Friday, March 17, 2023

Q&A with Rose D. Patruno


Rose D. Patruno is the author of the new novel Hidden Heir.  She grew up in Italy.


Q: What inspired you to write Hidden Heir, and how did you create your character Inga?


A: I’ve always wanted to be a writer; from when I first learned to write my name, I wanted to be an author. But, unfortunately, there’s just a long gap between writing your name in crayon and getting a publishing deal. So, though some authors seem to be able to get that first book out, I crayon.


But I had a hard childhood in Southern Italy, picking grapes and working in restaurants. So like a lot of kids, I imagined I had a secret, special something within me. It’s why so many children’s books are about magical schools or hidden princesses; you know you’re unique, and one day it’ll be recognized. But I never got that owl from Hogwarts, so I just learned to find my magic. I suspect my dad would have shot and cooked any owl flying near our house.


As for Inga, she’s started as my personal vision of a certain franchise’s secondary character. I’ve written (and still write) about her and even played her in an online RPG [role-playing game] for so long that she could stand on her own feet outside the original story. My husband had been pestering me about turning the fanfiction into an original story since we met in 2006—it took him almost seven years to convince me.


Then in April 2013 I stumbled on an amatorial contest for romance short stories on an Italian website dedicated to fanfictions and original stories. One prompt tickled my imagination: falling for the tutor (here meant as an older student or a student with better grades, but not something inappropriate). It was how Inga and Biagio met, and it looked like a good opportunity to shed some light on their relationship.


Once I wrote about Inga and her flirting with Biagio, I knew I wanted to know more about her and the path that would lead her into the sequel’s inciting incident. As the short story grew (or, if you prefer, as I fell into the rabbit hole), Inga as well grew into a strong girl destined for great things, but would have to struggle. A likable, brave, if at times a bit bossy, someone my younger self would have found to be an inspiration.


Q: What do you see as the role of magic in the novel?


A: Magic is, funnily enough, not a considerable element in the novel; all too often, it can be a force for chaos in fiction. So, for example, in the Star Wars films, magic, or the Force as they call it, makes the whole universe divided into super powerful wizards and everybody else. Or you can’t read Harry Potter and wonder, hang on, if anybody can magic something out of nothing, why are there people who are poor or have shabby clothes?


What I wanted to offer was a possibility for a subtly different world, more like one by Ursula Le Guin. Where magic exists to provide options, Inga isn’t an excellent magician. She may not be the worst witch, but she’s definitely in the bottom 30 percent witch.

Magic creates a world where she can face subtle dangers and mysterious opportunities. Mostly it’s a delicate flavouring like tarragon or rose water in a macaron. Too much, and it’s all that you taste; just enough, and it lights up your taste buds.


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


A: Since it started as a short prequel to another story, I knew where Inga should be at the end of it. Well, her relationship with Biagio at least! But the rest… to quote Neil Gaiman, it was like driving on a moonless night: you can see only as far as the headlights go! And just like any journey, you might know the destination, but not how exactly you’ll get there.


So, I had a pretty good idea where the book was going, even if I occasionally pulled my hair out at some things Inga did. For example, I can find myself shouting at her when she bosses poor Biagio around. But I wrote her as the antithesis of the weak female lead, gazing up at the alpha male lead.


But do I know how the story will end? It’s certainly not over since there are other books planned. And who knows, maybe a movie or a TV series.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?


A: Well, most of all, a good time; the book is mysterious, fun, funny, and a little bit scary; it’s a roller coaster ride that won’t mess up your hair.


I also hope it’ll offer a broader view of the world; it’s a story bridging characters from different cultures and ways of life, in a world of magic. It’s like feasting on Italian tiramisu, French macaron, and the UK; I’m not sure I suspect Inga brought a lot of macarons in her luggage to London.


But it’s also a rejection of the saved princess, an admiring female that was one of the few things I didn’t like about a lot of stories. I wanted to write about a strong female lead who didn’t need a man… except on her terms.


Also, using magic to show how the world can be changed and can make people you wouldn’t think face discrimination overcome it. But the biggest takeaway, I hope, is a smile, a warm feeling, and perhaps a desire to try some good patisseries.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Well, the sequel just needs some editing, but book 3 is still in its first draft stage, so if you enjoy the first volume, you can send me a word of encouragement and some macarons. As I said before, I can see four books in this series, and as it’s got an organic, growing plot, I can see where it’s going.


But unfortunately, it would help if you waited to see these books published before reading them. I have to write them, and I can get impatient waiting for Inga, Biagio, and all the characters to get on with things before I can know how things turn out and write them down.


On top of that, some of the mentions of food in the book have made me contemplate a cookbook. But the only way I’d get that written is if Biagio in the story wrote it down.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I think the most important thing I can pass on is that I hope you had as much fun reading my story as I did writing it.


You’ve got a story inside of you, but if you want to get it out, you need to write it down and maybe plan it out a little first. Then, let your characters tell you their story in their voice. 


If you’re going to write a magical book with magic in it, it doesn’t have to dominate. It can offer possibilities and change without characters casting spells on every page. Take the time to listen to a harpsichord, smell a rose, and taste a macaron, but maybe more than one.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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