I was first contacted a little while ago, by newly published author Grace Mattioli, asking whether I would like to read and review her debut contemporary fiction novel, ‘Olive Branches Don’t Grow On Trees’.
I have subsequently spoken by email with Grace on several occasions and have featured her in my ‘New Authors’ pages, here at Fiction Books. The author bio. page, whilst it is an excellent introduction to Grace, doesn’t really get behind the psyche of the person, or the in depth thinking behind the book.
I took the decision to try and arrange a ‘Meet The Author’ session with Grace, although I have yet to reached the scheduled reading date for ‘Olive Branches Don’t Grow On Trees’. I really wanted to get into the mind of this new author, to not only discover a little more about the ‘real Grace’, but to try and discover her aspirations and expectations, as a new writer.
FIRST OF ALL … THE OFFICIAL BLURB!
Originally from New Jersey, Grace currently works as a librarian in San Francisco, where she lives with her husband and two cats.
She started writing from an early age and recalls that one of the first stories she wrote was called “The Magic Pen.” In this story, the main character had a pen that, when used, would create stories as if by magic.
In college, she studied English literature, and gravitated towards contemporary fiction. Some of her favourite and most influential authors include: Flannery O’Connor, Ernest Hemingway, Edward Abbey and Douglas Adams.
She loves beautifully written prose and humorous fiction. She has also taken several writing workshops, including some in fiction writing and screenwriting, and has written several short stories and some flash fiction which can be found on The Short Humour site: https://www.short-humour.org.uk/.
Grace had always dreamed of one day writing a novel, but was not sure that she had it in her until recently. She says that she thoroughly enjoyed writing “Olive Branches Don’t Grow On Trees” and plans to start a new novel very soon.
NOW… FOR ALL THE THINGS I REALLY WANTED TO ASK
QFirst of all Grace, thank you for agreeing to join me here at Fiction Books and many congratulations on your debut novel, ‘Olive Branches Don’t Grow On Trees’. What does it feel like to see your book available for sale and would it have made you feel any differently if you had also published to printed copy and were able to see your book on the shelves in the store?
I feel proud of myself for having my book available for sale. I really put my heart and soul into writing my novel and I feel that now I can reap some of the rewards of all my hard work. I will have my book available in print in about a couple of months and I will definitely let you know as soon as it is available in that format.
QYou say in your website biography that you always knew that you wanted to be a writer, so was there a specific catalyst which finally spurred you on to put pen to paper?
It is difficult for me to recall what inspired me to write when I was a young child because I was a typical child in that I did things, like writing, spontaneously. That is, there was not much forethought that went into my writing a story at that age. I think that I experimented with other creative mediums like drawing and painting, and while I enjoyed them, writing was what really called out to me and what kept calling out to me throughout my life. As an adult, I began to recognize a need to share my story and my vision with the world, and that is what really motivated me to continue on the writing path.
Q You mention also, that there have been certain authors who are your favourites and most influential: Flannery O’Connor, Ernest Hemingway, Edward Abbey and Douglas Adams. Was it solely their influence which made you aspire to become a writer, or were there other events or individuals who helped to shape your decision?
Although these writers have had a tremendous influence on my writing, my decision to become a writer was something that came from within myself. I’m not really sure it was a decision either; more like a calling.
QHow was the idea for the premise for ‘Olive Branches Don’t Grow On Trees’ formulated, and was it based on any personal or real-life experience?
The idea for writing my novel first came to me when I was at a writing workshop and one participant of this workshop discussed her desire to write about her experience of finding romantic love as a young Muslim woman. She had a desire to shed a different light on this particular community, and this made me think about my own desire to shed a different light on another particular community- Italian-Americans. I believe that this group of people are usually shown in a bad light, and that there are several negative stereotypical conceptions of this population and I wanted to show them in a more positive light.
I knew that I had to pick a theme that I felt passionate about as I could not imagine starting and completing a novel with a theme in which I was not passionate. So I picked the theme of peace which is so close to my heart. In addition, I am from a feuding family and I had tried for years, unsuccessfully, to make peace in my family. In writing a novel about a woman who has some success in making peace in her family, I was able to enjoy the satisfaction my character felt vicariously. So in answer to your question, yes, my novel was definitely based on real-life experience.
