Behind The Book With Jo Piazza
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Behind The Book With Jo Piazza
I recently finished reading Jo Piazza’s upcoming release The Sicilian Inheritance which is coming out on April 2nd 2024. It’s got a murder mystery with some historical fiction mixed in and beautiful scenery of Sicily. I was honored to be doing a Q&A with her and Christine Pride back in the late spring early summer and now I have the honor of doing this Behind The Book with Jo.
Q: We spoke about The Sicilian Inheritance briefly when I did the Q&A with you and Christine. What made you use your great great grandmother’s murder in Sicily to create The Sicilian Inheritance?
A: I have been thinking about fictionalizing this story for years. I think that all families have stories that we tell ourselves, that we pass down, that get warped and changed over time. The story of my great great grandmother Lorenza’s murder was ours. I knew very little about it except that her husband and children came to the United States from Sicily to build a better life for the family. She stayed behind to save money, to sell the land. It’s a little unclear why. And before she could join her husband Antonio she was killed.
That’s all I knew but I was fascinated by the idea of a woman left alone to fend for herself in a wild place like Sicily. And that’s where Serafina’s story began. It honestly just flowed out of me.
Q: What was the research process like while working on The Sicilian Inheritance?
A:I’ve been to Sicily many times over the years and many details about this rugged, beautiful and intensely broken place come from my own experience. But I also consulted many books and academic texts to find historical details and color about the two time periods I wrote about.
The writings of Sicilian author Maria Messina were incredibly inspirational. Messina is one of the only published authors to highlight the real daily lives of Sicilian women. I also devoured Little Novels of Sicily by Giovanni Verga
My local library was able to track down a rare copy of the anthropological text Milocca: A Sicilian Village by Charlotte Gower Chapman. I consulted it often to learn more about interpersonal relationships and divisions of labor in small Sicilian villages.
I read and read John Keahey’s Seeking Sicily, Jamie Mackay’s The Invention of Sicily and Women of Sicily: Saints, Queens and Rebels by Jacqueline Alio. I am indebted to them for their immense knowledge of the island and its history.
I also consulted several academic texts including Women in the Classroom: Mass Migration, Literacy and the Nationalization of Sicilian Women at the Turn of the Century by Linda Reeder in the Journal of Social History and Conflict Across the Atlantic: Women, Family and Mass Male Migration in Sicily, 1880-1920, also by Linda Reeder in the International Review of Social History.
For information on the modern day mafia, particularly the women involved in it, I consulted the books and articles of Barbie Latza Nadeau, particularly her book The Godmother: Murder, Vengeance, and the Bloody Struggle of Mafia Women.
Q: How long did it take for you to write The Sicilian Inheritance?
A: I have been working on it for about six years. I have started it and stopped it. I put it in drawers while working on other projects. There were times when I never thought it would be a book and then there were times when I absolutely knew that it had to be one.
Q: I know this book is loosely based off of your great great grandmother’s murder. Who are the characters of Rosie, Serafina and Sara based off of?
A: All of them are entirely fictional. Serafina is the closest character to my own great great grandmother but only in the sense that she is a woman who was left behind in Sicily while her husband went to America to make his fortune (and by fortune I mean a living wage).
In my research I discovered that this was the case for a million Sicilian women. They were left on their own and many of them had to take jobs and support their families on their own. It was a difficult time but also one that came with a newfound freedom to take on different kinds of work, to learn to read and write and to be free of getting pregnant once a year. I was fascinated by this little talked about time in Sicilian history and the lives these women led.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from reading The Sicilian Inheritance?
A: This is a book about a woman who goes on an adventure. It is a delicious romp filled with food and wine and even some sex. But it also has just the right amount of fury and feminist undertones that we all need right now.
It is about women finding their voice and their place in the world and the many obstacles to doing both.
I hope readers feel transported to the gorgeous island of Sicily and also feel the need to stand up for themselves in the face of the patriarchy. I want everyone to read this book with a crisp white Sicilian wine and a plate of delicious cheese.