Loving Italian with Traci Andrighetti
Updated: Dec 2, 2019
This spring we had the great privilege of interviewing award winning writer Traci Andrighetti, creator of the USA TODAY bestselling Franki Amato mystery/comedy book series.
Enjoy the special video we made about this excellent experience and read the extended interview below. Keep up with this great writer and fantastic human being by checking out her website and subscribing to her newsletter.
1. There are many things you have accomplished as an author, which one of those accomplishments you feel the most proud about and why?
Grazie! Besides the fact that I incorporate my Italian heritage into my books, I’m most proud that I sat down and actually wrote that first mystery. Book writing is daunting, especially when you’ve never done it before, or when you’ve only written academic papers like I had back then. But some advice I got in graduate school about writing a dissertation—“it’s just six papers strung together”—took away the fear of big writing projects. When you look at a book that way, i.e., the chapters are just a string of short papers, the whole process becomes much more doable.
Anyway, I’m the first one to admit that Limoncello Yellow isn’t perfect precisely because it was my first book. But you have to start somewhere. And thanks to that book and the others that have followed, I teach mystery writing online for Savvy Authors and in Italy on my LemonLit tours.
2.If you were to provide an advise to your younger self, perhaps that 21 yr old younger self, what would you tell her?
So easy! I would tell much younger Traci to deviate from the “practical path,” to take more risks, to think outside the box. For example, when I was in high school, I complained about not being able to take Italian. But when I went to college and Italian was finally an option, I took Spanish. Why? Because I listened to the practical advice of college counselors who told me to continue with the language I’d been taking since middle school. After I graduated, I realized the mistake I’d made. I’d moved back to my hometown of Houston, so I enrolled at U of H and eventually returned to Austin and re-enrolled at UT to take Italian (enough courses to satisfy the requirement for a major). It cost me a LOT of extra money and time, and because classes are only offered during the day, it limited the kinds of jobs I could do. In the end, that college counselor’s practical advice ended up costing me in so many ways.
3. Did you know your entire life that you were going to be a storyteller? When did this path start?
This question made me laugh out loud! I didn’t know I was a storyteller until my Italian students (I was a lecturer and an assistant instructor at UT) started mentioning my stories in their course evaluations. And even then I didn’t remember telling stories in class. So, I asked my students if I told stories. And the looks on their faces! Some laughed, but others looked at me like I had a split personality or something. Anyway, I have Italian to thank for the fact that I learned I’m a storyteller, and I have my ex-students to thank for the fact that I became a writer. Grazie di cuore!
4. At some point you made the decision of leaving a lucrative job to dedicate yourself full time to writing, how did that happen? How do you feel about your decision?
NO. REGRETS! The lucrative job was with Apple, and I was recruited to work there—at an Italian-American social event—because I speak Italian. After I’d been at Apple for sixteen months, I got promoted four jobs up the chain. Ironically, the hiring manager for the position was impressed by my nerdy Italian language blog, italicissima, and not by my PhD. And even more ironically, the job I got promoted to had nothing to do with Italian! And that, ultimately, was why I left the job. Once the Italian was gone, my interest waned. But that dissatisfaction at work is what prompted me to start writing books in my free time. So, all’s well that end’s well, right?
5. How do you deal with negative/mean reviews on the web? Do you even pay attention to them?
Graduate school taught me that criticism is good because, in most cases, it helps you to improve. So I’ve learned to approach criticism as a learning opportunity, and that definitely goes for book reviews. I have taken some of the negatives mentioned in readers’ comments and improved or changed those things. Of course, there are always going to be people who don’t like your work. In those cases, as a writer you just have to shrug and say, “S/he’s just not my reader.”
Some of the negative reviews are funny, though. My favorite one-star review is by a woman who bought Prosecco Pink, a mystery with a psychic afraid of ghosts, and wrote “I don’t read books containing spiritism, magic, astrology, etc.” I mean, you just have to laugh…
6. How has your Italian helped you in achieving your dreams and aspirations?
For me, Italian has been the key to everything, personally and professionally. Before I studied Italian, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, and nothing was calling to me in terms of a career. Studying Italian taught me about my heritage, about myself. But even if I hadn’t been Italian-American, knowing Italian got me jobs (that I never had to look for because those jobs found me): at UT, at Apple, and at a lot of other companies along the way, e.g., literary translation work for Giunti Editore, Italy’s oldest publisher. And, of course, I’ve already mentioned that Italian led to my author career.
But beyond personal development and jobs, Italian has given me adventure—and so much of it! Just to give you some examples, I spent a fabulous day with an Italian mystery writer who showed me around his native Bologna, I met with undercover cops in Milano, I toured a fire station compound in Genova that was so huge it actually had a bar with a full-time bartender, I got my name on a Prosecco vineyard I visited in the Veneto, and I was the best man (ha!) for a wedding in a tiny Southern Italian village called Miranda. And, I’ve made so many lifelong friends along the way.
7. What's in the horizon for Traci Andrighetti? What new ideas are you now developing?
I’m about to self-publish for the first time because I added up the money I could have made if I’d self-published my first three books myself and the number almost made me faint. If I don’t like self-publishing, I’ll get a literary agent and look for a new publisher. In the meantime, I’m developing an Italian teacher mystery series that is loosely based on my hilarious and harrowing experiences as an Italian interpreter on two private high school trips to Italy. And, along with another USA TODAY bestselling author, I just formed LemonLit, a company that takes aspiring established authors on intensive writing retreats to various cities in towns in Italy. Best of all, I’m about to head to the opera in Venice.
8. Why do you think that people should study Italian?
Given that there are so many other languages that may seem more useful, why Italian?
I have a PhD in Foreign Language Education, and I’ve learned one thing for sure: LOTS AND LOTS OF PEOPLE speak Spanish, French, and German—even right here in Austin. For example, Apple was able to find plenty of Spanish, French, and German speakers around town, but they only managed to scrounge up three Italian speakers, and they needed more than that.
The moral of the story? Yes, Italy is pretty much only spoken in a country that is two-thirds the size of Texas and in a small canton in Switzerland. So a lot of students ignore Italian in favor of Spanish and French, which are spoken in tens of countries around the world. And guess what? The more developed those countries are, the MORE likely their inhabitants are to speak English and the LESS likely they are to need your Spanish, French, or German skills. So, knowing a language that not a lot of people study works to your ADVANTAGE. My Apple story is a case in point.
Also, Italy has the world’s 9th largest economy out of 195, which greatly increases the relevance of that small country and its lesser-known language. And people LOVE Italy, which is no small thing. They’re happy when you tell them that you speak Italian because they associate it with fabulous art, food, wine, fashion, movies, or a trip. They want to talk to you about Italy, the culture, the language. So, you make connections. You stand out—both here and in Italy, which leads to jobs.
To top all of that off, Italians are impressed when you speak their language because they know how competitive other languages are. Your Italian skills make them more inclined to help you and share with you, which leads to adventure. And really, besides love, adventure is what life should be about.