Welcome to my blog interview with writer, Kathleen Ann Gonzalez, author of A Beautiful Woman in Venice and Seductive Venice: In Casanova’s Footsteps.
Kathleen Ann Gonzalez started out as a teacher but was surprised to discover that she is a writer and dancer as well. While she spends most of her time trying to infect teenagers with her great enthusiasm for literature and writing, she still squeezes in time to write about her work and her travels. Her first book, Free Gondola Ride, is about the gondoliers of Venice, while her second book, A Small Candle, includes interviews with participants in the Camp Everytown program. Her 2013 guidebook Seductive Venice: In Casanova’s Footsteps, takes readers to over 90 locations Casanova lived and loved, and it has been published in Italy as well. Gonzalez has published several other essays and articles over the years and has recently completed a book about Venetian women, titled A Beautiful Woman in Venice.
What inspired you to write your first book?
My first book, Free Gondola Ride, was born from my love of Venice. I fell in love with the city within the first five minutes that I was there, on a 1996 spring break trip with my students in Europe. I returned to the city that summer and met a gondolier who piqued my interest in his unique profession. Wondering how to get back to Venice again, I thought, “Why don’t I write a book about the gondoliers?” No one else had done it yet, and I thought I might as well try. I definitely doubted myself along the way, but since I had successfully published some essays and other articles, I decided that I should at least try.
What genre do you consider your book(s)?
Free Gondola Ride was trying to be a couple genres—history, memoir, and travel book, which is perhaps its biggest weakness as its purpose isn’t so clear. I learned from writing that book that I should have a clearer concept of my purpose for the work. Not that a book has to fit neatly into a single box, but I do believe the writer should know what she’s trying to do. Seductive Venice is a guidebook that I tried to make accessible for armchair travelers as well as those on foot. My latest book about Venetian women is really a history book, with biographies about a host of historical women. I never knew I was going to become a historian.
Do you have a specific writing style?
I struggle with style as a writer. A number of my favorite authors are witty and humorous, such as Bill Bryson and Tony Perrottet. As much as I admire them and aspire to write great books like they do, I’ve discovered that I’m not them! With A Beautiful Woman in Venice, I initially became obsessed with the research and produced chapters that sounded like academic term papers. This was not my goal! So I slipped into despair for a while, consulted other friends and writers, and came up with a plan to revise. I wanted this book to be engaging, lively, easy for anyone to pick up and enjoy. So far the feedback tells me that I’ve achieved my stylistic goals, but I know as a writer that this will always be my biggest challenge.
Free Gondola Ride has the best title story. During the summer that I got to know Venice’s gondoliers, I was often offered free rides with them. Sometimes a gondolier would take me along with his other customers, asking me to be the tour guide. Sometimes I got to ride along when he parked his boat at its nighttime location. And sometimes I got this offer: “I finish work tonight at ten. If you want, you come along for a free gondola ride.” This became the title that captured many aspects of my interactions with the gondoliers.
What are your current projects?
I just finished A Beautiful Woman in Venice a couple weeks ago, so I’m taking a break from writing. But that book will actually spawn other books. When I was in Venice last summer, a tour guide at the Museo Ebraico suggested that I take my chapter on Sarra Copia Sulam, a Jewish writer and literary salon hostess, and expand it into a short pocket book that they could sell in their gift shop. My Italian publisher loved the idea, and I think we can create a series of these books that will match Venice’s museums. For example, the Museo Correr could have a book about Maria Boscola, the boat racer whose portrait is displayed there, or the Museo del Vetro would carry the book about Marietta Barovier and Hermonia Vivarini, women glassmakers who worked on Murano.
Who designed the covers?
Each book cover had different creators. For Free Gondola Ride, a gondolier friend allowed us to use his painting, which was absolutely perfect for the book. Sadly, he sold it before I could purchase it. The cover for Seductive Venice was a collaboration: my original photo of Goldoni’s house in Venice, overlaid by artwork by my friend Margorie Kelley. But my partner RJ is the mastermind who designs and completes the details. He taught himself InDesign and Illustrator and used his mad wizard skills. He even took the photo of the students on the cover of A Small Candle. I’m so lucky to benefit from his talents.
