Ask the Author: Frances Mayes

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Frances Mayes Lots is new in Cortona, mostly good. Fine new shops and restaurants. It's quite changed from those many years ago. But then what isn't?
There's also some tackiness in some of the shops but mostly Cortona retains its dignity. Certainly it retains its friendliness and sense of community. I still adore being there. Glad you enjoy the lasagne! Love baked pastas!
Frances Mayes Just finished the book tour and am trying to clear my desk! I hope to focus on writing again later in the summer. But we are remodeling in Italy, so...
Frances Mayes Thank you! My first five books were poetry and were written intermittently. When I turned to prose, I found that Under the Tuscan Sun came to me very easily and was written in a year. I was teaching then so wrote mostly on weekends and breaks. Other books have taken 1-2 years, except for Under Magnolia which started a long time ago, was put away, then brought out and revised and added to. A long process!
Frances Mayes If I understand your question, I'll say that for me, imagination and experience--when I sit down to write--are intertwined. My memoirs, of course, are true to experience but I hope I bring my imagination to the language in trying to convey experience. Make sense???
Frances Mayes Yes. There are many, many more visitors coming to our town because of my books. The place, however, is ancient and remains itself, especially off-season.
Frances Mayes Under Magnolia came to me in a rush of memories. I said there that I felt that I was holding onto a horse that bolted the barn! Thrilling--the process of gathering the material into discrete chapters. Challenging--revisiting the painful parts.
Frances Mayes For my best advice about Tuscan food, check my The Tuscan Sun Cookbook, where I gathered all my best recipes, such at Tuscan Ribs, Baked Pasta with Four Cheeses, and lots of others. In Venice--black risotto, and whatever fish looks the boldest and freshest. I love the little lobsters.
Frances Mayes They were joys to write! My natural stance when traveling is "innocent abroad." I want to remain open to the place as it is, to experience without forming quick opinions. My writing is all about place and especially so in Under Magnolia, where I try to describe how I feel formed by the place where I grew up and to acknowledge the power of landscape and the history imbued in it.
Frances Mayes I look for the same qualities in travel writing that I enjoy in novels and other nonfiction--a strong personal voice and a felicitous writing style. Story, especially dangerous adventure, is not enough. Walking through a medieval town can be more riveting than escaping from six bears.
Frances Mayes This I partly answered earlier. But if you already have an MA, I'd go on only if you found that process helpful to your memoir. Finding an agent is not easy. I suggest looking in the acknowledgment pages of books you love and that you find compatible with your style. The authors will thank their agents there and you can look them up and send a good sample of your work.
Frances Mayes Since I don't know your circumstances, it's hard to say. Plan well, and have a back up plan. Getting a job, of course, requires all kinds of permits, so unless you have a big savings, there's that. If you have some indispensable skill it is a lot easier. Living in Italy, which is the place I know, is easy and stimulating and fun and healthy. You are outside more, walk more, eat well, laugh a lot. My books tell what I know about living there.
Frances Mayes No. I wonder who on earth would tackle my family on film!
Frances Mayes I read rather omnivorously. I like reading about architecture. I love the essay form and thought Things That Are by Amy Leach was very fresh. Recently, in planes on the book tour for Under Magnolia, I read Bobcat, short stories by Rebecca Lee, the superb Naples trilogy by Elena Ferrante, poetry by C.D. Wright, and the mind-altering Far From the Tree by Andrew Soloman. All highly recommended. Some of my favorites writers are my neighbors here in Hillsborough NC: Lee Smith, Allan Gurganus, Jill McCorkle, Michael Malone. No longer alive, due to a car accident, W.G. Sebald is top of my list.
Frances Mayes All who grew up way South sort of have to. The place itself exerts its power. I think I probably have swamp water in my veins. And, yes, I have the requisite wild family full of characters, a burned house (three, actually), and a bellehood gone awry!
Frances Mayes

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