How did you hear about SPFBO – and have you read any of the other entrants?
I heard about it the final day of sign-ups, and was among the last to get my name in this year. I admit that when it began I didn’t know much about it, but getting to know the other contestants has been a joy. I’ve read several so far, with many more on my teetering TBR.
Your FB profile says you’re originally from Italy and are now living in PA. What brought you here?
I did, indeed, grow up in Italy. It was quite the adventure traveling around Europe with my family for art symposiums and running around the Italian countryside as a child, but we moved back to the states when I was thirteen. Ending up in Pittsburgh, PA was as much happenstance as deliberate intent. It’s my mother’s home town and after college I happened to snag a dream job. So here I am. While my home is here, I am still very much an Italian at heart, and travel every chance I get.
If someone were passing near your hometown in Italy and/or Pittsburg, where would you recommend they visit?
In Italy, that’s easy: le Cinque Terre. It’s a grouping of five small costal villages about an hour away from where I grew up. They are some of the most beautiful places I have ever been and I love taking the boat between them or hiking the long trails in the natural park.
Here in Pittsburgh, I am a huge fan of Phipps Conservatory, where I often go to write in the middle of winter. I get to move from the tropics, to Europe, to the desert all in the same phenomenally beautiful building. It’s a treat and very inspiring.
On FB you’ve “checked in” or “liked” a few different conservatories and botanical gardens – which one so far has been your favorite?
Plants are one of those things that make me feel alive. From when I was little and would scamper up our cherry tree to pick bucketfuls of fruit, I’ve always had a connection to gardens. I think my favorite botanical garden is the one in Mendocino, CA, where I spent countless hours drawing flowers and daydreaming by the headlands, staring out into the Pacific Ocean. Most of my time in gardens, though, is spent in my own. I grow about forty different herbs every summer, plus edible flowers and a few vegetables. My hope, one day, is to have a big enough garden to feed my family year round.
There’s a cat biting your head in one of your pictures – what’s their name and do they bite your skull frequently?
His name is Felix, and he often tries to groom me. Within about a minute he gets very frustrated with my long hair, so attempts to help detangle it by biting my head. While I appreciate his enthusiasm, his teeth are quite sharp.
You studied non profit restaurant management – what lead you in that direction?
Food is one of my great passions. I see it as one of the universal experiences of being alive, and something that everyone has an opinion on. As a young child I read the book ‘A Search For Delicious’ which stuck with me from then on. I wanted to work with food, but had little interested in the traditional restaurant business. All this led me to the Community Cafe movement led by One World, Everybody Eats. The idea of using food as a way of building community and bridges between different socioeconomic groups spoke to me deeply. It gave me a way to take something I was passionate about and use it to make the world just a little bit kinder.
You’ve liked a few different medical organizations or things like “Rare Disease Day” and the ADA PGH – does this hold particular significance to you personally?
They do. I have a rare genetic disease called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, and also suffer from Dysautonomia, Fibromyalgia, Celicas and a host of other ailments. These conditions have stripped me of my first career in culinary arts, and irrevocably changed my life, but they have also brought me to communities I love, and allowed me to focus on my writing. While I have a very mixed relationship with them, I am proud to be part of the disabled community, and to represent disability front and center in my novels.
I also see you’ve liked several different Service Dog related things – do you have a service dog?
Pippin is my 80lb golden retriever and constant companion. He is a cardiac alert dog as well as helping me with various mobility tasks. He’s a goofball, but keeps me safe if I pass out in public. His biggest service is to lie next to me when I’m dizzy and keep me lying down until my heart rate returns to normal.
You’ve liked lots of different restaurants and food things like tacos, Ethiopian food etc. What’s your favorite type of food?
That is a question that merits its own book. I’ve been all over the world studying ethinic and fusion cuisine, so there are many, many foods I could talk your ear off about. Among my favorites though are Tom Yum soup from Thailand, Cecina from my corner of Italy, Tibs from Ethiopia, and Lemon Meringue Pie.
From Fantasy Factions review, your main character suffers from chronic illness and pain – given the other medical question, is this written from personal experience?
Elenor’s condition was inspired by my own, but is fictional. I decided to do that because I didn’t want only people with my condition to see themselves in her. The choice to make her an ambulatory wheelchair user and to give her significant pain when walking was so that I could draw from my own experiences. Her disease, unlike my own though, is also inspired by illnesses that have affected my family or that I’ve seen up-close. My host father when I was an exchange student in the Dominican Republic worked in a Dengue Fever clinic, and I’ve spent a lot of time in areas where Malaria and other mosquito-born illnesses still run rampant. I wanted to capture some of that as well.
