sort of promotion they'll be doing for you - and they don't answer you? That's a huge, huge problem.

As far as the status of Ask Me if I'm Happy goes? Well, it's back in paperback format, I'm happy to say (if you'll forgive the obvious reference, LOL) that the book is available now via CreateSpace, and in all ebook formats through their respective retailers (Amazon, Nook, et al). 

I was also able to publish a novella which is a prequel to Ask Me if I'm Happy. It's called Alternate Rialto and tells the story of how Emily met Jacopo (her ex-husband in Ask Me…) in Venice. It was originally the first part of Ask Me… but was cut for length and flow issues. On its own, it's a shorter, sexier, more intense story and I think people who enjoyed Ask Me… will enjoy this one, too. It's available in all the same venues and formats (paperback and e-book) as Ask Me...

Allen: Thanks, Kim, for the lesson in Italian romance!

If you don't live in Tennessee and can't make it out to meet Kim on July 23, you can buy Kimberly Menozzi’s books online by clicking on the titles below. They're also available in e-formats, like Kindle. 



If you live near Newport, Tennessee, follow this LINK for the location of the reading (July 23 from 6 to 8 p.m.).

I must be off,
Christopher
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Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire). His fiction and creative non-fiction have appeared widely both online and in print. Read more HERE.