So, Heddi, when did you first notice you were a writer?
Hmm, odd choice of words there, but hey whatever. Though it might be more accurate to say, ‘When did you first realize you were a writer?’
OK, so when did you first realize you were a writer?
Or, hang on, maybe you should put it more like, ‘When did you first understand you were born to write?’
Yes, that one.
Hmm, good question. Let me think. It was probably this one day when I was walking home from elementary school, for my mother’s sake avoiding the cracks in the sidewalk, and closely inspecting the autumn leaves scattered at my feet. I had the sudden awareness that in my internal dialogue I was selecting the most sublime words I knew to describe the inherent beauty of that very ordinary experience of walking down the sidewalk. I also realized that I had been crafting this type of internal dialogue for as long as I could remember.
Wow, that sounds awfully serious. And yet so much of your writing is funny. What is your secret to humor?
Easy. Gogolian specificity.
Never mind. I don’t really want to give that much away. In any case, in real life I’m not very funny at all. Just ask my husband.
Does your husband support your writing career?
Absolutely. He has supported me every step of the way. He supported me financially and morally while I was writing my memoir. Then, after my first fifty rejection letters, he supported my head while I was banging it against the computer desk.
Did you know then that your memoir, Lost in the Spanish Quarter, would be such a humungous bestseller?
I sure did, from the moment my first ever reader, my husband, was spellbound by it. He said it was the best thing he'd read since The History of the Celtic Empire. Then my mom read it. It kept her up all night. So I knew I had a winner there.
What kind of people do you think respond to your book?
All sorts of people, really. People who travel, people who love Italy, people who obsess over their exes for five or more years.
There are some quite scary scenes in it related to the city of Naples, where your memoir is set. Do you think you’re putting people off visiting Naples?
People are put off visiting Naples regardless of what I say. In fact, the fewer tourists go there, the better. Naples is already crowded enough as it is.
Your memoir is rich in engaging dialogue. Do have any advice for writers trying to keep dialogue authentic?
Four things. One, people don’t always talk in full sentences. Two, people don’t always say what they mean. Three, try to end the dialogue with a cliffhanger. And four…
And four?…OK, moving on. Do you have any tips for memoir writers out there?
Yes. Don’t get too hung up on the truth. Truth is for boring people with no imagination.
What is your next book going to be about?
I can’t give that away yet, but let’s just say the next book has something to do with an Italian woman named Rita, a lost umbrella and first kiss. But not necessarily between the two of them.
What inspires you to write?
Real life. Small things like the pattern a cup of coffee leaves on the table. The strange symphony of the birds, the lawn mower and the car alarm we’re listening to right now. The way your lips go a bit tight when you’re thinking of the next question to ask me.
They do? It’s probably just my lip balm; it’s a bit…astringent. Anyway, do you have any tips for people with writer’s block?
Always keep a notepad with you because you never know when the inspiration is going to hit. Or when your kid is going to hit you with a harmonica – the notepad is a good shock absorber, if you know what I mean.
What are your favorite books?
Well, of course, as a writer I have an extensive list of much-loved books with obscure titles you’ve never heard of, some of them written in a foreign language. But I will tell you that my very first literary love was a humble book called Stone Soup. You know, the children’s story where a stranger knocks on the door and invites himself in with the promise that he can make the host soup with only a pot of water and a magic stone. Then, of course, he asks for some potatoes to improve the taste, then some cabbage, then tomatoes and so on. What really strikes me about this captivating work of fiction is the historical perspective it gives us of the times in which it was written. Boy, people sure were hungry back then. Also, the story speaks to me specifically as a writer in that I’m a bit like that starving itinerant with only a stone in his pocket: I don’t really have much to offer but I manage somehow to cook up a very very large stew.
Clearly, you’ve a very well-spoken and talented writer. Do you have any other talents that you think your readers would like to know about?
I cook a wicked bolognese. I’m pretty good at sewing on buttons. I speak twelve words of Vietnamese. And I can curse like a truck driver in Neapolitan.