An interview with Linda Cardillo

\"\"Linda Cardillo is the author of the critically acclaimed novel DANCING ON SUNDAY AFTERNOONS, winner of the 2008 Maggie Award for Long Contemporary Fiction, and ACROSS THE TABLE, which was released by Harlequin in June of this year. She has also contributed novellas to various anthologies.

Let’s get started by having you tell our readers a little bit about yourself.
I’m a native New Yorker who grew up in a large extended family. Our family reunions span five generations and include fourth cousins who played together as kids. As you may imagine, these gatherings and our collective memories provide a rich source of stories. I came to Massachusetts as a college student and then left, first for Manhattan and then Germany. But nearly fifteen years ago, my husband and I made our way back and have firmly planted ourselves and our family in the town where he grew up.

When did you decide to embark upon a career in writing? Did someone or some event influence your choice in any way?
I’ve been writing ever since I was old enough to hold a pencil, although my early stories tended to be heavily illustrated – set in frames like a comic book. Many people played a role in shaping me as a writer. When I was six, my family moved from an apartment over my father’s office in the Bronx to a neighborhood in Westchester with backyards and lots of kids. I tagged along after two older girls, both named Margie, who spent their summers writing plays and graciously initiated me into the secrets of creating entertaining dialogue between puppets made from Spaulding balls and scraps of fabric. When I got to college, I was fortunate enough to land as a freshman in an upper-level American Lit course with a professor who became my mentor. He awakened me to the power and beauty in language and continually challenged me to go deeper with my writing. But the most profound influence came much later in my life, when my aunt gave me the love letters of my grandparents and I discovered my grandfather’s passionate love of words – I truly felt then that writing was in my blood (which is such an Italian perspective!).

Your latest release ACROSS THE TABLE returns readers to your exploration of growing up Italian in America. Some of your other characters have also been immigrants. What special qualities does this add to your stories?
So many of us in America today are the children and grandchildren of immigrants, and I think that our families have experienced similar journeys – from the “old country” of Nonna or Oma to the contemporary lives of the second and third generation who are trying to define themselves as Americans yet hold onto a unique, cherished and sometimes stifling culture. Although I write about my own experience as an Italian-American, I often hear from readers whose ancestors came from other parts of the world but who recognize their own families in the messy, raucous but loving characters who populate my books.

Your website contains a section titled “At the Writer’s Desk” which includes several articles of tips and advice on the craft of writing. Why did you include this section? What are some of the things writers will find there?
One of the things that I have discovered as a writer over the years is that we are a community. When I started writing my first novel I was living in Germany with very few native English-speaking friends with whom I could share my work. I was hungry for feedback and managed to get back to the States for a writing conference that absolutely lit a fire in me and propelled me to keep going. Since that first encounter with other writers and the focus on discipline and craft, I’ve been grateful for the lessons I’ve learned along the way – especially from colleagues like Barbara Keiler and Kristan Higgins, who will be presenting with me at the WriteAngles conference. “At the Writer’s Desk” is simply my way to reach out to other writers – especially those who may feel as isolated as I did when I was starting out. It’s a collection of some of the best exercises and prompts I’ve discovered for loosening up the brain and setting words free.

You’re on the Writing 21st Century Romance panel at this year’s WriteAngles. Can you tell us a little bit about what you’re planning?
Barbara, Kristan, and I are planning to talk about some of the essential elements of great storytelling in romance fiction – and dispel a few stereotypes about the genre along the way. My own presentation will focus on the role of “place” or setting in the story. The other night I was listening to “Fresh Air” and the writer being interviewed had worked with David Chase, the creator of “The Sopranos.” When asked what was the most important thing he had learned about writing from Chase, the writer answered “Be entertaining.” For me, those two words sum up what drives our work as writers.

What are you working on now?
At the moment, I’m balancing the two halves of the writing life – I’m out and about talking to women’s and cultural groups and book clubs about ACROSS THE TABLE, and I’m working on two new books. One is set in early 20th-century Vienna, the story of an avant-garde artist and his muse, a fiercely intelligent woman who evolves from model and inspiration to artist in her own right. The other is the story of two women who live in the same island cottage seventy years apart – one who has come there to hide and the other to heal. Their lives and histories intersect with one another and with the fragile, cherished land on which the cottage stands.

Can you tell our readers where they can find you online?
You can find me at my website and my blog.

Is there anything you would like to add?
I’m so excited to be speaking at WriteAngles! I attended several times before I published, so it’s especially meaningful for me to be there as a panelist.

[Thanks to Cheryl Malandrinos for conducting this interview.]