Friday, 28 June 2013

Meet the Author - Kimberly Menozzi


With the Tour de France about to start, it's almost perfect timing that the author you'll be meeting on my blog today - Kimberly Menozzi - is here to talk about her latest novel, 27 Stages, which is set in the world of professional cycling.  

Want to find out more? I'll let Kimberly herself take it from here...


Can you tell us a little bit about '27 Stages'?

I'd be happy to! 27 Stages is a somewhat 'epic' novel, a love story of sorts set against the backdrop of a professional road cycling race (à la the Tour de France), known as the Tour d'Europa.

Federico Renard has been racing a bike for practically his entire life; his team – from the sport director to the riders and on down to the soigneurs and the rest of the staff are, essentially, his family and closest friends. He even met his fiancée when she was a podium girl. All at once, it seems everything in his life goes topsy-turvy: his former team leader – retired after a serious injury – returns to replace Federico in the team ranks, his fiancée is ignoring his phone calls and texts, and he finds himself the subject of ridicule as the result of an article in a popular cycling magazine. It's a lot of stress to take on before the biggest race on the cycling calendar, and he's doing his best to hold it together.

Abigail White is sort of on the other end of the spectrum. She's married and settled, but she's trying to shake things up a bit. Her husband is, too – but not in any way Abigail would like. She's following the Tour to photograph it for a small sports magazine in the UK, and she's determined to do it well in spite of her decidedly amateur status. The harder she works at shooting the race, the more difficult maintaining her marriage seems to become. He doesn't understand her devotion to her work, or to the sport she's photographing, and she is at a loss to explain it to him. When her husband decides to go home early, she opts to stay and follow through with her work.

Abigail and Federico meet by chance in the midst of all this and find themselves inexplicably drawn to one another. While the race rages on, they each have their own personal battles to fight, which could bring them together for good, or ultimately force them apart.

What in particular inspired you to write this book? Do you yourself have a keen interest in cycling?

Well, it's fair to say that the initial inspiration was the result of watching the 2009 Tour de France. It was the first time in years I'd committed to watching the ENTIRE race, from start to finish, and it was fascinating. Much of the interplay between Federico and Brunn was inspired by the relationship between Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong when they raced on the same team that year. The team politics were on display for anyone with an eye/ear for them, and I was absolutely captivated by the dynamic between them as they battled for control.

The character of Federico was also 'informed' – shall we say – by my newfound fascination with Fabian Cancellara. I'd seen him ride the Tour the year before but he hadn't really caught my attention because I wasn't properly focused on the race. He rode a stunning time trial in 2009 (at least, it was stunning for me) and his charm in the interviews afterward quickly made him my favorite rider. He still is. In my opinion, on many levels he is a true champion of the sport in every meaning of the word.

Yes, I certainly do have a keen interest in cycling. It's the only sport I really follow. I first fell in love with cycling when I was a teenager in 1987. I attended a few criteriums in the US (small, short course races held in town) which were ridden by amateur riders because my cousin, who got me into racing in the first place, competed in them. We dreamed of him becoming a professional, and of me working for him and/or his team. (Riding as a professional myself never occurred to me, as female cyclists were rarely mentioned at all in those days.) That dream eventually fell to the wayside, as teenage dreams often do, but I tried again and again to get back into riding bikes. I've rarely gone more than a year or two without a bike in my possession, even though I don't ride 'road' bikes (like pro riders do).

And then I moved to Italy. There, I rekindled my interest in cycling in a big way. In 2006 I photographed the Giro d'Italia as it passed through my new home city of Reggio nell'Emilia. I had never seen a real professional race until that year. The Giro made quite an impression on me, and I fell in love all over again.

In Italy, it's common to see fairly high-level contests pretty much all year 'round. I love seeing the riders, all decked out in their lycra kits on beautiful bikes. My husband rides, too. He used to ride with a cycling club with his father, and competed in small local races as well. In fact, one of the first questions I asked him when we met online was if he rode a bike. When he answered 'Yes' I was delighted! So, yeah, you could call me an 'enthusiast'.

