In her latest and 18th book, Adriana Trigiani pays tribute to her late mother, the Big Band Era and the Jersey Shore.
Trigiani has written a book a year since 2000 and has also done a couple of screenplays. The latest is a family saga, tracing one woman’s life from just after she’s out of high school to her death as an old woman. In this passage from “Tony’s Wife, Harper, pp 496, $28.99) readers are introduced to the main character.
“Chi Chi Donatelli’s feet sank so deeply into the cool, wet sand, she closed her eyes and imagined them taking root below the silt, embedding themselves into the earth and spreading into tangled vines of curlicues, multiplying until they covered the ocean floor. That’s the effect Count Basie’s music had on her. His lush orchestrations filled the spaces of the world for her until there was nothing left as she listened to Swingin’ the Blues on WBGO out of Newark. The factory girl held a transistor radio up to her ear and pressed it close, as though it were a dial and she were a safecracker. She would not miss a single note.”
The book contains many mentions of home-cooked Italian meals and Trigiani confirms these are from family recipes. She listened to her dad’s vinyl while working on this and just before heading to Tenafly for her book tour, Trigiani spoke with New Jersey Authors. What follows is an edited version of that conversation.
What attracted you to big band era?
It’s the music of my parents and my grandparents. My father was in college in the ’50s and I said, “Why weren’t you listening to rock ‘n’ roll?” And he would say, “Who would listen to rock ‘n’ roll if you had big band?” My father was on “The Ed Sullivan Show” with the Notre Dame Glee Club three times. And there’s a tip of my hat to my dad. (The Sullivan show is in the book.)
Why have the Jersey Shore as the anchor for the main character?
It’s the Italian-American Riviera. My father’s people, from Northern Pennsylvania, a lot of theirthem had homes by the shore.
My grandmother Viola’s sister had a house by the shore. Atlantic City was a really big deal. I had cousins that lived there and it was a very, very cool place to me. My parents were self-employed. Their idea of a family vacation was you went to visit family and washed their cars.
What was it about Sea Isle that called to you?
There were these nuns I read about and I started tracking these nuns. I found a postcard with a house from Sea Isle City, New Jersey and I carried it around with me.
Sea Isle has fallen into obscurity. And, I like the word isle. New Jersey was always the place for me. Anything that borders the ocean to me also felt very European. That’s just me but it seems exotic, interesting and something to be reckoned with.
What is so funny now is I do so much touring in New Jersey and I always get a thrill when I know I am going to Spring Lake to the library or to St. Elizabeth’s. My aunt went there to college.
My father, when I was not well behaved, would say: “I am going to send you away to a convent in New Jersey.” And when I finally went there it was fantastic. I could have gone.
When writing, do you begin with a character or situation?
Usually with a death of somebody real and I want to remember them and start digging. With this it was the death of my mom.
What is your writing process?
I walk around with spiral notebooks. I don’t know what I will ever do. I write a lot because I love to write with my hands, then I type it up, then I outline, then I refine everything in the manuscript.
Which authors do you reread?
Ben Hecht, and I love Charlotte Bronte.
Where did you get your first library card and could you share a memory of the library?
My first library card was in Big Stone Gap, Virginia at the Wise County Bookmobile. I was 6-years-old. It was an old bread truck, painted brown.
Novelist Adriana Trigiani pays homage to Jersey Shore