Guest Author Interview – Nina Romano

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Title: The Secret Language of Women: A Novel (Wayfarer Trilogy)

Genre: Historical Romance

Synopsis: Set in China in the late 1800’s, The Secret Language of Women tells the story of star-crossed lovers, Zhou Bin Lian, a Eurasian healer, and Giacomo Scimenti, an Italian sailor, driven apart by the Boxer Rebellion.

When Lian is seventeen years old, she accompanies her Swiss father, Dr. Gianluca Brasolin, fluent in Italian, to tend the Italian ambassador, at the Summer Palace of Empress Dowager, where she meets and falls in love with Giacomo.

Through voyage and adventure, their love intensifies, but soon is severed by Lian’s dutiful promise as the wife to another. Forbidden from pursuing her chosen profession as a healer, and despised because she does not have bound feet, she is forced to work in a cloisonné factory while her in-laws raise her daughter, Ya Chen. It is in Nushu, the women’s secret writing, that she chronicles her life and her hopes for the future.

Rebelling against the life forced upon her, she empowers herself to act out against the injustice and becomes the master of her own destiny. But her quest for freedom comes at a costly price: The life of someone close to her, lost in a raging typhoon, a grueling journey to the Yun-kang Caves, and a desperate search for beauty and love in the midst of brutality.

Nina Romano, Author

CH: Today’s Guest Author is Nina Romano. She is a world traveler and historical writer. Welcome to my blog, Nina.

NR: Before I answer your very interesting questions, let me say thanks for the interview.  An author always speaking about what they love doing—writing!

CH: Thanks, Nina. Since this is a historical fiction about young love—lost and found—and the consequences, can you give us a brief synopsis of the book?

NR: The Secret Language of Women is a story of star-crossed lovers, Lian, a Eurasian healer, and Giacomo a sailor in the Italian Navy. The story is set in China during the Boxer Rebellion, the driving force which separates them. Both Lian and Giacomo voyage inexorably, each searching for the other.  Their experiences and thoughts of reuniting carry them through in the midst of brutality and war.

CH: This book has won the Independent Publishers Book Award (IPPY) Gold Medal for Romance and was a Foreword Reviews Book Award Finalist. How did you come up with the premise for this series/trilogy?

NR: Interestingly enough, I wrote Lemon Blossoms, the second book first.  I had an agent who shopped the book around to publishers and the letters we received from them were all about the same—evocative writing, wonderful story—but I don’t know how to market this novel. So I took it back from the agent, saying I know how to market it and I need to write the prequel and I’d get back to her when I did.

Little did I know that it would take me close to nine years to write, revise and sculpt it into a publishable manuscript.  The sad part was when I’d finished, I sent a new query letter and a fifty-page submission to that same agent, who didn’t even bother to respond. But that’s show biz and the show must go on! Or at least the world of publishing.  That’s when I decided I’d submit directly to three small, independent publishers—skipping the agonizing querying to agents! I’d written so many that I’d begun receiving return mail with words like: GREAT QUERY! across the top, but that didn’t help get me published.

Each revision was months of rewriting and honing the story. I had done a tremendous amount of research and visited China twice.  I had many recollections from my grandfather, who had been in the Italian Navy and served during the Boxer Rebellion, but what I revised for were different things. Nine revisions and each time I read through the book it was for one thing only: POV, plot, story cohesiveness, language, characterization, format, timeline, etc. Of course, other things jump out at you when you are reading out loud, and you correct those, too. I was so upset to find several little errors after the book released—and the crushing thing about that was the publisher would not correct them.

CH: I hate it when publishers refuse to correct errors. Did you have to do any special historical research to write this book or is it all imagination?

NR: I did extensive research for history, geography, customs, cultural traditions, superstitions, food, etc.  All of my chapter titles are written, not only with an English title, but a Mandarin title, and hànzì, traditional Chinese: 漢字.

CH: I commend you for your efforts. Was it hard creating believable situations and issues or did you take them from real life and elaborate?

NR: I tried very hard to make situations and issues as close to real life as possible, culling from my own life and others.  There are things I never experienced, thank God, like rape, but I put myself in the character’s stead, and imagined living through the violence. There were many scenes in my novel, when I had to literally get up and walk away from the writing—it was so horrific. And at those times, I knew I’d hit upon raw emotion and the writing was strong.

CH: The Boxer Rebellion is a piece of history that many readers do not quite fully understand. Was it easy for you to write about this time in history?

NR: I studied the Boxer Rebellion in school, but I doubt it’s taught today and I’m sure there are many readers who’ve never heard of it.  I always knew I wanted to go to China since I was a little girl, because of my grandfather’s stories. Of course, he’d probably turn in his grave, knowing what I put the character based on him through in my novel. I can’t say it was easy to write this—it was certainly a challenge to imagine and write about this time in history, but I reveled in it. And I’m blessed with a vivid imagination.

CH: Which character was hardest to write?