Where did the inspiration come from for the characters of Federico and Abigail in '27 Stages'?

As I mentioned before, Federico was inspired by the team politics/dynamics on display in the 2009 Tour de France. His appearance was influenced by Fabian Cancellara (and a few other riders), but his personality is all his own. I did a considerable amount of research to find out what riders are like off the bikes and out of the spotlight, too. The more I read and watched, the more I found them engaging and funny and, of course, genuinely human and relatable. I really wanted to get that down on paper, and I believe, with 27 Stages, I've managed to do so.

Abigail, however, was inspired by my own dreams and ambitions from my teenage years, and heavily influenced by past events in my own life. She's not a kid anymore, and she's deeply concerned with what she feels is a surprising immaturity in herself as she forms a crush on a rider who is nearly ten years younger than she is. In matters of appearances, she's just a normal, approaching-middle-age woman. She has become accustomed to being taken for granted, but she starts to blossom as she finds her way to her dreams and goals. Generally speaking, I don't write 'perfect' women in my stories, but women you see every day on the street. (Although, to be fair, Federico thinks she has amazing legs. LOL)

Finally, I wanted to write an older woman/younger man story. I didn't want to go the 'cougar' angle (I'm beginning to feel it's getting over-done), and I thought it would lend an interesting twist, particularly with the younger man being a well-known athlete. There's a delicate balance to be struck in any relationship, but when the male partner is somewhat younger than the female, it becomes even more volatile, especially in the eyes of the public. For some reason, we (meaning society) still have some difficulty accepting that kind of relationship, and I still don't understand why that is.


When you're not writing, what kind of books do you enjoy reading? Are you a fan of Sports Romance yourself?


I read a little bit of everything. I know most writers say that, but I really do – from Stephen King to Tim Parks to Adriana Trigiani to Jennifer Weiner and just about everyone/everything in-between. I read voraciously, to the point that my family understand I don't read books – I eat them.

And yet, I have to confess that, in spite of writing love stories, category romances aren't something I seek out. Which is to say: I don't browse the Romance section of the book store or library. While I read books written by my friends – especially by my critique partner, the lovely and talented Nell Dixon – I don't go out of my way to find romance novels. When they find me, however, I will read them.

I do seek out a lot of fiction (particularly Literary Fiction and Women's Fiction) as well as non-fiction, and I used to read a LOT of Sci-Fi/Fantasy (Piers Anthony, Mercedes Lackey, etc) when I was younger. I made a point of reading a number of cycling biographies before starting 27 Stages, but have saved the cycling fiction for when I finished the book (I didn't want to be unduly influenced, after all).

What do you like to do when you're not working? How do you like to spend your free time?

Aside from reading, I enjoy surfing the internet and watching television. I try to ride my exercise bike for at least half an hour, Monday through Friday, unless it's cooler weather and I can ride my real bike outside. I love photography, and I'm lucky enough to live most of the year in an incredibly photogenic place. I also like playing with book cover designs. I do my own book covers, now (for better or worse), so I keep practicing to keep my so-called digital art skills sharp, and to learn new things for future use.



What's next in the pipeline for you, writing wise? What are you working on at the minute?

I have a few different projects lined up at the moment, which I need to focus on and find some follow-through to complete. There are two novellas in the works; one, None So Blind, is a prequel to my first novel, Ask Me if I'm Happy. The other, Milan, NC, is a love story inspired by my own experiences when I met my husband, Alessandro.

In addition to that are two spin-offs/sequels to 27 Stages, which include The Off Season, which picks up a short time after 27 Stages leaves off, and an untitled novel focusing on a female cyclist who will feature in The Off Season.

Of course, there will also be a follow-up to Ask Me if I'm Happy, which is shaping up to be a full-length novel. I hope to get to work on that very soon.

And these are only the projects I've gotten outlines/scenes jotted down for! LOL! I've got more percolating in my head, if I could just get them out fast enough. Needless to say, I'm pretty optimistic – and hopeful that readers will enjoy all of the above!

