Welcome to the three hundred and sixty-seventh of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with historical author, poet and Post-weekend poetry contributor Elizabeth Vallone. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Elizabeth. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
I came to be a writer in a circuitous way. I was going for a master’s degree in counselling and development and my professor suggested I become a writer. He said he loved the voice in my research papers. I finished my degree but also started taking writing courses. I had always wanted to be a writer but life took down other paths.
Morgen: Life has a habit of doing that, doesn’t it. I didn’t know what I wanted to do until a couple of years ago by which time writing had definitely had its hooks into me. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Elizabeth: I write historical fiction I guess because from childhood I’ve always read biographies of historical figures and later historical fiction. It’s what I am drawn to.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Elizabeth: I write under my own name, Elizabeth Vallone, though my first work of historical fiction was under E.P. Vallone. Beyond Bagheria was a work of historical fiction set in New Orleans in 1920. In addition, I’ve been a contributing editor on a couple of anthologies. One was Imprints on Rockland County History – the Biographies of 12 Women and Curaggia—the Writings of Italian American Women.
Morgen: Historical is incredibly popular. I had three agents tell me at Winchester Writers Conference last year that they want more of it (and crime). Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Elizabeth: Have had plenty of rejections and I just felt one day my day would come.
Morgen: I feel like that now. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Elizabeth: My editors function as my agents. They were instrumental in getting the book published and finding venues to promote my book.
Morgen: Are your books available as eBooks? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Elizabeth: I’m a paper book person or audiobook person. My book is not available as an ebook right now.
Morgen: I love audiobooks as they mean I’m able to multi-task. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Elizabeth: I do much of the marketing, I find venues and I do power point presentations which dance around my story and give a historical perspective. One presentation is Constance de Hauteville and the Italy that Nobody Knows and the other is Italian Unification—It Didn’t Start When You Think It Did. My editors also find venues that I might speak at.
Morgen: A couple of years ago (November 2010) I was volunteering at Chorleywood Literature Festival, here in the UK, and watched English TV personality and author Peter Snow do a talk for over an hour on Wellington with no notes, only slides, it was incredible. There’s nothing quite like seeing someone live… I guess a bit like musicians. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Elizabeth: Barbarossa’s Princess, my recently published work, was a labor of love so it is my favourite.
I believe Kate Winslet would make a terrific Constance de Hauteville. She resembles Constance, is the right age and has the theatrical experience to do a great job. I personally feel she would get an Oscar out of it.
Morgen: Ooh, wouldn’t it be good if someone she knew was reading this? Did you have any say in the title / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Elizabeth: The title of the book was a joint effort with the editors. We came up with Barbarossa’s Princess and numerous suggestions. Regarding the cover, one of my editors is an art critic and knows an awful lot about art. He suggested I look at works by Dante Rossetti. I came to Rosetti’s work “The Beloved” and thought it was made for Barbarossa’s Princess. When I called and told him my thoughts, he said that was the very one the two editors had in mind so that’s what we went with. It’s a lovely cover of a beautiful piece of artwork which the Tate Modern gave permission to use.
Morgen: It is beautiful. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Elizabeth: I’m working on a book whose working title is Bavarian Blue. It’s set in WWI Hoboken, New Jersey. Few people know that when WWI erupted, President Woodrow Wilson evicted the Germans of Hoboken from their homes and businesses. because of the strategic location of the town just across the river from NYC. Hoboken was predominantly populated by people of German ancestry. It changed the complexion of the town, giving the more newly arrived Irish and Italian the jobs and power in town.
Morgen: You sound so busy, do you manage to write every day?
Elizabeth: When I’m on a roll, I write every day. I’m a morning person and basically roll out of bed and write until noon. I find I get my best ideas in the morning.
Morgen: I’m definitely a morning person too. Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Elizabeth: When I have writer’s block, I work on other things, ideas for stories, poetry. I keep out the other works for about a month and then go back renewed and ready to work on the original piece.
Morgen: Variety keeps a brain active. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Elizabeth: Every story is different. With Beyond Bagheria and Barbarossa’s Princess, I had the idea and knew what my ending was going to be. I start writing and aim for the end. With my newest work Bavarian Blue, I don’t know how it’s going to end and it’s really 3 stories in one so I’m having a really interesting time trying to figure things out.
