My guest is my fellow Wild Rose Press author Annalisa Russo, who, like me, writes historical romance whose first book, RAGS TO RUBIES, was about an Italian immigrant family—a woman after my own heart, as I wrote my New York saga about an Italian immigrant family!
Enjoy my interview with Annalisa, contact her and purchase her books from the links below.
You, the Author
I’m a Midwest gal who grew up in a first-generation Italian family in the burbs of Chicago. I went to an all-girl Catholic school (yes, plaid skirt and blazer with knee-high socks) and on to an all-girl college culminating with a degree in English literature. And then I went on to teach fifth grade math—go figure.
During this exciting time I wrote. Most of which is under the bed in file boxes now. I also married, had three children, and became a pretty good cook, though now I just cook for company; my stove is for resale purposes only. Along with a passion for reading and writing, I enjoy gardening and frequently invent reasons for traveling. Over the years, I have inherited a narcissistic tabby named Buster who really runs the house and my life. Luckily, he’s pretty easy to live with and only complains when his dish is empty, which is most of the time.
My first book was a stand-alone book, Rags to Rubies. I have just finished the second book in the Cavelli Angel Saga, a romantic suspense quartet about an Italian immigrant family in 1925. The family consists of three brothers—Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel, named after the archangels (and angels they’re not!) and two sisters, Anna and Tessia. I’m working on the third book in the series now, Gabe’s story.
If you have 2 hours free time tonight, what would you rather do? Why?
Winter is cold in the Midwest; I would start a fire in the fireplace, pour myself a glass of a good merlot, and snuggle in with a well-thumbed favorite.
What kind of books do you love to read? Why?
Romance is my first choice because who doesn’t like a happy ending. But I really prefer romantic suspense and its soupcon of danger. The only non-fiction I read is about the time period I write in, the 1920’s, though I’m addicted to the magazine, Smithsonian.
What type of music do you enjoy relaxing to?
Really, anything but progressive jazz or rap. Right now, the artists with the most play on my iPod are Eagles, Chicago blues, and Amos Lee. Classical when I’m doing something tedious.
What is your stress buster?
If it were springtime, a slow walk around my neighborhood’s pond would be first choice. But since it’s about 20 degrees right now, I settle for a long, hot bath and a copy of Midwest Living.
What is your favorite food? What food do you seek when you're sad, sort of a comfort food?
Anything pasta with a good artisan bread is my go-to and all-time favorite. But since no self-respecting Italian would open a jar of premade sauce, I don’t eat it as often as I’d like.
Describe yourself in one word.
What is the most adventurous thing you’ve ever done?
White water rafter the Lower Animas River in southern Colorado with my daughter. It was exhilarating.
What makes you happy/sad/disappointed/frustrated/hopeful/angry? (Pick one)
Time with family, especially my new little granddaughter.
How would readers find out more about you?
Visit my website, www.AnnalisaRusso.com
When did you write your first book? How long did it take you to write it?
My first novel took me ten years to complete, because life happened. Though I have quite a few manuscripts under the bed.
Did you encounter any obstacles in writing? What are they? How did you overcome them?
Once of the biggest hurdles for me was a lack of knowledge about the industry of writing/publishing. It took a lot of research and do-overs before I got it right. Now I pass that information on to other aspiring writers through library presentations. I have also completed an eBook on getting published that will be released soon.
How did you feel when you receive your first contract? What did you do? Any celebratory dinner, dance, event, etc to commemorate the occasion?
I was thrilled and celebrated with friends and champagne!
Any writing peeves, things you wish you could improve on, things you do with exceptional talent?
I write historical so I am constantly researching the time period for inspiration and facts. I wish I could have more firsthand experience of that era without being 100 years old!
What kind of books do you love/hate to write? Why?
I love to write books about the 1920’s because I think that era was an interesting one for women. I’ve always enjoyed a good Christmas novel and have had one rolling around in my head which I will put to paper after The Cavelli Angel Saga.
What do you think about editing?
I’ve changed the way I edit my stories which has made the process easier, but not necessarily more enjoyable. I think editing is a necessary evil.
Where and when do you write? Tell us about your favorite work place and time. Any special reason?I have an area set aside in my home and am definitely a morning writer. The picture window overlooks a wooded area at the back of my property where deer trail across the lawn and myriad types of birds eat from the feeders. I cannot write in small snippets of time, but rather need a block of four or five hours to get into the groove.
