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Hood Explores Role of Women in An Italian Wife

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 An Italian Wife by Ann Hood
An Italian Wife
by Ann Hood

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An Authorlink interview with Ann Hood, author of AN ITALIAN WIFE ( W. W. Norton & Company).

Ann Hood began her apprenticeship as a writer as a close reader. Growing up in a blue collar mill town in Rhode Isl

“I remember breaking down how to write in the margins of a story. In one book I wrote ‘start with action’,” said Hood.

She graduated with an English degree and went to work as an international flight attendant for TWA fueled by the belief that ‘writers need adventures to write.’ She discovered that the job gave her ample time to read and writer during long layovers between flights. and, she would instruct herself on elements of craft by writing in the margins of her books.

“I remember breaking down how to write in the margins of a story. In one book I wrote ‘start with action’.”

She kept her stories to herself until a boyfriend read one (a story that would become part of her first novel, Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine) and encouraged Hood to “go around the corner to NYU and show it to someone.”

Hood went to NYU and knocked on the door of E.L. Doctorow, who suggested she sign up for his writing class. While pursuing a Master’s degree in literature there, she worked with Nicolas Delbanco and William Decker, who recommended her for the Breadloaf Writer’s Conference.

Hood has gone on to write fifteen books. Her latest, An Italian Wife, a family saga told in linked stories, was developed over a period of 14 years. She was having dinner with her mother, who told her about rallies that took place in Italian American communities during World War II. At the rallies families would donate gold to be sent to Italy to support Mussolini.

“My Mom was a first generation American who grew up with Italian being spoken in the household. This story made me wonder what other stories I had missed,” said Hood.

Her first story, Dear Mussolini, was published in an anthology of best new fiction in New England.

Hood said that while plot or theme may spark her to sit down and write, she can’t begin a story until “I find a character that will become the captain of the story and take us on the journey.”

She went on to write a story a year about the family and finished last year with Captain Macaroni, about a kid who embraces his Italian American heritage.

“I knew I could stop writing about them. The family was going to be okay. I had 400 pages and half of the stories had been published,” said Hood.

“For the three facts about Coney Island that show up in the story I read 3,000.”

She played around with the order of the stories and sent them to her agent. The book is divided into three parts spanning periods of time during World War I, World War II and Vietnam.

Hood did extensive research on each time period. “For the three facts about Coney Island that show up in the story I read 3,000,” she noted. Her last book, The Obituary Writer, was an alternating narrative between a woman in 1919 and one in 1961, whose stories ultimately intersect. It covers some of the same ground as An Italian Wife.

“I like to explore women’s roles, choices and freedom. I like to explore how women get their power in different times,” said Hood.

She pointed out that the chapters don’t tell the stories of the women in the family who are happy. The stories follow conflict, as when the mother Josephine sends her daughter to study with a priest, who she knows will make inappropriate overtures because she wants that daughter to get an education and make her way out of the neighborhood.

“The traps and burdens for women are the same regardless of the time,” said Hood.

She noted that many women characters in the book struggling for power find it or lose it through sex. Hood’s evocative sex scenes are the result of work on craft and study. She consulted Elizabeth Benedict’s The Joy of Writing Sex, which draws on the work of writers who have mastered the intricacies of writing about sex.

Hood seeks opportunities to work on craft. Noticing her reliance on character to the determent of plot, she took a class on screenwriting, which by its nature is plot-focused.

She also took a bit of advice to hone her scene writing from something she heard the late director Mike Nichols say, “Every scene is either an argument, negotiation or seduction.”

Hood said the linked stories came together well to form what her editor Jill Bialosky called “a family saga.”

Because Hood didn’t write the book as a novel, it lacked the usual problems of a novel like sticking to plot points, getting characters where they needed to be ceaselessly and bringing together disparate threads of the story.

Many of the stories had been published and had already been edited, so she and Bialosky focused on story length and making sure all the details that connected the stories matched.

“Everyone has a story, but not everyone writes it. “

Hood suggests novice writers focus on an establishing manageable goals and setting up a writing routine. She is no stranger to writing and rewriting. Her bestseller, The Knitting Circle, went through 30 drafts.

“Everyone has a story, but not everyone writes it. That drive is such a personal thing and you have to have it. It is not always the most talented people who make it, but the most tenacious.

Hood is working on a new novel that should be out next year.

About the Author

Ann Hood is the author of eleven works of fiction, including the bestseller The Knitting Circle, a short story collection and two memoirs. She lives in Providence, Rhode Island.

About Regular Contributor
Ellen Birkett Morris
Ellen Birkett Morris is an award-winning journalist whose interviews and reviews have appeared in Authorlink, Prairie Schooner Online, The Louisville Courier-Journal, and reprinted in the reader’s guides to The Receptionist and Clever Girl. Her fiction has appeared in journals including Antioch Review, South Caroline Review and Notre Dame Review. Ellen is a regular contributor to Authorlink.