WATCH OUT: Kimberly Menozzi Interview
SC: I want to welcome you all to another edition of Watch Out. This week I’m excited to bring you author Kimberly Menozzi.
Welcome to Watch Out, Kimberly, it is so great to have you here.
KM: Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure.
SC: For the readers out there who might not know about you or your work, can you please tell them a little about yourself?
KM: This is always the hardest part, isn’t it? (laughs) I grew up in the Southern U.S. but I moved to Italy from Tennessee seven-and-a-half years ago, after I met my husband Alessandro. I’ve been writing since I was eight years old and writing is really the only thing I’ve ever had a real passion for. I’m a storyteller in spite of myself, I think, because I can’t keep from telling stories. What I write is inspired by the things I see every day, or by the people and the things I love most. My day job, however, is teaching English Conversation classes at a language school here in Reggio Emilia.
SC: Can you tell us a little about your current release Ask Me If I’m Happy?
KM: Certainly. Ask Me if I’m Happy is the story of two people who meet by chance and fall for each other, but who share an unexpected and potentially distressing connection which was previously unknown to them. The underlying theme is about how we sabotage ourselves when it comes to getting and keeping the things we want most in life, although we sometimes act with the purest intentions at the outset. The novel is set in the city of Bologna, Italy, which is one of my favourite places and which is decidedly neglected as a setting in fiction (in my opinion).
SC: Which do you prefer, eBooks or paperbacks?
KM: Oh, I’m a paperback/hardcover girl, me. I have the Kindle reader for PC, and I have Calibre to read and convert other formats as well, but nothing can take the place of my paperbacks or hardcover books. I love them – the smell, the feel of the paper, the weight in my hand – and unlike an e-reader, I don’t have to worry about breaking it if I drop it on the floor!
SC: What influences the topics and genres that you pick to write a story in?
KM: Life and my own sometimes twisted imagination create the topics. (laughs) In that respect I’m inspired by everything in different measures. Ask Me if I’m Happy came about because I was homesick for Italy when I visited my family in the US a few years ago. I saw a TV show about Bologna and in no time, a short story was born. Of course, I’m terrible at writing short stories, so it kept growing and growing, and soon I had a full novel on my hands. As for genres, well, I don’t think about genre when I write. I’m told that my stories are literary with strong romantic elements, and I think that’s because I read a little of everything and that’s what comes out when I write. But I don’t say “I’m going to write Literary Fiction this time out,” and then work to fit that category. I just write and figure it out later as best I can.
SC: One thing readers might be surprised to know about you?
KM: My husband and I met online. We belonged to the same internet forum (devoted to the Britpop band Pulp) and I shared the first chapters of a novel I’d written which was inspired by Pulp’s music. Alessandro read those chapters and wrote to let me know how much he’d enjoyed them. One thing led to another, and we started talking on the phone even though he was in Italy and I was in Tennessee. A couple of months later – in August of 2003 – he came to the US to meet me in person. We were married February 28th, 2004.
SC: Your favourite part about being an author?
KM: Losing myself in another world in my head while sitting at the keyboard, only to find the whole day is just…gone. Also, I love my dreams – they’re so vivid and real, sometimes, it’s hard to tell when I’m awake and when I’m asleep. A lot of story ideas come from my dreams.
SC: Describe your book in 3 words.
KM: Romantic. Realistic. Absorbing.
SC: What are you currently reading?
KM: At this moment, I’m reading Life of Pi. I know, I’m a couple of years behind the curve, right?
SC: Currently listening to?
KM: Quite literally, I’m listening to “Una Delirante Poesia” by Samuele Bersani – an Italian singer-songwriter I’ve had a crush on since I first heard his music. His words and music are amazing and he provided the “soundtrack” while I was writing Ask Me if I’m Happy. The song I mention had a profound impact on the feel of the story, and the title of the novel comes from his song “Chiedimi se sono Felice”.
SC: What do you think sets your stories apart from other authors?
KM: Oohhh… That’s hard to answer without seeming big-headed… I think what sets my stories apart is that I don’t deal in stereotypes, I write realistic characters (even if that means risking alienation – briefly – from the reader) and I research like crazy. I do my best to make it difficult (I wish for “impossible”) for a reader to say “That could never happen!” when reading my work. Some suspension of disbelief is necessary sometimes, but I don’t want it to be a requirement to enjoy the entire story.
SC: When searching for the next book to read what is the first thing you look for?
KM: The right voice. I pick a book up, flip to a page at random and start reading. If the voice is right, I’ll take it home. Sometimes I don’t enjoy a book the first time, so I’ll put it aside and try it again later. It’s very rare that I can’t find something to like about a book, or a story, but it does happen. Sometimes I just want to read a story I can relate to, so I look for something that touches on my interests. Right now I’m on a search for good fiction titles related to road cycling. Could I be more specific than that? (laughs)
SC: If you could live the life of one character from any book for one day who would you pick and what book is the character from?
KM: Wow. I don’t know. I think I’d like to be Tiana in Walk in My Soul (Lucia St. Clair-Robson) – just for one day. She was a Beloved Woman of the Cherokee, and though her life was difficult, as written, she seems like such a peaceful soul. I’d love to have lived in that time, when the Smoky Mountains were pure and whole.
SC: Favourite word?
KM: My favourite word in English would be: Frisky. It’s just so fun and light and silly.
My favourite word in Italian would be: Bacio – kiss. My students like to argue with me on this one, but I think it’s a great word – and it’s impossible to say it without looking like you want one.
