16 February 2015

Guest Post ~ The Rewards and Challenges of Writing a Story Inspired by a Relative By Carmela Cattuti, author of Between the Cracks

Join Angela Lanza as she confronts the ephemeral nature of life on this planet and navigates the wide cultural gaps between pre-World War II Italy and the booming prosperity of dynamic young America. Author, artist, and teacher Carmela Cattuti created Between the Cracks as an homage to her great-aunt, who survived the earthquake and eruption of Mt. Etna and bravely left Sicily to start a new life in America.

Available on Amazon US and Amazon UK

There are many questions one should ask oneself when writing a story based on a relative’s life. How closely should I base my character on his or her real-life characteristics and circumstances? What about the peripheral characters with whom the main character interacts? Sometimes we need to employ literary devices to highlight a point that completely changes the character’s circumstances.  I found writing a story about my great aunt, Angela Lanza Barone, a humbling experience on many levels.

Until I wrote Between the Cracks, I did not realize the depth of her influence on my life choices. I knew her quite well, in fact, she was my nanny of sorts. We lived in the same house with her and my uncle twenty five miles north of New York City. The house was a Queen Anne Victorian with four working fireplaces, large sliding French oak door, stained glass windows, and a grand staircase. It was a Grand Dame and one of the most elegant homes in town. She told me her life story over and over again until I could repeat it verbatim. Angela handed me my novel on a silver platter as she did most things. I could have written it exactly as she told me and still have come up with a solid piece of work.

Unfortunately, it is a work of fiction with all the pitfalls and challenges the art form presents. I had to embellish parts and cut certain characters and scenes that were part of her landscape. I had to ask myself the difficult question: what do I let go of and what do I keep? When you are writing about a relative answering this question becomes the ultimate challenge, so it is imperative you know what you want to accomplish by writing fiction. For myself, I wanted to integrate her qualities throughout the book so readers would ponder their choices in regard to religion, relationships, setting boundaries, taking risks, and expressing individuality.

I’ve been asked how my family felt about the book. It has been resoundingly positive. Even my ninety nine year old mother has nothing but praise for the novel and shows it off to her friends in her nursing home. I set out to honor my great aunt’s personal experience of immigration and assimilation into an evolving culture in the new world. My brother said, “You have done the family proud.” The positive feedback from my immediate family has aided me in continuing with the second book. In the next installment I am diving into Angela’s unfoldment in not only a changing America but a changing family and social structure. I think she was disappointed in how her life unfolded. She was cultural, creative, and spiritually aware at a time when Catholicism reigned supreme.

Many of my choices in life were based on her influence and her perception of me as a creative individual who should do exactly as she pleased. So, as I embark on the second book in my trilogy, I would support any writer to take on the challenge of writing about a relative. Self-awareness is the resulting gift.

Carmela Cattuti 

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About the Author

Carmela Cattuti is a writer, visual artist, and teacher. She is the author of Between the Cracks, a novel based on her great aunt's inspirational journey from Sicily to the U.S. Carmela is a graduate of Boston College's masters program in literature. To find out more visit Carmela's blog. You can also find her on Facebook  and Twitter. 

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