A Predictable Disaster
By Ann Siracusa
Readers always want to know where authors get their story ideas. This is how my new release All For A Fist Full Of Ashes, second novel in the Tour Director Extraordinaire series, came about.
The first book, All For A Dead Man's Leg, was an experiment to see if I could write in first person and write humor. I'd never done either. The romantic suspense featured a young tour director finding out what life was all about and a Europol spy with a dark past. I loved the characters, and I loved the voice, but I never intended to write a series featuring Harriet Ruby and Will Talbot. So, needless to say, the second book wasn’t planned.
In early 2005, my Italian-American daughter-in-law and some members of her family decided to take a trip to Italy in the summer. She was taking her son, my grandson, so I decided to make the trip with another grandson who was about the same age.
After mass confusion, and a lot of family members wanting to go and then opting out, it ended up with thirteen Italian-Americans, including four teenagers, and my daughter-in-law's father, Vita Zaso, who was grew up in Palermo.
Oh, man! Knowing the way Italians make group decisions, the trip was going to be a predictable disaster. So I decided I should at least get the material for a book out of it.
Part of our Italian-American family
The four teenagers and Italian friends plus Vito
A group of Italian-Americans taking a tour of Italy was a natural for my heroine Harriet Ruby, Tour Guide Extraordinaire. And if Harriet was my heroine, I needed Will Talbot on the trip with a spy story for him to chase after. So I came up with a story idea based on some family history and wrote the first three chapters before the trip, in part so I knew what to look for. The working title was "The Italian Train Wreck" and, as you can imagine, that's what the trip turned out to be.
The characters in the book are fictitious, and not based on my relatives―the reviewer for Coffee Time Romance, wrote she didn't think there was a more obnoxious family on the planet than the Spinella/Mazza clan―but the trip provided many incidents that spiced up the novel and quite a few that didn't get into the book.
About "All For A Fist Full Of Ashes"
Breathless Press Buy Link
E-book format only – 97K
E-book format only – 97K
In All For A Fist Full of Ashes, tour director Harriet Ruby and Europol spy and special operative, Will Talbot (who've been seeing each other for a year since meeting in Morocco), come together in Italy where their work assignments again overlap. Harriet is conducting a custom tour for fourteen members of an Italian-American family. The family matriarch is on a quest to find the unknown location of her mother's grave so she can bury her brother's cremated ashes which have been smuggled into Italy wrapped in Cuban cigars. Will has one of the family members under surveillance as a suspect in an assassination conspiracy.
Charming the matriarch, Will coaxes an invitation from her to join the tour. The quirky family members, including the four unruly teenagers and a pet green tree python named Fluffy, sweep through Italy in search of relatives and a lost grave and leave chaos, hilarity, and danger in their wake.
Will and Harriet find traveling together for twenty-four hours a day threatens their budding relationship which is fraught trust issues. Harriet wants to be involved in everything, and Will won't tell her anything about his case. Harriet's intervention leads her to intuit the time, place and victim of the conspiracy. Unable to reach Will, she puts herself in danger to thwart the assassination.
I’m Harriet Ruby: Tour Director Extraordinaire. At least, I thought I was worthy of that title.
My first mistake: Agreeing to conduct a private tour of Italy. Fourteen Italian-Americans from New Jersey? All family, for three weeks, with four teenagers? What was I thinking? Fate responds to my engraved invitation by placing one of the family members under surveillance as a suspect in an assassination plot. And who is assigned to the case? None other than my favorite drop-dead-gorgeous spy, Will Talbot.
My second mistake: Allowing Will to coax an invitation from the family matriarch to join the tour.
And that was just the beginning. The matriarch, searching for the unknown location of her mother's grave so she can bury her brother's cremated ashes (which have been smuggled into Italy wrapped in Cuban cigars), and her quirky family members sweep through Italy leaving chaos, hilarity, and danger in their wake.
The Story Behind The Story
This story is based loosely on my husband's maternal grandmother, Orsola Giannoni, born in Florence, who met a Sicilian sailor at a festival and married him against her family's wishes. As a result, they disowned her and severed all contact. (In those days, Sicilians were considered lower than pond slime by northern Italians, and some says that's still true.) My husband says his grandmother had red hair, blue eyes, and never spoke Sicilian in all the years she lived in Sicily because she thought it was such an ugly dialect.
She never heard from her family again.
During WWII, when the Americans were bombing Messina (Sicily), my husband, in his early teens, and his family left the city and lived in Bordonaro, a mountain town not too far away. Three families lived together in an old barn. Orsola, then an old woman, died during the heaviest part of the bombing.
WWII photos of bombing in Messina
Because of the attack, there was no one to take the body away. The families that lived in the barn built a coffin out of the dining table, the only wood available, and used the casket as a table for several days. My mother-in-law used to tell the story of crying all through the meals and asking, "Mamma, do you want a glass of wine?" When the bombing stopped, government officials took away all the dead bodies en mass (many had been killed), and the family never found out where Orsola was buried.
Another ironic piece of the story behind the story is the brouhaha over the cremated ashes. A year after the book was written, Vito Zaso died. At his request, he was cremated and my daughter-in-law and her siblings took the ashes to Palermo to be inured with other members of his family. They went through all kinds of misery and discontent getting the ashes into Italy. Ultimately, they didn't have to smuggle the ashes wrapped in cigars, but at one point it seemed like that might be the best shot. The incident validated my research, and I dedicated the book to Vito.
Of all the books I've written, this was the most fun.
Also, my oldest son has raised and bred green tree pythons and other constrictors since he was in middle school, so I have "unwilling" experience with snakes. However, no one brought a snake on the real trip. Thank goodness.