“Lori Nelson Spielman writes beautifully about self-discovery, forgiveness, and love. The Star Crossed Sisters of Tuscany is an insightful and tenderhearted novel that illuminates the ways in which the bonds of family can sometimes feel like a warm embrace, and other times feel as though they are tying you down. Mysterious family lore, a heartrending love story, and luminous descriptions of Italy all add up to an utterly captivating read!”—Meg Donahue, USA Today bestselling author of You, Me, and the Sea
While traveling might not be on your to do list, traveling to Tuscany by reading Lori Nelson Spielman’s latest book, The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany, could be just what you’re looking for. With a family curse that second daughters will never find true love hanging over them, cousins Emilia and Lucy travel with their great-aunt Poppy for the trip of a lifetime to beautiful Tuscany where Poppy promises them the curse will be broken when she meets her true love on the steps of the Ravello Cathedral on her 80th birthday.
In this interview Lori shares about when she came up with the idea for the novel, her favorite scene from the book (spoiler alert!) and at sneak peek at the book she’s writing next.
When did you first come up with the storyline for The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany?
First, thank you so much, Christa, for hosting me at The Avid Pen!
The idea of someone knowing they would never find love had been floating around in my head for years. I used to be a high school guidance counselor, and it wasn’t unusual for my young female students to come to me, heartbroken over some doomed teenaged romance. I tried to assure them they were young and had decades ahead of them, that if I had a crystal ball, we’d see that one day they would be happily in love.
I wondered, might the opposite be true as well? What if someone knew, from a very young age, that they would never find romantic love? Might they actually live more fully, more authentically, without the pressure of finding love? That became the premise of the second-daughter curse.
And the secondary story of Erich (Rico) was loosely based on the life of my elderly German friend Dieter, who escaped from East German, leaving behind the love of his life (and later returning for her!).
The novel starts off in Brooklyn where Emilia works at her grandfather’s deli and then moves onto the Tuscany region of Italy where Emilia and her cousin Lucy travel with their Great-Aunt Poppy as she searches for her true love (and a way to break the family curse.) What inspired the settings for the novel?
The Brooklyn scenes were inspired by my dear Italian-American friends, Joe and Elaine Natoli. They grew up in Brooklyn, in an ethnic neighborhood surrounded by aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents. And always, the stories they told included fabulous family dinners.
I chose Italy for the second setting after traveling to this magical country. I’m a huge fan of the late Maeve Binchy, whose novels were set in Ireland. Thanks to the advice of my wonderful editor, Sarah Blumenstock, I tried to capture what Maeve did so beautifully—a setting where you’d swear you could see and smell and taste your surroundings.
Have you been to some/all of the locations that Emilia, Lucy and their Great-Aunt Poppy visit in the novel?
I have! My husband and I followed Poppy’s itinerary, except that our trip to Italy also included three days in Rome, which was excluded simply for time’s sake. I even visited the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bensonhurst, and had a beer in Dolphie’s favorite pub, The Homestretch!
Which of the characters’ storylines did you enjoy writing the most?
It’s funny, because I never imagined I’d write historical fiction, but I loved writing the 1950s scenes of the Fontana family in their small farm in Trespiano, Italy.
What is your typical writing day like and where is your favorite spot to write?
Generally, I start late morning and write until mid-afternoon, with short breaks now and then. I have a big desktop computer in my office, but more often find myself sitting in my sunny kitchen using my laptop, sometimes with my dog Wilson on my lap. I light a candle, and often have music playing in the background. If it’s a good writing day, I couldn’t tell you what was playing!
If you had to choose between Emilia, Lucy or Great-Aunt Poppy, which of these characters would you like to meet in real life?
I feel like I’ve known Emilias and Lucys, so I’d most like to meet Great-aunt Poppy! She’s so unique and full of life. I’d love to pick her brain, or have her dole out some of her Aunt Poppy advice!
What is your favorite scene/chapter from the novel?
I love the Brooklyn scenes, because that city life is so different from mine in the Midwest. But my very favorite scene is probably the *Spoiler Alert* hospital scene with Poppy and Rico. I always choke up when he opens his eyes and mouths his love to his unico amore.
If The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany was turned into a feature film, who do you imagine playing the main characters?
Oh, what a fun question and beautiful dream! Truly, I would be thrilled with anyone playing these roles. But I’m a big fan of Lily Collins from Emily in Paris, and think she would be a great Emilia. Or maybe Samantha Boscarino, or Crystal Reed. America Ferrara would be perfect for Lucy—I think she could pass for a 21-year-old, don’t you?! Or Emma Kenny from Shameless? And the beautiful Italian-American Sophia Lauren would be a wonderful Aunt Poppy, or…could we convincingly age the fabulous Cher to play Aunt Poppy? I’d love that!
How did you feel when you found out that your second novel, Sweet Forgiveness had become an international bestseller?
It was unbelievable! I got the call from my agent and literally dropped to my knees on my kitchen floor! It’s a moment I will never forget.
Are you currently working on your next novel and if so can we get a sneak peek?
It’s the story of Meg Bower, a down-on-her-luck woman who’s traveling across country to escape the chaos in her life. At a rest area, she witnesses an unhinged parent berating her children. After a scary confrontation, Meg continues on her road trip, stopping six hours and two states later, only to discover that one of the children from the rest area has stowed away in her backseat.