THE ITALIAN PARTY
by Christina Lynch
St. Martin’s Press
March 20, 2018
Hardcover, 336 pages, $25.99
What’s black and white and read all over Three Rivers? The new novel The Italian Party by local resident Christina Lynch, of course.
The book dropped Tuesday, March 20, and is available at booksellers in-store and online nationwide. The novelist will hit the road next week for a book tour that will take her throughout California and points east for the next several weeks.
Chris has lived in Three Rivers since 2004. She was raised in Chicago, where she graduated from Lane Tech, a selective college-prep high school.
In 1986, she graduated from Harvard University with a bachelor’s degree in English. At the conclusion of her Ivy League education, off she went to New York where she became immersed in the fashion industry, writing for W and Women’s Wear Daily magazines.
A year later, Chris was transferred to Italy as a fashion correspondent although she had never been to that country before and didn’t know a single word of Italian. But she soon fell in love with the Italian culture, living and working there for seven years.
She arrived back in the States in 1994, landing on the West Coast this time. She worked as a television writer, working on shows such as Dead Zone, Wildfire, and Unhappily Ever After.
In June 2013, Chris completed her master of fine arts degree. These days, she is a professor at College of the Sequoias where she teaches English. (See Chris’s “People You Should Know” profile in the March 23 print edition or eEdition.)
Chris wrote two novels previously with coauthor Meg Howrey under the pen name Magnus Flyte: City of Dark Magic, a New York Times bestseller, and the sequel, City of Lost Dreams. (www.kaweahcommonwealth.com/news/who-world-magnus-flyte)
The Italian Party checks all the boxes: romance, mystery, deceit, political intrigue, action and adventure, historical fiction. In addition, it vibrantly describes Italy’s Tuscany region, the historic city of Siena, the food, and the culture.
The Italian language is sprinkled on the pages like parmesan, and each chapter begins with a different contrada (a neighborhood within the city of Siena), along with the English translation and the contrada’s motto.
Here, Chris answers questions about the book and explains her writing process:
Your book is set in Siena in the Tuscany region of Italy and through your descriptions it is easy to visualize this beautiful area and the Italian culture. What is your history with Siena and why did you make this city the setting of your novel?
Christina Lynch: I lived in Italy for seven years in the late 1980s to early 1990s, and part of that time was spent working at a country inn halfway between Florence and Siena. I rode my horse all over that countryside, and I’ve always loved Siena, so when I was deciding what to write about, I picked somewhere I’d want to “go” every day.
Did you realize when you were living and working in Italy that you were on a literary pilgrimage?
CL: I think so, but it took me a long time to get enough distance from Italy to write about it. A few years ago I tried to write a memoir about my time there, but I’m just not a memoirist.
Horses have a role in this story. Is it true that a writer tends to write about what they love?
Horses have a role in this story. Is it true that a writer tends to write about what they love?
CL: I can’t speak for all writers, but I definitely like to write about things I love. If I’m going to take time away from hiking or riding to write, then I want to be writing about something I enjoy. The horse in the novel is based on a real horse named Camelia I owned in Italy. She was a difficult horse, but I loved her very much. She lived to a ripe old age at a gorgeous villa — the kind of retirement we all dream of.
Are any of the characters based on real-life people? How did you select the names for your characters?
CL: Camelia is the only character from real life. Everyone else is completely made up. Scottie is a name I’ve always liked — F. Scott Fitzgerald’s daughter was Scottie, and my mother had a friend named Scotty. Some of the names came from a list of residents of a little village who served in World War II that I happened to take a picture of.
Why 1956? And since you weren’t born yet (so never experienced 1956 personally, but there are people alive who did), did that take some extra research to get all the details just right?
CL: I was interested in American influence in Italy, and 1956 was a watershed year. The U.S. government was alarmed by the growing interest in communism in Italy in the late 1940s and 1950s, and was taking steps to try to prevent Italy from electing a communist government. Two events bookended that year — Kruschev denounced Stalin, which was a big deal and seemed like it might lead to a thaw in the Cold War, but then in the fall the Soviets crushed the Hungarian uprising. I wanted to write about the uncertainty of that summer in between. I did a lot of research to try to get the details right; I looked at magazines and newspapers from the era, and read a lot of books both from the American and Italian points of view.
Italian words and phrases are sprinkled onto the pages. Are you fluent in Italian?
CL: I was, but in terms of speaking I’ve lost a lot of it now that I’ve been away for so long. I can still read Italian and I pretty much understand everything if it isn’t too technical.
In The Italian Party, the U.S. is doing some meddling in elections. That’s an interesting parallel to what is happening in current events today. Was this planned?
