Thursday, February 16, 2023

Q&A with Terri-Lynne DeFino


Terri-Lynne DeFino is the author of the new novel Varina Palladino's Jersey Italian Love Story. Her other novels include The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (and Their Muses). She was born and raised in New Jersey and lives in Connecticut.


Q: What inspired you to write Varina Palladino's Jersey Italian Love Story, and how did you create the Palladino family?


A: My youngest daughter lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. On her way to work one day, she saw a flyer attached to a lamp post. There was a picture of an elderly gentleman, dressed in a tux and holding a single, red rose. Above it read: IS YOUR GRANDFATHER JEWISH, SINGLE, AND LOOKING FOR LOVE? Below it an email address, and a $10,000 reward offer for a match.


She thought it was hilarious, so she snapped a pic and texted it to me with: Here's your next book. 


The rest kind of took care of itself. 


I'm not Jewish, so it didn't feel right writing from that angle. But I am, in my heart and soul, a Jersey Italian. The Palladino family isn't my family, but bits and pieces of it, as well as the extended family of friends and community I've known since birth.


The Palladino family always existed. I just pulled some of them out, melded some of them together, added a few extra details to fill in the gaps, and let them loose on the page.


Q: The novel includes definitions of various Jersey Italian terms, and you write, “If you read this thinking it's some scholarly thing, it's not. I love words, how they came to be, how they evolved over time.” Can you say more about that?


A: I love etymology. I always have. Words aren't just words; they're whole histories. Words evolve, change meaning, go back to what they used to be. Every vagary of the English language (knight/night, I'm looking at you!) has a reason for being, and a logical one once you know the history behind them. It is endlessly fascinating to me. 


Growing up, my family used words I never heard in the "regular" world. I remember being invited to have manicotti at my very Dutch best-friend's house. Man-i-cot-ee. What was this strange and exotic food?


Sitting down to dinner, imagine my 9-year-old wonder plummeting when I saw it was just manigawt (<--phonetically), something I'd eaten hundreds of times in my Italian life. 


There were so many words my family used that I always believed they made up. It wasn't until I watched The Sopranos (a decade late) that I heard those words outside of my family community. There they were, in all their tongue-twisty glory!


It was that proverbial lightbulb flashing over my head. They're words, real words taken from Italian by way of southern Italy, sailed across the ocean, and landing in New Jersey to grow and evolve just as every good word should.


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: The book always started with Vicky, the haunted Victrola, and always ended as it ends. It meandered a lot along the way, but the basics of what I had in mind from the beginning haven't changed.


One sort of vital change did happen—the author of the Jersey Italian words. In my mind, it was one person through the whole book, until I got to the last pages and realized I'd had the wrong person all along.


Q: The Library Journal review of the book says, “There are a lot of laughs despite the mayhem and drama, and of course, many family dinners (with recipes!), but it is love that permeates and elevates this terrific Italian family saga.” What do you think of that description?


A: It's perfect. The book is Varina's Jersey Italian love story. Familial love, romantic love, love between friends. This one sentence gets the gist of everything I was going for. I'll admit to getting a little teary when I got the review.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: At the moment, I'm working on what I'm calling Tommy And The Tagalongs Play Asbury Park. It's the story of four women living together in an elderly-adult community, a farewell concert they're determined to get to, and the shenanigans they get into making it happen against every rule created to keep them safe, happy, and contained.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: If anyone wants to keep up with my doings, find me at


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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