Wednesday, August 31, 2011


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.

There is a downside here. By the time I turned 18, I was quite plump. But I’d never have traded my heritage for anything else. I’ve always cooked a lot of food, enough to feed a small army, just like my mother. My three daughters and husband are rooted in traditional Italian food. In fact, my husband can’t eat lasagna in a restaurant. He says it doesn’t compare to mine. You may be thinking all that food was great, but I paid for it with my health. Recently, I’ve learned and used portion control and am now taking care of myself and my diabetes. But what I wouldn’t give for a nice big plate of fat pasta (what we called Rigatoni). For the record, spaghetti is still pasta, and never eat pizza with a fork. Buon appetito!

Caroline: Now I have this strange craving for my favorite Italian dinner, cheese-stuffed tortellini. Describe yourself in three words.

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: You’ve said you were late coming to serious writing. How long have you been writing?

Janine: I’ve been writing for 30 years, beginning when my daughters were very young. But it wasn’t until 15 years ago that I found RWA and became serious about getting published. Sold my first book to Kensington four years later.

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?

Jannine: A sense of warmth, joy, living the story through my characters. Cry with them, laugh, sigh, be swept away with emotion that will last long after you’ve finished reading the book.

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.

Jannine: LOVE’S SWEET WAGER is set in 1852 along the California Trail and ends in San Francisco. Reno Hunter is a highly successful gambler. He lives, breaths, eats gambling and is always looking for the next game. When he’s accused of killing a down-on-his-luck gambler, he goes to the extreme and disguises himself (thanks to his two younger brothers) as a priest and joins a wagon train west.

Rachel Garrett followed her gambler father most of her life. Because he’s so bad at gambling, she dances and sings in saloons and dance halls of every town where he sits in on a game so they’d have money for a room and food. When her father is killed during a card game, she’s forced to join a wagon train west to San Francisco to live with her aunt, the only family Rachel has left. She also has a fiancĂ© there whom she’s never met.

Reno, being a very healthy male, nearly sabotages his disguise when he sees Rachel. And Rachel tries desperately to shake her attraction to a priest—forbidden fruit. It makes for an interesting journey, especially when one of the younger boys breaks the monotony of the trail by tormenting Reno.

Caroline: Sounds tempting. Can you give us an excerpt of LOVE'S SWEET WAGER?

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.

“The saloon isn’t looking for a dance hall girl,” Reno said as he dogged her step for step.

“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.

“Mr. Hunter,” she began in a low voice, afraid a passerby might hear their argument. “What must I do to get you to understand that I don’t need your protection? Nor do I appreciate your meddlesome nose sniffing around my business.” When half his mouth lifted in a devilish grin, Rachel huffed. “You know what I mean.”

“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.”

“I can’t argue that.” His half-grin returned.

Rachel took a fortifying breath. “All right. We will compromise.”

“I’m listening.”

“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 fiancĂ© 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?

Jannine: Book Video

Caroline: Where can readers find your books?

Jannine: The Wild Rose Press


Barnes and Noble

Caroline: How can readers learn more about you?

Jannine: At my Website:

Thank you for sharing with us today, Janine. Continued good luck with your career.

Just a reminder that my backlist is available at Kindle and Smaswords. In addition, I've just added a novella to Kindle, LONG WAY HOME, from the 2009 EPIC finalist anthology NORTHERN ROSES AND SOUTHERN BELLES, set in the Civil War.
Unlike my other stories, this one does not take place in Texas, but in Georgia. Very, very loosely, it's based on events in the town (though I gave it a fictional name) where my ancestors lived in Northwest Georgia during the Civil War. Thankfully, they were not among those whose homes were burned.

I've also added at Kindle a never-before-published mystery, ALMOST HOME. This is the first of a series about Link Dixon, a former Dallas PD detective who moves back to his hometown of Cartersville, Texas after the death of his wife. Link and his son Jason live in the Victorian home he inherited from his grandmother and Link is forced to take a job as sheriff's deputy on night patrol because it's the only law enforcement job available. He knows his experience as a lawman is wasted, but he's willing to take the job to help his son recover from the loss of Jason's mom. Sure enough, Jason soon smiles again with extended family nurturing him and his cousins for playmates. But Link learns that what he remembered as a wholesome place has evolved as everywhere else, and the town he thought of as being like Mayberry is now more like Miami Vice. Isn't that the way our memories work? We filter out the bad experiences and remember all the good things. Link fights to bring his hometown back to the low crime area he remembers. In the process, he's framed for murder, beaten to a pulp, almost killed, saved by unexpected friends, and betrayed by someone he trusted. Who'd ever have guessed his worthless cousin Virgil Lee would play a key part in achieving a climax to the crimes?