AUTHOR BIO:

An aspiring writer from the age of eight, Kimberly Menozzi began writing her first stories instead of paying attention in school. While her grades might have suffered, her imagination seldom did. She managed to keep most of her stories together for years, then lost them after a move when she left a trunk full of papers behind. (She meant to go back and get them, but circumstances prevented her from doing so.)

So, she started over again. And she lost those, too.

After a trip to England in 2002, she began work on A Marginal Life (Well-Lived), inspired by the music of Jarvis Cocker and Pulp. The novel was completed in 2003, and is undergoing rewrites with hopes of publication in the near future.

Also in 2003, she met and fell in love with an Italian accountant named Alessandro. She married him in 2004. This necessitated her arrival in Italy and she has lived there ever since. After several months of working for language schools and writing blog entries for her family in the US to read, new story ideas began to develop.

Finally, in 2007, she began work on a new project, inspired by her love/hate relationship with her new home. The novel Ask Me if I'm Happy was completed in 2009.

Ask Me if I'm Happy was first released November 15th, 2010 in the UK, and was re-released in the US on May 31st, 2011. Also in May of 2011, Kimberly published the novella "Alternate Rialto", a prequel to Ask Me if I'm Happy.

Kimberly released her latest novel, 27 Stages, in April of 2013.

EXCERPT: 27 STAGES

"Abigail," he said, a smile spreading across his face and lighting his eyes. "You're here."

He looked at me with such sincere surprise, I almost laughed. Of course, he couldn't have been much more surprised than I was to find him there.

Maybe if he hadn't seemed so happy to see me, things would have gone differently. I would have excused myself and he likely would have done the same. Or maybe we'd have exchanged pleasantries and small talk, and then gone our separate ways. I certainly wouldn't have permitted myself to believe, even for a second, he'd come there to find me. My ego wasn't big enough to believe that.

But faced with such a genuine smile, what else could I think? I knew I wasn't imagining the relief in his expression once the surprise had faded away.

There was something else I couldn't pin down, something in his face which made me think this meeting was no coincidence.

Not this time.

"Yes, we are." I was careful to use the plural, if only to remind myself of the fact that Charles was on the phone upstairs. "It's wonderful to see you. I didn't think your team was staying here."

"No, no – we're across the street." Federico gestured toward the front doors, and I nodded, recalling the team bus parked on a side street earlier that evening. "I thought I saw you come in here a while ago, so I…" He trailed off, his tanned face reddening slightly.

My breath caught in my throat and I did my damnedest not to show it. I waited for my heart to start again while a single foolish thought flitted through my mind in the interim: I could die happy, knowing this.

He'd come looking for me. God, how ridiculously romantic was that?

Ever the realist, I decided to press my luck. I didn't want to drift off into some ridiculous daydream about his intentions.

"You didn't come here to look for me," I said, opting not to phrase it as a question.

"Yes, I did."

I swallowed hard, not caring if he heard it, though it wasn't likely he would in the noise of the arriving guests.

English isn't his first language, right? Surely he misunderstood what I said, or meant, or –

"I'm glad I found you, Abigail."

"Abby," I said, my lips forming my own name in spite of the fact I couldn't feel them, any more. "My friends call me Abby."

That smile again – innocent, not sly or seductive – and I couldn't pull my gaze away. I was aware of heat rising to my cheeks. And a few other places, as well.

*****
Kimberly, thank you so much for a really fabulous interview, and for giving us such an interesting insight into you and your work. 

I wish you loads of success with 27 Stages - I'm certainly looking forward to reading it - and lots of luck for all your future writing projects.

27 Stages is available HERE from Amazon, in both Kindle format and paperback.

And you can check out all of Kimberly's books over on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.





 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for having me as your guest, Michelle - it was a lot of fun answering your questions. I hope your readers enjoyed the interview as well as the excerpt. :)

    ReplyDelete