Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Artisan's Star by Gabriella Contestabile (Book spotlight, author interview, and giveaway!)

Today, I want to introduce you to Gabriella Contestabile, author of The Artisan's Star, which is currently on tour with Italy Book Tours. If you want to be immersed in the Italian culture, Florence and the art of perfumery, then you need to check out the book! Read my review of it here.

About the book

Elio Barati’s perfumery shop in Florence marks its entrance with a mosaic star. This shop immerses Elio in the artisanal world he loves, but he harbors a regret. As a young man he created a full-fledged perfume of jasmine, iris, and cypress at the renowned Ecole des Parfumeurs in Grasse—a fragrance his idealism and stubbornness boxed away before ever bringing it to light. 

A second star now brightens Elio’s life, his daughter Romina, an artist. She has her father’s unrealized talent, a precise and intuitive sense of smell. She's also inherited more challenging traits of Elio's: unbridled ambition and an insatiable wonder for the world.

But changes ripple through modern-day Florence. Artisan traditions wane; and when Romina tells her father she has no intention of running the family business Elio fights to hold on to the Florence he cherishes. Confronting the lost opportunities of his youth, Elio is thrust into this journey by five spirited women: his Greek mother, Elena; his mentor Palma; his soul mate, Marina; his astronomer wife, Sofia; and finally his beautiful artist daughter, who like the city of her birth, shows him how tradition and modernity can and must co-exist. 

Now he must alter his own path by harnessing the transformative powers of the fine and artisanal arts.

Where to buy the book

An Interview with Gabriella Contestabile

Please help me welcome Gabriella as she discusses her book and her writing.

LF: Gabriella, welcome to Essentially Italian. There are many books out there about Italy. What makes yours different?

GC: One cannot say or write enough about Italy. I’ve drawn inspiration from writers who’ve ventured into this gorgeous territory before me, (Mary McCarthy, Frances Mayes, Anton Gill, R.W.B. Lewis, Bernard Berenson, Francesca Marciano). I have always been drawn to the sense of place and the way it influences the way we feel, think and act. I love to see, re-visit, and describe the sensory detail around me, while traveling, or just walking around familiar streets. So “The Artisan’s Star” is both a novel and a travelogue. The characters inhabit artisan workshops, cafes, wine bars, and country vistas that continue to draw the curious traveler to Florence and surrounding Tuscany.

Throughout my life I’ve wanted to travel to the places I saw made real through literature. Reading about a character in a setting, following his thoughts, her revelations, their observations, makes one feel present in that very spot. It all comes together; the visual detail, the smells, the memories and fears that play against the backdrop. Setting is a character unto itself. In ‘The Artisan’s Star” present day Florence joins with Romina to wake Elio up; force him to confront his fears and regrets, and embark on a new dream.

LF: I enjoyed your book and of course, its setting. What advice would you give budding writers?

  • Make time to write. No matter how demanding your life may be. Everything is material. Even that moment when you feel the entire world is conspiring against you is an opportunity to put thoughts to paper. Someday one of your characters will face a similar conflict and those thoughts become insights.

  • Don’t let fear in. There are stories out there that need to be told, yours among them, and very often it’s art, not traditional news, that enables us to fully understand the world we currently live in. There are sparkling new voices and resonant older voices. There are emerging new literary styles and conduits. It’s a very exciting time. 

  • Ask for feedback. I owe my writing teachers and my developmental editor a million thank yous for their unsparing feedback. Their goal, and mine, was to create a meaningful and transformative reader experience. They kept me focused on that vision and, in the process, taught me my craft. 

LF: Excellent advice. Do you have another profession besides writing?

GC: I’ve had a number of career incarnations; foreign language teacher, international training and education executive, free-lance writer. Somehow I’ve always ended up doing something that involved, writing, teaching, travel, and languages. So I suppose that in an unfocussed way I have followed my dreams, or taken all sorts of crisscrossed paths to get here.

Right now I’m on a three-tiered path. I’m going to keep writing both fiction and non-fiction. I’m also President and Founder of a boutique travel company that specializes in artisan-inspired tours of Florence. And, as a result of my volunteer work, with Dress For Success, I’ve designed a series of training workshops related to the world of work. Once a trainer always a trainer I say. Empowering women and girls through education and training is one of the initiatives I’m most passionate about.

Again, all these pieces interlock. They’re about ‘work’ in its many forms, our connection with it, how we shape our life choices around what we do, don’t do, or want to do. It took me awhile to see the connection but it’s there. And I go back to the philosophy that one’s life is a work of art, to be continually sculpted, shaped and re-imagined, around the life events we encounter along the way.

LF: You are one talented lady! How long have you been writing?

GC: Since second grade in Ottawa, Canada. It’s a funny story. Back then in Catholic schools we took some serious penmanship classes. We had to learn free-hand cursive without resting our wrists on the desk. I was so bad at it my mother made me practice all my letters everyday. I got bored writing those same letters so I started writing stories instead. And I haven’t stopped. I remember the day I started, at a round wooden table in our 6th floor walk up apartment on Bank Street, on a snowy day.

LF: I didn't know you spent part of your childhood in Canada! Do you write every day?

GC: Yes. But the length of time varies depending on my schedule. I make it a ritual to write in my big notebook/journal when I first wake up. It’s when my ideas flow more freely. Just the feeling of waking up to a new day provokes fresh thinking.

LF: Thank you, Gabriella, for taking the time to answer my questions and for allowing us to get to know you better.

About Gabriella

Gabriella Contestabile is an author, educator, and owner of SU MISURA JOURNEYS, a boutique travel company connecting people to the artisans of Florence. She emigrated, with her parents, from Italy to New York City in 1959. In her pre-writer life, she worked as a foreign language teacher, management development specialist, and fragrance/cosmetics executive. Gabriella is a strong advocate of the arts, of multiculturalism, and of social justice—a passion inspired by reading Dickens and Dante at a very young age. 

She has been an active volunteer with Dress for Success for over eight years and is a member of the Slow Food NYC Food and Farm Policy Task Force. She lives on the Upper West Side with her husband, her daughter, her mom, and a furry Shih–Tzu named Oreo. ‘ The Artisan’s Star’ is her first novel. She is currently working on a collection of short stories, also set in Italy, and a screenplay.

Connect with Gabriella: Website ~ Twitter ~ Amazon Author Page ~ Su Misura ~ Facebook


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