Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Evolution of Romeo, Romeo

Posted By Robin Kaye

I love Italian families. Having come from one, I can close my eyes and see my grandmother’s house in Brooklyn, hear my grandparents yelling at each other in Italian. And I can smell the menestra boiling on the stove.

After reading Mary Margaret Daughtridge’s exceptional blog about “Idea or Inspiration?” I thought back to the first spark of inspiration for Romeo, Romeo. I was taking an on-line class about point Of view and was supposed to write a scene in first person. I remember thinking I didn’t have time. I had a 20-quart pot of sauce on the stove, I’d just thrown in the meatballs, sausage and Brocole, and I only had ten minutes before I needed to stir the sauce.

With the smell of sauce heavy with a good Cabernet Sauvignon filling my head, and wearing my “The Trouble With Italian Food Is 3 Days Later, You’re Hungry Again” apron, I sat at my computer and pounded out a scene written in a chubby Italian daughter’s POV. Rosalie Angelina Ronaldi stormed into my brain and took up residence. It went something like this:

“Christ, Ma! Do you think you made enough food? Are you expecting a third-world nation for supper?”

My Aunt Rose smacked me upside the head as she passed my chair and set a bowl of steaming broccoli on the table.

“Rosalie Angelina Ronaldi, that’s for taking the Lord’s name in vain!” She crossed herself and mumbled a few words in Italian asking for forgiveness for her puttana of a niece.

“Puttana? A whore? That’s a nice thing to call your goddaughter.”

“You’ve been dating Joey Manetti for two years and still no wedding. That tells me he’s not buying the cow because he’s getting the milk for free. Puttana!” She spat out the word, making it sound as bad as what it meant.

My sister, Annabelle, sat her skinny little butt on the plastic-covered seat and watched the light sparkle off her one-carat solitaire. “Aunt Rose, lay off Rosalie, already. It’s not her fault she’s got the Saldatti ass.”

Leave it to Annabelle to stick up for me by putting me down. True, I have the Saldatti ass. You know the one. It starts somewhere around the back of the knee and ends in the vicinity of the waist, but its beginning and ending are debatable. It just so happens that Joey loves my ass, all of it. He’d love to be married to it——I mean me. I’m the one who’s not interested in getting married, but if I said that, I’d be breaking the eleventh commandment——Thou shalt marry a nice Catholic boy (preferably Italian) and have babies.

I squirmed in my seat and peeled my thigh off the chair. God, I hate Sunday dinners. But unless you’ve just been given last rites, you’re expected to eat with the family. A supper, mind you, guaranteed to add five pounds of fat to each thigh. I tried the Atkins Diet, then found out no Italian has ever lived on a low-carb diet. Sundays killed that for the lot of us, since supper always has at least one form of pasta. It’s one of seven courses, so not only do you gain weight, but you’re stuck sitting with your family for four hours, which then makes you crazy and, in turn, you eat more, hence the weight problem to begin with.

I pushed the Genoa salami, provolone and decadent olives to the side and ate the lettuce leaves and artichoke hearts. No Italian in her right mind can resist artichokes. What can I say, they’re green. They must be nutritious once you get past the palm oil they’re soaked in. You gotta at least give me credit for resisting the damn olives.

Mama put down a tray of manicotti, wiped her hands on her apron, then smoothed the plastic lace-look tablecloth as she sat next to Papa. “Is Joey coming? Should I keep a plate warm for him?”

Papa grumbled about kids these days, always too busy for family supper.

“I’m not sure, Ma, we didn’t talk about it last night. He might be at his Nonna’s.”

“What do you mean you didn’t talk? What did you do?”

“Oh, come on, Ma, not you too? We saw a movie. I was tired. I went home.”

Bored is more like it. Why I’ve been seeing Joey for two years is beyond me. Maybe it’s because I’m lazy. Who has the time or inclination to go out every weekend trolling for guys? I’m not eighteen anymore. Come to think of it, I didn’t have the time or inclination then, either.

Aunt Rose sidled up to the table to take her seat. She smoothed her skirt over her big butt to cover the parts that stick to plastic and scooted in to the point where her large breasts almost covered the plate. She looked down, saw that they were too close for comfort, and scooted back, allowing just enough clearance. I wondered if that’s what I was going to look like in forty years. God save me from genetics. Though maybe I should be grateful. At least I’d lost my appetite.

That was the inspiration for Romeo, Romeo--the first book in my Domestic Gods series. The scene never made it into my final manuscript, which evolved from first person to third (my second assignment in the class), but the family, the internal conflict, and the voice stayed the same. It makes me wonder about the evolution of other novels…


  1. Wow Robin!

    Talk about inspiration. I'll offer you the highest writing compliment there is: I didn't want it to end.

    And yes, that was the in-breath, the inspiration, which brought Roslie to life, and she was just THERE.

    Great post.Truly inspiring.

