Friday, March 26, 2021

Nicola DeRobertis-Theye

Nicola DeRobertis-Theye was an Emerging Writing Fellow at the New York Center for Fiction, and her work has been published in Agni, Electric Literature, and LitHub. A graduate of UC Berkeley, she received an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, where she was the fiction editor of its literary magazine Ecotone. She is a native of Oakland, CA and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

DeRobertis-Theye's new novel is The Vietri Project.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

It sums up the whole book; moreover it was the only title I ever considered, the title from the earliest days, and no one, from my agent to my publisher, ever suggested changing it, which I think is a mark of success. At first, The Vietri Project refers to the project in the bookstore where my narrator works, of assembling large and mysterious book orders for a signor Vietri, in Rome. Later, when she is traveling and decides to look him up, it becomes her search for the facts of his life, for what answers he might be able to give her about how she should live her own.

What's in a name?

My narrator’s name is Gabriele, named after her Italian grandfather. It’s a boy’s name in Italy but reads as very feminine to Americans, and I tried to include other names like that where I could, like her male cousin Andrea. I wanted to use names which were feminine in one context and masculine in another to suggest a breaking down of assumed categories, especially as they relate to one’s identity. I also used the name Vietri from the very beginning, it carried associations with two very different towns in Italy (Vietri sul Mare and Vietri di Potenza), and etymologically could be broken down to mean “three lives”, which is also accurate to the life story my narrator uncovers.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

Not very, I think. The things that mean the most to me—travel, books, wondering how to be a good person in the world, are all there.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Endings, absolutely. The first chapter of this novel stayed mostly unchanged from the very beginning, while the ending was originally the penultimate chapter. In early drafts there was one further chapter, but eventually, it made more emotional sense to end where it did. But the question of how it would end—would she find Vietri, or not?—wasn’t one I knew the answer to while writing, and the mystery kept me interested as well.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I do. Though I am quite different in terms of personality and family history from Gabriele, there were enough similarities that early in the book I had her make two choices I have never done: to order a diet coke, and to cheat on her boyfriend. I felt like that gave me enough psychic distance from her early on to let her develop into her own character.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I think the biggest thing that affects what I’m writing is the setting, a sense of place. The other thing is history: I wanted this book to also function as a guide to the last 100 years of Italian history. But movies, music, art, they all feed the creative soup that the writing comes out of.
Visit Nicola DeRobertis-Theye's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Vietri Project.

The Page 69 Test: The Vietri Project.

--Marshal Zeringue