I’m very picky when it comes to historical fiction. For me to enjoy the story, these two things are non-negotiable:
- The characters’ behavior and dialogue must fit the time period.
- I need enough detail to feel like I’m living in that period, but not so much that I feel like I’m getting a history lesson.
Sounds simple, right? In reality, these are likely the most difficult things to achieve. Author Mirella Sichirollo Patzer masters this and more with Orphan of the Olive Tree.
Mirella has graciously agreed to hang out here and answer my questions. First, let’s meet the woman behind the words:
A true blue Taurean in every way, Mirella Sichirollo Patzer was born in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, but grew up in Calgary, a city famous for the Calgary Stampede, oil companies, and the wild west.
Although an avid reader of historical fiction, she never aspired to be an author. But when she discovered the rich World War II history of her mother’s family (the Moro River Campaign was fought on her grandfather’s vineyards – (still in the family’s possession today) she decided to write about it one day.
Mirella is first generation Italian Canadian who likes a clean house but hates housework, detests winter, and is a mild claustraphobic. She loves books, cooking, writing, and a good helping of her tira-mi-su.
A dreadful curse and the casting of the evil eye that will shatter lives and the dark family secret one woman will risk everything to keep buried.
From two neighboring villas in the heart of the Tuscan countryside to the elegance of Siena; from a world steeped in ancient superstitions to a culture where family honor is paramount comes, this multi-layered novel of the lives, loves, secrets and strivings of two women and their families in the 13th century.
Felicia Ventura dreams of a happy future raising a family, but her hopes are shattered because of a curse and the casting of the evil eye by her envious neighbor, a dark Sicilian beauty named Prudenza. Prudenza’s envy of Felicia turns into a dangerous, frenzied obsession and she revives an ancient superstition, spreading the rumor that Felicia’s twins were fathered by different men. The scandal destroys Felicia’s marriage. But when Prudenza gives birth to twin daughters of her own, she is desperate to save face and rids herself of one infant, keeping the child’s existence secret. As the years go by, the truth has a way of making itself known. Soon Prudenza’s deception will lead to the unraveling of everything she values in life.
An absorbing novel about wicked intentions, medieval superstitions, a curse uttered in envy, undisclosed secrets, unstoppable destinies, and two generations of women and the extraordinary event that will vindicate or destroy them.
Now on to my chat with Mirella:
What inspired this story?
Believe it or not, my own Italian family inspired these stories. As a child I lived with many Italian traditions, superstitions, and wives tales. It was great fun putting some of these old beliefs and practices into a story. For instance, you will never find a peacock feather in an Italian home because the peacock feather appears to have the evil eye at its center. And once, when I wasn’t feeling well and acting out as a child, my mother and aunts actually did the water and oil test to cast out any evil that had overtaken me.
I find it fascinating that some of these beliefs and superstitions are still practiced!
I was especially struck by how well you captured the feel of the time period. How much time did you put into research?
Thank you for saying so. I’m so glad you felt the authentic flavour came through. For many authors, research is ongoing and never ending. I have been researching the medieval period for more than ten years since most of my novels or current works in progress are set anywhere from the 10th century to the 17th century, and I have a vast collection of books to prove it. Orphan of the Olive Tree required a bit more research into specific Italian and Church practices and customs of the time, so there was a lot of digging and reading involved. I am glad that I love the research part of writing. Often, research leads to those “light bulb” moments or tidbits of fascinating information that I can weave into the story. And that’s what I love most about writing – including plenty of odd and unusual circumstances, which makes the story more interesting.
Many of the seemingly small details you touched on are vital in placing readers in the time period. For instance, in order to confuse evil spirits, a bride should have at least ten attendants all dressed in gowns matching hers; and children used an inflated pig’s bladder as a ball. Are these details all true of thirteenth century life?
Yes, they most certainly are. I strive for accuracy in all my novels and live in fear of making a mistake, so I often double check my resources. Many of the wedding customs have evolved and are still in practice today. We still have attendants and bridesmaids, but usually fewer in numbers and in coordinated gowns. Medieval toys were made of wood or cloth or a combination of both. It is rare for any of these items to have survived today, but thankfully a few have and they provide valuable clues to the past. An inflated pig’s bladder was common throughout Europe for children to play with after a pig was slaughtered for food. It was pretty durable and could last for a good round of play. I try my very best to ensure all the details are based in fact. For instance, the scene with the rabid horse and baby was based on a true story which I stumbled across when reading an old newspaper article written sometime in 1800’s England.
