Staci Troilo

Suspense, Passion... Fiction That Flutters The Heart

Tag: Italian-American (page 1 of 4)

Alchemy, the Forbidden Magic of the Renaissance

alchemyWe are a society of science and technology. It’s been centuries since we’ve believed in magic and mysticism. At least, that’s the trend. Some people believe to this day.

What if they’re correct?

That’s one of the theories posited in my latest release, paranormal romance Bleeding Heart, Book One of the Medici Protectorate Series.

If you read paranormal fiction, you go into it knowing societal norms will be challenged. There may be ghosts, witches, werebeasts, the undead… any manner of supernatural aspects. In my novel, a main character uses alchemy to imbue handcrafted marble daggers with magical powers—powers which affect the warriors who use them in fascinating ways.

alchemy symbolsAs early as the 1300s and well into the Renaissance, alchemy was forbidden by the Church for several reasons. The uneducated considered it an occult practice, which was a danger to organized religion. The devout felt alchemists dabbled in God’s realm, which was sacrilegious. Also, many alchemists were scam artists who used deception to “prove” their abilities. By 1404 in England, those who worked in alchemy could be punished by death. Due to these facts, many alchemists hid their interest in the pursuit.

That didn’t stop people from practicing alchemy, though.

Famous practitioners include Roger Bacon, Nicholas Flamel, John Dee, Isaac Newton, Paracelsus, and even Pope John XXII.

In my novel, I’ve taken liberties with history and made Michelangelo an alchemist. He uses his skills to help the Medici secure their destinies… and in the process, he sets in motion a series of events in modern day Pennsylvania which places one Italian-American family in mortal danger.

In Bleeding Heart, the dagger wielded by the warrior is crafted from red marble. The properties of red stones strengthen the body, add vitality to life, and represents passion and lust. This warrior contends with the positive and negative aspects of these traits, and his primary element is fire.

If you like romances and love the potential alchemy brings to a story, I think you’ll enjoy Bleeding Heart, available now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iBooks.

Amazing When Sweaty Teaser  Bleeding Heart Front Cover 300  Targets Teaser 2

Fireworks Aren’t Always in the Sky

Here’s a short story starring Franki and Gianni. This takes place after the end of Bleeding Heart. (Part way through Mind Controlactually, although this won’t be found in that book.) I hope you enjoy it.

Fireworks Aren’t Always in the Sky

villa lanteFranki stood on the travertine-tiled patio and rubbed her arms against the night chill. Weather in Florence, Italy reminded her of weather at home in Pennsylvania—nearly ninety degrees (Fahrenheit) during the day and low sixties at night, but for some reason, that evening’s breeze blew exceptionally brisk. Unprepared for the cool wind, she’d stepped outside in a tank and shorts. And regretted it immediately.

But the view captivated her, so she stayed and braced herself against the cool air.

The Brotherhood’s home in Pennsylvania was beautiful. Their compound in New York was gorgeous. But their complex in Florence? It simply stole her breath. And she and her sisters knew quality properties. They’d been raised in the construction and design industries, and since the death of her father, were the owners of one of the most prestigious building and design firms in Pittsburgh.

It didn’t take her construction knowledge to know she stood on private property overlooking one of Italy’s most beautiful—and non-touristy—creations. The house behind her rivaled any palace or basilica she’d toured in her first visit to the country. The grounds, however, captured her interest at the moment. The hedge mazes and topiary created shadow-play on the paths as marble statuary gleamed a luminescent hue of white and water in the grottos sparkled from moonlight, star shine, and discrete lighting fixtures. The burbling fountains composed an organic melody, harmonizing with the chirping crickets.

Gianni walked up behind her and wrapped his arms around her. The warmth she felt from his arms over hers and his torso against her back spread through her body.

And caused her to shiver all over again.

“Cold?” he asked. “It’s a beautiful night.”

She smiled and leaned back against him, not revealing what caused her latest shiver. “The wind just gave me a chill. It is a beautiful night, though.”

“The glow flies are out. June’s nearly over.”

She tipped her head up and looked at him. “Glow flies?”

nighttime gardensHe nodded toward the hedge maze. “Glow flies. Those little floating blinking lights in the garden. You have them in the States.”

A chuckle escaped her. “Yes, we do. But we call them fireflies. Or lightning bugs.”

He kissed her neck and said, “Hmm.” The vibrations from his lips on her skin gave her another shiver. “I don’t like the sound of lightning bugs.” He nuzzled her neck. “Fireflies is kind of nice, though.”

“I think I like glow flies. And I love it when our cultures merge.”

He kissed her neck again. “Mmm. Me, too. I love it when we merge even more.”

Franki giggled. “I love it here. But I wish we were home for the festivities next week.”

His lips grazed against her shoulder. “Festivities?”

She sighed. “The Fourth of July.”

Gianni didn’t answer. He continued pressing his lips on her arms, her shoulder blades. The nape of her neck.

She shuddered again. “Independence Day?”

“I know what it is,” he murmured. “I just didn’t realize it was next week.”

“The food, the fireworks, the festival… music and dancing and seeing the whole town come out to celebrate.” She sighed. “I love that. I’m going to miss it.”

“Let me see if I can take your mind off it, then.”

He led her inside, and she saw fireworks that night.

*    *    *

They continued their work for the next week, and Franki tried not to fixate on missing yet another hometown comfort. She was pleasantly surprised when, on July 4, Gianni and Donni threw together a picnic that would rival any festival back home.

fried doughPlatters of pasta salads, grilled vegetables, and antipastos sat on the table between pulled pork, sausages, burgers, and dogs… all with fresh-baked rolls to put them in. Trays of grilled chicken and barbecued ribs nearly overflowed. Two huge bowls held fresh cut fruit, and sugar-dusted mounds of fried dough sat ready to be topped with gelato, fruit compotes, chopped nuts, homemade hot fudge and salted-caramel sauces, and vanilla-flavored whipped cream.

