Italian guys…gorgeous views of Positano and the Amalfi Coast…wine and limoncello—think lemonade with an alcoholic punch— (Note: gasp! there is no drinking age in Italy)…dark intrigue and mystery—and not just mystery about how to meet that Italian hottie! So, what’s not to like about writing a book with all these elements? You can just imagine what fun this book was to write!
It all begins with one idea, of course, and everything else gets added in and blended together, and then the characters themselves (yes, the ones you created!) begin to take over the story. Readers often ask me, “What is the secret to writing a novel?” “What is the secret to finding your ideas?” For my newest novel, Secrets in Translation, which takes place in Italy, the answers to those questions are multi-layered—and all about many, many secrets, of course!
I definitely remember where I was when the first idea for Secrets popped into my head. Guess where? Surrounded by people speaking Italian, of course! I hadn’t been back to Italy since I grew up there as a kid, so, even though I still studied and spoke Italian, I hadn’t been surrounded by people actually speaking Italian for years.
When we all walked into the hotel, I saw several men look at us and say, “Ah, le donne americane vengono – che belle!” Then they kissed their fingertips (Italian men can be such flirts!). I started to smile and looked at our friends—and suddenly realized none of them could understand a word of what the men were saying: “Ah, American women are coming – how beautiful!” Not only that, the men speaking Italian had no idea that I could understand everything they said, either. Because I looked so obviously American and was with a group of other Americans, no one could even begin to imagine that I could understand the Italian language.
Now, there was an idea for a plot! Authors love to ask the question, “What if?” My “what if” question was, “What if you could understand and speak a language, but no one else knew you could? What if an American girl was fluent in Italian and could understand everything Italians were saying, but they didn’t realize she could—and because she could speak both languages, she discovered a dark conspiracy that threatened those she loved?”
Of course, novels are about so much, much more than an action plot, so my main character, Alessandra, needed her own journey to take. Because I grew up in Italy as a young child and have often felt that my heart is still a little bit Italian, having Alessandra conflicted about who she really was seemed to be a natural problem for her to try and solve. That is Alessandra’s journey in Secrets in Translation, much as she resists it. Of course, because Italian young men can be drop-dead handsome, Alessandra had to find an Italian boyfriend, too… (That would be crush-worthy Carlo, of course) In the book, she wonders if there are ANY ugly guys in Italy (probably not). There’s another young man in the book, too, and you’ll have to read it to find out more about Giovanni…and his own secrets…
Our wonderful and generous Italian friends filled me in on all sorts of ideas for possible conspiracies for Alessandra to discover, most of which, of course, involved organized crime and its reaches into so many aspects of everyday life in Italy. Writing is indeed work, so I spent months researching how the Mafia and its offshoots worked, reading newspapers in Italian, studying books like Roberto Saviano’s Gomorrah (yes, he’s still under police protection because of his writing about the Mafia and Camorra), and asking plenty of questions of our Italian friends via email to Italy to make sure the events that threaten Alessandra were accurate. Drinking wine and limoncello (oh, you’ll have to read the book!) were involved in my research, as well as several more trips to Italy, most particularly gorgeous Positano, where Alessandra stays while she is nannying for the tween from hell. You have to research very thoroughly, you know!
Once Alessandra’s story was down on paper, you might think it was almost publication-ready—but that’s not true! Secrets in Translation went through probably over fifty revisions, including the last one, after it was acquired by Fitzroy Books and edited by my wonderful editor, Jaynie Royal, who always believed in Alessandra and her story. How many years did this entire process take, from the very first idea to the published book? Try fourteen years!
Italy is a beautiful country and the people are warm and generous, a wonderful place to make the kind of discovery that Alessandra is finally able to make, and I hope it resonates with readers of all ages. Because Italy is near and dear to my heart—and because I wanted to write a story about finding out who you really are—I am thrilled that Secrets in Translation is not a secret any longer!
Margo Sorenson is the author of twenty-nine books for young readers. Her most recent Adult/YA novel is SECRETS IN TRANSLATION. Margo has won recognition and awards for her books, including ALA Quick Pick Nominations, recommendations from Multicultural Review, and being named a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award in YA Fiction. Under her pen name of Marcie Kremer, Margo has also written a teen romance for Bantam and an adult historical romance for Entangled Publishing.