That scene had me riveted. It’s one that really stuck with me, with the action and emotion.
Often an author who does a lot of research feels the need to use every scrap. The story then reads like a research project, rather than a novel. I found just the opposite with Orphan of the Olive Tree. The details were scattered throughout in a way that put me with the characters. As a reader, I didn’t give a thought to the research involved and how much work you must have put in. I didn’t feel like you were forcing me into a specific time period. I just felt like I was there. Did you find it difficult to decide how much and which details to include?
Sometimes, authors do try to put a lot of historical detail into the story. But in Orphan of the Olive Tree, I was having so much fun with the plot and the characters, I didn’t focus on the research and details. From the start, my intent was to write a rip-roaring yarn for pure fun. I hope I achieved this.
You absolutely did!
Superstitions were a big part of life back in the thirteenth century. I loved how you captured the essence of that issue. In your research, did you come across any superstitions that surprised you? What do you feel was one of the most damaging or harmful superstitions?
For me, any superstition that adversely affects one’s health or well-being is harmful. To this day, many Italian people, including my relatives frown, and immediately make the anti-evil eye gesture by sticking their thumbs between their index and middle finger, if someone compliments a baby. There are many superstitions that can be harmful that still exist today. For instance, my mother believes that serving a pregnant woman plenty of red wine is good for the mother, whereas research has clearly proven otherwise. Or my mother believes that a pregnant woman must immediately receive all her cravings or taste everything in sight to prevent the child being born malformed or marked. With those kinds of beliefs, it’s pretty hard keeping to a safe weight gain during pregnancy and that is definitely harmful.
We explore destiny and fate in this story. Do you believe in destiny?
Most certainly, I do believe in destiny and fate, but I believe that we can make our own destiny too. Many times in our lives, we get a feeling or our inner voice warns us to act or not act. I believe that inner voice is powerful and should be heeded. Often, when life deals us a hard blow, I believe there is a lesson there for us to learn or something for us to do to make the world around us better. Some refer to fate as the universe speaking to us, or some simply say it is God. Whatever you believe, the signs are there for us if we take time, listen to our hearts, and pay attention to the world around us. I do believe we are here for a greater purpose than ourselves and that we should be seeking to make the world better for ourselves and others. Fate and destiny are truly in our control.
Well said, and I concur.
If you could go back to any time and place in history, where would you go and why?
I would love to go back to 10th century Europe as a member of the nobility, not as part of the common class. That would be too hard and too full of peril. I have been researching and writing the biography of Queen Mechtild, mother of Otto the Great, for many years now. She was kind and charitable, and later was canonized a saint. In my heart, I have grown to love and admire her. She is buried in Quedlinburg Germany along with her husband, Heinrich, and I would love to have known her.
Please share 3 things about yourself that you’d like readers to know.
My family’s vineyards south of Ortona were the sight of the Battle of the Moro River where many Canadian soldiers lost their lives trying to liberate my mother’s village from the grasp of the Germans. That was the battle that led to the infamous Battle of Ortona. My mother’s home was bombed and they lived in caves for 8 months while the war raged around them.
I am a descendant of Giacomo Sichirollo, the famous Italian Cardinal, scientist, and scholar from 18th century Rovigo, Italy. His books are classics and can still be purchased from Italian bookstores.
Fifteen years ago, I dreamed the lottery numbers. The excitement of the dream woke me up and by the time I could gather my wits to write the numbers down, I had forgotten two of the six numbers. Not believing in prophetic dreams, I played the four numbers, but didn’t spend the extra money to play the other possible combinations. The jackpot was $10 million dollars. The numbers I dreamed were the winning numbers that night. Always believe in your dreams and act!
Wow! You have a fascinating family history.
I’m a believer in prophetic dreams. It must be upsetting to think about how close you came to having no money worries in life!
Thank you Darcie, for taking the time to invite me to your blog and share a bit of myself with your readers. If you want to learn more about me, I can be found at:
Thank you for being here with us, Mirella!
All Mirella’s books can be found on Amazon, in both print and Kindle format:
I hope you’ll take the time to connect with Mirella and explore her fictional world.
Do you have a superstition or ritual you stick to? What about prophetic dreams? Have you ever had one? Share your thoughts with us!
Thanks for reading.
Tags: 13th Century Fiction, author interviews, Evil Eye, Historical Fiction Authors, Historical Fiction Novels, Italian Customs, Medieval Superstitions, Mirella Sichirollo Patzer, Orphan of the Olive Tree, Prophetic Dreams, Superstitions