QWhat made you decide to commit to self-publishing and will you continue to do so when ‘Olive Branches Don’t Grow On Trees’, goes to print?
I turned to self-publishing after being rejected by several literary agents. I kind of expected this reaction as I have not previously been published, nor had I attended a MFA program in creative writing. I knew that I wanted to publish as an e-book because I wanted to reach as many people as possible. I joined a group of other independant publishers in the San Francisco Bay area (in which I reside), and through this group, I got a wealth of information on the independant publishing process. So far, it has been a difficult but rewarding and fun journey through the world of indie publishing.
QAs an independent publisher, did you edit your own work and design the cover art yourself?
I went through my manuscript many times on my own, revising and editing, and I also had it professionally edited. Through the process of having it professionally edited, I realized just how much I was over-writing. I learned of the importance of having a manuscript professionally edited through several books and online forums on independent publishing.
I also had my cover professionally designed, although I had the design and layout for my cover envisioned, and conveyed this vision to my designer.
QDo you anticipate that contemporary fiction will remain your genre of choice for future stories. If not, in which direction could you see the change taking place?
I believe that I will always write contemporary fiction. I will stick to literary fiction as a genre but I would love to also try writing soft science fiction one day.
QHow predictable is your writing schedule and do you have a favourite place where you go to think, plan and write?
I bought a great book entitled ‘The Nighttime Novelist’ by Joseph Bates, who strongly recommended writing a minimum number of words per day in order to complete a novel. I experimented a bit, and found that the number of words I could comfortably achieve per day was 400. I work full time so I was not able to do any more than this amount on a daily basis, but some days I would exceed my minimum goal of 400 words. Although I always attempted to finish my writing during the day, often times I would have to finish at night because my days were so busy.
QYou are currently working as a Librarian and I am so envious, as that would be one of my ideal jobs. Is that a career which you would like to continue with, or can you foresee a time when you might leave to pursue a full-time writing career?
I really enjoy working as a librarian, but I would eventually like to work part-time so that I may have more time to work on my writing. Although I enjoy my current career, writing is my true passion in life.
QIf you still find time to read for pleasure, what is your preferred genre and author. Imagine you are marooned on a desert island, what would be the single book you would like to have by your side?
That is a difficult question to answer because I read more as a writer than a reader. That is, I read literature that will help me to hone my writing skill, and can’t even remember the last time I read a book to escape! My favorite genres to read are literary fiction and soft science fiction. I suppose it would be a toss up between ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ and ‘The Complete Stories’ By Flannery O’Connor.
QHow do you enjoy relaxing in any spare time which you get, away from your busy schedule?
I enjoy taking long walks in the park or by the ocean, shopping, going out to nice restaurants, and watching quality (BBC) television.
QYou say that you are eager to start work on your next book. If you have already formulated any ideas for a storyline, can you give us a sneak preview, just to whet our appetites?
I have the theme, title and outline for my next book but have not had time to really get started on it as of yet. It will be a story about a man who is poor in monetary terms but who is wealthy in spiritual terms. The theme of this book will be greed, which I believe to be one of the most destructive human qualities that exist. Although the theme of this book is serious, it will be filled with lots of good humor as was my first novel.
QWhat would be the single piece of advice that you have for any aspiring or fledgling authors out there, in what seems to be a very difficult and competitive market to win over an audience?
I would tell such authors to be positive and to not be discouraged by whatever rejections they may receive. This is a very difficult time in terms of traditional publishing, but also a time of great opportunities in the world of independent publishing.
QFinally … Describe the real Grace Mattioli, in a couple of sentences.
I’m young and old at the same time; big and little; funny and serious; lazy and tenacious; happy and sad; frightened and fearless. I’m a bleeding heart; a dreamer; a gentle soul. I’m constantly striving to be the best person I can be and to learn as much as I can learn. I love to create, to love, to smile, and to laugh.
Well Grace, that’s about it for now. I am looking forward to reading my copy of ‘Olive Branches Don’t Grow On Trees’ and I shall publish my thoughts about it, just as soon as possible.
I would like to wish you every continued success with both this and any future ventures upon which you may embark.
Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to me.