Readers, please welcome Jannine Corti-Peska to A Writer's Life today.
|Janine Corti-Peska, Author
Caroline: Welcome, Jannine. Readers love to get to know authors. Please tell us about growing up.
Jannine: I’d like to give you a taste of my home life before marriage. You might find a theme running through it.
I grew up Italian with a Sicilian mother and a father who was born on the island of Ponza off the coast of Italy. However, his family originated from Florence. It was a typical Italian house with food, lots of family dinners on Sundays, laughter, and more food. Vino flowed (yes, I was allowed wine growing up though not a glassful). Company was always welcomed. Best part, my mom could whip up a full-on Italian dinner at a moment’s notice: lasagna, Italian sausage, salad, and eggplant parmesan (In our family, it was never called that. I can’t even begin to write the word we use because I suspect it was part Sicilian and part mainland Italian. Or dialect. Some words just can’t be put into writing.), and garlic bread. Cannoli was my favorite dessert, along with N.Y. cheesecake from the bakery where my father worked.
I was quiet, shy, sheltered. But having a baker father worked wonders in the friends’ department. Actually, I had a lot of friends, but the grapefruit-size cookies, pastries and other goodies my father brought home by the box and bagful didn’t hurt. Neither did our near Olympic-size pool. Boy, was I popular. (saying that with a grin)
Did I mention food was neverending at my house? Holidays were wild, especially Christmas. Added to the Sunday meal I mentioned above were veal cutlets (my favorite—made sandwiches on fresh rolls the next day), roast, peppers and potatoes fried together in olive oil, assorted fish, sanguinaccio (a dark pudding made with pig’s blood my mother made for my father—yeah, the eeeuuuwww factor comes in here), wine, and so much more that I wish I could remember. Dessert followed, along with espresso (and not just a tiny cup for me and my dad, but a small mug).
I was athletic, somewhat a tomboy. The trouble was, all that great food had to go somewhere. Wish it wasn’t my belly…or the rest of me. I wanted to be a cheerleader so badly, mainly for the dance nature of it. Dance was my strongest ability, but no one wants to see a size 14 teenager bouncing in front of their school’s team and knocking herself out every time her boobs hit her in the face. But you should have seen the sandwiches I took for lunch. Eggplant, veal cutlets, sausage and peppers topped with homemade pasta sauce. I was considered strange by my peers.
Jannine: Loyal, caring/loving/nurturing, passionate I’m like a terrier that won’t let go or give up when I become passionate about something (anything, but you can see this more clearly when the talk is about soccer—more pointedly, the Italian National team). Sometimes I go overboard. LOL, three words weren’t enough!
Now, the flip-side of that comes from my Sicilian half: vindictive.
Caroline: I remember you from the Kensington author loop. Do you use real events or persons in your stories?
Jannine: I use events, although I have included real people as minor characters. In my upcoming September release, THE LILY AND THE FALCON, the story is centered around the de’ Medici and degli Albizzi families, both vying for control of Florence. Cosimo de’ Medici and Ronaldo degli Albizzi were real people in history. At the time of the story, Ronaldo exiled Cosimo and politically took over Florence —or so he thought. The hero is a cousin of Cosimo’s (fictitious, of course), and the heroine is a cousin of Ronaldo (again, fictitious). But I did extensive research and found descriptions, mannerisms and personality traits for Cosimo and Ronaldo, which made writing their scenes easier.
Caroline: I’m curious about your research. LOVE’S SWEET WAGER and CHARLOTTE AND THE GYPSY are very different in subject. Did you discover any remarkable research tools for either book? Which was most time consuming to research and why?
Jannine: LOVE’S SWEET WAGER was by far the easiest of the two books to research. I found the diary of a doctor who traveled the California Trail. I used his timeline for the trip, the dates where the wagon train stopped, the descriptions of those places as well as the everyday life of the travelers, travel conditions and weather.
For me, CHARLOTTE AND THE GYPSY was very difficult to research. Except for a few minor details, I had absolutely no knowledge of the Gypsy culture. Even though the story is set in the 15th century Andalusia, I didn’t want to offend Gypsies by getting their history wrong. Thankfully, an online friend, who is a Gypsy, helped with mannerisms and cultural details, which I blended with my research. This book took me nearly a year to research and 7 months to write. I felt completely out of my medieval comfort zone.
Caroline: Difficult, but how interesting your research must have been. I believe that was the second book of the series. CARINA AND THE NOBLEMAN, about Charlotte's sister, was the first of that series. Gorgeous cover! What do you hope your writing brings to readers?
Caroline: Don’t all authors wish that for our readers? Anyway, I wish that for my readers. And don't you love reading a book that gives you those experiences? Please tell us about your latest release.
Janine: Here it is:
Set up: The people Rachel travels with have no idea she's an entertainer. Neither do they know that Reno isn't a real priest. In this scene, Reno does everything he can to stop her from singing and dancing at the saloon.
“I’ll find out for myself.”
“No need to. I’ve already inquired.”
She paused her hurried steps. “You what?”
“You heard me perfectly clear.”
Rachel was ready to throttle him, but she didn’t dare with so many from their camp milling about. The improprieties of a woman smacking a priest’s face might garner too many questions. Besides, she’d be the one who people chastised.
“It’s my duty as a priest to look out for you.”
“A priest?” she almost shrieked. “How dare you use that disguise as an excuse. You’re no more a priest than I am a nun.”
