When I say "Italy", what pops into your mind?
Handsome men? Beautiful women? Amazing food? Rome? Venice? Florence?
All of the above?
All of the above?
When I think of Italy, of course, I think "Home". Italy is where I've lived for the last eight years, where I married my husband, and where I wrote (and set) my novel, Ask Me if I'm Happy. It is a place I've come to know quite well, to love and to hate at the same time. It's a place I can't wait to leave every summer, and a place I can't stand to be away from once I'm gone.
I never planned on living here, though. Italy never even registered on my "radar" when I plotted and planned out my life. I thought at best I'd end up in England, but instead I overshot and landed here in northern Italy, all because of chance.
I loved England so much, and after my first visit (in 2002) I started writing a novel set there. I soon was introduced to the music of the Britpop band called Pulp, and their music influenced that novel quite heavily. By chance I found a web forum dedicated to Pulp, and I shared some of that novel with the people I met there. In May of 2003 – and who would've thought it could happen? – one of those people was so moved by what he read that he felt he had to contact me and tell me how he felt.
Even though he lived in Italy and I was living in Tennessee, we fell in love sight unseen (save for a few photos we exchanged) via our forum messages, e-mails and phone calls. The first time I saw him in person was in August of 2003 at the Knoxville airport, and that was the moment I knew I'd marry him.
When he asked me to come to Italy for Christmas it was impossible to say 'No'. I took a flight from Atlanta and arrived in Bologna on December 23rd. Just over two months later, in February of 2004, we got married in the city hall of his Italian hometown, which has now become my hometown, too.
And there my love-hate relationship with Italy really began. The joys and frustrations of living here could fill not just novels, but encyclopedias. Volumes and volumes of the written word couldn't contain them all.
A few years after I arrived here, I started writing what I planned to be a short story. In it, a woman named Emily was stranded in Bologna – the capitol of the region (Emilia-Romagna) where I live – by a transportation strike. When a kind stranger named Davide offered her some help, she connected with him more deeply than she ever imagined possible. But the short story kept growing and growing, refusing to be curtailed by the restrictions I tried to enforce. I gave in and that short story grew into the novel it is today.
Now, Ask Me if I'm Happy is many different things: a love story celebrating the connections we make slightly later in life; a tale set in a city seldom explored in other stories; a virtual love letter to Bologna; a heartfelt paean to a place which has come to mean so much to me in spite of all its flaws and frustrations which sometimes hide its charms.
I immersed myself in the world of these characters as I wrote. I considered the meals they ate, where they lived, how they dressed. I knew their political opinions, their personal prejudices, their dreams and aspirations. I understood why they were the way they were, why they'd chosen their friends and how they'd made their enemies (for lack of a better word).
They were always with me, sharing their experiences and their stories, my constant companions for two years. I saw them everywhere – in the piazzas, in the restaurants and shops, even the school where I teach English. I heard their voices in the street, or in the crowds. I dreamed about them, thought about them as though they were real people. Frequently, I wished they were. They were people I'd love to know in real life, if only I could.
Then the book was finished. I polished and shaped the story, still thinking of Emily and Davide, still living in their world right up to the moment when all the work was done, and the book was sent to my (then) publisher to be brought out into the world.
I missed them so desperately I wondered how I would cope. A new story beckoned, with new characters, set in a world completely different from the one I'd inhabited in my head for so long. I fretted that I'd never be able to bring these newcomers to life – not like I'd been able to do for Emily and Davide – and that I'd never be able to go into their world as deeply as I had before.
In time, I no longer heard Emily's voice. Davide wasn't hovering at his own desk behind mine anymore. I was alone, and it hurt. I focused on other things, started researching my new story, started writing new blogs for promotion and kept worrying I wouldn't connect with these new companions as I had the others.
And then, one day, it happened. I heard a voice whispering in another room. I sat and waited for it to become clearer: an accent I couldn't pin down, unfamiliar as it was, telling a story. I listened closely, went to the door and tried the doorknob. It turned, not easily, but I was able to open the door and peer inside.
Federico and Abby stood there, whispering to one another. His voice was louder than hers at first; he was more confident, more determined to be heard. Soon enough, she began to speak up, too, and the story began to flow.
That was a little over two years ago. Their story has been plagued with stops-and-starts and my real-life personal tragedies and losses have threatened to overwhelm them more than once. Still, they've held on through everything. Now they are my constant companions, speaking their piece and demanding to have their stories told. It's going to be very hard to let them go when the time comes.
But Emily and Davide are lurking around the corner with new tales to tell.
I can't wait to see them again.
Author page on Amazon.com: http://tiny.cc/xirxo
Smashwords page: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/kmenozzi
Ask Me… excerpt Chapter One (in full): http://www.kmenozzi.com/excerpt-ask-me-if-im-happy.html
Ask Me… excerpt Chapter Two: http://www.kmenozzi.com/ask-me-if-im-happy-excerpt-2.html
Ask Me… excerpt Chapter Four (sensual): http://www.kmenozzi.com/excerpt-ask-me-if-im-happy---chapter-sixteen.html