Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Jennifer Probst Interview - Our Italian Summer


Photo Content from Jennifer Probst

Jennifer Probst is the New York Times bestselling author of the Billionaire Builders series, the Searching For . . . series, the Marriage to a Billionaire series, the Steele Brothers series, the Stay series, and the Sunshine Sisters series. Like some of her characters, Probst, along with her husband and two sons, calls New York’s Hudson Valley home. When she isn’t traveling to meet readers, she enjoys reading, watching “shameful reality television,” and visiting a local Hudson Valley animal shelter. Follow her at JenniferProbst.com.

        
  


Tell us about OUR ITALIAN SUMMER!
Three generations of women in the Ferrari family must heal the broken pieces of their lives on a trip of a lifetime through picturesque Italy. Here’s a brief breakdown of the three characters:

Workaholic, career-obsessed Francesca is fiercely independent and successful in all areas of her life except one: family. She struggles to make time for her relationship with her teenage daughter, Allegra, and the two have become practically strangers to each other. When Allegra hangs out with a new crowd and is arrested for drug possession, Francesca gives in to her mother's wish that they take one epic summer vacation to trace their family roots in Italy. She just never expected to face a choice that might change the course of her life. . .

Allegra wants to make her grandmother happy, but she hates the idea of forced time with her mother and vows to fight every step of the ridiculous tour, until a young man on the verge of priesthood begins to show her the power of acceptance, healing, and the heartbreaking complications of love.

Sophia knows her girls are in trouble. A summer filled with the possibility for change is what they all desperately need. Among the ruins of ancient Rome, the small churches of Assisi, and the rolling hills of Tuscany, Sophia hopes to show her girls that the bonds of family are everything, and to remind them that they can always lean on one another, before it's too late.

What do you hope for readers to take away from OUR ITALIAN SUMMER?
I hope readers finish the book with a smile, a full heart, and a better understanding of the female relationships and their complicated, beautiful layers we are able to explore if we just pay attention. And forgive. I also hope they are transported to the magic of Italy, and the rich experiences since travel has been grounded for a while now.

What inspired you to write OUR ITALIAN SUMMER?
My mother was turning seventy, and had dreamed of travelling to Italy her entire life. We decided to take an epic trip with me, my Mom, my Godmother, and my fifteen year old niece. Three generations of women for fifteen days in Italy. It was an experience of a lifetime and inspired Our Italian Summer.

Why is storytelling so important for all of us? 
It helps us make sense of the world around us, and offers us different perspectives. Storytelling also allows us to go deep inside to see who we really are. It’s an ancient form of communication that’s so important in today’s world.

Tell us your latest news. 
I have a new release! Our Italian Summer has launched on January 12th and I’m thrilled to see it finally revealed to the world. I’m also currently working on my next women’s fiction book, tentatively titled The Italian Getaway.

Who or what has influenced your writing, and in what way?
Many authors influenced my writing along the way. From the fiction greats like Stephen King, to the bestsellers in romance like Nora Roberts, Sandra Brown, and Susan Elizabeth Phillips, other writers were my mentors, my teachers, and my confidantes. They taught me how to tell a story, be brave, and be true.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
I wrote for a number of years while working full-time, cramming in writing on weekends, early mornings, and late evneings. I wrote during my lunch hours and between episodes of SpongeBob with my children! When my book finally exploded, and I signed a contract for multiple series, I realized my dream of becoming a full time writer was finally happening. I’m grateful every day and never forget it.

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
Myself. Questioning if I was writing the story correctly, and getting in my head about genre expectations. Once I cleared my mind and accepted I needed to focus on following the story authentically, in my own voice, the book became easy to write.

What was the best memory you ever had as a writer?
After my book, The Marriage Bargain, went viral. I’d been writing nonstop for over thirty years, and never gave up even after endless rejections. When it was finally published by a small press, the book blew up and stayed on the New York Times list for 26 weeks. It was a game changer for me.

TEN REASONS TO READ OUR ITALIAN SUMMER
  • 1. It will give you a personal tour through Italy
  • 2. It will make you laugh.
  • 3. It will make you cry.
  • 4. There are hot Italian men.
  • 5. You will love reading about the delicious array of food--*think CARBS!*
  • 6. It will make you appreciate your family.
  • 7. It will spur you to look upon your female relationships differently.
  • 8. The story will offer you a well-needed escape.
  • 9. There are two romances, not one.
  • 10. You will achieve a book hangover.
Deleted Scene from OUR ITALIAN SUMMER
This was the original opening of the book but I realized it was too passive and flat to introduce Francesca. The scene still holds the same elements, but I switched it to a more action-oriented pace to reflect her workaholic ways and relationships.
Francesca

“No, I said the deadline is Friday. That gives you two days to give me a decent hook or I’m pulling you off the account.”