Rachel took a fortifying breath. “All right. We will compromise.”
“I won’t interfere with your gambling and you won’t interfere with my performing.”
He shook his dark head and pursed his lips.
“It’s a reasonable compromise.”
“What would your fiancé say if he knew you traveled by wagon train, unsupervised, and entered saloons not fit for your mother?”
There was no way to win this conversation. Her best course of action was to take none. Without responding to his question, although she admitted it was a valid one, she lifted the hem of her skirt and walked straight to the saloon. She prayed he’d leave her be and give up on his self-assigned role as her protector.
Outside the swinging doors, the gambler pulled her to a stop. She tried to wrestle her arm free from his solid grip. Her gaze darted around the area. She was horrified to find a cluster of folks staring at them.
“People are watching, Father Caldwell,” She controlled the worry in her voice.
Without confirming her comment, he released her arm. “If you’re all-fire set on going into the saloon, I’m coming with you.”
The alternative was to stand here and argue until Robert returned. Since that wasn’t going to happen, Rachel flounced through the doors, taking a moment for her eyes to adjust to the change of light. The saloon was packed with soldiers and men from her camp and the other caravans that stopped near the fort for rest and to restock their provisions. She was the only female. Though it should have rattled her nerves, she felt comforted knowing Reno stood at her side, even though she’d never admit it to him.
She found the proprietor behind the bar, working alongside the barkeep. The place was hopping with business and both men poured drinks as fast as a speeding train. Conversations came to an abrupt standstill; every pair of eyes focused her way. Her smile wavered. Holding her head up, she wound her way to the bar.
The tables were placed close to fit more people in the room. She brushed against an occasional knee and forced herself to stare straight ahead at the bottles lined up on the shelf at the back of the bar. She feared what Reno would do if one of the soldiers touched her in an improper way.
“Miss,” the proprietor greeted. “Did you lose your way?”
Laughter roared behind her, turning up the heat of embarrassment. “No, sir, I did not. Perhaps we can talk where it’s more…private.”
“Will ya lookee there. The purty lady wants to talk to Tom,” a drunken soldier shouted as if he were speaking to the deaf. Rachel cringed at his inference.
“Settle down, Billy. No need to be vulgar with a lady present,” Tom said.
“She ain’t no lady.” Billy laughed uproariously. “She’s one of them women that thumps a man good in bed.”
Rachel turned a withering look up to the proprietor. “That’s not true,” she croaked out, feeling ashamed. How could they mistake her for a whore? She didn’t dress like one. Indeed, her clothes were better suited for a school teacher than for a woman who gave her body to any man with money.
“Sorry, miss. Billy isn’t quiet when he’s had too much whiskey.” He showed her to a door next to the bar.
Across the room, Reno’s tense body felt brittle enough to break. He held back thrashing the brash soldier for assuming Rachel was a prostitute. But now that she disappeared to the back room with the proprietor, his stomach twisted, causing him pain. He pushed through the bodies, nearly knocking several men off their chairs. They grumbled and complained…until they noticed his clerical collar. Reno burst through the door, stopping in time to avoid colliding with Rachel. The back room was no bigger than a jail cell. He glanced from her to the middle-aged proprietor.
“Uh…this is…Father Caldwell,” Rachel introduced with a hitch in her voice.
Tom nodded. “Father.”
Reno stared into Rachel’s stricken eyes. What was she afraid of? That he’d drag her out of the saloon? Or that he’d conjure up a lie about the reason she asked to speak to the proprietor?
“I was asked to watch after Miss Rachel while she’s in Fort Laramie. She mistakenly assumed the saloon served women as well.”
The proprietor chuckled. “Well, I won’t turn down a female. If she’s got the money, I’ll serve her.” He gave Rachel a skeptical glance. “Can’t say as I know what this little lady wants to talk about.”
Rachel spoke up. “I’m an entertainer.”
Both men turned to her, and Reno held back the urge to drag her out of the building.
“An entertainer?” Tom inquired.
“Yes, sir. I sing and dance. Nothing more, I assure you.”
The man scratched his short beard. “Well, I suppose the soldiers and travelers will take to a pretty little thing like you. Say, are you the little lady Alex Smith mentioned?”
Reno reached across the man and closed his fingers around Rachel’s forearm. “You don’t want her working this saloon. She sings like a braying donkey and dances on her two chicken legs like a bull. Really clumsy.”
Rachel’s expression oozed contempt, but Reno refused to take back what he’d said. One way or the other, he’d stop her from performing for this unruly lot of soldiers.
“Is that right? Well, don’t think that would do. Thank you, miss, for your offer. I’m afraid I’d have a riot on my hands if you sing and dance as badly as the preacher here says. Good day, ma’am, Father.”
He left the room. Reno stayed behind, his sharp eye on Rachel’s changing demeanor. He’d catch hell from her, but if thwarting her plans for the evening kept her safe, then he’d deal with her tantrum.
“Will you follow me out of the saloon, or will you show the men how a lady shouldn’t behave? It’s your choice.”
Her mouth tightened as she contemplated her choices. He was surprised that she had to think about them at all.
“Oh!” She lifted her skirt and breezed by him. “Don’t think you’ll pass through the fort gates to gamble tonight. I’ll make sure you won’t.”
Caroline: I already love this book and can't wait to read it! Anything else?
Caroline: Where can readers find your books?
Caroline: How can readers learn more about you?