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  • Writer's pictureMark Tedesco

Our Italian Adventure: Why write about it?

Updated: Dec 4, 2023

PART 71: It might be interesting to share how we pulled off living in Italy for part of the year. I will post some steps we took.

We live in Puglia in the summer and then back again in the winter, and soon, we will be switching to spring and fall.

This blog is a more personal post on how our experiences in Puglia and elsewhere come together for me when I write.

Step 1: Why write?

Writing is a way to reflect on my life experiences and make sense of them. If I am writing a piece of fiction, my characters strive to make sense of and find meaning in their experiences.

It is as simple as that.

I don't write for the market or a target audience. I write what is inside, express it, and put it out in the world. Hearing that one of my stories speaks to someone is rewarding.

A best seller would be fantastic, but I don't need that to keep writing.

If someone wants to sabotage their writing, they base their sense of self as a writer according to what others say and think or the number of copies sold.

Writing for oneself is analogous to what an artist does who is breaking new ground. I always recommend other writers to be their own Van Gough.

Step 2: How my writing career started.

My writing career began when I did not intend to write a book.

My life had changed so much since I had been in a Vatican seminary, lived in Rome for eight years, returned to California, and eventually switched my path completely.

Life felt like a puzzle, with many pieces that didn't fit together. So, during my breaks at my school site, I started to write about arriving in Rome at age 19 and beginning the road to the priesthood. I continued that narrative through personal struggles, coming to terms with being gay, figuring out how humanity and spirituality could be harmonious rather than in conflict, and discovering where I could find a sense of happiness and fulfillment.

I wrote this draft to make sense of my life; when I showed it to my sister she said, "This is good, Mark; this is really good. You should see if you can get it published."

I didn't think anyone would be interested in a story that began in the Vatican and ended up in California, but I sent the draft to a few publishers.

A few weeks later, Chicago Review Press contracted me to publish the book.

That is how it started.

Though the circumstances of my life as narrated in the book are unique (seminary life, etc.), I discovered that the themes and issues I dealt with are shared by many. The book has gotten great reviews, and a few years ago, CNN made an animated short based on the story.

Step 3: Problems encountered while writing.

An event, person, or place must inspire me to write effectively.

When I can't think of anything to write, I just let it go and focus on living life. Inevitably, after some days, weeks, or months, something happens, the narrative picks up, and I continue writing.

A story or book often writes itself in my head before I start typing. It is hard to explain, but since I am a visual thinker, I usually see scenes from a story play out in my imagination. When I get in front of the computer, I write down, as best as I can, what I "see."

If the images stop, I pause the writing and do more research if it is a historical story, and more living if it is not.

I am very self-critical, so one strategy that helps me to keep writing is to only look at what I have written once I complete the entire piece. For example, as I researched and wrote each chapter of my recent book about Puglia, I only looked back to see what I had written once the first draft of the entire book was completed.

Editing should come after, not during.

Step 4: Problems encountered in trying to get published.

I have published eight books, worked with three publishing houses, and self-published a few.

The problems getting published are endless. First, major publishers will only look at a proposal if a literary agent presents it. Though I am a prolific writer, and some of my books have done very well, I gave up on finding a literary agent years ago.

Now, I target small or mid-sized publishers who do not require an intermediary. My current publisher, Dixi Books, is based in London and is a smaller publisher with a good distribution network in Europe and a developing one elsewhere.

The upside of working with smaller publishers is that the writer gets to work directly with the owner and has much say about the book, cover, etc. The downside is that the writer must do most of the work, from marketing to editing. Smaller publishing companies do not have the staff to do the footwork.

Self-publishing is coming into its own, with some impressive success stories. But the downside is that most bookstores will not carry self-published books, and the only way to sell a self-published book is to use all of one's energies to make it known.

Step 5: Dealing with positive and negative reviews.

Writing a book is like putting your child out into the world and hoping they will be treated well by everyone, without having control over the actions or opinions of others.

Any book will have a balance of positive and negative reviews; some may like my writing, and others not. I have read books on the New York Times best sellers list and have been unable to finish them because I didn't like the writing, the plot, the story, or any number of things. So, my writing may speak to some but rarely to all.

Negative reviews can be hard to stomach, but writers must put on their big boy pants and move on.

When I got a very negative review of my book, "She Seduced Me: A Love Affair from Rome," from a reviewer who confessed that he hates Rome and was offended by any references to church history in the narrative, I scratched my head and thought "so why write a review?"

A lifelong writer has to let these things go.

I write to make sense of life, and if it helps someone do the same, all the better. Good or bad reviews are less critical than writing with a purpose.

Step 6: How our time living in Italy impacts my writing.

Living in Italy is often the bread and butter of my writing because living in another culture gives me perspective on my world. I get to meet new and fascinating people, hear about the thoughts and dreams of others, or observe the way people we meet from different backgrounds and cultures live their lives and navigate through their sense of fulfillment, happiness, and meaning.

Besides the people, the history found in Italy brings the past alive. I have a big imagination, and it only takes a hike up to one of the 16th-century towers in Salento for me to touch the stone and visualize the soldier sending signals to the next tower that pirates have been sighted on the horizon, that an invasion may be imminent and that one's life would depend on how fast the community could mobilize. I imagine soldiers jumping on their horses to warn the townspeople, and the population fleeing to the hills to hide; thus, a story is born.

I could go on and on, but it is all summed up in the affirmation: Yes, living in Italy generates new stories from the past and present that invite me to write them down and share.

I hope this story continues.

More next time.

My book is "Stories from Puglia: Two Californians in Southern Italy." Amazon US:

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