Feb 14, 2014
06:04 AM
Arts & Entertainment

Big Book Getaway at Mohegan Sun: Connecticut Novelist Suzanne Palmieri

Big Book Getaway at Mohegan Sun: Connecticut Novelist Suzanne Palmieri

New Haven novelist Suzanne Palmieri is living her own Cinderella story. An inner-city high school history teacher who at one time was on welfare, she scored the remarkable feat of sealing two two-book deals with major publishing houses on the same day in 2011, St. Martin’s Griffin and Harlequin MIRA. Her first books for both publishers came out last spring: The Witch of Little Italy (Griffin) and I’ll Be Seeing You (MIRA), a collaboration—under the nom de plume Suzanne Hayes—with Loretta Nyhan. Two more novels, Griffin’s The Witch of Belladonna Bay and MIRA’s Empire Girls (also with Nyhan) will be out in May. Meanwhile, Palmieri, who holds a BA in sociology from Albertus Magnus College and an MA in sociology from Fordham University, will cohost a discussion on “Magical Fiction: Spirits, Mystery and Wonderment” with Sarah Addison Allen (Lost Lake) at the Mark Twain House & Museum’s Big Book Getaway, Feb. 22 at Mohegan Sun.

You’ve revealed that you weren’t the greatest student growing up—though you obviously overcame that—but I’m curious: Were you always a reader?
Oh, yes. Absolutely avid; voracious from day one. I don’t even remember learning how to read; I just always read. I was reading novels that were way above my age level—I read Jane Eyre when I was 7. I was always being yelled at: “Put the book down!” And because I didn’t have a lot of money, the library was always really important to me. Books were my comfort, my joy.

Who was the first author that made an impression on you?
I would say Frances Hodgson Burnett, with The Secret Garden, or L.M. Montgomery—I was all about finding your inner Anne of Green Gables. Those books were dark, and they were about orphans who had these mystical, magical imaginations that saved them. I connected with that, and still do.

When I read any novel, it seems that while I’m reading the story the author wants to tell, I’m also getting some insight into his or her real life, too.
You’ve gotten into something here that not a lot of readers pick up on. Fiction-writing can leave an author a lot more “exposed” than, say, even a memoir would. There’s so much rawness in my background that I’m actually able to get those issues across much better in a novel than I would in an autobiography. The Witch of Little Italy has developed something of a cult following, and I don’t think that’s because it’s a “great book”—I’m still a new writer and have plenty to learn—but because it had moments of absolute, complete honesty. It’s like narrative therapy; I used the book to create the kind of family I never had.

I’ve never written to be published—I’d write no matter what. My emotional survival is wrapped around these stories that I tell.

One way in which your Italian heritage seems to play into Witch is that your obvious love of the cuisine is well-expressed.
[Laughs] The funny thing is, I didn’t realize that until I was in my final stage of edits. I got comments, “You do such a great job describing the food,” but I didn’t even think about that when I was writing. I do love food and cooking—to me it’s a combination of magic and art. I suppose, for me, this came out because my mom is Northeast Italian-American, my father is deep South, and my family has always come together around food.

Witch revolves heavily around the role that witchcraft, magic and “The Sight” plays  in your character’s lives. I assume that you’re a believer in these phenomena?
Readers have told me, “This is something I haven’t found believable in other books, but it’s easier for me to believe it in yours.” For me, it’s not some mystical, magical thing; it’s more about using your instinct, opening yourself up to the universe. I really believe we only use about 15 percent of our brain power.

 

Big Book Getaway at Mohegan Sun: Connecticut Novelist Suzanne Palmieri

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