    We can court those moments, but we cannot command them. When they come, they must find us ready to write.

  2. LOL!!! The "Saldatti ass?" I think I've got it and I'm not even Italian!

  3. Robin, we're cuginas! I remember the four hour Sunday suppers and the plastic lace tablecloth well.

    Wonderful post. Looking forward to your book.

    Best--Adele Dubois

  4. Oh, Lord, did THAT bring back memories of my own childhood with the Italian side. That was the grandparents' and my great grandma who lived with one of "the aunts" (yep, three of them, one unmarried lived with a married one and took in their mother). The homemade Sicilian pizza, the marinara sauce, the sausage...then there were the crabfeasts with all the seafood...they brought Italy with them and, sadly, those traditions have gone with them as they've all passed on. My kids are now "mutts" and they don't have that heritage in them anymore. Sad.

    But thanks for bringing that back to life for me Robin - I owe you a review on Amazon, which will be stellar b/c it was a stellar read! (And, hey, didn't you win the Launching a Star contest? LOL)

  5. Robin--

    Lovely! It was fun to see where the inspiration began for Romeo, Romeo. Maybe there's a place for a similar scene in the next book :)


  6. This was a GREAT scene, Robin. And, being married to a man who's 1/2 Italian, I could just SEE this dinner scene. :) Well done!

  7. Thanks for sharing your "cut" scene with us! It gives such a strong flavor and tone of the story (and now you've got me *craving* good Italian food!).

    It's such a beautiful thing when inspiration strikes--good for you for running with it and making it your own!

  8. I cannot wait until November 1st, Robin, oh, wait I can I turn 51 a day later ;) Seriously I have Spanish ancestry and have the Martinez ass so I so related to that scene. LOL and my sister is sooooo skinny. Love the dynamics and love that your career has taken off. I'll have to go back and read Mary Margret's post. Well done!

  9. Robin, your scene made me so hungry I went and started a pot of spaghetti. Thanks so much for sharing this fun piece of story root with us.

  10. Thanks Robin, now I am happy and sad! Happy because that small snippet was fabulous and I can rest assured that anything you write will be terrific. But sad because it was so great that I did not want it to end and will be fruitlessly searching for it in R-R! Thanks for a super post. Looks like inspiration related essays are inspiring a number of you!

  11. Thanks so much, everyone.

    Cutting that scene - the first scene - was so difficult for me because I really fell in love with it. Being able to share it with you is a real gift.

    While paring down my computer files, I found pages upon pages of little gems I cut and saved with the hope I'd find somewhere else to use them. Reading them after all this time, I kept wondering why the heck I cut them in the first place.

    Does anyone else have a pile of gems that just didn't fit?

    Robin :)

  12. My memories of Sunday dinner with The Family were so different from yours because my ex was Italian and I'm German, therefore I was the outsider looking in on all this. It took me years to get adjusted to this weekly rite of survival, and I must say, I'm still not sure I miss it. I suppose the familial connections were a good thing, but it definitely wasn't something I was used to.

    You (and Rosalie!) sure make it sound like fun, though. Sounds like Romeo, Romeo is the book of your heart! :)

  13. Wow, Robin, and we actually had a PHONE CALL about this post when you had this gem sitting on the hard drive? I love it. I love the tone, the voice, the Italian curses, and Saldatti ass, which I am also cursed with even though I don't have an ounce of Italian in me! Can't wait to read Romeo Romeo!!

  14. Robin wrote: Does anyone have a pile of gems that just didn't fit? Oh, Robin, you're talking about Karolyn:

    Don't ask me why, but one day I killed a scene and I'd had a file open with the name Karolyn and I saved the document in there, thinking, okay, don't forget where you put it. Karolyn is no over 500 pages long. It's a novel in itself. Whenever I write something and decide I can't use it, Karolyn keeps it safe ;)

  15. So much fun, The characters jump to life off the page. It is so hard to kill your darlings as they say, but it often makes all the difference to the pace of the book.

    And yes, for me each novel has its document called cuts. The current one is up to about 18000 words, almost a whole book. Darn it.

    Off to kill a few more darlings. lol.

  16. "Does anyone else have a pile of gems that just didn't fit?"

    Oh yes. In fact, the only way I deal with my muse who knows nothing about schedules or even temporal order is to keep two copies open of a book I'm working on.

    One copy is called "the notebook." the other copy is the book. The notebook contains everything that was used in the final book and everything that was NOT used.

    When it's time for the final assembly, I frequently find scenes that seemed random and pointless at the time, but now provide the perfect transition between one plot point and another one.

    I also find scenes that blew me away when I wrote them, and now I realize they are pure dreck.:-)

    But since I never know which it's going to be, it's all saved in "the notebook."

  17. Hi mom
    Grate blog. You made me hungry for spgettie and meat balls!

  18. Great scene, Robin! :) I wish it was November already!

    All the best,