Grace Mattioli, author of Olive Branches Don't Grow on Trees, agreed to answer some questions for me about her life and her writing career. I hope you enjoy her answers as much as I did.
Your book is about an Italian-American family. Are you perhaps Italian-American?
I am 100% Italian-American and I wanted to reveal this wonderful subculture of people to the world in a way that they are not normally revealed. That is, I wanted to defy many of the negative stereotypical conceptions associated with Italian-Americans, and particularly with those from New Jersey.
Family feuds are terrible. Has your family experienced this? Or do you know another family who has gone through this? If not, where did you get your idea for the book?
My own family has been fighting for as long as I can remember. I always wished for peace within my own family, but as time moved on, conflicts only worsened and proliferated. In writing a book about a character who has some success in bringing her family together, I was able to partake in her success in a vicarious sort of way.
Which character was your favorite? Which character was your least favorite? Why?
I truly love all of my characters but my favorite is Cosmo because he was so fun, easygoing and likeable. My least favorite is probably Grandma Greco because she is mean-spirited and even vindictive. I fear that I may have vilified her but she is somewhat redeemed towards the end of the story, when Silvia realizes that she, like her son, probably did the best that she could do.
Is there a basic truth or realization that you would like those who read your book to see?
I would like people to see the big lesson of my book which is that peace is something that needs to be created and cultivated. I would also like them to see all of the smaller lessons under this big lesson. Chapter three is entitled “How to Be Free” and this chapter explores the relationship between freedom and peace. Silvia’s feeling of entrapment is manifested in her continual need to move, but when she paints, she is free, and able to have a sense of inner peace. Frank is stuck inside his shell of misery and although he tries to be free, he can never quite make it, and as a result, he is constantly instigating fights with his family. Chapter five, entitled “Remember the Bonsai”, imparts the lesson that Silvia learned at age ten from her Grandma Tucci: That her anger towards someone can lessen by remembering an act of kindness that that person did for her.
How did you come up with the title for your book?
I put a lot of thought into my title and actually came up with it one day while walking down the street. I ran it past a couple of people and they loved it, so I knew I had found my perfect title!
I wanted the title to embrace the theme of my book which was that peace is not something that is freely existing, but something that needs to be created and cultivated. I also wanted it to capture the ethnicity of the book’s characters, so the olive branch was the obvious choice for symbol for the theme of peace. I wanted a title that captured the humor of my book. Beyond all, I wanted something unique. For my job as a librarian, I read fiction book reviews and see many titles that are trite, cliche, and banal, and I knew that I did not want any such sort of title.
Do you have plans to write a sequel to this book? If so, when can we expect it to be done? If not, are you working on another book?
I do not currently plan to write a sequel as I am busily preparing for my next book which will be about a man who is poor in a monetary sense but rich in a spiritual sense. The theme will be greed which I believe to be the single most destructive thing on our planet. Like my present novel, it will be filled with good humor and loveable characters.
The story is set in New Jersey. Did you have to travel to New Jersey to do any research of the area? Did you have to do any other kind of research?
I was born and raised in New Jersey and spent most of my life there, so I just drew upon my memories. Because I have not lived there in so long, I did have to do research on some minor details like the current toll for the Ben Franklin Bridge. Such details were easy to research on Google.
When did you realize that you wanted to write?
I started writing as a very young girl at the age of ten, and although I had other interests and hobbies, writing was the one that always called back to me. As the years passed, writing became more and more of a calling, or the thing that I was put here on earth to do!