Q&A With Christina Lynch
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Q&A With Christina Lynch
Today’s Q&A is with Christina Lynch who is the author of Sally Brady’s Italian Adventure & The Italian Party. Christina was also an editor on The Harvard Lampoon. In LA she was on the writing staff of Unhappily Ever After Encore, Encore; The Dead Zone and Wildfire. Christina was the Milan correspondent for W magazine and Women’s Wear Daily, and disappeared for four years in Tuscany.
Q: When I read your bio online I found it impressive. What was it like writing for multiple publications and spending 4 years in Tuscany? I’ve seen pictures of Tuscany and it must be beautiful. What is your favorite spot in Tuscany?
A: It was an amazing way to spend my twenties. Even in the moment I was aware of how lucky I was, and how what seemed like random decisions—staying in to do homework in high school instead of going out with friends (nerd alert!)—led to incredible opportunities I was unable to foresee at the time, like attending Harvard, and getting hired to work in Milan. The only credit I can really take is knowing when to say yes—yes to Harvard, even though I was scared out of my mind, yes to being a journalist in Milan, even though I was once again scared out of my mind, and yes to quitting my job in Milan and moving to Tuscany to work at a country inn, even though I was (you guessed it) scared out of my mind, that time because I was (in many people’s eyes) moving backwards down the ladder of success into what is called a “service” job, which is a label that should be unpacked. I loved my service job, until I didn’t, and I had the educational background to shift back into career mode at that point. I guess I see the education piece as essential, because it’s given me enormous flexibility in life. I wish all education was free for everyone, because I do see it as a way to achieve that ability to bend and shift your life’s path as needed or wanted.
I was always fairly clear about what I wanted (to be a writer, to live in the country, to have horses) and that has been a true gift. As a college professor I meet so many people who are unsure of what they want—that’s normal. You are truly fortunate if you know exactly what you want, and you are able to find joy while moving towards that goal (not postponing joy until you get there).
Tuscany was as wonderful as the mythology that’s grown up around it would suggest—every day I woke up and threw open the shutters and looked out at that magical landscape. It never got old, not once. I loved meeting the guests at the inn and watching them experience the history and magic of that place. I helped serve meals and took people out on horseback rides, so I was seeing people in their happiest moments. Some of my favorite places in Tuscany are Piazza del Campo in Siena, the Abbazia di San Galgano, the Ponte della Pia, and the Abbazia di Sant’Antimo. I hope you get a chance to visit!
Q: Would it be fair to say that the characters you created in The Italian Party & Sally Brady’s Italian Adventure based off of people you know? I love it when an author can create people and places based off of people they knew and places they’ve been.
A: I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I don’t build characters off of people I know, though I do use places I have been. I feel uncomfortable building off real people because that would limit what I could and couldn’t do with those characters—you can’t have your Aunt Marge murdering someone, right? I like the freedom of being able to have my characters go to dark, irresponsible, risky or crazy places if I need them to, and I need them to have a life of their own on the page, not be tied in some way to a living person or a historical figure. That said, there are some real historical characters in both novels—Claire Boothe Luce in The Italian Party, and Mussolini in Sally Brady. That’s fun because I read all about them and then try to capture that in scenes. At the same time that all of my main characters are fictional, they are informed by the research I do into the time period. Some of Lapo’s background overlaps with the Italian writer Delfino Cinelli, although Cinelli never wrote a biography of Mussolini and did not have ties to the regime, so that’s a key difference that’s crucial to note! But he was the son of a straw hat manufacturer, married an American, and bought a remote, sprawling estate in Tuscany. Lila and Sally’s stories overlap with Teddy Getty Gaston, who was married to the oil magnate J. Paul Getty, went to Rome to study opera, and ended up stranded in Rome after Pearl Harbor. She went to jail and then was interned in a hotel in Siena. But she never had an affair with a Fascist official or worked with the Resistance to save a Jewish girl. So you see how, while there are true details woven in, each character has to be free to go in fictional directions. Otherwise it’s creative nonfiction, which is not my thing.
Q: If you’re writing a new novel now, can you reveal any details?
A: Yes. I’m working on something set in Venice in 1926. I can’t say more right now, mostly because I don’t know yet! I need to go and do some more research. Stay tuned!
Q: Does Hollywood have the rights or interests in both of your novels?
A: The Italian Party is currently under an option agreement, but Sally Brady is available. I used to work in TV myself, so I am very interested in seeing either or both of them come to life on the screen.
Q: What advice do you give to anyone wanting to write great fiction? How do you deal with writers block?
A: I think having a day job is a great cure for writer’s block. I’m a community college professor with 125 students turning in writing every week and no teaching assistant to help out. When I finally have a day when I don’t have to grade a boatload of essays, I can’t wait to dive into writing fiction. It’s like slipping into a secret world all my own. When I’m busy teaching, I make little notes to myself on various slips of paper that in theory all make their way from my pockets and the car and the night-table to my desk, where they launch me into the next day’s writing. As for writing “great” fiction, I think a better goal is to write something that (to paraphrase Toni Morrison) is exactly the kind of book you want to read but that doesn’t exist yet. That’s what I do every time I’m deciding what to write next. I ask myself “Where do I want to go? Who do I want to go there with?” For the past two novels, that’s been Italy, with smart young women who are figuring out what it means to be an American.
Q: What advice do you give to new authors on how to deal with negative criticism from online trolls, negative reviews, and family and friends who aren’t supportive?
A: I write to entertain myself, so while it’s unfortunate when my words don’t connect with a reader, it’s not the end of the world. It’s crucial to keep in mind that there is no writer alive or dead who connects with every reader. I ignore the trolls–they’re not really readers, they’re sadists. But I’ve been to book clubs where some of the members said they didn’t like my novel, right to my face. I tell them the truth: “I don’t like everything I read, either. I’m sorry you didn’t like my book, but I hope you enjoy the next book you choose to read.” The same goes for family and friends who don’t enjoy my work—we just don’t talk about it. I try not to seek validation from others in that way—I write for myself and I’m pleasantly surprised when my writing connects with others.
Q: You collaborated with another author under a different pen name. What was that like and what’s your advice to anyone wanting to co-write a novel with a friend or family member? Would you collaborate with this person again?
A: It was great fun writing the Magnus Flyte books with Meg, and actually that wasn’t my first time doing collaborative writing—in television I worked in many writers’ rooms and had a writing partner. Collaborative writing can be great—you always have someone to pass the ball to. My advice is don’t keep a “scoreboard”; don’t get in the habit of saying “that’s her line, that’s my line,” because true collaboration is an alchemy in which the finished product is entirely a work of both people. I’m working on a television project now with a writing partner, but I’m enjoying writing fiction solo.