“So I’m keeping the scene. Because diversity is important, but mostly because it IS raw, and personal. If I’m going to write a chronically ill protagonist, I want them not to ‘overcome’ their illness. I don’t want it to fade into the background, nor define their whole lives.” – I think this is a big blind spot for people writing characters with chronic illness or other disabilities. Many times they are “cured” and have a “happy ending” when in reality this isn’t the case for most.
Can you think of any books that don’t have the “happy ending” and is a more accurate representation of chronic illness?
This is one of those topics that make my hackles rise. Not to say I wouldn’t take a magical cure if one was available to me—I’m in a great deal of pain every day and would love to not faint every time I stand up for more than ten minutes—but the idea creatures often have that death is better than a disabled life, or that the only happy ending for someone disabled is a cure is deeply flawed. I have read very few, if any, books where this is not the case. Recently, though, some have started appearing that I am very excited about. In particular, I’m thrilled with the success of Dragon Mage my M.L. Spencer. My dream is to one day have Amazon be forced to include a category in their fantasy section for ‘books with disabled protagonists’ and have it be filled with positive representation and kickass disabled protagonists living their lives and having adventures.
Tell me more about these two!
The huge golden beast is my service dog Pippin. The tiny kitten is Vin, the newest addition to our household. Like her Brandon Sanderson namesake, she is small, skittish, agile, and daring. She and Pippin love playing together, and while they don’t cuddle together much anymore, she spent all of her kittenhood cuddled up near him.
You’ve RT’d Rachel Aaron – I assume this means you’ve read Nice Dragons Finish Last?
I have and love all her DFZ books! She was one of the authors who gave me the courage to self-publish. As both a fan of dragons and of fun, bizarre characters, her books hit a lot of my favorite tropes, and are always a fun ride. I also simply adore her audiobook narrator, Emily Woo Zeller.
Your NACL series is self described as “arcanepunk” – what exactly does that mean?
NACL is a weird genre mashup. It has a lot of cyberpunk elements, but it also has a fantasy magic system directly tied into that of Where Shadows Lie. We didn’t want fans of hard sci-fi being confused by the presence of teleporting, precognizant madmen, but also didn’t want our fantasy readers to be shocked by the presence of guns, computers, and snarky AIs. Arcanepunk was the closest we could get to a description, but even that doesn’t quite capture the pure, undiluted wackiness of that book. I guess that’s what you get when you write a novel with one of your best friends over the course of six fury and caffeine fueled, fugue-state weeks.
What made you want to write about salt in a fantasy book?
Ah, salt. One of my favorite subjects. Because of my Dysautonomia, I live on a high-salt diet, and am almost always sodium deficient despite it. I often suffer from the debilitating effects of too little salt, and really wanted to shed a light on it. If Elenor’s disability is where I insert myself into Where Shadows Lie, it’s the actual world of Fortune that suffers in NACL. Even before E. Sands came on board, I had been playing around with the notion. Then, after some events that made us very, very salty, we decided to write a novel about blowing up a mountain of salt. It was deeply cathartic, and Fortune was the perfect world to put it in. Thus, NACL was born.
How did Nano go for you this year?
It went great. I got about 80k words written in the sequel to Where Shadows Lie, and got to help several first-time authors plan and write their novels. It was great fun, and the first year in a long time that I participated in public sprints and the NaNo community. I can’t wait for next year!
Why baby dragons?
Why not baby dragons? Every story would be better with a few baby dragons. As a longer answer, when I was writing Where Shadows Lie, we had three puppies enter our immediate friend group within a few months of each other. Their adventures and shenanigans very much inspired me to write in a baby dragon. Bard, who appears in Where Shadows Lie, is inspired by my roommate’s dog Kubo. In the sequel, a new dragonette is going to be joining the team, this one based on a dog who sadly passed away too young, and whose owner asked me to include. She is stealing the show, and very loved.
You’ve written epic high fantasy, arcanepunk, and have a romance coming in 2021 – do you plan to explore writing other subgenres, too?
Yes! My hope is to keep learning, growing, and pushing boundaries. Most of my books all exist in the same multiverse, which is open to other authors and has been a collaborative project from day one. The goal was to create a universe where multiple genres can exist side-by-side and create some interesting crossovers and blends. So far we are up to about six writers working on various projects within the Ao Collective. In particular, NACL and Where Shadows Lie are tied together at their very core. Characters hop from one book to the other, subtext is revealed in NACL that recontextualizes much of WSL, and if you’ve already read WSL, many of the magical mysteries of NACL become a lot more interesting. My favorite thing is when readers message me at 2AM in the morning screaming about Moe’s newest scheme (he’s one of the protagonists of NACL), or because they finally spotted his WSL cameo.