How do you write? Do your characters come to you first or the plot or the world of the story? How do you go on from there? Maybe you can give us an example with one of your books.
All of the above, sometimes characters come first, sometimes it’s the plot. With my first book, Rags to Rubies, the characters came first.
What books can you recommend to aspiring writers to improve on style, character development, plot, structure, dialogue, etc?
Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View by Jill Elizabeth Nelson has changed the way I write in point of view. Also, Holly Lisle’s clinics on creating page turning scenes, plotting, and creating characters are helpful. Noah Lukeman’s How to Write a Great Query Letter and The Plot Thickens would be useful for any beginning writer.
What is your must-have book for writing?
I usually go back to Holly Lisle’s Create a Plot clinic. I am currently reading it for the third time.
What is your advice to aspiring writers?
Write, write, write…send the manuscript out and keep writing while you wait for a response. The first question an editor will ask you after she expresses her interest in your story is “What else do you have for me?”
What genre(s) do you write? Why do you write the stories that you write?
All my books are historical romantic suspense. I write the kind of stories I like to read.
Among those that you’ve written, which is your favorite book and why?
The book I’m writing now, the third in The Cavelli Angel Saga, I think will be my favorite. It’s Gabriel Cavelli’s story and Gabe is the bad boy of the family and an interesting character, to say the least.
Where do you get your ideas? Do you jot them down in a notebook, in case you forgot?
My recent project is The Cavelli Angel Saga, a quartet about an Italian immigrant family in Chicago in the 1920’s. The family consists of three boys and two girls. The boys are named after the archangels—Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael—hence the title. I remembered a line of dialogue from the movie Michael starring John Travolta: “I’m not that kinda angel.” The words inspired me to write about three men, rough and tumble, and their two feisty sisters. But in the end, the story is about family—undaunted loyalty, unwavering love, and tireless support. I have notebooks everywhere! My car, my purse— almost every room of my house has a notepad. You never know when literary inspiration will strike!
Which book is the closest to your heart? Why?
An Angel’s Redemption: because I can relate to the hero, a man trapped by familial responsibilities. Losing my father at 17 and, being the oldest of five, I was put in the same position.
Which of your books feature your family/friends, etc? What characters are modeled after them? Why?
None of my characters are truly modeled after one particular person, but many are combinations.
Who is your strongest/sexiest/most lovable/hottest hero/heroine? Why?
Michael Cavelli, head of the Cavelli Family and hero in An Angel’s Redemption, is definitely the strongest hero I’ve written about. But, the book I’m writing now about the third Cavelli brother, Gabe, is probably the sexiest—think— Italian David Beckham!
Have you ever wanted to write your book in one direction but your characters are moving it in another direction? What did you do in such a situation?
All the time! That is the reason I changed from an outline to plotting on index cards. It’s easier when a character takes you in a different direction. You just take one card out and replace it with another or just switch them around.
Tell us more about your latest release An Angel Healed, published by The Wild Rose Press.
Archaeologist Raphael Cavelli wonders why he isn’t in some watering hole in Peru drinking a lukewarm cerveza next to a bosomy blonde. Instead, back in Chicago trying to stay one step ahead of the law for stealing the archaeological find of the century, he bumps, literally, into the reason he left seven years ago—the girl he traveled halfway around the globe to forget. Hope Macklin, sob sister/obituary writer for The Spectator, wangles the assignment to cover a high society wedding. If she does well, it means a promotion and a raise — but the heiress’s bothersome brother remembers her from St. Rose’s Home for the Friendless, a time she’d rather forget. She's on the lam, so she can’t afford to draw attention to herself, even for a carelessly handsome man. Fate throws Rafe and Hope together again just in time to square off with the faceless opponent doggedly threatening them.
Any new projects, work in progress?
I’m working on Angel Lost, Angel Found, a story of the third Cavelli brother, Gabriel. The fourth book in the quartet will be about a character from the first book in the series, Seth Truitt, who comes back to the Cavelli ancestral home to heal. I have had a Christmas story in my head for years. I plan to start it soon in order to have it available for Christmas 2015.
Do you outline your books or wing it? Describe your process.
I used to outline but have switched to plotting on index cards for more flexibility.
How do you decide on setting?
My stories are based in Chicago in the 1920’s. I’ve lived in this area all my life, so I know and love it. I find this makes it easy to make Chicago the home of my characters.
