Interview with Gail Mencini, Author of It Happened in Tuscanny
18 Feb 2020
What can you tell us about your new release, It Happened in Tuscany?
I moved to Colorado in 1981 and soon learned about the Army’s 10th Mountain Division who trained at Camp Hale in the Rocky Mountains. Their bravery, rigorous training, and victorious battles in Italy fascinated me, which led me to devour information about them. I wanted to write a story to recognize and honor the 10th Mountain Division Ski Troops, as well as my father and father-in-law, who were both proud veterans of World War II. The tale that developed in my imagination about one of these brave skier and mountaineer soldiers became It Happened in Tuscany.
What or who inspired you to become an author?
I was born and raised in a rural community in Nebraska where everyone knew their neighbors and summers were spent outdoors—working, playing, or watching fireflies. My love for reading books and imaging characters and their stories germinated during those days of creating my own world.
One hot July summer in Key West, my husband and I toured Ernest Hemingway’s house. Smacked in the face with the master writer’s ghost and palpable presence, I confessed my secret desire to write books. Unlike me, my husband felt only the heat and humidity and not a trace of Ernest. My confession led to a novel that won contests, but otherwise never saw the light of day. Years of writing, revising, and rejections occurred, and then kernel of an idea, and several trips to Italy, evolved to my debut novel To Tuscany with Love.
What’s on your top 5 list for the best books you’ve ever read?
Moon-Spinners by Mary Stewart – I read this as a young girl and fell in love with romantic suspense novels and exotic travels. My life as a voracious reader began. I started my “Europe Travel Fund” when I closed the covers of this book.
Mila 18 by Leon Uris – I list one, but in truth, anything by Leon Uris is a favorite of mine. The novel Mila 18 informed me of the courage of the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto and the horrific events and conditions that led to the Uprising during World War II. I credit this book for beginning my fascination with fiction centered around WW II.
Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow — This introduced me to thrillers, which is a genre I continue to read on vacations with my husband. His creation of this novel while commuting to work intrigued me and made me wonder if I, too, could create novels while keeping my day job.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K Rowling — I admire and credit J.K. Rowling for making readers of young adults around the world. I loved the entire series and have wonderful memories of discovering the world of Hogwarts with my youngest son and devouring each series book in succession.
Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver – I fell in love with the lushness of her prose and how she makes the tiniest piece of the natural world seductive. This beautiful read weaves nature’s predators and preys and the story’s human characters together in vital and interdependent relationships.
Say you’re the host of a literary talk show. Who would be your first guest? What would you want to ask?
I would love to interview John Steinbeck. I think discussing the banning of his novel The Grapes of Wrath, particularly today the media is scrutinized for their choices of what and how to report stories, would be a fascinating, multi-faceted dialogue.
What’s your favorite thing about writing?
I love getting to know my characters and hearing their voices in my head.
What is a typical day like for you?
I’m an early riser. My block of writing time starts as soon as morning rituals—exercising, walking the dog, and making breakfast—are completed. I write at either at my desk in front of window or outside on our patio. I write until my eyes are too tired for me to continue, and only break for a short lunch. The remainder of the afternoon and evening is spent on email, creating new recipes, planning travel for my husband and I, and visiting with family and friends.
What scene in It Happened in Tuscany was your favorite to write?
My favorite scene is the reader’s introduction to Will and Sophie together, where we meet cantankerous Will.
Do you have a motto, quote or philosophy you live by?
When I got breast cancer, my writing had stalled because I let rejections affect my belief in myself as a writer. I fought cancer, determined to survive. One phrase challenged me to believe in myself as a writer. “If not now, when?”
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