Why those two idiots loved to work in the kitchen, Franki would never understand. And she’d never complain. Everything was delicious.

After dinner, everyone took drinks out to the patio and settled down to digest their food. Franki sipped on coffee laced with Frangelico. The twins had glasses of Galliano. Jo and Vinnie had beer. The other guys had wine. She’d be content to taste everyone’s drinks, and after feeling comfortably fuzzy from the liquor, slip off to bed.

She sighed.

“What’s the matter?” Gianni asked.

“Nothing,” she said.

“Franki, you’re a lousy liar. What’s wrong?”

“I don’t want to sound ungrateful.”

He waited, staring at her. The others had broken into pairs and talked quietly to each other. She turned toward Gianni, took his hand, and squeezed it. “You worked so hard today. Everything was wonderful. Delicious. I couldn’t ask for more.”

“But you want more?” he said.

“I just miss the fireworks. Despite the perfect picnic, it just doesn’t feel like the Fourth without fireworks.”

“I see.” He fumbled with something in his pocket.

“When I was little, I used to call them ‘a glittery extravaganza in the sky.’”

“Big words.” He sent a text and then looked at her. “How little?”

“I don’t know. Papa teased me about it for years, though.”

“It’s cute.”

“I guess he thought so, anyway.” She looked away from him, out over the gardens. Talking about her recently-deceased father still made her sad.

“Would fireworks tonight make you happy?”

Why dwell on something she couldn’t have. “I’m happy now, Gianni. Really.”

“So, I should cancel tonight’s festivities?”

She so loved his ‘festivities.’ She’d never say no to that. He’d provide her with her own personal fireworks, and that would be an excellent cap to the evening.

“Do you want to go upstairs now?” she asked.

He laughed and shook his head. “You and your one-track mind.”

She looked at him and raised her eyebrow. They didn’t have a language barrier, but every now and then, he confused her. “What are you talking about?”

Gianni sent a final text, then he nodded toward the gardens. “Watch.”

Italy_fireworksShe heard a faint whistle, then the sky exploded into sparkling embers of violet and gold. A loud boom echoed over the gardens, so loud she felt the air shake with the strength of it.


Spinning toward Gianni, she flung her arms around him and planted a firm kiss on his lips.

He laughed and pulled away. “Turn around, cara. I don’t want you to miss the show.”

She leaned against his chest and watched as the sky sparkled with explosion after explosion of colorful mortars. The finale rivaled any she’d ever seen before.

Franki turned and wrapped her arms around him, and this time he didn’t turn her away. “You did all this for me?”

“Well, I am a joint citizen…”

She kissed him.

“I just want to make you happy, Franki. Always.”

She held him tight, head pressed against his chest. She felt the heat of his body, heard his heartbeat through the thick silence the end of the show left behind.

She pulled away and looked at him. “How about one more show?”

He frowned. “I think they set everything off, cara. I could call and—”

Franki put her finger over his lips, stopping him from continuing. She shook her head and smiled. “I mean the kind of festivities I thought you meant earlier. A private show.”

He stood, pulled her to her feet, and addressed everyone sitting outside. “Donni and I cooked. The rest of you are on dishes. Goodnight.”

They didn’t wait for an answer. He swept Franki off her feet and carried her upstairs for the second finale of the night.

John Notaro—A Prequel to Bleeding Heart

This scene is a prequel to Bleeding Heart, releasing later this month. It gives a bit of backstory concerning the heroine’s father, John Notaro.

John Notaro

Bleeding Heart 7:00 pm. Foundry. Come alone. Don’t be late.

The message hardly surprised him. John had been receiving texts from an untraceable number for a while. Would have considered them pranks, but the sender knew too much. Saw too much. The pictures of his girls would have been enough to make him take the texts seriously. The threatening captions—We can get to them anywhere. Anytime.—sealed the deal for him.

He knew the cops would be useless, so he turned to Sal Trunzo. His handler. His protector. Sal did everything he could to trace the texts, but so far had no luck. He and Sal spent days in private meetings going over every contact John had, every person—no matter how innocuous their connection—John might be in contact with. It all proved futile. They had no idea who was contacting him. John knew his time was running out.

Then the last text came.

John trusted Sal and his partners with his life. He had to, and so far he hadn’t been disappointed. But something told him all that was about to change. He forwarded the text to Sal, the reply coming within seconds. I’ll handle it. We’ll be in place, just like we discussed. Don’t be early. Give us time to scout, get in place.

He sent his daughters home. Wiped his cell history. Left his wallet and wedding ring at his office. If the meeting didn’t go well, and he didn’t expect it would, he didn’t want to leave any trace of what was going on. And he really wanted to be certain his family got his belongings.

John took a look around his office. A last look? Pride and accomplishment puffed his chest out before crippling sadness deflated him. Everywhere he looked wasn’t just success. He saw family. Donni had decorated their headquarters top to bottom, from the lobby to the conference rooms to the individual cubicles and offices. Toni added all the hardscape and softscape outside, every plant, bench, and sculpture lovingly selected. Jo spearheaded the construction of this building just a year earlier, working off Franki’s creative designs.

His first building had been a place to get work done. This building was an extension of his family. Leaving it would break his heart.

Leaving his family would devastate him.

Not that he’d be around to deal with it.

John turned out the lights, ran his fingers through the cascading waterfall in the lobby, and stepped outside. When he heard the click as he locked the door, it seemed to echo through the empty parking lot.

It sounded so final.