NR: Believe it or not, it was Giacomo’s. I actually had started writing the novel entirely in his POV.  I was about to attend a workshop on revision at the University of Iowa, and decided I didn’t want to take pages that I’d already written, so I dashed down twenty-two new pages—we were supposed to bring twenty, but oh well—and they were in Lian’s POV.  I’d found my main character and the woman’s perspective I needed to complete the novel.

CH: Which character was your favorite to write?

NR: Without a doubt, it was the pig keeper, Zhougong. He almost stole the book!   I think, I was actually smitten with him the way Lian was taken with him. Zhuogong was her sage, and I must say that his life experiences taught me a great deal. He was a complete and absolute, all-absorbing delight to write.

CH: Which character was hardest to develop?

NR: I had several: the ship’s captain, Captain Morante, Lieutenant Rinaldi and the boy Shen.  You didn’t ask why, so I’ll skip that.

CH: Okay. What is different and exciting that you bring to your readers through your writing style?

NR: I think this book, due to the exotic world, is well-rendered because I wrote it lyrically, almost as I would a narrative poem. There are breath-taking descriptions and scenes. Perhaps, because I experienced seeing these places in China, I was able to capture them like a photograph in color, especially, the market scene in Guilin, the temple that Lian goes to pray in, and scenes along the Li River. I loved writing about the archers. I enjoyed my creation of the character of Alberico Crescitelli, Guo Xide, the priest—he was an actual person who lived and worked as a missionary in China.  I met his grand-niece in a bar in New York! I had visited the Museum of Modern Art and had a book with a Chinese cover from MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) in my hand. She noticed it and started telling me about her uncle, a Martyr of the Faith in China!  Talk about serendipity! I thanked her profusely and said that my professor/mentor, John Dufresne, always said that the Universe conspires to bring you all you need to write a novel—and she had given me a huge gift! The Empress Ci Xi is the other character in my novel that had actually lived.

CH: This book covers several years and pages. How long did it take you to write this book?

NR: Nine years.  But I wasn’t only working on the novel.  Fortunately, during this time, I was publishing poetry in journals and literary magazines and I produced several poetry collections, which were published with small, independent publishers—I’ve been truly blessed with the gift of love for heightened and poetic language.

CH: What kind of feedback are you getting from readers of this book?

NR: On Amazon and on Barnes and Noble online, The Secret Language of Women has a five star rating.

CH: Awards and Five-star reviews mean a lot. Is there anything else you would like to share about writing this book?

NR: I believe that using other languages, primarily Chinese and Italian, helped create a sense of veracity for the characters and the plot.  Of course, that’s a tricky tool, because you must always let the reader know or understand the meaning of the foreign words. I use italics for foreign words, but many authors are dropping that.  However, I think it’s important.

CH: Is there a message in your novel that you want the readers to grasp?

NR: I’ve created a strong woman’s personality for my character, Lian. Despite many adversities and life’s cruelties, she persevered. For me, she is an exemplary role model of a person with grit and courage, resourcefulness and pluck.  Like all of us, she has flaws, but she never gave up.  I know Lian intimately and, she has the instincts and tenacity of women I’ve known—and in my own life, I try to emulate her bravura and daring.

CH: Are you currently writing the next book in the series? What is your next writing project?

NR: I just finished writing a fourth novel, which has nothing to do with my Wayfarer Trilogy, but might turn into a duology.  It’s an historical Western Romance, entitled: The Girl Who Loved Cayo Bradley. It is set between New Mexico and St. Louis, Missouri in the 1870’s.

Currently, I’m submitting the novel, and in the meantime, I’ve decided to rewrite one of my short stories, hoping to give it more of a holiday feel. When I looked at it the other day, I was shocked to see I hadn’t included it in my short story collection, The Other Side of the Gates—what an omission!

I Haven’t written poetry for some time, so I might try to wrote a few Christmas poems I promised to submit to a wonderful publisher. I’m also considering writing a novel based on my Aunt Lina’s life in Sicily during WWII. She’s 103 years old and still has all her faculties and lives alone. I speak with her frequently. She is one STRONG woman!

CH: How to Find Nina Romano:

CH: Can you tell my audience where this book is sold?

NR: This is the first book of the Wayfarer Trilogy and all three books are featured on Amazon and Barnes & Nobel online.  It also sells in Books a Million, Target, and some others.  Although, I think you must request it from the stores, or purchase it online.

CH: Any closing remarks?

NR: Thank you, Cheryl.  It’s been lovely answering your incisive questions about my first novel.  I hope there’s something in this interview that will spark a writer and impassion them enough to make them want to run to the keyboard or pull out pen and paper and write, write, write. I’d also be most pleased, if a reader that invests in my novel would kindly leave a customer review on Amazon. Reviews really do help authors sell books!

CH: Thank you so much, Nina Romano, for taking time out of your very busy writing schedule to join me and my blog followers.  It has been a real pleasure discussing your book with my audience.  And readers, if you’re like me and would enjoy this book.  I suggest you pick up a copy at your earliest convenience. 

Note: Photos/Clip art are compliments of the Internet, Nina Romano and Cheryl Holloway.

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