Today on the blog I am talking with Author Lisa Mcguinness about her novel, Catarina's Ring! I am giving away a paperback copy on my Facebook group, so after reading the interview head on over to enter!
Hello Lisa and welcome to Passages to the Past! Thanks so much for stopping by today to talk about Catarina’s Ring!
To begin, can you please tell us a little about yourself and Catarina’s Ring.
Sure, I’m from Northern California, am married and the mother of two college-age kids. I also have two very spoiled, hilarious dogs (both dachshund mixes) who keep me entertained now that I’m an empty nester. [See the Yellow Pear Press Instagram feed for pictures of them!] I’m active (hiking, tennis), enjoy cooking, am very sociable (love nothing better than throwing a party) and hanging out with the extended family. (Think big family and we’re all in each other’s business.) It was a world I wanted to replicate in Catarina’s Ring, which I did both in the Catarina storyline and in the Juliette storyline. Also, my granddad (my mom’s father) immigrated from southern Italy when he was a baby and his older brother in fact married a young woman he’d never met from Italy before the war, so there are a lot of biographical details in the novel, as well as plenty of fictitious plot lines.
What inspired you to write Catarina’s Ring?
I was inspired to write Catarina’s Ring after my mom passed away. When she died, I inherited a ring that had been in my family for four generations. I knew it was originally given to my ancestor, named Maria Nina Pencebene, who came to the United States from Italy as a mail order bride, but that’s all I knew of her. I wished I had asked my mom more questions about Maria Nina when I had the chance, but didn’t so instead I imagined what would make a young woman leave her country to marry a stranger, and most likely never to see her family again. What came out of it was Catarina’s story. The Juliette storyline was added because I wanted to create a contemporary element as well to show that throughout history women have struggled with the same things in life and that we all have common experiences, whether it’s something as simple as squinting against the sun when we leave a dark room during the day, or whether it’s something as difficult as having one’s heart broken.
What type of research did you do for the book?
I researched how World War I went down in Italy, because I wasn’t knowledgeable about it. Also what the political climate was like in Italy before the war began, as well as what life was like in the more rural areas of Italy at the time. My grandfather’s family still had to pump water from a well and there was no indoor plumbing when they moved to California in 1908, which is why I made sure to add those details into the story.
What was the hardest scene to write?
The most difficult scene to write was when Catarina says goodbye to her mother when she leaves to meet the ship that will take her to America. I had recently lost my mother and the scene was both cathartic and horribly sad for me to visualize. I cried while I was writing it.
What was your favorite scene to write?
My favorite scenes to write were the ones between Ian and Juliette when they’re working together on Juliette’s restaurant on hot, summer evenings. I also particularly enjoyed writing the scene between Catarina and Roman when he is teaching her to read while they’re lying on a picnic blanket in Golden Gate park in San Francisco. I can still see them there in my mind’s eye.
What would you like readers to take away from reading Catarina’s Ring?
One of the main takeaways is that in life we have the opportunity to choose happiness no matter what situation we’re in. That we can focus on the positive and make decisions in our lives that shape our futures in the way we want them to live out.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I have always loved to write, but when I was a sophomore in college I took a writing class from Alice B. Fogel (who is now the Poet Laureate of New Hampshire) and she encouraged me. It was the first time I felt that I could perhaps actually write a novel.
What has been your greatest challenge as a writer? Have you been able to overcome it?
Finding the time to write has been my greatest challenge. It took me four years to write Catarina’s Ring because I also have a day job as an editor and was raising two kids at the time. Now my kids are out of the house, but I work more than I did then so finding the time to write my next novel is proving just as difficult. Needless to say, I did overcome the time obstacle. The way I did it was to dedicate a set amount of time each day (Monday through Friday) and committed to it. Now, I have to set my mind to do it again.
Who are your writing inspirations?
I have several for different reasons. I’m a serious fan of fabulous word choices and Amor Towles is masterful. And some of the little details he writes are fantastic. In A Gentleman from Moscow the main character is talking about the fact that our friends should hold us in higher regard than we perhaps deserve, and he says something like, “She should have visualized me with a volume of Shakespeare in one hand and a pistol in the other” when it came to his intellect. I loved that! Anthony Doerr is definitely an inspiration when it comes to how visually he is able to paint scenes with the written word. The opening scene in All the Light We Cannot See was stunning. The pamphlets falling from the sky that the blind heroine can’t see. It instantly drew me in. I could go on and on. There are many wonderful writers.