Even in the snow, the Pittsburgh skyline stole his breath. The city was lit in the early February darkness, thousands of pinpoints of light glowing through the winter storm. He drove the icy roads from his Mt. Washington office, through the city, down the parkway and across the highways, all the way to his hometown of Vandergrift… and with hardly a slip on the snow-covered surface. Even in the blizzard, he had no trouble following the route he’d taken most of his adult life. If it weren’t for other cars on the road, he could probably drive it blindfolded. He knew the route by every twist, every turn. Every bump and tilt.

Bleeding HeartA tear rolled down his cheek when he passed the sign welcoming him to Vandergrift.

John fought the urge to drive past his house. He wanted a last look at it, but he didn’t think he’d be strong enough to avoid going in. And once he entered, his family would never let him leave again. That would put the danger on them. And he determined they’d never be affected. Never learn the truth.

Instead, he drove straight to his destination. The drive went too fast. He was early. But he trusted Sal and his group to be ready and in position. The buildings were dark, the parking lot empty. Even the foundry had apparently closed for inclement weather. Just as well. He didn’t want anyone else to get hurt. Hopefully Sal could put an end to this tonight.

Who was he kidding? It would never truly be over. If Sal saved him tonight, there would always be another threat, another location, another night.

He climbed out of the car, held his coat together against the bracing wind. His phone beeped, and he took it out of his pocket. Maybe it was Sal.

Last chance. Will you work with us?

John sighed. Not Sal.

If only it were that simple. It wasn’t just working with an enemy, it was signing his soul over to the devil. God help him, fear washed over him and he considered it. But in the end, he knew it was wrong.

With trembling fingers, he typed his response. Never.

The response was instantaneous. And exactly what he dreaded. Wrong answer.

The shadows started moving. First, he made out one figure. Then another. And a third. He saw weapons in their hands, realized his worst fears had come to fruition, prayed Sal would intervene in time.

When the first figure stepped into the light, panic clawed at his heart.

It was so much worse than he’d imagined.

I hope you enjoyed this little bit of backstory to Bleeding Heart. If you’re interested in reading more, visit the Bleeding Heart page on this site (purchase links are available there), my Bleeding Heart Pinterest board, or a sample chapter from the sidebar.

#CoverReveal—Bleeding Heart, #PNR #Romance #Novel

medici protectorateAt long last, several years in the making, the first book in the paranormal romance series that’s so near and dear to my heart is about to be published.

May 12, Lagan Press will release Book 1 of the Medici Protectorate Series, Bleeding Heart. The idea for the series began with my grandfather and the stories he told about our heritage. This is clearly a work of fiction, but because it came to be from stories of my Italian ancestry, it’s a project I’m really excited about.

Today, I’m pleased to share with you the first look at the cover.

Bleeding Heart takes place in my home state (parts even in my hometown of Vandergrift), and the cover prominently features what I think is the most beautiful skyline in the world—Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Here’s the back cover description:

In the heart of Pittsburgh awaits a secret nearly half a millennium in the making…

After her father’s brutal murder, Franki discovers she and her three sisters are the sole-surviving secret legacy of the Medici. The same people who brutally murdered her father now target her and her family for assassination. Unprepared to battle an unknown enemy, she finds her safety depends on the Medici Protectorate, the warriors who guarded her bloodline for centuries. The same warriors who failed to protect her father.

Gianni, Franki’s protector, blows his first meeting with her but knows he must garner the trust of not only Franki, but also her sisters. Without that, he fails, too, and that is unacceptable—not only to him but also to the Protectorate. His troubles only grow more difficult, for as he assumes his new role, he also undergoes inexplicable, explosive physical changes… transformations he can’t control. One of those is his uncontainable desire for Franki.

Their worlds collide in passion and violence, and Franki struggles to trust Gianni. When her life is on the line, he will have to conquer both her fears and his own personal demons to rescue her in time.

Here’s a brief glimpse inside:

He leaned toward her, and her breath caught. Finally, he was going to kiss her again, and put her out of her misery. Public be damned. She didn’t care if he had his way with her on the hood of her car.

They stood so close she felt his body heat through her clothes, his breath on her face. She looked up at him, and her lips parted.

And he reached behind her and opened her car door.

“Get in the car, Franki,” he said, and pushed on the top of her head.

I hope you enjoyed this sneak peak into the first installment of the Medici Protectorate Series. More is soon to follow, so stay tuned! (And if you can’t wait, go ahead and post comments below. I’ll be more than happy to talk with you about it.)

#FFFF—April Showers Short Story

happy birthdayI’m sorry for my absence last week. I was dealing with the loss of a dear family member and couldn’t get to the post. My apologies if you were looking for me and I wasn’t here. But I’m here now!

April 3 has historically been a weird day for me. My mom’s birthday was yesterday and mine is tomorrow. When I was a kid, this seemed like the longest day of the year. Now that I’m an adult, it’s one of the shortest. My husband and kids ask me how old I am all day, because the next day the number will have increased by one, and I’ll never get to have that smaller number again. I know it’s silly, but it’s tradition.

While I don’t hate my birthday (let’s be honest; having one sure beats the alternative), I’m not crazy about being the center of attention (weird for a writer and marketer, right?), and I hate that life’s pace is accelerating rather than slowing down. This time of year, I reflect on my kids and how old they’ve grown. On my marriage and how long Corey and I have (happily) been together. On my family… those I’ve lost and those I’m still blessed to have.

So, in honor of all the birthdays I’ll be celebrating this month (and the list of family is long, let alone adding in friends), this month’s First Friday Fiction Feature is birthday-themed. (You can find my other free short stories here, and if you sign up for my newsletter, you’ll receive a deleted chapter [available only when you sign up and nowhere else] from Type and Cross.)

Without further ado, this month’s #FFFF.

What April Showers Bring

Italian families… big, boisterous, loud. Mine is the very definition. For example, most people have cake and ice cream for their birthdays with close family, maybe a few friends. Chat for an hour or two and then everyone goes their separate ways.

Not my family.

My family gathers four generations deep for a full multi-course spread. Antipasto platters and dips. Breads and pizzas. Soups and salads. Fruit and veggies. Pasta, potato, and rice dishes. Sausages, meatballs, and roasts. Cookies and pastries. And multiple several-layer birthday cakes. Nothing is store bought. No activity is rushed through. A birthday is an all day affair. Birthdays in my family rival most people’s wedding receptions. (But let’s not bring up weddings right now.)

Our family has grown so large that we’ve stopped celebrating individual birthdays. Once a month we gather on a weekend at someone’s house or a public park (sometimes even a local rec hall) to celebrate any birthdays occurring that month. Which sounds economical and practical, but in reality, it’s crazy. Some months there are only a few birthdays, so it’s not so bad. But April? We have ten birthdays and my cousin Maria—that’s Uncle Dom’s daughter, not Aunt Arlene’s daughter-in-law—is ready to give birth any day now. So we have a lot to celebrate in April. And when you figure each of the ten people gets his or her favorite meal?

Let’s just say we could feed a third world country on the amount of food made for that particular bash.

Every family celebration is the same. Babies and toddlers with food on their faces and sticky little hands are passed between aunts and uncles. They’re either wailing about something or laughing so hard they might throw up. (One of them always does. Often on me.) Kids play games in the yard, dodge the relatives who pinch cheeks, and tell any adult who will listen about silly things they’ve seen on television or heard from their friends. At least three of these little cherubs will invariably tell a story that embarrasses their parents. The teenagers and the twenty-somethings spend all their time teasing each other, keeping the uncles entertained. And all the older women run around getting food on the table and swatting any hands reaching for an early sample of the meal.

It takes these hundred-plus people more than an hour to get through the food line, find a seat by someone who won’t torment them in one way or another, and scarf down their meal. The aunts coyly question people at the table about whose bread was better, whose pasta was dry.

It’s around the end of the secret ‘Who’s The Best Cook’ competition that someone realizes no one has harassed me about getting married. And then it begins.

“Are you seeing anyone special?”

“Or anyone at all?”

“You aren’t getting any younger, you know.”

“Don’t you want babies?”

“Don’t you want a husband?”

“Are you even interested in men? Or are you maybe…?”


This can go on for hours. By the time I’ve answered all the questions at least three times, my brothers and cousins have abandoned teasing each other to focus all their attention on me.

That’s when I decide to clear the table—correction, tables—of food so we can move on to dessert. I know by the time I’ve packed all the food away and done all the dishes, the birthday honorees should be through the cake cutting and at least partially through gift opening. Usually my sister helps so the task isn’t overwhelming. At least there’s that. Then I’ll try to sneak home before anyone notices I haven’t opened my gifts yet. Sometimes I make it. Usually I don’t.

I had dreaded this particular year. I wouldn’t be a twenty-something anymore. I was leaving my youth—and if you listen to anyone in my family, my desirability—behind for my thirties. Yep, I was turning thirty. Trenta. The big three-oh.

I couldn’t do it. There was no way I could sit through a whole day of “My goodness! Thirty and not married? When I was your age, I had already fallen in love, gotten married, and had…” Insert number of children there.

I’d rather run naked through the throng of my relatives than go through that. And that included listening to the inevitable teasing that would go with my fast-and-furious birthday-suit dash. The humiliation would never end. But then, neither does the analysis of my life. It would be a welcome change.

I called my mother.

“Look, I know you’re planning something big for my birthday this year.”

“What? Me? I forgot your birthday was even coming up.” The mock innocence in her voice could be heard by my hearing-impaired grandfather. Who refused to wear his hearing aid, so essentially… my deaf grandfather.

“Mom. Seriously.”

“Is there something special Dad and I can buy you?”

“Buy me, no. But there is something special I want.”

“Anything, honey.”

“I want to go to the cabin instead of the party this year.” My parents owned a lovely two-bedroom cabin at the river. We never had parties there because the house was too small, but I’d have plenty of room to celebrate in any way I wanted. Which meant me, the television, and several bottles of wine.

“Not that, honey. Everyone would miss you. How about a three month trial membership to Catholic Date?”

Lord have mercy. Pleeeease tell me she didn’t get me a membership to a dating site.

“Mom. You want to get me something special, not something that will make me homicidal.”


“No. I don’t want a profile on a dating site. I just want to be left alone.”

“But you’re turning thirty.”

“Exactly. Thirty. I’m an adult. Long past, actually. I should be able to make my own decisions. Which includes not joining a dating site and not going to the family birthday bash.”

“But what will I tell everyone?”

“That I want my privacy.”

“Honey.” The disappointment in her tone was as evident as her earlier fake innocence. “That’ll hurt their feelings.”

“Then say I’m traveling for work.”

“You want me to lie?”

Seriously. It’s not like she’d be under oath and testifying in a murder trial.

“I’ll bring work to the river with me. Then it won’t be a lie.”

She was silent so long, I thought maybe we’d been disconnected. Finally, I heard that long-suffering sigh. The one that said I was taking years off her life and putting grey in her hair. “Fine. I’ll have the key ready for you.”

I didn’t bother telling her I’d made a copy of the key when I was in high school. She didn’t need any more bad news. I’d just suffer through one more lecture when I picked up her key, and then I’d be on my way.

When birthday-weekend-Friday rolled around, I took the day off and headed to camp. After a quick lunch, I took the canoe out for the first row of spring. The area was deserted. I couldn’t see any of our neighbors from our property, but even rowing up and down the river, no one seemed to be around. I was well and truly alone at the river. Which was fine by me.

It was unseasonably warm for April. The whole weekend was going to be around eighty degrees and sunny. I grabbed a blanket from the deck box, a cooler of beer, my Kindle, and my iPhone and got comfortable in the grass. Might as well celebrate thirty with a suntan.

I played some smooth jazz on Pandora and set my Kindle aside, content to just lie in the sun and listen to music. It was hot. Hotter than I expected. I looked around. There truly was no one in sight, and I was far enough from the river that if someone happened to float or row by, they couldn’t really see me well, anyway.

I bit my lip, looked around, and grinned. I might be thirty, but I was still adventurous. I stripped down and lay in the sun. It was my birthday weekend. Time to be in my birthday suit.

No way would I go home with tan lines.

You’d think the novelty of being naked outside would have worn off after… I don’t know, ten minutes? But it didn’t. I stayed out there all day. Not a soul came past. I felt free, wonderful.

And not at all bad about turning thirty.

In hindsight, the beer might have had something to do with all that. But at the time? I was having a blast.

I went inside around seven and, too lazy to cook dinner, munched my way through a bag of chips. Still naked. I watched classic movies until midnight—still naked—and then I toasted my birthday with a glass of wine. And another. And another.

So I killed the bottle. Well, two bottles. Naked. Who cares?

I don’t remember going to bed, but when I woke up—about half past eleven—I had the volume on my phone cranked up and classic rock blared from the speaker. Generally the speaker isn’t that loud, but with a hangover, it was ridiculous. The boom, boom, boom of the bass echoed through my head and made my teeth hurt. The electric guitar riffs sliced through my skull to that tiny part of my brain that controlled my gag reflex.

So I turned the volume down, changed the station to a zen channel, and headed for the bathroom. After a thorough vomiting, I popped two aspirin in my mouth, drank copious amounts of water, and took a shower.

I felt a lot better after half an hour under a spray of hot water. God bless my parents for spending extra on an instantaneous water heater. I could have spent the rest of the day in there and never run the water to cold.

I got out and dried off, my headache down to a dull roar. Switching the music back to classic rock, I decided a little hair of the dog would cure me of my hangover. I also decided there was no reason to get dressed. Birthday weekend, birthday suit. All weekend long. I was just going to lie naked in the sun again, alone, so what did it matter?

I put my earbuds in, grabbed a towel, and headed downstairs. Snagging a bottle of expensive cabernet out of my dad’s stash—it was my birthday, after all—I stepped out onto the deck and headed down the stairs.


More than a hundred voices yelling ‘surprise’ when you aren’t expecting it is shocking. More than a hundred voices yelling ‘surprise’ followed immediately by laughing and cat calls and shocked exclamations defies description.

I screamed, dropped the bottle, and covered myself as best I could while scrambling back toward the door. A full-bodied red had splattered all over me, and my fully-naked-body dashed for cover. Of course I stepped on some of the glass, embedding it in the flesh of my feet. I hobble-hopped to the door, but it had locked behind me. I stooped down, trying to cover myself, and pretended to try to pull the glass from my foot. In reality, I just hunkered there, praying the earth would split open and swallow me whole.

I had to wait until my dad went around to the front door, unlocked it and let himself in, and came out the back door to rescue me. Thankfully, he brought a blanket for me to cover myself with.

“Come on in, pumpkin.” I have to give him credit. He neither laughed nor lectured. He was surprisingly straight-faced. “Let’s get you cleaned up.”

My mother wasn’t as merciful. She followed us in, yell-whispering like only an Italian mother can. “What were you thinking? Have you lost your mind? Who’s here? What are you doing?” She glanced at my phone. “Please tell me you aren’t sex-texting!”

I still couldn’t look at either of them, but I found my voice. “Okay, one, it’s called ‘sexting.’ Two, ew, no. And three, what were you thinking? This weekend was supposed to be your gift to me.”

“That’s why we’re here. Why we’re all here. To give you a party. And presents.”

Dad cleaned up my feet and left, still having said nothing. I think I saw his shoulders shaking as he walked away. I definitely heard a snort before the door closed behind him. Traitor.

Mom, on the other hand, hadn’t stopped talking. So much for what I wanted.

“Honestly, Gina. How… why… I can’t even begin to—”

“Mom. Stop. I have a hangover. And I just exposed myself to one hundred family members.”

“And Tony.”

“Tony is family. Uncle Tony, Big Tony, Little Tony, and Tony Junior. They’re all family.” We have a lot of Tonys in our family. Most Italians probably do. I never found it odd until I listed them all.

“No. Tony DeNunzio.”

That nausea thing was rolling back around again.

“From the Catholic Date site. You two are a perfect match. And I’ve known his mother for years. I thought it was such great luck that we found his profile on that site, and you then went and—”

“Stop.” Thank God she did. “You filled out a profile on that dating site. For me. After I asked you not to. And now you think you found my perfect man?”

Tony DeNunzio. He was my perfect man. I’d had a crush on him from third grade on. But I don’t think he could pick me out of a lineup of male convicts. To think he saw me naked before he even knew I existed was more than I could bear.

“I don’t know why I didn’t think of him sooner.” She still prattled on, oblivious to my humiliation. “He’s—”

“I don’t care what he is or isn’t, Mom. Did you say he’s here?”

“Yes. That was another part of the surprise. And then you went and…”

I walked away at that point. Or, I guess I limped away. By my calculations, I had about three minutes left to get dressed and sneak to my car before my cousins converged on my room and dragged me out—dressed or not.

I slipped into jeans and a t-shirt. Why had I drunk so much the night before? Why had I insisted on running around in my birthday suit? Why had I trusted my mother? Why had I stayed in the shower for so long?

Why am I such an idiot?

I stepped out onto the front porch and looked around. There were cars everywhere. I was hopelessly blocked in. Damn loud music and long shower. I never heard any of it.

