Thursday, December 12, 2013

Aloha to Pamela Schoenewaldt and SWIMMING IN THE MOON

Pamela Schoenewaldt returns today as a guest blogger to celebrate the release of SWIMMING IN THE MOON. From her bio (link),

Pamela Schoenewaldt lived for ten years in a small town outside Naples, Italy. Her short stories have appeared in literary magazines in England, France, Italy and the United States. Her play, “Espresso con mia madre” (Espresso with my mother) was performed at Teatro Cilea in Naples. She taught writing for the University of Maryland, European Division and the University of Tennessee and now lives in Knoxville, Tennessee with her husband, Maurizio Conti, a physicist, and their dog Jesse, a philosopher.
So I ask her how living abroad shaped her as a writer ....
Castle del Monte in Southern Italy
Image released to Public Domain (link)

Both of my historical novels, When We Were Strangers (HarperCollins, 2011) and Swimming in the Moon (HarperCollins, 2013) begin in Southern Italy. This is pretty much related to the fact that I lived there for ten years (1990-2000). Not that I’m an expert, but I was deeply affected by my experience there and “deeply affected” is a good start for writing. I should be clear that I didn’t go because of any deep, general adoration of Italy. No, it was because of one particular, adorable Italian physicist, Maurizio, now my husband. We met in San Francisco where I lived, and when he got a job at the University of Naples I considered hard (for 3-4, maybe 5 minutes) and concluded that it would be better to try, even if things didn’t work out, than ask myself years later, “suppose I had . . .”

My first hit of Italy wasn’t promising. I’d exchanged sunny Northern California for gray cold of Naples winter, an unheated two-room, one window apartment in a narrow alley in the dark, crime-ridden center of Naples. In California, I was a freelance writer, proficient in my language; in Naples, our neighbors spoke a dialect far from the standard Italian I was frantically studying. I was in love, but still, it was rough. Note: we moved soon, I learned Italian, got a job, made a good life. So the trajectory was definitely up.

But from first shock to the bittersweet moment of leaving a land that had become mine and the dear friends I’d made there, I became convinced that living in a strange place is a perfect writer’s training. You don’t know the rules so you have to observe carefully, noting non-verbal clues and context. I try to paint a vivid picture of place in my writing: the sights, smells, tastes and feelings around my characters. All this observing helps.

Here’s an example. Soon after I’d gotten there, our unpleasant landlord’s even more unpleasant brother asked me the time. After I told him in Italian, he grabbed my wrist to look at my watch himself. Was he a creep or was this invasion of personal space just part of life in Naples? (Answer: he was a creep). Conversely, when people showed incredible, over-the-top attention to my handicapped father’s infirmities, well, that’s just how Neapolitans are.

As a stranger, you’re curious, or should be, which fuels a sponge-like capacity to learn history, culture and practices. I know much more about Naples history than about many places I’ve lived in the U.S. Learning, and learning how to learn about a place helps a writer. Of course, particular places are inspiring. My Italian teacher lived in Palazzo Donn'Anna, whose lurid past figures in Swimming in the Moon. Her parents' elegant apartment was the inspiration for the Contessa Elisabetta's villa.

Because you’re new, you try not to jump to conclusions but wait and withhold judgment. Things may not be as they seem. That quality helps a writer. You discover layers and textures, nuances and ironies below the surface. Little things delight, amaze or trouble you and effective fiction is about a texture of carefully wrought “little things.”

So, in conclusion, being an immigrant, a stranger, a visitor, is a challenge and a gift. Used carefully, that experience makes us better writers, better observers, and, I hope, better citizens of our small planet.

Pamela Schoenewaldt

Swimming, er, surfing in the Pacific.
The moon, of course, controls the tides.

Mahalo, Pamela!   I am giving away a print copy of SWIMMING IN THE MOON:

Italy, 1905. Fourteen-year-old Lucia and her young mother, Teresa, are servants in a magnificent villa on the Bay of Naples, where Teresa soothes their unhappy mistress with song. But volatile tempers force them to flee, exchanging their warm, gilded cage for the cold winds off Lake Erie and Cleveland's restless immigrant quarters.

With a voice as soaring and varied as her moods, Teresa transforms herself into the Naples Nightingale on the vaudeville circuit. Clever and hardworking, Lucia blossoms in school until her mother's demons return, fracturing Lucia's dreams.

Yet Lucia is not alone in her struggle for a better life. All around her, friends and neighbors, new Americans, are demanding decent wages and working conditions. Lucia joins their battle, confronting risks and opportunities that will transform her and her world in ways she never imagined.

To enter the giveaway,

1.  Leave a comment about Italy - what do you know about it?

2.  This giveaway is open to all readers.

3.  Comments are open through Saturday, December 14, 10 pm in Baltimore.  I'll post the winner on Sunday, December 15.


Kim in Baltimore
Aloha Spirit in Charm City


  1. I know more about Sicily but it's almost the same thing lol. I know I love the food and that family is very important.

  2. I know that there are many places I would love to visit in Italy someday. Rome, Venice, Florence, art work, historic sites, beautiful scenery. Oh and the food. I want to go there and eat.

  3. I do know that I would love to visit. It's the history that draws me more then anything else.

  4. I have been to Italy many times. My favorite was Amalifi.

  5. I do know my ancestors come from Italy and I have many relatives still there. Yet I've never been . But it's on my list of places to visit along with Scotland and Ireland.
    I would love to read this book as well as When We Were Strangers. Thanks for the interview.
    Carol L
    Lucky4750 (at) aol (dot) com

  6. I don't know a lot but I do think that their food is delicious.

  7. I've been to Italy and absolutely loved it. Rome was amazing, and my Mother-in-Law had an audience with the Pope. I have to say that I found the scenery of Northern Italy spectacular.

  8. I don't really know anything about Italy, but it is one of the places I've had on my list to visit. My former father-in-law was born in a small village in Italy. And he also used to drive trucks of bootlegged liquor for Legs Diamond!

  9. Love Italy! I traveled to Turin, Roma, and Latina with a friend of the friend. I lapped up the sights, atmosphere, and pasta!

    Thanks for the giveaway!


  10. I don't know much about Italy, but I'd love to visit for the scenery and the food. Yum.

    Marcy Shuler

  11. Both sets of my grandparents are from different parts of Italy. I went to Italy years ago and fell in love with this country. I know some information about this country! Ciao

  12. I went to Italy about 5 years ago--went to Positano and toured the Almafi coast. Beautiful. Food was great. I married an Italian--his mom taught me how to cook the foods that he liked. I was introduced to Galeto. Oh my is it good.