I ignored the glint of resentment in the young man’s green eyes, wondering if he thought his charm and good lucks trumped talent. In many places, they did. But not in my company.

I gave him credit for smothering the emotion immediately, and forcing a smile. “Got it. I’ll get it done.”

I nodded. “I know you will.”

He left my office with his shoulders squared, and I wondered what would eventually triumph—pride or the drive for success. He was young, but had promise, so I hoped the latter for him. Pride was good in some cases, but working in a team to not only grab, but retain high powered advertising accounts required the ability to do what it took, whether it was to work with someone despised, or swallow the innate instinct to push back at the boss you hated.

Of course, he didn’t hate me. Not yet. It was hard to take orders from a woman who was blind to looks, charisma, or sweet words. I’d learned that lesson early—and ran my company with a ruthless efficiency and cold-mannered sharpness that made me one of the best in the business, and snagged a spot on The Top Ten Women to Watch In Business from Fortune magazine.

Too bad I had no time to enjoy it.

I sighed and hit the button on my iPhone. BREATHE the screen quietly told me.

I closed my eyes for a few precious seconds, and concentrated on my breath. Wiped my mind clean of the consistent chatter, filling my lungs with air, holding, then slowly releasing it back into the world. This was good. This would keep me grounded and maybe quell that odd twisting in my stomach, as if something terrible was about to happen. I was positive the last attack had been a freak occurrence. After all, I’d been working nonstop, eating poorly and supplementing caffeine for water. My body had broken down because I pushed too hard. It wouldn’t happen again. I’d been careful to eat better, carry around bottled water, and schedule meditation intervals.

I tamped down on the tiny flicker of fear coursing through my bloodstream. That annoying, buzzing voice whispering it was the beginning of my downfall, and it would happen again. My entire reputation was based on running F&F Advertising and thriving at every level. My once small, boutique agency now boasted national brand clients and a world waiting for me to fail. Successful women were still looked upon as dangerous, and one big mistake was gleefully gossiped about.

I had no time for weakness, especially since I was intent on securing a brand new national client for Lexi’s Lemon Juice drink. Thank God the stuff actually tasted good. Plus, my research showed a ton of health benefits for lemons, and included the all-important buzzword organic. My client insisted it was going to be bigger than Capri Sun, Honest Kids, or any of the other juice drinks on the market now. The trendy packaging was more appealing to older kids than the juvenile pouches, and hit the sweet spot between regular flavored waters, and sugary juices and sodas. With an influx of health and vegetarian eating from the younger crowds, it had the potential to strengthen distribution with a big, splashy ad campaign.

My job was to make it happen.

Statistics showed kids drove popular drink sales by pushing the parents to buy. The commercial needed to be catchy and inventive to get the kids to want it, and healthy enough for the moms to buy it.

The pitch was exactly two weeks from now and with so much at stake, I needed to be in the leadership role of my team. It meant late nights at work this week and leaving Allegra alone for dinner. The familiar guilt slammed through me, but I took the punch like a seasoned boxer, already comfortable with the thousands of ways I’d failed at being a mother. It was so much easier when she was a baby. She loved me unconditionally, no matter what I did or didn’t do. Sure, the lack of sleep and endless exhaustion sucked, but coming home to her precious giggles and obvious adoration made up for all of it. I was able to give her what she needed most of the time. A bottle. A blanket. Changing her diaper. Playing. Food. It was like a checklist that was easy enough to follow and guaranteed a high degree of success and endless love.

Now?

I couldn’t remember the last time she didn’t look at me with such naked resentment. As if I’d personally done everything I could to ruin her life. No matter what I tried—discipline, being her friend, ignoring her dark moods, offering advice—it was all wrong. And not just a little. Every day my failure was evident and glared in technicolor by her venom-dripping voice, or the cold judgment in her big brown eyes that had once offered reverence. What had I done to make her hate me? Or even worse?

What had I not done?

The beeper gently reminded me reflection time was over. Gratefully, I pushed away thoughts of Allegra and dove back into work, my mind furiously sifting through my pitch for the global conference call. The speaker buzzed discreetly in my ear and I pushed the button.