What genre(s) do you write in? Why?
Historical romantic suspense. Why? Who doesn’t love a love story?
Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of editing. How about you?
I do basic editing after every five chapters, and then set the manuscript down for a couple weeks. The final edits are easier to do with fresh eyes.
How much research was involved in writing your book? How did you go about it?
I’ve spent hours upon hours researching in libraries and on the Internet. I keep binders of the research I do for each book. You never know when you have to verify a fact. Also, to broaden my knowledge of the decade, I read many non-fiction books about the 1920’s. I’m fortunate my friends and family often buy these for me as gifts!
What inspired your latest release?
I happened to come across a children’s non-fiction book featuring the Charioteer of Delphi Statuary sculpted in 473 B.C. As I read, I became intrigued that the Charioteer’s horses have never been found. This led to Raphael Cavelli being the archeologist who finally discovers them.
Can you tell us about your road to publication?
In the Romance Writers of America monthly magazine, there’s a section featuring first-time author sales. I noticed The Wild Rose Press Publishing Company was accepting new authors and I chose to send my query letter there. They responded asking for a synopsis and the first three chapters. After a few weeks they then requested the full manuscript. Soon after, they offered me a contract and Rags to Rubies was published.
E-books, print, or both? Any preferences? Why?
My Kindle was a gift and there are many aspects of the eReader that I enjoy—convenience, very portable, instant download. However, I still prefer a book in my hand, hardcover or paperback.
How much time do you spend promoting your books?
I try to limit it to five hours a week. Of course, I could spend five hours a day on marketing and still not get everything done. But writing must come first or there will be nothing to promote!
Please tell us your experiences with social media. What are your favorite and least favorite parts of it?
In the beginning, social media was my nemesis. I didn’t know what was out there, nor where to start or how to use it. My daughter helped me get started with Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and LinkedIn. I was already using Goodreads, and we simply upgraded my account to an author page. My least favorite part is how easy it is to get sucked in to a black hole with SM, spending hours and hours surfing, so I try to set limits and take a more narrow approach. My favorite part of social media is the connection with my fans and other authors.
Have you had other careers before becoming a writer?
I started my working life as an elementary school teacher, and then became a stay at home mom until my youngest started kindergarten. I spent twenty years in interior design and wholesale custom draperies, owning two businesses in two different cities. Then I went back to school, updated my teaching certificate, and returned to teaching—this time as a middle school math teacher. During all that time, I wrote women’s fiction and children’s short stories. Ten years ago, I got serious about writing and Rags to Rubies was the result.
Were you “born to write” or did you discover your passion for writing later in life?
I’ve always enjoyed writing. As a child, I kept a diary and as a young adult, a journal. In my years of teaching, I wrote children’s stories and read them to my students. They seemed to like the stories, but they were a captured audience!
Do you have or belong to a writing organization? Which one?
I have been a member of Romance Writers of America for the last ten years.
What do you keep on your desk?
Besides the computer, a giant dictionary and thesaurus, a book on 1920’s slang and often a cup of hot, herbal tea.
Tell us about your hero or heroine. Give us one of his/her strengths and one of his/her weaknesses.
Hope Macklin, the heroine in An Angel Healed, unselfishly adopts four street children putting her own freedom at risk.
You’re having a party. What character from your book do you hope attends? Why?
Gabriel Cavelli because bad boys are always interesting.
What character do you hope doesn’t attend? Why?
Lester Royd because narcissistic, condescending, self-centered jerks are generally not the life of the party.
What’s your favorite film of all times? Favorite book?
Hands down, Gone with the Wind is my favorite film. I have quite a few favorite books, but recently I’ve enjoyed The Brides’ Trilogy by Nora Roberts.
What’s the coolest surprise you’ve ever had?
A surprise party on my sixteenth birthday thrown by a best friend who generally couldn’t keep a secret if her life depended on it, and I was completely surprised!
If you could have one skill that you don’t currently have, what would it be?
I’ve played the piano since I was about twelve years old, but practiced hard for every note. I wish it came more naturally to me.
What might we be surprised to know about you?
I am claustrophobic to the extent that even watching a film where someone is in a confining spot can give me anxiety.
What’s your favorite comfort food? Anything with mashed potatoes. Least favorite food? Liver and onions, aargghhhh!
Visit Annalisa and her books on: