I’ve always enjoyed those behind the scenes extras on DVD’s. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent watching material on the making of THE LORD OF THE RINGS. So I decided that I could share a bit more about some of the things that went into the writing of SAVING THE GRIFFIN, especially for the kids who might be reading it as part of the Kentucky Bluegrass Award or Georgia Book Award.
Earlier on this blog, I shared how I found a stone griffin in Siena and how he served as the inspiration for this story. I also wrote about going back to one of my old notebooks and finding the rough draft of the conversation that started the first chapter. Right now, I’d like to share a bit of the background that enabled me to write this book.
My family moved to Merano, Italy back in 1998. My kids were five, seven and nine at the time. But my husband wasn’t on a short-term assignment like Kate and Michael’s dad. We had essentially committed ourselves to at least three years.
In big cities like Milan and Rome, there are American schools and large English-speaking communities. In Merano, we were the only Americans. When I arrived, my husband and I had taken at least 200 hours of Italian. I knew 100 verbs and could use them about four tenses, but I was most comfortable in the present tense and the most popular past tense. If people spoke slowly and simply, I could understand what they said. But Italians tend to accelerate until only a few familiar words pop out like is, was, he, she, go, it.
By the end of our time in Italy, I was “conversant” in the language. There were still some special tenses that gave me trouble. There were still so many words that I didn’t know. But I’d reached the point where I could hang out and speak Italian all day long without getting a headache. To a non-Italian speaker, I might have even sounded like I had a halfway decent accent. My kids, though, sounded like little Italians. Che bella! (How beautiful!)
During out time there, I also became very familiar with the way Italians speak English on a variety of levels from tourist English to complete fluency. I knew which words would give them trouble. I knew where they’d pop into Italian in hopes that I’d be able to identify the Latin word. Fabio’s use of coccodrillo was a good example of that. After all, crocodiles don’t come up in every day business English. And I remember my husband looking at one of our daughter’s tests on zoo animals. He shook his head and said, “I think I would have failed.” So I was able to put a lot of my language knowledge to good use in the book. I’ll go into some of the inspirations for various characters in later posts.
But if you’d like to know how I felt about living in Italy, you don’t have to go any farther than my characterization of Kate and Michael’s mom. Some of my qualities were useful for the book. I am a chronic tourist, but I have “flare-ups” on clear days. On summer days when there was nothing on the schedule and I could see a certain mountaintop in the distance that was hidden by haze 340 days out of the year, we would take off for a hike in the mountains or a trip to a castle.