“At least we can take care of him for a while,” Michael went on. “We’ll teach him how to fly and hunt for food.”
Kate snorted. “How are we supposed to teach him something we don’t know how to do ourselves?”
I know that either those lines or a variation of them were in the first draft of SAVING THE GRIFFIN because one of my critique partners wanted a complete scene featuring them. It sounded like a really good idea, but I couldn’t quite fiugre out how and where to stitch it into the novel. The group had agreed that the manuscript was in pretty good shape at that point, so I decided not to fool around with a project that was working.
Several years later, I received what was essentially a “revise and resubmit” phone call from my editor at Peachtree. She liked what was going on with the novel and the family relationships, but she wanted to see more Italian characters. For her, that had been one of the strong points of DEFENDING IRENE. (My first first novel with Peachtree featured a girl playing on a boys’ soccer team in Merano, Italy. )
So I decided that Kate and Michael ought to have a near miss with someone who was staying on the De Checchi estate. My friend’s suggestion that I incorporate flying lessons immediately came to mind.
I modeled Anna Renauto on a little girl named Anna, the rather shy daughter of some friends of ours. She was most comfortable interacting with people while in her parents’ arms. Anna’s mother helped me with the proper Italian dialogue for that scene with Fabio and Anna.
I’m pretty sure that Fabio Renauto started out with another name. But partway through the scene, I was looking for an Italian turn of phrase that this character could use to express the utter strangeness of seeing a creature with wings and a tail. The perfect comparison lit up my brain like a halogen light. He would compare it to “the island that isn’t there.” L’isola che non c’e is the way Italians refer to Never Never Land.
I learned about this translation after getting together for sing-alongs with Fabio, one of my husband’s co-workers. We sang plenty of American pop songs by everyone from John Denver to the BeeGees. But my favorite song of the evening was always L’isola che non c’e by a guy who writes and sings like an Italian Bob Dylan. From that moment on, I knew that this character had to be named Fabio. Even as I made this decision, I knew that I’d just have to ask permission. I think he liked the idea. I told Fabio, “Non e’ proprio tu.” (He’s not really you.)
The De Checchi olive groves came from hours of wandering through Tuscany, the Cinque Terre and the Amalfi coast. We always walked past the trees instead of climbing them. But goodness, they were tempting. I loved the way those silvery-green leaves fluttered in the slightest breeze. Since Kate and Michael were guests on the estate, I let them take the liberty of climbing trees.
After all, my kids climbed every tree in our Italian garden. Every tree. And some of these giants were over a hundred years old. Naturally, they didn’t tell me until we were back in the U.S. “We’re glad you didn’t look out the kitchen window for that one tree,” my oldest said. Just to put that in context, we lived on the third floor of a building that had very high ceilings. In fact, I’d put it on the level of a standard American fourth floor. My parental side was horrified; my eleven-year-old self, incredibly jealous.