My humiliation was being exploited in the back yard. Even from the driveway I could hear the quips and the laughter. I glanced around. Tony DeNunzio stood off to the side, chatting with my grandmother.

Damn, he was even better looking than in high school.

I supposed I deserved this. I did wish for it, in a way. I said I’d rather run naked through my family than suffer through another birthday party. This way, I got to do both. Delightful. Happy thirtieth to me.

Tony looked up and smiled, kind of cocked his head, beckoning me to come to him. If I could just laugh with everyone, maybe it would blow over sooner rather than later and I could try flirting with Mr. Right.

Or I could accept that my family loved to torment me and this would go on for years.

Eh. Either way, Tony DeNunzio was at my birthday. He’d seen more of me than I ever thought he would, and he hadn’t run away screaming. It could be worse.

April showers didn’t bring me May flowers. My April shower brought me a hangover, a bad decision, and a new opportunity.

One out of three isn’t bad.

I hope you enjoyed this story. Feel free to share it with your friends.

How Embracing Family History Can Result in Poignant Stories

italian american

Click image to be directed to PBS:
The Italian-Americans.

There’s a lot of buzz in Pittsburgh right now about a PBS special called The Italian Americans. It’s not just running in Pittsburgh; I was able to watch the series here. I just don’t think people are talking about it here like they are at home. (Probably because my family and I are the only Italians in Arkansas. Hyperbole, anyone?)

My husband and I watch the History Channel a lot, so watching a documentary on PBS isn’t much different from our usual viewing. What was different, however, was my visceral response to the program. I was already aware of much of this history—my grandparents have shared some of their stories with me—but seeing it brought to life? Totally different. I thought I knew our history, but there was so much I was unaware of. Probably even more that you don’t know. You should check it out; it’s an honest portrayal of the good and the bad. I’m lucky my grandparents shared what they did. I’d love to hear even more.

When your grandparents tell you stories, they may make you laugh. They might make you cry. But they don’t often share their feelings about the events. It’s kind of like the hard parts are filtered out, like they’re trying to protect us—or themselves—from experiencing the pain.

It takes a special storyteller to not just scratch the surface but dig deep down to the heart of the issue. (Agree? Tweet this.)

That’s what I strive to be—a special storyteller. My history not only shapes me as a person, but it shapes me as a writer. (I think that’s true of all writers, to an extent. Writers often say their characters are a reflection of themselves in one way or another.) Not all of my characters are Italian-American, but all of them find familial bonds to be of the utmost importance. That’s my heritage, and that’s reflected in my writing.

Italian Americans

My Great-Grandmother, My Grandfather, and His Siblings…
Italian-Americans, and Proud of It

When I write a story, I don’t want to scratch the surface; I want to dig deep down to the heart and soul of these characters and have them express powerful emotions brought on by their situations. I want to write words that make readers laugh, cry; feel outrage, indignation; question situations, opinions.

And when someone reads my work? I want them to experience everything right along with the characters.

For Readers:
Think about your favorite book. What did you respond most to? The plot? The setting? The characters? The next time you read that book—or any book—consider the hero of the story; consider the villain. Do you know enough about them to relate to their perceptions of the world? Does it matter if you can relate? Would you like to know more about them and their situations? What would make them more relatable?

For Writers:
Are you just scratching the surface in your work? You’ll know if you are by the level of comfort you feel. Telling deep, resonating stories requires you to leave your comfort zone and tap into the pool of emotions you’re used to suppressing. If reading your work doesn’t move you, it’s not going to move anyone else, either. My current WIP, Bleeding Heart, delves into Italian-American family life, and I’ve been able to enrich my characters by drawing on personal experience.

For Everyone:
I’m a family person. If you’ve followed my blog or read my work, you know family and history is important to me. What about you? Do you know where you come from, what your history is, how it’s shaped the person you’ve become? Do you prefer stories that barely get into a character or do you enjoy the ones that dig, even to the point of exposing raw nerves? Let’s talk about it. Comment below.

First Friday Fiction Feature — Laci and Del: Romance Tailor Made

It’s the first Friday of the month. Time for another installment of short fiction. You can, at any time, find this work or any of the First Friday Fiction Features (#FFFF), by going to the My Work tab, clicking on Freebies, and selecting the story you wish to read.

Hopefully you remember that 2014 is the year I’m trying serial work. This is part 2 of 12: “Laci and Del: Romance Tailor Made”

Laci and Del: Romance Tailor Made

black & gold valentineThey’d been dating since New Year’s, midnight. This time. Laci had to admit things were going well. Over the last six weeks, Del seemed to have remembered everything that mattered to her.

She only ate ice cream in the summer… unless she was angry, then bring it on. By the gallon. She liked her pizza New York style, as thin as she could get it, and always with sausage and veggies. Chicken wings should be seasoned with paprika and garlic salt, not slathered in sauce, and served with blue cheese, not ranch. And like pizza, she had to drink Pepsi, not Coke, with them. And definitely not iced tea or something without bubbles. Beer would do in a pinch, but was not her first choice. She was fiercely addicted to hockey. She loved museums, but preferred to go to them alone because people usually rushed her through them. She pretended to enjoy art films but in actuality they bored her; she preferred action movies. And obviously, she hated being alone at midnight on New Year’s because not kissing someone was a double whammy for her: it was a new year and it was her birthday.

He remembered it all.

When Del told her he had something special planned for Valentine’s Day, she couldn’t help but panic. “Special” was too much. “Special” was too soon.

They had crossed that bridge before. They had discussed marriage. She’d been ready for it. She had been secretly buying bridal magazines and thinking about venues. She’d tentatively designed the perfect menu, chosen colors and flowers, and known just what gown she wanted. If she had closed her eyes, she could have felt the ring on her finger.

And it had blown up in her face.

She didn’t know if she was ready to deal with all that again.

“What time can you get off work?” he asked.

