Q&A With Jill Santopolo
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Behind The Book With Jill Santopolo
Todays Behind The Book is with New York Times Bestselling Author Jill Santopolo. I did a Q&A with her last fall and recently this year her latest release Stars In An Italian Sky came out back in February and it comes out in paperback next year. I read a copy on netgalley and let me tell you it’s a beautiful story.
Q: So Jill, how did you come up with the idea for Stars In An Italian Sky?
A: The seed of this story was planted in the summer of 2019 when I was in Italy with my husband on our honeymoon. We visited a ton of people there, including my wonderful Italian publisher, Cristina Prasso, who asked me what I thought I might write about next. I told her I wasn’t sure, and she suggested I write a family story set in Italy. I tucked that away in the back of my mind, and then later, when we were visiting my husband’s cousins, they mentioned the 1946 institutional referendum. I hadn’t known about this nation-wide vote to abolish the monarchy—and the nobility along with it—and found the idea fascinating, how a family’s promised power could be eliminated instantaneously by popular vote. My husband and I both have family in Italy, but his side of the family is descended from nobility, while mine is descended from shoemakers, and when I heard about the referendum and thought about our families’ histories, the book started coming together: a multigenerational story about two families in different social classes with different political leanings, and what happens when the children in those families fall in love. Everything else followed from there.
Q: What important lessons do you hope readers learn after reading Stars In An Italian Sky?
A: I don’t necessarily expect my books to teach readers lessons, but one thing I was thinking about a lot when I wrote it is that no matter how different people may appear, at the deepest parts of themselves, we’re all quite similar.
Q: What was the research process like especially for Vincenzo and Giovanna’s story in post-World War II Italy?
A: In a challenging turn of events, I wrote this book during the height of COVID, while I was pregnant, and while I had a newborn, which meant that the research trips I’d hoped to take to Italy weren’t able to happen. So I read a lot of books and articles about Italian history and winemaking and life during and after WWII, I interviewed professors and historians over email and zoom and WhatsApp, I watched videos on youtube talking about specific events, I traveled through Italy using google maps, and I went through my own photos and memories of trips to Italy for added color and detail. When I went to Italy this past summer to visit family again, I was so happy to get to walk through Giovanna and Vincenzo’s city and recognize places that I wrote about.
Q: How long did it take you to write Stars In An Italian Sky?
A: I started writing Stars in the summer of 2020 and handed my first draft into my editor in February of 2022. We kept working on it until that summer. So about two years all told. (Then it took another nine months to get printed and published.)
Q: In our Q&A last fall you mentioned that none of your books are autobiographical but that there are things in your life that happened that inspire your novels and scenes in your novels. Is this the case for Stars In An Italian Sky?
A: Yes, absolutely. There are things I’ve done in Italy—like lay on the roof of the Duomo di Milano or visit the vineyards in Barolo or eat at the Osteria da Gemma—that made their way into this book. But on a deeper level, my relationship with my wonderful grandmother is woven into the fabric of this story, as is my admiration of visual artists and my love of Little Italy’s San Gennaro festival in NYC. And Cass thinks about a lot of things I think about in regard to family and life and identity.