The Patron Saint of Second Chances

Christine Simon

Atria Books

If the plumbing in the tiny village of Prometto, Italy, isn’t fixed, all the residents will have to move out. The cost of the repairs is enormous. Signor Speranza, the self-appointed mayor, appoints himself the task of trying to save the town. Once he has the brilliant – or crazy? – idea of starting a rumor that heart-throb Dante Rinaldi will be making his next movie in the town, he has to go deeper and deeper into making it look as if this is true. As the whole town gradually gets involved in the project, Signor Speranza gets more and more nervous about what will happen when it all comes crashing down.

AUTHORLINK: What were your first thoughts regarding this story?

SIMON: I got the idea for writing about a failing Italian village from news stories I kept seeing about tiny towns in Italy selling houses for a dollar in an effort to restart their dwindling populations. I liked the idea of having the mayor of one of these towns try to do something spectacular to save his village from extinction.

AUTHORLINK: Where did you go from there?

“I love writing—it’s the plotting that drives me insane.”

SIMON: I paced around my kitchen for hours, trying to think of an unusual way someone could go about raising money, and finally, FINALLY, I hit on the idea of starting a rumor that a big movie star is planning to shoot his next project in town. I didn’t feel particularly relieved when I hit on this solution—I mostly felt deflated. Plot is my bête noir. It’s highly mechanical and quite sterile in its bare-bones form, and I wasn’t totally confident in it, but I felt much better once I began imagining what types of scenes this plot would require—I’d need Signor Speranza to get investments, hold auditions, find stunt doubles, begin filming, etc. Once I could see individual scenes taking shape, I felt much better about it, and much better still once I began writing. I love writing—it’s the plotting that drives me insane.

AUTHORLINK: How did coming from “a very large and very loud Italian family” impact writing this story?

SIMON: I based the village of Prometto on my grandparents’ village of Ferruzzano, and I’ve named some of the characters after people that I know. Signor Speranza has a very Italian-man-of-a-certain-age sensibility, especially with regard to his sense that he alone, as the patriarch of his family, must fix the problem they’ve all found themselves in. Of course, he can’t—the problem can only be solved if everyone works together. I think my dialogue writing skills were honed through a quirk from my father’s side of the family, which is a habit of imitating people that we know. This is not a marketable skill—Lorne Michaels isn’t interested in my hilarious imitation of my Grandma Babe—but I do think the habit has given me an ear for writing characters with distinct voices.

AUTHORLINK: Where else did you get your inspiration and information for details?

SIMON:  I write to please myself, and there’s lots of little bits and pieces I put in just for my own amusement, most of which I forget about until I reread them later. For example, there’s a scene when one of the characters is attempting to “run like Tom Cruise,” running very fast and periodically looking back over his shoulder. That moment was inspired by my daughter, who was an incredibly fast runner when she was little. My husband and I jokingly suggested that we could teach her to run like Tom Cruise, but then we immediately decided against it, since, knowing my daughter, we were certain she’d wind up running into a tree. When I read passages like that now, it’s like my past self waving to me from the other side.

AUTHORLINK: How do you organize your writing? Is it mostly planned ahead or do your characters take over?

“I know I have a story I can work with if I can write four extremely sparse paragraphs…”

SIMON: I know I have a story I can work with if I can write four extremely sparse paragraphs laying out what happens—one for the beginning, two for the middle, and one for the end. Before I start writing, I like to lay out the ten plot beats that comprise Act 1, although it’s all subject to change once I get going. Once I get to the end of Act 1, I lay out the ten plot beats that comprise the first half of Act 2, etc. This system helps ensure I won’t ever reach a point that I don’t know what comes next, but it’s not a straitjacket. Things always shift and change as I go, and the characters flat-out refuse to do things that don’t “feel” right, so I have to be flexible. Zoom in, zoom out—that’s how I regard planning, and theme is usually the North Star when I run into problems. What am I trying to say?—that question can solve a lot of plotting problems.

AUTHORLINK: How did some of your characters evolve from how you first saw them?

SIMON: I had a fairly clear picture of my main character, Signor Speranza, from the beginning—I knew he needed to be impulsive, impetuous, and childishly stubborn, as well as loyal, good-intentioned, and generous. Other characters evolved as I went, some of them simply showing up on game day when I needed somebody to behave in a particular fashion for a particular scene.

AUTHORLINK: What have you written before this that helped you with your debut novel? Have you tended toward humor and quirky characters?

“I learned that I have to write for myself. If I like it, probably somebody else will too.”

SIMON: I spent a long time trying to write “serious” fiction, which was silly of me since comedy is the love of my life. With this book, I worried that maybe people would think all the hijinks were stupid, but I persisted anyway. It was April and May of 2020, and I needed to write something funny and heartwarming, so I did. I learned that I have to write for myself. If I like it, probably somebody else will too.

AUTHORLINK: How did finding an agent and selling your book go?

“…this weird little book just kept finding the next perfect person to help it along…”

SIMON: It’s hard to find an agent, and it’s particularly hard to find an agent for a funny book that doesn’t have any really obvious comps. Luckily, I found Querytracker, which led me to my agent, Hellie Ogden, of Janklow & Nesbit UK. She’s a marvel. Since she’s in the UK, the book sold there first, and I went through the entire edit with my UK editor Darcy Nicholson before Allison Hunter, who was with Janklow & Nesbit US at the time, sold it in the States to Kaitlin Olson at Atria. It was all sort of miraculous—this weird little book just kept finding the next perfect person to help it along the road, and I’m so grateful to each and every one of them.

AUTHORLINK: What are you working on next?

SIMON: I’m back in the plot-wrestling trenches again, which is my very least favorite part of the process, but I know that once I’ve got it all sorted out, I’ll be happily working on something else funny and heartwarming. I’m really looking forward to it.

About the author: The Patron Saint of Second Chances is Christine Simon’s first novel. Two of her favorite authors are L.M. Montgomery and Alexander McCall Smith. She lives with her husband and four children.

Buy this Book: Amazon (Print)