“Uh… I don’t know. Why?”

“I thought we might start the night early. Valentine’s Day is Friday, so you know it’s going to be even more crazy in town than usual.”

“What time do I need to be ready?”

“Well, I don’t want to give too much away. Can you be ready to walk out the door at five?”

“Five? That’s awfully early for dinner, isn’t it?”

“I’ve got a full evening planned.”

She sighed, but no air felt like it entered or exited her lungs. Her chest felt tight, her palms cold, clammy. “All right. Five. What should I wear?”

“Whatever you’re comfortable in.”

“I’m comfortable in jammies.”

He waggled his eyebrows.

“Seriously, Del. I need to know how to dress.”

“Something comfortable. That’s all I’m saying.” He leaned down and gave her a quick kiss, then started to walk away. He called over his shoulder. “I promise, this will be a night you won’t forget.”

Something comfortable? She bit her lower lip. I doubt I’ll be comfortable until that night is long over.

When Valentine’s Day rolled around, Laci had worked herself up so much that she couldn’t concentrate if she tried. She finally just took the afternoon off and went home. Standing in her closet, she pawed through her clothes countless times, never coming up with anything. Finally, she stood back.

“What the hell constitutes ‘comfortable’ to a man?”

She took a bubble bath, styled her hair, and applied her makeup. When her doorbell rang at 4:55, she was still in her robe.

“I know I said ‘comfortable,’ but I don’t think we’ll get out of your apartment with you looking like that.”

The look on his face was something between appreciation and predator. She whacked his arm as it reached for her and darted out of his reach. “I’d be ready by now if I knew what I was supposed to be wearing. You won’t tell me where we’re going, or what ‘comfortable’ means, or how dressy I should get, or…” She stopped and took a good look at him for the first time.

He was dressed in jeans and his winter jacket, underneath which she could see a hockey jersey peeking out.

“When you say ‘comfortable,’ do you mean ‘casual?’”

“I do.”

She started to relax. “How casual? Like, my lucky-hockey-jersey casual?”

“That would be perfect.” He smiled.

The pressure in her chest released so quickly, she was surprised steam didn’t pour out her ears. “I’ll be right back!” She all but danced to her room and stripped out of her robe. Her beloved Lemieux jersey held a place of honor in her closet; it hung right by the door next to the white Sidney Crosby, black Evgeni Malkin, and blue James Neal jerseys. But the black Lemieux jersey was her lucky jersey, and it was a special night, so that’s the one she wore. She donned it with a pair of black jeans and black boots, grabbed her jacket, and headed for the door.

“Perfect,” he said, standing back and looking her over.

She could feel the heat rise in her cheeks. “Stop it. I hate it when you look at me like that.”

“Get used to it.” He opened the door for her. “Let’s go.”

“Where are we going?”

“That’s classified.”

She sighed, but played along. Downstairs, a black car was parked at the curb. She started to walk around it to cross the street, but he led her to it and bowed low, opening the door. “Madame, your carriage awaits.”


“I rented a car for tonight. I didn’t want to walk in the cold or try to hail cabs.”

“Where are we going?”

“Geez, Laci. Would you just play along and get in?”

“Okay!” She got in and Del climbed in behind her. He poured her champagne and they toasted to a wonderful Valentine’s Day. Laci hadn’t even finished her drink before they were at their destination: her favorite pizza parlor. “Are you kidding me?”

“Nope. Come on.” Del took her hand and led her inside. They ordered salad and pizza—New York style with sausage and veggies, of course—and two Pepsis.

When they were finished, Del took her hand. “Did you enjoy your meal?”

“Every bite.”

“Ready to go?”

“There’s more?”

“It’s only six-fifteen, Laci. The night’s just getting started.”

Their driver valiantly braved rush hour traffic to cross the river and stop at The Square, where Del paid for them to ride the incline to the top of Coal Mountain and look at the view of the city.

“It’s a little chilly, but it’s beautiful,” Laci said, nerves creeping back in. The top of the mountain was exactly the kind of place people went to propose, and she wasn’t ready.

“I’m glad you like it,” Del said. “But we can’t stay. We’ve got one more stop.”

Relief flooded through her, warm and comforting, tingling her chilled fingers and toes. “Really, Del? You’ve already given me a great night.”

“I think you’ll like this.”

They rode the incline back down and got in the car. Again the driver fought city traffic and took them to one of Laci’s favorite places: the hockey center.

Del produced two tickets from his pocket. “Center ice. Right behind the bench.”

She threw her arms around him. “Are you serious?”

“Happy Valentine’s Day, Laci.”

“Happy Valentine’s Day, Del.”

As they walked inside, Laci knew she was going to remember that night for the rest of her life.

She also knew Del had put together a far more romantic evening for her than if he had wined-and-dined her at a fancy restaurant.

What did that mean for them going forward?

Do You Know Where You Come From?

vandergriftIf you’ve browsed my blog, website, or Facebook page, you know I’m from Vandergrift, Pennsylvania, and you know what it’s famous for. If not (or if you’ve forgotten), I’ll tell you. Vandergrift is the first worker-owned, industrially-planned town in America. When founder George G. McMurtry acquired an iron and steel mill on 640 acres of land on the Kiskiminitas River, he had a vision: a town that was unique, attractive… “better than the best.” He contacted Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmsted, who promised there would be no better town in the world “for physical health and comfort.”

Vandergrift 1895

“The town would be a site of natural health, wealth, and beauty; drained; graded; flat but convenient; good road and walks; not in squares, but according to the lay of the land; such water as flows from mountain springs brought into houses; sewers; expanse of grass; trees; outlook; modern above and below ground; electric lights, telegraph, telephone… bathtub… . Every man to choose his part with the means at hand of supporting that part; the people to own their houses and control their pursuits. The means of health and enjoyment of life within reach of all inhabitants. Liquor not to be sold there.” (Something Better Than The Best, 1996, p 20.)