“Yes?”

My assistant’s cultured voice rolled over the receiver. “Your mother’s on line three.”

Impatience nipped my nerves. Damnit, I had no time for this, but if I didn’t take the call, it would be worse later. “Thank you, Sarah. Put her through.”

I waited a second, then spoke. “Hi, Mom. Is everything okay?”

“Hi, sweetheart. I know you’re busy.” I waited for more, but my mother had paused, waiting for the usual denial that my time was precious and I had all day to help fix the computer, decide which movie to rent at Redbox, or if I had a thirty percent coupon at Kohls to borrow. Like I needed it. I wasn’t smug about my last tax return because I deserved every penny of profit, and felt it was well earned. Unfortunately, my mother still lived and acted like a strict budget was necessary to keep food on the table.

I tapped my nude painted nail against the mouse. “Yes, I’m very busy at the moment. What do you need?”

“I wanted to invite you and Allegra over for dinner. I got some of that grass-fed beef you like, and I can make meatballs and gravy. With her big track meet and tennis lessons this week, I thought tonight would be nice to have some family time.”

Damn, I’d forgotten about Allegra’s race. Her times had been stellar, and she had a real shot at getting a scholarship if she finished strong for the season. I rubbed my temples and tried to organize my thoughts. “I’m sorry, I have to work late this week. Maybe next week?”

An impatient sigh huffed over the line. I felt my nerves begin to prickle with annoyance. “Again? This is a difficult year for Allegra, and she needs you home, at least for dinner. Plus, I can’t freeze the beef since it’s been in the refrigerator and I got it specifically for you. It’s expensive.”

“Then make it for yourself, Mom. It has less hormones so it’s better for your health.”

Her mother snorted. “I’m too old to care what I eat anymore. Why can’t you come home and eat like a normal person, then go back to the office? At least we’ll have some time with you.”

I ground my teeth, remembered my last dentist appointment, and tried to relax my jaw. My mother had spent her entire life catering to Dad and me, creating domestic chores like a lifeline. And though she always said aloud she was proud of my success, deep down I wondered. Instead of trying to support my struggles being a single mother, she turned to her skills as a master guilt trip artist, and exposed all of my own crippling doubts with relish. Did she resent my choice to become a career woman? To raise Allegra without a man? Or did she wonder what type of life she would’ve had if she embraced more than the four walls of her home?

I’d never know. We rarely got into deep conversations. It was easier to talk about the endlessly mundane and safe and trick ourselves into believing we have a connection—the sacred mother/daughter bond that movies and women’s fiction love to exploit in sickening, shallow sweetness. I preferred the truth, even though it sometimes tasted bitter. I’d taught myself to drink the cocktail on a regular basis, so I’d never be magically inclined to believe myself better than I was.

I glanced at the clock. I had to solve this quickly or I wouldn’t have enough time to prep for the call. “Mom, I just can’t tonight, I have a global meeting on a huge account, endless things to do, and little time.”

“One day, you may find there’s no time left, Francesca. And that you gave work more power than it should have.”

Coldness leaked in my chest. I’d never win, no matter what I did, or how hard I tried. The hurt that sprouted from my mother’s words was more humiliating than anything.

And still I couldn’t stop the words from leaping out of my mouth in defense. “I’m sorry if I run a multi-million-dollar company and can’t get home for dinner. I’m sorry I’m such a disappointment to your high standards.”

“Stop using that tone and putting words in my mouth!”

Oh, God, we were going to fight again. And it would take up too much energy and precious time. I drew in a deep breath, and focused on keeping calm. “Do you want me to text Allegra and see if she can come? I was going to tell her she can invite friends over and order pizza, but maybe she’d like to visit.”

I tried to ignore the disappointment in her tone, reminding myself she didn’t have a million balls in the air to juggle other than dinner. “I’ll text her. You’re busy.”

I winced, but managed to hold my tongue. “Thanks.”

“But you have to come Sunday. There’s something I need to discuss with you and it’s important.”

“Fine, I’ll come Sunday.”

I finally managed to click off. I imagined my mother, shaking her head, clucking her tongue at the phone while she wondered how she’d managed to birth a daughter like me. Even at seventy-five, my mother was beautiful, with firm, smooth skin in a gorgeous olive color, thick hair that had once been coal-black but had turned to gray, and a trim, lean build that never seemed to thicken, even with her advanced years. She took pride in her appearance and was always tugging at my hair, or begging me to wear make-up so I’d look pretty.

