by Joanna Hershon
Issue #39 • May 30, 2004•Buy Now!
Edited by Hannah Tinti
Mark Fabrizio had a famous father. He had a father who was famous for a shocking public sculpture that had long since fallen out of favor, but still.
When Franco Fabrizio was all hopped up on New York, in love with probably no more than the reception of his early work, he had married Lily Shein, the striking only child of two art historians. Seven months later Marco was born, and five days after that, Lily found her new husband screwing the baby nurse. Franco screwed this pliant Haitian woman who’d been such a comfort to Lily, who’d produced, after all, four healthy children of her own; Franco screwed her in Marco’s room while Marco slept. Later, Franco soulfully apologized. He said that it was nothing, Lily was perfect, the perfect mother of his perfect child—“I’m no Roman Catholic!” she’d cried hysterically, hormones still reeling. “They don’t teach us how to do this!”
Marco became Mark and lived on West End Avenue with his mother Lily, a dark blond with a low voice, who never spoke her accomplished and mellifluous Italian again.
Joanna received a Masters of Fine Arts in fiction from Columbia University in 1999. Her first novel, Swimming (Ballantine), was published in February 2001, followed by The Outside of August (Ballantine), in July 2003. She’s currently collaborating on an original screenplay with actress/writer Jen Albano in addition to working on her third novel, which is set during the 1800’s in both Germany and the American Southwest.
Q&A by Hannah Tinti
HT: Where did the idea for this story come from?
JH: My husband and I spend a few months every year in Mexico, and one evening at dinner, our friend—an American ex-pat who’d renovated a crumbling building into a beautiful inn—told us an affecting story about a little boy who’d shown up one day at the inn and how he’d sort of befriended this boy, eventually ending up one evening at the cemetery in town, where the boy searched in vain for his mother’s grave. Our ex-pat friend has a very wry sensibility and delivery and when he told the story it not only surprised me but I found it very moving and couldn’t get it out of my head.
HT: What was the most challenging aspect of writing this story?
JH: In some ways one of the greatest challenges was dealing with the language issue. I wanted to give the flavor of Italian being spoken by an Italian boy who is verbally challenged and an American who is not entirely fluent in Italian, and while I didn’t want to write solely in English, I also couldn’t be too literal and write the scenes completely in Italian.
HT: Your descriptions throughout this story are so precise. Have you spent much time in Italy?
JH: Thanks—I’d never written about Italy before, and I decided to set the story there because I wanted to delve into a particular setting that has haunted me since I spent time there a few years ago. I’ve recently had some lucky opportunities to travel to different regions in Italy, in addition to studying in Florence for a semester in college.
HT: Why did you include the character of Paolo in this story? What does he represent?
JH: As I mentioned earlier, the boy was really the genesis of this story, though as I changed locations and developed characters, his details began to emerge. I rarely think of characters as representative of ideas—or if I do it’s only after the story is complete and has its own life—but I do think Paolo represents the ugly face of infidelity—the hurtful consequences that no one wants to face.
HT: How long did it take you to complete this story?
JH: I think I wrote a draft over the course of about a month, and then I reworked it over a few more months.
HT: What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever received?
JH: That’s a tough one. I think the overarching concept of creating scenes—turning abstractions into actions. Put it in scene.
HT: What are you working on now?
JH: I’m writing a novel about German Jews in the mid-1800’s who immigrated to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Also—totally unrelated—I’m finishing up an original screenplay with my fabulous screenwriting partner Jen Albano.