That’s the town my grandfather immigrated to. He came to America in 1920 when he was just six years old. Despite the glory of the Roaring Twenties (something he was too young to appreciate), the whole country was experiencing Prohibition, so Vandergrift wasn’t the only “dry” town. But it was a beautiful town.


Bottom left–Gazebo at Kennedy Park; Center–Houses on Emerson St.; Top Right–Old Casino Theater

Vandergrift was a town of curving streets, green parks, tidy homes with the latest amenities offering the mill and foundry workers all the comforts and health benefits the early 1900s had to offer. The town boasted churches in several denominations (St. Gertrude is now a National Landmark) and Rabbi Reubin Y. Rubinowitz sometimes led the town in holy days of worship. Citizens came out in droves to watch or participate in the many parades held throughout the year, and in the summer, families could always cool off at the community pool.

Naccarato home

The whole Naccarato clan in front of the family home

Yes, my grandfather immigrated to a wonderful town. His father died just eight years after they came here, leaving my grandfather as “the man of the house.” He quit school to get a job in the foundry, earning money for the household and helping raise his two sisters and four brothers. And he managed to do just that. They stayed in their home—a home that stayed in the family for generations. He only gave it over to his mother and younger siblings a year after he was married. My grandmother—my ninety-five year old grandmother—is still in the house he bought her. My grandfather’s original home was just sold from our family’s holdings last year.

There’s something about Vandergrift that gets in your blood and doesn’t let go.

Why am I telling you all this?

We were just home for Christmas. The town has changed. A lot. My parents were raised in a different town than the one my grandparents immigrated to. I was raised in a different town than the one my parents were raised in. My kids don’t recognize Vandergrift as the town my husband and I describe from when we were growing up. Times change. Progress? Maybe. I can’t say I see much that changed for the better in my beloved hometown.

But it’s home.

All of us need to remember that we are where we came from—at least to some extent.

And writers, this is especially true for our characters. They all have backstory. It might not all make it into our work, but it’s there. You should know it. And it should shape your characters. If I was a character in a novel, I’d be a girl living in the south who desperately misses the north. She misses her family, misses her friends. She has trouble shopping because she can’t find the right ingredients. She has trouble with colloquial phrases, and sometimes the locals laugh at her because of her confusion. Do I have to include any of that? No. If I choose to, I definitely shouldn’t say it explicitly. I’d just reveal it as the story progresses. She can be sad as she mails a birthday gift because she won’t be at the celebration. She can be confused when someone says, “Damn, Skippy,” and they laugh when she asks who Skippy is. She can be frustrated when she can’t find oil-cured olives and pancetta at the grocery story. The history should come forth in small snippets throughout the story, letting us learn about the character through her feelings about her home. Let it become a character itself.

Pay attention to your history. Embrace it. That’s where the enrichment is.

Where are you from? What makes it special? Share your story with us in the comments.

Grandma, Light Bulbs, and My Epiphany

It’s the new year. We’ve all been reflecting on 2013 and making resolutions for 2014.

2014I look back on 2013 as an eventful one. It was a year of making new friends, losing dear loved ones, publishing my first novel, securing an agent, earning several writing awards at a writing conference, winning first place in the main course category of the Atkins Low Carb Recipe contest, and managing to visit home not once, but twice (a rare treat, living 1,000 miles away). My son was inducted into NHS and got his driver’s license. My daughter graduated from middle school with a 4.0 for all three years and made conference on the high school tennis team her first year. Yes, it was an eventful year. And we have even higher hopes for 2014.

epiphanyBut January 6 is already almost a week into the new year. It’s officially Epiphany, the church feast uniting three events in Christ’s life when His divinity “shines” through His humanity: the adoration of the Magi, the baptism of Christ in the Jordan, and the first miracle at the wedding feast of Cana. See, that “shining” is important. During Advent, the world was in darkness, and we waited in expectation of the Coming Light. At Christmas, the Light shone forth, but dimly, seen only by a few around the crib—Mary and Joseph and the shepherds. But at Epiphany, the Light bursts forth to all nations and the prophecy is fulfilled: The Gentiles shall walk in Thy light, and kings in the brightness of Thy rising (Isaiah 60:3). The star of Epiphany, “flashing like a flame,” is still another facet of the light-motif.

We talk about “epiphanies” in our lives all the time. An epiphany (according to The American Heritage Dictionary) is “a comprehension or perception of reality by means of a sudden intuitive realization.”

My grandmother is ninety-five years old. I can guarantee she’s had an epiphany or two over the years. When she was a teenager, she was being courted by a wealthy young man from the neighboring town. His family owned several car dealerships and he would have made her quite a comfortable life.

mary and john weddingThen she met my grandfather.

And she had an epiphany.

It didn’t matter how rich her suitor was or how easy he could have made her life. She had fallen in love with another man. The man she was going to marry and make a life with, raise a family with.

When we have an epiphany, people liken it to a light bulb going off in our heads. They say “we saw the light.” And it really is like that.

Just as my grandfather gave my grandmother an epiphany, he gave me one. The story of his ancestry clicked like a light bulb in my head one day and became the beginnings of the series that landed me my agent.

light bulbPay attention to those family stories, folks. You never know when they might turn on a light in your head.

So, what about you? What epiphanies have you had? What are you working on in 2014? Share your stories with us below.

Here We Come A Caroling… Sort of. Won’t You Come With Me?

ChristmasI have a real honor today. I’m guest posting/visiting on a friend and fellow Tribe Writer’s blog talking all about family Christmas traditions. Won’t you join me on Joan Hall’s site (Joan Hall Writes) as we discuss Christmas and family? Hope to see you there!

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