Interview with John and Nancy Petralia

Happy Wednesday! Today my honorary guests are John and Nancy Petralia, authors of Not in a Tuscan Villa. The book is the story of two sixty-somethings who abandon a comfortable retirement to move to Italy for a year. The experience-good and bad-recaptured their youth, reinvigorated their romance, and gave them a new perspective on America and how they want to live the rest of their lives.

Personal: Getting to know the Authors:

How long have you been a writer? Best

J&NP: This is our first book. We aren’t writers by profession. It took us about 18 months to complete Not in a Tuscan Villa.

Which topics do you enjoy writing about most and why?

J&NP: I guess we enjoy commenting on life around us. Living abroad, your perspective is quite different. You can’t help comparing the foreign place to what you know in America. And the insights it gives you–about culture, family, relationships, and yourself–are things we like to share.

What do you write? What draws you to this genre?

J&NP: We’re non-fiction writers. Nancy, because I’m no good at making up stuff, and John because it fits his commentary style.

What inspired you to write your first book?

J&NP: We figured out how to have our dream of living in Italy for a year, as ordinary citizens. When we came home, the experience had so changed the way we wanted to experience the rest of our lives that we wanted to share it. We NEEDED to share it.

What do you think your book offers that others in the same genre do not?

J&NP: It’s not a travelogue. It’s not like Under the Tuscan Sun or some other book about buying a run-down house in the country and fixing it up with funny workmen. It’s not about picking grapes and olives and eating out under the stars. It’s about real life in Italy, where you have to negotiate the everyday mysteries of train ticketing, public and private bureaucracy, getting the cable fixed and the internet installed, and you might end up in the hospital–twice. It’s about looking for ways to make friends and become part of a local community, and the rewards of rediscovering your romance.

Who are your favorite authors? Why do they inspire you?

J&NP: We love and are inspired by Bill Bryson. What travel writer wouldn’t be. He’s adventuresome, insightful, irreverent, and hilarious. He’s also a VERY skilled writer who knows how to weave a complex story and deliver a punchline. We learned a lot about writing by reading and analyzing his work.

Do you have a favorite motivational phrase?

J&NP: “You are what you read.” It’s the motto of our book club.

Where do you enjoy vacationing?

J&NP: Italy of course, but we still want to go to South America, spend more time in Spain and some of France. The Balkan cruise to St Petersburg is on the list. It’s actually a long list.


Books, Writings, and Routines:

When you write (books) do you have a specific regimen? If so what is that routine?

J&NP: We found the discipline of the library writers’ group helped us finish the book. We had to show up each week with four pages each to read. Sometimes we wrote quite a bit more, but we always had to have at least four.

In your latest book, is there a specific message that you want readers to grasp?

J&NP: Whatever your dream is, to live abroad, to climb a mountain, to try your hand at sculpture, whatever. JUST DO IT. The experience will change your life in ways you never expected and energize the rest of your life.

What was the hardest part of writing your book?

J&NP: Learning how to craft a story. We had lots of source material, but creating the story arc, within the chapters and throughout the book was the hardest part. We cut, rearranged, edited many times to get it where we wanted. Also, figuring how to start was difficult. The approach we finally took was suggested by a critique at a writers’ workshop.

What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing your latest book to life?

J&NP: Figuring out how to write it together. We settled on alternating chapters and forcing the styles to be different. Nancy’s style is more narrative, and John’s is more commentary, closer to that of an essayist. In both cases there’s an intentional attempt to emphasize our personality quirks so it’s obvious who’s speaking.

Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day?

J&NP: We could read four double-spaced pages each at our writers’ group. In the beginning we would write to the four pages each week. Eventually we learned that we needed to tell the STORY in whatever space it took and just read four of the pages. But the discipline of producing every week drove us to completion.

How structured are you when writing? Do you draw an outline before beginning or do you enjoy writing freely from scratch? Or do you use another method?

J&NP: Since the book is a series of essays, we had to figure out the point of each chapter and then how they fit together to tell the overarching story. We find ourselves in situations and then develop the story around those situations.

Do you believe there is such a thing as writer’s block?

J&NP: For us it was just the opposite. The stuff was inside us and had to come out.

Tell us about the cover. Did you design it yourself or have a team do that for you? If you did not design the cover yourself who did and how and why did you select that designer?

J&NP: The publisher provided a designer who’s done over 600 books. She’s a fabulous artist and extremely creative. She used several of the photos Nancy took as the basis for a variety of different approaches. We fell in love with the one we chose.

Not in a Tuscan Villa cover

Marketing & Book Signings:

What ways have you marketed your books?

J&NP: Book signings, lectures about related topics. We’re also interested in reaching book clubs and Italian cultural groups.

Where and how are your books sold?

J&NP: Amazon, some B & N, independent bookstores. Amazon has recommended it on their Hot New Releases list and in their email marketing.

What do you do to get book reviews?

J&NP: ASK everyone we can reach who’s read the book, to post on Amazon and Goodreads. A few will actually do it. Sent copies to professional reviewers.

Is there any marketing technique you used that had an immediate impact on your sales?

J&NP: We have a personal email list of about 300 people. I’ve sent announcements to them about the initial publication, the Kindle release, and will send one about holiday purchases. That spiked the initial sales for both the print copy and Kindle version.

Do you think that giving books away free works and why?

J&NP: Don’t know yet. We’ve given some to reviewers and will try the Goodreads giveaway program. But other authors have told us this wasn’t particularly helpful in generating sales. We don’t fit the profile of authors who are promoting a series or plan to write many more books, so I don’t know how useful it would be.

Tell us a little about your latest book signing. What all did it entail? How long did it last?

J&NP: We spent a few minutes introducing ourselves and why we wrote the book, then each of us read a short section. Our library time spanned two hours so we repeated that process at the top of the second hour for those who came in later. We answered a lot of questions in both venues.

We coupled it with a reading or Q & A from book clubs so it lasted 1-2 hours.

In Conclusion:

Do you have any advice for other writers or new authors?

J&NP: Read. And not just the genre you want to write in. If you want to be a good writer, read people who are great. Invest in learning to write better. We started with our writers’ group, but also went to a writers’ conference, had two professional critiques, and had the manuscript critiqued by a carefully selected group of avid readers, including a former professional editor for a major publishing house. Use professionals for editing, cover, and your interior design.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

J&NP: Open your mind to another view of the world. Take the time to SEE, not just observe the world around you and consider what that means.

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively over the years as a writer?

J&NP: We’re much better writers than when we started. And much better readers. Writing makes you a more critical reader and vise versa.

What is the hardest thing about writing?

J&NP: We write non-fiction so it’s about turning what happened into a story.

What is the easiest thing about writing?

J&NP: Stream of consciousness–getting it down the first time.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

J&NP: Go for your dreams earlier. Don’t get hung up on all the reasons why you can’t do it.

How can readers discover more about you and your work?

J&NP: Visit the FB page for Not in a Tuscan Villa. Visit our website, And Nancy’s Goodreads author page. Send us an email or post something…we love to hear from readers.





*Extra Credit Questions*

Is Not in a Tuscan Villa a memoir? DSC03549_2

J&NP: Not exactly, although it is our recollections of things we experienced during our year in Italy. We like to call it “adventure learning.” The adventure certainly changed us, and we take the reader on our journey of discovery. We take turns with the chapters which is something different.

How have you changed from the experience?

J&NP: We came home wanting to recreate the daily experience we had in Parma–and to relocate to a city. Both consciously and unconsciously we’ve applied the lessons we learned to our search for a new hometown. To our surprise, the place we chose has even more of them than we originally thought so we’ve certainly internalized a new perspective.

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