Her words had jabbed like needles, but I’d learned early to exploit my assets and hide my weaknesses. I’d inherited none of my mother’s fine traits. My hair was pin straight and limp, so I’d begun wearing it short early on, with a shaggy, fashionable cut. Even my attempts at highlighting failed at coaxing the dirty blonde strands to sparkle, but I invested in a top-notch stylist so at least the color had some depth. My eyes were plain brown. Not brown with gold specks, or an inky depth to give them more mystery. Just mud brown.

Funny, I also realized early on not having my mother’s beauty was an advantage. I had good skin and bone structure, thank God, enough to achieve a passable pretty. Since I was average height and weight, not too curvy or too skinny, I was able to dress in a wide variety of ways depending on the person I chose to reflect. I wasn’t beautiful enough to cause men concern or women jealousy, and not ugly to be passed over for promotion or isolated in social circles. I built on my advantages young, learning what to accent and what to tone down, from my wardrobe to my speech, until I’d become the perfect package of a female executive going places. Marriage had never been on my radar, not when meaningful, exciting work, money, and travel were at stake.

Dad would have understood. Would have cheered from the sidelines to see his only daughter reach the pinnacle of success in this cutthroat type world. He’d always been driven to succeed like me. I remember how he’d listen to my mother complain about his absence, and the time spent away from us, but she was the only one who didn’t understand. He’d explain he wanted to give me better opportunities—he introduced a glimpse of a world with no borders if I was smart enough and driven enough. His death was a bitter loss I still lingered on, especially late at night when there was no one there to soothe the doubts. But somehow, even during the hard times, I’d fought my way through.

I was able to give Allegra everything I’d never had. Private schools, designer dresses, and tennis lessons. Private tutors so she’d be able to attend any college she wanted. Everything I’d longed for but was told we didn’t have money for, because my mother never worked. I didn’t believe in spoiling Allegra or creating a monstrous brat—God knows, I made her work regularly for various charities, and be conscious of every advantage she’d been blessed with. She’d always been such a sweet girl, naturally giving and kind, but these past few years had spiraled out of control and I was beginning to get a touch desperate. Maybe she was stressed about college and her future. I’d been at her age. Maybe this extra time with my mother was good for Allegra. She wouldn’t be pressured or pushed or grilled—my mother didn’t believe in that. At least, not for her granddaughter. She loved to fuss and spoil and pamper.

My heart beat calmed and my breath eased. I had to stop worrying about having another panic attack and ward it off with sheer grit and determination. I was in a place envied by the world, and it had happened under my own drive, discipline, and hard work. Allegra would eventually see all my successes and be proud when she got older. Looking back, she’d finally realize she had more opportunities to make a difference in the world because I pushed both of us.

I refused to have regrets about my choices.

And I refused to fail.

From New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Probst comes a new women's fiction novel featuring three generations of Ferrari women who need to heal the broken pieces of their lives...and one trip of a lifetime through Italy.

Workaholic, career-obsessed Francesca is fiercely independent and successful in all areas of life except one: family. She struggles to make time for her relationship with her teenage daughter, Allegra, and the two have become practically strangers to each other. When Allegra hangs out with a new crowd and is arrested for drug possession, Francesca gives in to her mother's wish that they take one epic summer vacation to trace their family roots in Italy. What she never expected was to be faced with the choice of a lifetime. . . .

Allegra wants to make her grandmother happy, but she hates the idea of forced time with her mother and vows to fight every step of the ridiculous tour, until a young man on the verge of priesthood begins to show her the power of acceptance, healing, and the heartbreaking complications of love.

Sophia knows her girls are in trouble. A summer filled with the possibility for change is what they all desperately need. Among the ruins of ancient Rome, the small churches of Assisi, and the rolling hills of Tuscany, Sophia hopes to show her girls that the bonds of family are everything, and to remind them that they can always lean on one another, before it's too late.
You can purchase Our Italian Summer at the following Retailers:
        

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you JENNIFER PROBST for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Our Italian Summer by Jennifer Probst.

*JBN is not responsible for Lost or Damaged Books in your Nerdy Mail Box*
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4 comments:

  1. A message from my son reminding me that is my granddaughters birthday.

    ReplyDelete
  2. That my holds at the library are ready for pick up.

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  3. "What was the last text message you received?" Ugh. I will never allow myself to take part in any sort of "text messaging" system. What a disgusting thing.

    ReplyDelete
  4. From my sister asking about my husbands surgery.

    ReplyDelete