CL: No, it’s a crazy coincidence that still amazes me. I started this book in the summer of 2013 and the last thing on my or anyone else’s mind was swaying elections. In fact, I decided to write about that because it was such a weird idea — I read that Americans in the 1950s were sent to try to influence elections in Italy, and I thought “How on earth do you do that?” I imagined someone being sent to a place where they didn’t know anyone but had to shift public opinion. I was completely flabbergasted by the fact that the things I came up with for Michael to do in Siena were not that far from the things that the Russians apparently did here —except that when he “posted on a wall,” he actually put real posters on real walls, it wasn’t virtual!
What didn’t make it into the book?
CL: A lot of things. I cut a hundred pages from the manuscript before publication. They were quality cuts, but there was a fun scene at a horse fair that will have to be recycled into something else.
How long did it take you to write The Italian Party? How long have you been thinking about writing The Italian Party?
CL: It took about a year-and-a-half to write the rough first draft, and then I did about 20 more drafts over the next two-and-a-half years. I mean huge, huge changes. Characters were created, merged, cut, endings rewritten over and over. I tell my students about the process — writing is revising. And then it was a year-and-a-half from when I sold it to St. Martin’s before it came out, so it’s been a five-year voyage. I was lucky that I started thinking about it when I also had time to start writing it. Right now I’m doing a lot of thinking about my next project but struggling to find time to write.
What is your routine when working on such a major project while balancing another career and life in Three Rivers? How many hours a day did you write?
CL: When I wasn’t teaching full time I wrote for about four hours a day almost every day. Now it’s more like an hour here and there during the school year, and then more in the summer. When I’m on a roll I can write all day and into the night, but it’s hard to carve out that time these days. Mostly I write at night, in bed, on index cards that I later try to decipher. Not ideal.
How did the publishing process work? Did you have a publisher prior to starting (or completing) the book or was there some rejection involved?
CL: There was some rejection, like with all writing projects, but an editor named Elisabeth Dyssegaard at St. Martin’s heard about the manuscript from my agent and just really “got” it. She’s been a dream to work with — she was never afraid of the political parts of the book that I was worried a publisher might want me to cut. Everyone at St. Martin’s has been incredibly supportive through the entire process, and now. That’s really rare these days, so I’m very grateful.
Do you aspire to be a full-time author?
CL: Ha! I was a full-time writer for most of my life, until I started teaching five years ago. I actually love teaching at COS, both for itself and because that steady paycheck means I can write what I want on my own timeline. I don’t have the pressure to sell something or risk losing my house.
Who are your mentors? Favorite authors?
CL: I’ve been lucky to have always been surrounded by people who were supportive of my writing and believed in me, even when I didn’t. I try to be that kind of mentor now. I have a group of readers whom I trust with drafts—they know who they are and how valuable they are to me. Without them, this book would still be a huge mess. I have many favorite authors, including Vladimir Nabokov, Mikhail Bulgakov, Dorothy Sayers, Graham Greene, Flannery O’Connor, Toni Morrison… it’s a long list.
Can you provide a sneak peak on what’s next from novelist Christina Lynch?
CL: The index cards all over my bed are not yet quite coherent, but it’s going to be set in California and Italy in the 1930s-to-World War II era and maybe a little past that, too.
When does the movie come out?
CL: No one has bought the movie rights yet, but I’m hoping.
Any other anecdotes you have about writing this book?
CL: I’m grateful to my friends in Three Rivers who are even more excited about the publication of The Italian Party than I am. I moved here in search of a town like in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and I found it! My friends here have fed me, listened to me whine, hiked with me, fed me more, read drafts, fed me again, cheered me when I was depressed, and are now popping champagne corks for me. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for them and for this place. It is a wonderful life.
BOOK TOUR ITINERARY
'THE ITALIAN PARTY'
Book Passage Bookstore
Monday, March 26, 6 pm
Ferry Building, San Francisco
Authors in Conversation: Chevalier’s Books
Wednesday, March 28, 7 pm
126 N. Larchmont Blvd., Los Angeles
Saturday, April 7, 1:30 pm
Marriott Hotel & Spa, 900 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach
Italian Luncheon: Adventures By the Book
Sunday, April 8, 11:30 am
Buca di Beppo Restaurant, 10749 Westview Parkway, San Diego
Lit Hop Fresno
Saturday, April 21, 4 pm
Hi Top Coffee, 1306 N. Wishon, Fresno
Monday, April 23, 7 pm
695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena
Friday, April 27, 7 pm
124 E. Washington, Ann Arbor, Mich.
Murder By The Book
Saturday, May 5, 4:30 pm
2342 Bissonnet St., Houston, Texas
Wednesday, May 9, 6:30 pm
Ponderosa Building, College of the Sequoias, 915 S. Mooney Blvd., Visalia