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Interview: July 15, 2004

July 15, 2004

Lourdes Orive and Carol Fitzgerald of talk with Adriana Trigiani about her inspiration for her latest work, THE QUEEN OF THE BIG TIME, as well as the challenges and rewards of converting her novels into screenplays. Trigiani also discusses her love for cooking and the joy she experiences when speaking with book clubs --- even when members somehow forget she's there!

BRC: What was your inspiration for THE QUEEN OF THE BIG TIME?

AT: My inspiration was memories of my grandmother Viola's farm girl days, my father's memories of his childhood and a story I heard about a priest in Italy.

BRC: There is a great story about how you came up with the priest character. Can you share it with our readers?

AT: Sure. My great uncle is a priest/journalist in the town of Schilpario --- his name is Don Andrea Spada. We went to visit him in the spring of 2003 and there met a young, handsome priest who inspired a storyline in THE QUEEN OF THE BIG TIME. Evidently, he was a typical young man before he got "the calling"; he lived a full life of partying and fun before turning to the church. I thought that was interesting.

BRC: The setting of Roseto, Pennsylvania plays an important role in the story. When was the last time you were in Roseto? What can you tell us about that town today?

AT: I visit Roseto frequently as my father is buried there --- I find that so deep; he is buried in the same place he was born. He loved his hometown and was born in a house on Dewey Street. I always saw the town as enchanted. Today Roseto is as it was, though natives will tell you it has changed greatly --- I still find it warm and inviting.

BRC: For a story that begins in the 1920s, your main character Nella has fairly postmodern ideas about religion. How do you feel she develops spiritually over the course of the book?

AT: I found out, and of course through my friendship with my late grandmothers, that the 1920s were a wild and carefree time. Women worked, made their own money, and many went to college. I was intrigued by this, in light of the 1950s when lots of us were sent back to the kitchen in frilly aprons. I like independent women --- and am one. I always felt I had to make my way and make my own living --- I certainly got this from my grandmothers. This is true feminism --- being able to take care of yourself --- and then upon finding and falling in love with a good person of character, merging those values. I like that.

BRC: How hard is it for you to write the emotional parts of the book? Did you cry as much writing them as we did reading them?

AT: I cry when I write emotional stuff --- and it turns out when I cry, you cry, which is why I love writing. It's a way to communicate and explore together, reader to subject. What a wonder that is to me!

BRC: Nella Castelluca is such a great name. Do you enjoy developing character names? Can you write them before you name them?

AT: I love writing character names! I've been writing down names since I was a kid. And of course, back then, my friends thought it was to name babies --- but I was naming characters!

BRC: What has reader reaction been to THE QUEEN OF THE BIG TIME so far? What resonates with readers the most?

AT: Well, I've just started my book tour and the response is overwhelming --- big crowds --- and I'm there well after midnight because I must talk to everyone, which I love doing. So the response has been very dear and heartfelt.

BRC: Why do you think that non-Italians relate to your books, as well as Italians?

AT: For some reason, deep in our hearts, we are all somehow a little Italian. So we love reading about Italians. But maybe it's the themes of love, family and career that reach the readers. I see lots of mothers and daughters reading together at my signings. That brings me great joy, as I have a little girl and want to be that way when she's a teenager!

BRC: You have written the screenplay for the movie version of Big Stone Gap, which you also will direct. Is there a production timetable on this?

AT: We are hard at work on the final polish of the screenplay and hope to be in production in the coming months!

BRC: What about the film adaptation for LUCIA, LUCIA? Any timetable for that?

AT: I wrote the screenplay for LUCIA LUCIA. Julie Durk of Deep River productions is hard at work choosing a director.

BRC: What was it like writing the LUCIA, LUCIA script after writing the book. Did you have to leave a ton out to tell the story for film?

AT: A screenplay is entirely different from novel writing. It has to tell a story with sweep, it must be concise and clear, and the action is dramatized, not written. It's showing, not telling, and it's difficult. But it's also thrilling to reinterpret a novel into an active screenplay to be played and not read, which is very challenging. I love the form, as I come from the theatre and have written screenplays and television comedy.

BRC: This fall you have a cookbook coming out in October, COOKING WITH MY SISTERS, a cookbook written with your sister Mary Yolanda along with your other sisters --- Lucia Anna, Antonia and Francesca --- and your mom, Ida. What was the inspiration for this book? What will readers see here?

AT: I got a lot of mail about the recipes in my novels, so Gina Centrello, the president of Random House, asked if I would write a cookbook. I was very excited, but only if I could do it with my sisters. So my sister Mary Yolanda, a terrific writer, led the team and now we have a book! Some of the recipes are over 100 years old and have been handed down from our grandmothers. You get the classics; pasta, sweet breads and fabulous desserts!

BRC: Is there a sneak-peek recipe from your family that you can share with us?

AT: Sure.

Mama's Pasta Fazool (Pasta e Fagioli)

Serves 8

  • 3 cups cannellini (white kidney) beans
  • 10 cups water Salt to taste
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
  • 4 cups cooked pasta (broken pieces of large noodles or a small noodle such as orecchiette)
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • ¼ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano

In a large saucepan, combine the beans, water, salt, oil, onion, and parsley. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the beans are tender.

Add the pasta and allow to simmer for 10 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve in bowls and sprinkle with cheese.

BRC: We confess that we do not see Adriana Trigiani being a "calling for takeout" kind of woman. We see you mixing up the meatballs and stirring the gravy. Tell us about you and cooking. Do you like to cook? Do you use cookbooks? And seriously, what's Trigiani takeout like? Everyone has to dial out when there's a big deadline, right?

AT: I love to cook, but for crying out loud, I live in New York in Greenwich Village. I can order in the best stuff, but I'm determined to eat homemade food with my daughter and husband, so we cook a lot. But Lucia (my daughter) loves when the doorbell rings and it's the delivery person from Charlie Mom's Chinese!

BRC: You enjoy talking to book clubs. If a book club would like to talk to you by phone, what should they do?

AT: I love talking to book clubs. All they have to do is email my assistant, Karen Fink, at or and we'll set it up. I love it!

BRC: Why do you like talking to book clubs? Can you share with us a favorite story?

AT: I love talking to book clubs. My favorite was in Florida and the girls had been having cocktails and forgot I was on the phone. I heard them talking and laughing by the pool while I called to them from the speakerphone in the living room. Hilarious, especially when I got an email the next day and the girls said it was the best book club they ever had! Must have been the vodka!

BRC: To us, YOU are the Queen of the Big Time right now with all you have going on. What are you working on now? And when can readers expect to see it?

AT: Besides the movies, my new novel for next summer is a laugh riot; after THE QUEEN OF THE BIG TIME, I wanted to give you nonstop laughs. It's called ROCOCO and it's about home decorating for starters, but of course it's about love and faith and renewal --- of fabrics and broken hearts!