Get ready for your windows to fog up: today, we bring you a very suggestive craft piece by YA and romance novelist Dana Faletti, on the role great food memories can play in genre writing.
Italy is ripe with inspiration. From its charming people to its lush landscapes to its superior cuisine, there is endless spark to ignite the creative mind. In my travels to the foothills of Southern Italy, I have found that there is an untold story around every bend in its cobblestone streets. My grandmother’s story was one of those.
It wasn’t until after she passed away, that I discovered the scandalous account of her early life in 1940’s Calabria. She only ever divulged it to two other women, my aunt and my mother. On the day after her funeral, I sat at her kitchen table, sipping black coffee while these two wise women shared a priceless gift with me. The tips of my ears burned, and my eyes bulged with disbelief as I listened intently to the tale of my father’s birth and subsequent immigration to the United States. Afterwards, I knew I had to write it all down.
Twenty years later, I have Beautiful Secret, a women’s fiction/romance set in Southern Italy, to be published by Pandamoon Publishing in 2016. The story is told from the points of view of both Maria, a young woman in 1940’s Calabria and her grand-daughter, Tatiana, in present day. Maria (a character based on my Nana) finds herself unmarried and pregnant, and is sent away to a convent in the mountains to give birth. She must find a way to not only keep her son but to get him back to the home and family that is his birthright. Years later, Tatiana travels to Southern Italy to fulfill her grandmother’s dying wish. She expects to walk through her beloved grandmother’s memories but ends up discovering secrets her Nana never told and becoming entangled in a forbidden love affair.
People who have read my manuscript ask me if the story is all true, and my answer is a strong no. It’s fiction with some of the best moments and people from my life threaded through it. For example, instead of simply holding onto the fond memory of my first night in Calabria, I wove it into my story and made it eternal.
That night, when I was twenty-year- young, my parents and I landed at Titto Minniti airport in Reggio, Calabria. At least fifty people were waiting to greet us in the tiny terminal, some with stained and toothless smiles, others with happy tears staining their cheeks. After kissing and being fawned over by these strangers who were my family, my heart was heavily touched. Overwhelmed by the mere power of their welcome, I wondered what would happen next. To allay my obvious confusion, my two English-speaking cousins, who soon became my sidekicks and partners in crime, explained that there was a tradition. Anytime family arrived in Calabria for a visit, they would first go to Great Uncle Nicola’s house to eat dinner.
How would I eat anything after such a surge of emotion?
When we arrived at Uncle Nicola’s home, I was greeted by yet another multitude of kissing cousins and a waft of deliciousness that assured me I would be able to eat. It was the smell of freshness and fry.
The green richness of freshly pressed olive oil and the pungent bite of tomatoes and basil tickled my appetite as I was led through a small row house and out onto the veranda, where several long wooden tables were set for dinner. Mismatched chairs and twinkle lights dotted the stone patio, and lush green vines dipped over tabletops that were canopied by a long-tended grape arbor. Italian folk songs played endlessly as platters of goodness began to emerge from the house.
Antipasti of homemade dried sausage, chewy and piquant. Roasted crimson peppers, studded with garlic and basil, sprinkled with salt and drizzled with oil. Eggplant Parmigiana – Calabrian style – flecked with bright peas and bits of hard-boiled egg, steaming with fresh marinara and Mozzarella cheese. Veal cutlets, pasta, fresh dressed greens.
“Basta,” we said. Enough. We were only half-joking.
But the food kept coming.
House-made Provolone cheese. Slices of summer melon in yellow, green and pink. Peaches whose juices were so sweet, I almost cried as they escaped in drips down my cheeks.
My family only wanted to envelop us in the warmth of their welcome, to delight us with their cooking. It was considered offensive to not eat what was put in front of you, but we were so stuffed.
Still, since the meal was not over, we persevered, every bite both delicious and painful.
Next the pastries appeared, presented like a gallery of master artists’ best pieces. Sfoigliattele, bursting with citrus and the perfect hint of cinnamon. Short, buttery cookies that left a film of luscious grease on my lips. Miniature waffle cones filled with all flavors of gelato – bittersweet hazelnut chocolate, perfect pistachio, vanilla cream. Coffee so dark and rich, it was like drinking sugared velvet.
Once everyone was stuffed beyond belief, the music became louder. The young cousins pushed all of the chairs to the sides of the patio, and my eighty-something-year-old great aunts and uncles hopped to the makeshift dancefloor. They danced the Tarantella in all of its variations, the rest of my cousins and myself eventually joining them under the shadowy grapevines and twinkle lights. It was an unforgettable scene of familial joy, and it inspired a pivotal scene in my book, a scene where forbidden love begins to bloom.
It’s hard not to fall in love in Italy. With the people, the land, the food. Italy, itself, is a passionate place with people who are known for their volatile emotions and cuisine that spices up the senses. How could I set my story in Italy and not add a steamy romance? After all, Italians are known for their passion for both good food and romance. Vivid food descriptions can add to the sensuality of a romantic scene, making the reader hungry – in more ways than one.
Dana Faletti is the author of Beautiful Secret, to be released by Pandamoon Publishing in 2016. This women’s fiction romance is set in the scorched hills of Calabria, and tells the tale of a woman who rediscovers her soul through a journey to her Nana’s homeland in Italy. Dana also wrote The Whisper Trilogy, a young adult paranormal romance that is currently available on Amazon. Dana can frequently be found in her hometown of Pine Richland, writing her food and family inspired blog posts at a crowded Starbucks.