What was the first historical novel you read?
The first historical novel I remember reading was The Old Man and the Sea, which was assigned in a middle school English class. I remember assuming it would be a bore and then loved it! I can’t remember the first historical fiction novel I actually chose to read on my own. My parents were both avid readers when I was growing up and we were always passing novels around—especially when we were on vacation. My sister and I have been known to tear paperbacks in half so one of us can begin as soon as the other is half way through. My favorite era of historical fiction is WW2. I’m not sure why, but I’ve always found that period fascinating.
What is the last historical novel you read?
I’m reading one now, actually. It’s The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman. Great novel. I spent one recent rainy Saturday morning lounging in bed, drinking tea and devouring this novel (while simultaneously munching on granola with Greek yogurt and honey). It was the perfect way to while away a couple of hours!
If there was a soundtrack for your novel, what songs might we find on it?
That’s an interesting question. There are so many options, but the song that comes to mind right away is Sweet Disposition by The Temper Trap. Beyond that, I’ll have to leave it to the audio crew if it’s ever made into a movie.
What are three things people may not know about you?
I sometimes (not infrequently) eat cereal for dinner. (shhh, don’t tell!) I hate my skin tone, so I rarely leave the house without having make up on. (hideously vain, I know!) And something very few people know is that I’m a HORRIBLE speller. No kidding. I used to think of it as an embarrassing secret but now I freely admit it. I thank God for spell check every day of my life!
What appeals to you most about your chosen genre?
Catarina’s Ring is a duel chronology, so I had the benefit of creating both a historical fiction plot and a contemporary fiction plot. I enjoy reading that entwined combination. Possession by Maud Bailey is a fabulous example of that. I like getting to learn about the history of particular eras while also having contemporary characters interact with that historical period of time. It adds a certain depth to novels, I think.
What historical time period do you gravitate towards the most with your personal reading?
World War II holds tremendous interest for me, for some reason. I enjoy novels set during that time period.
What do you like to do when you aren't writing?
Reading, for sure. Also, I play a lot of tennis, enjoy going to the movies, hanging out with friends, spending time walking the dogs with my husband, going wine tasting, eating at fun cafes, and traveling.
Lastly, what are you working on next?
I’m 26 pages into my second novel. I can’t talk about it yet. Hopefully this one will take less than four years!
Ha! I look forward to hearing more! Thank you so much for stopping by!
Catarina's Ring by Lisa McGuinness
The New York Times best-selling author Lisa McGuinness interweaves the stories of four generations of strong, vibrant women and has created characters both idiosyncratic and adventuresome. Born at the end of the Nineteenth Century and nestled in South Western Italy, Catarina Pensbene’s life in Perdifumo is full of sun-drenched olive orchards, lush grape vines, delicious peasant food, family and love. Because of an unexpected plunge into an untenable situation, Catarina decides to take a huge risk to become a mail order bride and sets out across the ocean.
Interwoven with Catarina’s, is the story is of her witty and self-deprecating granddaughter, Juliette Brice. Born and raised in Northern California, Juliette experiences an unfortunate tragedy that serves as the impetus for her to shake up her life, and travel to her grandmother’s homeland, where she enrolls in a six-month cooking class in Lucca, Italy. While abroad, Julliette becomes romantically involved with a handsome Italian man, yet her own destiny dictates she is to return to California once her class ends. Through her attention to detail and employing both historically accurate and thoroughly modern storytelling, Catarina's Ring serves up Italian delicacies, luminous characters, a delicious escape and completely inspiring storytelling.
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Praise for Catarina's RingMidwest Book Review called Catarina’s Ring, “A deftly constructed novel, Catarina’s Ring is an extraordinary and original novel that will hold the reader’s thoroughly absorbed attention from beginning to end. Solidly entertaining from first page to last, Catarina’s Ring is highly recommended.”
Gentry Magazine said the “Engaging characters, delectable food, gorgeous Italian landscapes, and simmering love make for a delicious novel by Bay Area author, Lisa McGuinness that will leave your hungry for more.”
The Reviewer “…the food descriptions made my mouth water, and the stories were great.”
About the Author
Lisa McGuinness is the author of the Caffeinated Ideas Journal as well as the co-author of several children’s books including the New York Times bestseller Bee & Me and Baby Turtle’s Tale, both under the pen name Elle J. McGuinness. She is also the co-author of the Dictionary of Extraordinary Ordinary Animals. She lives in Walnut Creek, CA.