The first book of the series, All For A Dead Man's Leg, was an experiment to see if I could write in first person and write humor. I'd never done either. The romantic suspense featured a young tour director finding out what life was all about and a Europol spy with a dark past. I loved the characters, and I loved the voice, but I never intended to write a series featuring Harriet Ruby and Will Talbot. So, needless to say, the second book wasn’t planned.
In early 2005, my Italian-American daughter-in-law and some members of her family decided to take a trip to Italy. She was taking her son, my grandson, so I decided to make the trip with another grandson who was about the same age.
After mass confusion, and a lot of family members wanting to go and then opting out, it ended up with thirteen Italian-Americans, including four teenagers, and my daughter-in-law's father, Vita Zaso, who grew up in Palermo.
Oh, man! Knowing the way Italians make group decisions, the trip was going to be a predictable disaster. So I decided I should at least get the material for a book out of it.
A group of Italian-Americans taking a tour of Italy was a natural setting for my heroine Harriet Ruby, Tour Guide Extraordinaire. And if Harriet was my heroine, I needed Will Talbot on the trip with a spy story for him to chase after. So I came up with a story idea based on some family history and wrote the first three chapters before the trip, in part so I knew what to look for. The working title was "The Italian Train Wreck" and, as you can imagine, that's what the trip turned out to be: A Train Wreck.
The characters in the book are fictitious, and not based on my relatives―a reviewer for Coffee Time Romance, wrote she didn't think there was a more obnoxious family on the planet than the Spinella/Mazza clan―but the trip provided many incidents that spiced up the novel and quite a few that didn't get into the book.
Another ironic piece of the story behind the story is the brouhaha over the cremated ashes. A year after this book was written, Vito Zaso died. At his request, he was cremated. He also requested that his ashes with other family members in Palermo.
My daughter-in-law and her siblings went through all kinds of misery and discontent getting the ashes into Italy. To get permission, they had to have another death certificate issued with the address of the final location. They didn't have the address and went through a lot to get it. Ultimately, they didn't have to smuggle the ashes wrapped in cigars, but at one point it seemed like that might be the best shot. The incident validated my research, and I dedicated the book to Vito.
Also, my oldest son has raised and bred green tree pythons and other constrictors since he was in middle school, so I have had somewhat "unwilling" experience with snakes. However, no one brought a snake on the real trip.
THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY
Part of this story is based loosely on my husband's maternal grandmother, Orsola Giannoni, born in Florence. She met a Sicilian sailor at a festival in Pisa and married him against her family's wishes. As a result, they disowned her and severed all contact.
In those days, Sicilians were considered lower than pond slime by northern Italians, and even today that is somewhat the case. My husband says his grandmother had red hair, blue eyes, and never spoke Sicilian in all the years she lived in Sicily because she thought it was such an ugly dialect.
She never heard from her family again.
During WWII, when the Americans were bombing Messina (Sicily), my husband, in his early teens, and his family left the city and lived in Bordonaro, a mountain town not too far away. Three families lived together in an old barn. Orsola, then an old woman, died during the heaviest part of the bombing.
WWII photo - bombing in Messina ▼
en mass -- many had been killed -- and the family never found out where Orsola was buried.
ABOUT ALL FOR A FIST FULL OF ASHES
In All For A Fist Full of Ashes, tour director Harriet Ruby and Europol spy and special operative, Will Talbot -- who've been seeing each other for a year since meeting in Morocco -- come together in Italy where their work assignments again overlap.
Harriet is conducting a custom tour for fourteen members of an Italian-American family from New Jersey. The family matriarch is on a quest to find the unknown location of her mother's grave so she can bury her brother's cremated ashes which have been smuggled into Italy wrapped as Cuban cigars. Will has one of the family members under surveillance as a suspect in an assassination conspiracy.
Charming the matriarch, Will coaxes an invitation from her to join the tour. The quirky family members, including the four unruly teenagers and a pet green tree python named Fluffy, sweep through Italy in search of relatives and a lost grave and leave chaos, hilarity, and danger in their wake.
Will and Harriet find traveling together for twenty-four hours a day threatens their budding relationship which is fraught trust issues. Harriet wants to be involved in everything, and Will won't – or can't -- tell her anything about his case. Harriet's intervention leads her to intuit the time, place and victim of the conspiracy. Unable to reach Will, she puts herself in danger to thwart the assassination.
I’m Harriet Ruby: Tour Director Extraordinaire. At least, I thought I was worthy of that title.
My first mistake: Agreeing to conduct a private tour of Italy. Fourteen Italian-Americans from New Jersey? All family, for three weeks, with four teenagers? What was I thinking? Fate responds to my engraved invitation by placing one of the family members under surveillance as a suspect in an assassination plot. And who is assigned to the case? None other than my favorite drop-dead-gorgeous spy, Will Talbot.
My second mistake: Allowing Will to coax an invitation from the family matriarch to join the tour.
And that was just the beginning. The matriarch, searching for the unknown location of her mother's grave so she can bury her brother's cremated ashes (which have been smuggled into Italy wrapped in Cuban cigars), and her quirky family members sweep through Italy leaving chaos, hilarity, and danger in their wake.
This blog will be posted also on the Romance Books 4 Us [RB4U] Blog on July 10, 2017