Morgen: I’m mid-way through fourth edits to my chick-lit and I’ve often said it’s my least favourite aspect of writing but I’ve not touched it for a year and am really enjoying getting to know my characters again. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Elizabeth: I use history as my frame for building the character and the story. Of course, a lot of imagination is at work filling in dialogues and situations that might have occurred as I go from point A to B to Z in the character’s life.
I try to use names of people I’ve met who have stayed with me. For instance in Barbarossa’s Princess, Constance servant is called. Almudena. I had a Spanish teacher whose given name was Almudena and I’ve always liked it. It sounded right for the servant. There are a lot of names of minor characters that are names of people who have drifted in and out of my life.
Morgen: Of course they have to be authentic, don’t they. Do you write any non-fiction, poetry or short stories?
Elizabeth: When I need therapy, I write sonnets to release whatever is bothering me.
Morgen: Some of which you’ve kindly shared on this blog’s Post-weekend poetry page. I mentioned editing a moment ago, do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Elizabeth: Do I do a lot of editing? I think that’s all an author does is write, edit, write, edit, edit, write.
Morgen: With a lot of vacuuming, washing up and anything else they can find to do in between. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person?
Elizabeth: In Barbarossa’s Princess I used both the first person and third person. It seems to work out well.
Morgen: It’s become very popular to do that and I know quite a few novels which have alternate viewpoint chapters so you get to know both sides of the… um, pardon the pun, story. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Elizabeth: I had written the biography of a gentlemen called, Hezekiah Easter, who was the first African American legislator in Rockland County, NY. There seemed to be an interest and then the people who were interested in my doing it seemed to just vanish.
Morgen: That’s a shame. Maybe they’ll be renewed interest given your other books are now out. I said that editing (is often) my least favourite aspect of writing, what’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Elizabeth: The least favourite thing about ones writing life is that you have to go out and promote the book once it is done. I wish I could leave that to someone else. The most favourite aspect of writing is how the ideas come to you and how you weave them into the tapestry that ends up being the final product.
Morgen: It would be nice to have more time to do what we love best, to write, isn’t it? Although equally it’s great getting to chat to the readers directly. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Elizabeth: Write, write, write and keep on writing. Let other writers critique your work. If you don’t like what they have to say have a good cry and then step back and see what criticism is real to you and what is not and go with that.
Morgen: and join a writing group. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Elizabeth: I would love to invite Constance de Hauteville and her son Emperor Frederick Hohenstaufen II to dinner as well as Frederick paramour, Bianca Lancia. Think it would be really interesting to see the interaction between Frederick and his mother since she died so young so they really didn’t really know each other. I’d invite Bianca Lancia because she was supposed to be the only wife he really loved.
I would have my son-in-law, Chris Ravanello, cook a wonderful venison dinner with wonder vegetable dishes. He’s just won the NYC Almost Famous Chef competition and he loves to cook.
Morgen: Oh wow. What a useful person to know. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Elizabeth: I’m a docent for the Hermitage museum in Ho-ho-kus, New Jersey. I give tours of a house that dates back to before the Revolutionary War. Lots of famous Americans stayed at the house including Marquis de Lafayette.
Morgen: Hence your interest in history (one of my worst subjects at school). What do you do when you’re not writing?
Elizabeth: I love taking long walks, do yoga, see films, attend the theatre when I’m not writing and visiting my family.
Morgen: Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Elizabeth: I’m on Facebook, of course, and Twitter and Linkedin. Find great networking opportunities there.
Morgen: They’re great, aren’t they. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Elizabeth: Just want to say that your audience would find Barbarossa’s Princess riveting. There is intrigue, violence, love and ultimate triumph. Besides that they will learn about medieval beauty treatment, gynaecological and obstetric practices, history. They will be amazed at the Norman Sicilian Court and the de Hauteville family.
Morgen: Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Elizabeth: No, but I would like to thank you so much for the opportunity of telling you about Barbarossa’s Princess.
Morgen: You’re so welcome, Elizabeth. Do come back and do something else when you have time.
Elizabeth Vallone possesses a B.A. and M.S. degree from Montclair State University and Long Island University. She is a teacher and freelance writer. A contributing author to the anthologies Imprints on Rockland County History (1983) and Curragia: Writings of Italian-American Women (1998), Mrs. Vallone published Stone Perpendicular to Stone—A Tribute to the Land of My Ancestors in 1997. In 2005, Beyond Bagheria, a first attempt at historical fiction set in the New Orleans of the 1920s was published. Mrs. Vallone is currently working on historical fiction set in WWI Hoboken, NJ. She lives in Rockland County with her husband.
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