Thanks to each of you who has purchased ANY one of my books! I sincerely appreciate your reading my work. I'd probably write whether I sold or not, but writing is much more fulfilling if people read what I write!


Calisa Rhose said...

Fun interview ladies! Wow on the Italian food level. I love it!

Susan Macatee said...

Loved the excerpt, Jannine! And the cover is beautiful!

Best of luck!

Marilyn Yarbrough said...

Love the interview and love Italian food, but was recently diagnosed as gluten intolerant, so even portion control is out of the question. I'm intrigued by the novels. Now that summer's almost over, I need some winter reads.

Carole St-Laurent said...

Janine, I love Italy. We toured the country in August, from Venice to Sorrento. Best trip ever!

Lisa Kessler said...

Great interview Jannine! :)

Now I want some Italian food... LOL

Good luck with the new release!

Lisa :)

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

I remember we talked about the journal written by a doctor traveling across the plains. My great, great grandfather, also a doctor, wrote a journal and it is kept under glass at Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley. I loved hearing in his words what the journey entailed.

You've definitely got me wanting to jump up and cook something, anything Italian. My hubby's family is Italian and I love the spirit and exciting life I have living with him and spending time with our daughter. Never a dull moment and it is wonderful.

So nice getting to know you today.

LaVerne Clark said...

Oooo - now I'm salivating - not just for the yummy food - but those covers!! I'm going to go check them out.

Cherie Marks said...

Great interview. Very informative and fun. Now I have more books for my tbr pile.

Jannine said...

Wow, ladies, thank you all for stopping by and commenting.

Living with an Italian is really interesting. Ask my husband, lol. When we got married 39 years ago, I spoiled him from the get-go. He worked nights. But when he came home, he'd find stuffed pepper in sauce, pasta and sausage, peppers and potatoes. Hmmm, I'm wondering if it was my cooking he married. LOL

Good luck on the two-book giveaway. And again, thank you so much for reading the blog.

Lilly Gayle said...

Love the excerpt, Jannine. And I love manacoti! Even if I can't spell it. lol!

Kirsten Lynn said...

Great interview ladies!

Janine, I loved your description of growing up Italian. It was like stepping into your life.

I understand the family/food connection. Our holidays are spent around the table with LOTS of talking, laughing and EATING!

Can't wait to read LOVE'S SWEET WAGER.

Thanks so much for sharing.


Mary Ricksen said...

Janine, my maiden name was Mongiello. I think you know how I can identify with your childhood. Add in a Polish grandmother and holy moley! If it wasn't meatballs, it was babka.
But the Italian relatives would all play penny poker and accuse each other of cheating. LOL! Good luck!

Jannine said...

Lilly and Kirsten, thank you for commenting.

Mary, I laughed when you mentioned penny poker and everyone accusing each other of cheating. That is so typical of Italian men. Not the women. They were always in the kitchen or seeing to the bambini!

Jannine said...

I have a winner for Love's Sweet Wager and Charlotte and the Gypsy.

Carole St-Laurent come on down!!!


I'll need your email address to get the ebooks to you. Please send it to me at

Thank you.

Unknown said...

Great interview. I especially love getting a taste of the author's work in the excerpts. It's been a long time since I read romances, but your posts make me want to try my hand at writing them. Must be so much fun!

Unknown said...

Oh, and thank goodness for the excerpt. It made me stop thinking about food. ;-)

Maryannwrites said...

Enjoyed the interview. The first part made me think of this great Italian family that lived down the street from me when I was young. Not only were they very hospitable with the food, their teenage son was my first love. Of course, he did not love me back. He loved the Homecoming Queen. LOL

Gabriella Hewitt said...

Great interview. I also grew up in an Italian household and I definitely got a few looks from kids over my sandwiches. ( :

I enjoyed the excerpt. Thanks!