SC: Is there anything you’re currently working on that you can give us a taste of?
KM: At present I’m working on a story set in the world of professional road cycling (like in le Tour de France). This has been my “dream project” for some time, and it’s taking longer than planned because I’ve had some big personal setbacks since I began writing it. Here’s an excerpt from the first draft, where Abigail is watching a time trial at the beginning of the (fictional) Tour d’Europa, the biggest race in professional cycling:
…Time passed rather slowly in between arrivals, too. The crowd would start getting anxious as each rider approached, then flags and signs of all sorts and sizes would be waving, people would cheer – not only for their favourite rider, but for each and every rider as they came in.
All at once, there were excited shouts and piercing whistles all around me. Everyone had turned to watch the giant screens on the sides of the road, so I did, too. Renard, the rider Charles had pointed out to me, the one who looked so angry, had cleared the second checkpoint in record time. He was presently burning up the road on the descents out of the park, occasionally seeming to leave the motorcycle cameramen behind since they weren’t willing to take the curves at the same rate of speed as he.
As we watched, he scraped past another cyclist after a curve and flew down to the straightaway beyond. The next switchbacks in the road made us gasp collectively – by now my heart was pounding so hard I could scarcely breathe – and finally he swept past another rider and out onto the somewhat more open roads.
The commentators grew progressively more animated as his ride went on. When the coverage switched to a different rider for a few moments, the calming of the crowd was palpable.
Before long, the crowd tensed, watching along the road for the first sight of him. On the screen, however, another dramatic scene was playing out: Renard had just surpassed the time of his teammate and fan favourite, Heinrich Brunn – quite easily, by the look of it – and was now making his way toward the finish. The mere seconds which separated them began to expand: Brunn’s time was now five seconds longer, now ten, now twenty. The standings on the screen shifted accordingly. Renard rose higher and higher, from fourth to third to second and then to a clear first-place finish.
My camera all but forgotten, I leaned over the barrier in front of me, watching eagerly for his arrival. I needn’t have worried about missing him, of course – the roar of the crowd swept along with him as he closed in on the finish line. The sound grew louder and louder, every possible noisemaker being improvised and then employed. Cheers and shouts which bordered on screams, megaphones used to amplify shouts of joy, “thundersticks” being thwapped together to produce manic, percussive sounds. People clapped their hands and banged on the barriers, jumping up and down all the while.
And then, there he was. I gathered my senses to snap the photo of him crossing the line, his arms raised over his head in a show of jubilation, an expression of complete and utter joy on his face.
The time on the chronometer overhead said it all: he’d arrived one full minute ahead of the fastest rider up to that point.
He rode straight into the waiting arms of his team handlers, his shoulders slumping as he seemed to melt into their midst. I caught glimpses of him collapsing onto the pavement, pawing at his helmet until someone helped him out of it, and then lying flat on the sidewalk just past the fencing which kept the team buses and equipment away from the general public.
His chest seemed to expand to twice its size as he gulped in breath after breath, his hands limp on his belly. All the while, though, he kept smiling.
Soon enough he was lost from my view. Only then did I realize I’d been snapping photos the whole time. No wonder I’d felt like I was right there alongside him.
A touch on my shoulder shook me out of my impending trance. I looked up into Charles’ blue eyes and wondered who he was.
“What’s all the excitement, then?”
I couldn’t answer him.
SC: What is the best advice you ever got with regards to writing?
KM: The best advice? Hmmm… I think the best advice I got was from my mentor in high school, a writer named Gabriel Horn. He said I had to give myself permission to write. A lot of people are embarrassed or shy about saying they’re writing, or that they’re writers. It took me a while to really own this, and now when people ask me what I do, I say “I’m a writer.” I started saying that before I was published, too. In fact, it wasn’t until I started saying it openly that I began to achieve my goals as a writer. Going back to the Cherokee again, they have a belief that modesty is bad. If you’re good at something, you should say you’re good at it, and be proud of your ability. If you really are skilled, there’s no reason to hide it, and writing is no exception.
SC: What is one pet peeve you have when it comes to publishing?
KM: I’m still new to the whole thing, but I think my biggest pet peeve would be the industry’s insistence on “fast reads” – you know, the big blockbuster best-sellers or “celebrity”-penned books – which are geared to drawing in people who rarely read at all. They’re generally books which don’t take time and linger over a description, or give a real sense of place. It’s all “Just the facts” even in fiction. I miss books that are full of rich language and vivid details that flesh out a story. I don’t mean that all books should be full of excessive description – if it suits the story, fine, but don’t throw it in to pad the story out. But I believe the joy of a long, luxurious read is something we ought to try to find again. Older books have this, but nowadays this is seen as a waste of time, superfluous and unnecessary. I think that’s a shame.
SC: Any advice for new writers out there?
KM: Don’t rush your work. Let the story be told to the fullest, then rewrite and revise until you have exactly what you want on the page. Also, be open to criticism and don’t be precious about your work: editors and publishers are bound to change something that you’ve written. Let them, within reason, but don’t think that your work is perfect “as-is”. I promise you, it isn’t. And hey, if you get to megastar, Stephen King-type levels of success, you can always go back and re-release your early work the way you originally wanted it to be.
SC: Where can readers find out more about you and your work?
KM: I have my own website at www.kmenozzi.com which I try to keep as up-to-date as possible. I’m also on Twitter (@KMenozzi) and Facebook. I warn anyone who follows me on Twitter, though: my tweets are random and make little sense unless you’re a writer or cycling fan. (laughs)