Q&A With Annabelle Tometich

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Q&A With Annabelle Tometich

My latest Q&A is with writer, editor and author Annabelle Tometich. Annabelle’s essays, food and travel writing have been featured in The Washington Post, Catapult, USA Today, The News-Press, The Palm Beach Post, Florida Today & many more. Annabelle’s first book will be published by Little, Brown on April 2, 2024 titled The Mango Tree: A Memoir of Fruit, Florida, and Felony


Q: Annabelle how do you juggle being a writer for famous publications, an editor and now writing your first book which is a memoir? It’s so impressive

A: Thank you! I’m happy you see it as impressive. At times, it felt obsessive-compulsive and rather manic, but I made it! And here we are on the verge of publication, which is wild. The juggling act of writing this book was VERY real. I wrote the bulk of it during the throes of the pandemic in summer 2020, when the newspaper where I worked put our staff on mandatory, week-long furloughs each month. I took those weeks and poured them into this project. 

Once I figured out what this book was, the words came rushing out of me. In addition to my day job and side gigs, I also have two kids, so I would write during my lunch breaks, at night and into the inky hours of the morning. I was 39 at the time and had worked the same journalism job for 15 years. I had hit the age where I started to wonder: What’s next? Is this it? What do you really want out of life and out of writing? So, when this book started to feel real, feel possible, I threw myself into it full force. 

Q: Would you like to tell the readers of the blog and myself a little bit about The Mango Tree: A Memoir of Fruit, Florida and Felony? What made you choose to write this memoir now? 

A: The Mango Tree centers on a 2015 incident where my Filipina mother used her BB rifle (the one she usually reserved for sniping pesky, mango-chomping squirrels) to shoot out the truck window of a white man she claimed was stealing mangoes from her beloved Southwest Florida tree. After my mom’s arrest, a reporter from the newspaper where I worked as a restaurant critic called. “Did your mom really shoot that guy – over a mango?” he asked. I told him it was complicated, which is the truth … well, part of the truth. The rest of it I try to answer in the book: what the mango tree meant to my immigrant mother and what it meant to us, her half-white children. How that tree nurtured and protected me and my siblings as best it could through a string of tragedies, how it connected my mom to her faraway homeland, how I loved and hated the mango tree but always gobbled up its sweet fruits. 

As to your question of why write this now, let me be clear: This is the story I didn’t want anyone to know. It’s the old cliché of “write what scares you,” and this didn’t just scare me, it terrified me. People knowing the truth about my oddball, mixed-up, sometimes violent, often tragic family petrified me. And then I thought: But why? 

I realized that I wasn’t afraid of people knowing the story, I was afraid of what this story meant for me. I was afraid I was doomed to repeat this cycle, that it was an inescapable fate. I don’t think I could’ve written this in my 20s or early 30s. I was far too scared. By my late 30s and now early (OK mid) 40s, I’ve learned these events don’t define me. Yes, they are my story, but our stories are for reflecting on and learning from, they’re not templates for the rest of our lives. Once I understood that, telling this story honestly and with compassion felt not just necessary but important. 

Q: If you are writing another book now, will it be another non-fiction memoir or will you try your hand at fiction this time?

A: I am slowly … very … slowly, working on a second book. It will also be a memoir, and I’m even more excited about it than I was The Mango Tree. That said, I have a whole file of fiction ideas that I look forward to sifting through and tackling one day. 

Q: What advice would you give to anyone wanting to submit work to famous publications like the ones you write for? 

A: Most of my writing has been for my local newspaper, The Fort Myers News-Press, which I wouldn’t say is “famous,” but which I do love dearly! However, I have been fortunate to place stories with national outlets including The Washington Post and USA Today. For those platforms, having a news hook to your story is crucial. By “news hook,” I mean an event or happening that ties into your piece and makes it timely. My Washington Post story tied into recent Census date on multiracial Americans. My USA Today story came out days after a string of Filipino-Americans (Olivia Rodrigo, Bruno Mars, Saweetie, H.E.R.) won awards despite waves of Asian hate. If you can make your story TIMELY, it’s a lot easier to sell an editor on it, especially at big journalism publications. 

Q: Who are your biggest supporters in your family and friends who encouraged you to write? 

A: My husband and kids are fantastic. I wrote most of The Mango Tree hunched over on the couch, till my husband turned a utility room of ours into a shockingly functional office *with a door* (!!!) that allowed me a quiet spot to work and write. I am also really lucky to have found/manifested/lucked into an amazing group of writers (Sarah, Asmaa, Artis, Robyn, Minda, I could go on) who’ve helped me and this book find our ways in the publishing world. I also (ugh I could cry) have a group of beautiful, supportive friends of 20+ years who have been my cheerleaders and therapists and sounding boards and you-name-it-they’ve-done-it throughout this process. You cannot write alone, and you most certainly cannot publish a book alone. I am constantly grateful for this support.