I enjoy having music on while I write, though it has to be instrumental, or perhaps something with singing in a language other than English, so it doesn’t interfere with the words in my head. So I have quite a large collection of sometimes sappy meditation or yoga music, New Age relaxation music, and a lot of Middle Eastern and East Indian music, genres that I love. While writing my books on Venice, I also often put on opera arias, particularly Puccini for its lightness. And one of my favorite writing CDs is a two-volume set my friend gave me of songs by Venetian composers. It opens with the tolling bells of St. Mark’s and never fails to inspire me with a sense of place.
Have you ever hated something you wrote?
When I was a senior in college, I wrote an essay titled “That Was Living” about my father growing up with his cousins, and it won first place in a contest. I had to read excerpts for the awards ceremony and felt so embarrassed to be reading such awful writing. Then a couple years later, I got a call that the story was going to be included in an anthology of Latina writers. When I re-read the story, I was surprised to find that it was actually pretty good! Then I ended up hating it again, and then loving it later. I see sawed like this with my first book, too. This experience has motivated me to make the books the very best I can so I don’t have this love/hate relationship with them later.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I wrote two books back to back, so most of my time and energy for the past six years or so has been focused on writing. Now I can finally enjoy other pursuits, namely reading novels for pleasure rather than for research. I’m also looking forward to some zen-like concentration as I do puzzles, and I want to make more time to dance. Always more time for dance!
When I started writing my first book, I thought that the big “prize” at the end was about getting an agent and publisher, and having a bestseller that became an Oprah book club pick. That was the pinnacle. When that didn’t happen, I thought it meant I was a failure. But when I paid attention, I realized that I was having a blast meeting the people who read my books. My writing opened up opportunities to meet people around the world, and it led to friendships, collaborations, and a lot of joy. I was surprised to discover that my definition of success as a writer is not about having a major publishing deal. Not that I’d turn down that kind of success, but I’m so greatly enjoying my writing life—meeting people, collaborating, and hearing from them when they’ve enjoyed my work, plus the satisfaction of creation.
What is your favorite motivational phrase or positive saying?
Regarding writing, my favorite quote comes from suffragist Mary Heaton Vorse: “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” There are many writers out there with more native talent than I possess, but I know that if I persevere, if I keep my seat in the seat and work at my writing, I can produce something worthwhile. I used to be in a writing group with some very talented people, but I was the first one to publish a book (and only two of six of us who published at all) because I was determined to not give up. I had a quote on the wall: “Each No is one step closer to a Yes.” Putting in the time and working to continually improve are my guiding forces and really the key for any burgeoning writer who wants to succeed.
THIS OR THAT—The Speed Round
Which do you prefer – Reading or writing? Reading
Writing during the night or writing during the day? Writing any time I can fit it in!
Writing from home or someplace else? Home
Reading a ebook or print? Print
Buy books online or buy in a bookstore? Bookstore
Weather: Hot or Cold? Hot
Music or Silence? Music
Classic Fairy tales or Fairy tale retellings? Fairy tale retellings
Chocolate or Vanilla? Stracciatella, the best of both!
The Beach or The Mountains? Mountains
The World being taken over my zombies or sexy blood sucking vampires? Sexy vampires
Time travel to the future or past? Past. Maybe I’d meet some of the people I wrote about.
Facebook or twitter? Facebook
Being able to fly or being able to go invisible? Fly
Bookmark or Dog eared? Bookmark
1st character POV or 3rd character POV? First person POV
City or Country? City
Pen or Pencil? Pen
Polk-a-dots or Stripes? Stripes
Pancakes or Waffles? Waffles
Books or Movies? Books
Coffee or Tea? Both! Depends on the mood.
Elbows the size of pumpkins or knees the size of watermelons? Watermelon is my favorite fruit
How can readers discover more about you and you work?
Amazon Author Page
Other Book Links: www.seductivevenice.com, www.freegondolaride.com, www.asmallcandle.com, http://kathleenanngonzalez.wix.com/beautifulwoman