Collinsville has been home to established Italian-American writer Loretta Giacoletto since 1957, and for years, she has written novels, short stories and sagas inspired by her and her husband’s families and their Italian culture.
Giacoletto, who will be signing her books at Spirito’s Italian Grocery in Collinsville during Italian Fest, said she started writing when she was young, but after she married and started a family, she put her work aside.
“I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, starting in elementary school with poetry and essays,” Giacoletto said. “My first published work occurred while I was in high school, a profile on the late Elmer Hazzard, a longtime sports reporter for the Collinsville Herald. At that time, eons ago, my goal was to write my first novel by the time I was [30 years old]. … Marriage and five children combined with years of working outside the home put my writing on hold. Then about 17 years ago, I started writing again and haven’t stopped since.”
Giacoletto’s family history was something she said she wanted to document for her adult children, but stopped and made the switch to fiction.
“Someday I’ll finish the history,” Giacoletto said. “I don’t like leaving projects undone.”
It was Giacoletto’s mother who first inspired her to write about Italian Americans.
“[She was a] marvelous storyteller who never stopped talking about her life as a child, and later an adult during Prohibition, The Great Depression and World War II,” Giacoletto said. “Both of her parents emigrated from Italy before the turn of the 20th century but didn’t know each other until they met in Wisconsin, by way of an arranged marriage brokered by the young woman’s brothers. Their arrangement became the inspiration for my saga ‘The Family Angel.’”
Giacoletto said Collinsville has been an immense source of inspiration for her work.
“The location has certainly inspired my writing, especially the stories told to me by my husband Dominic and those I heard from his mother, the late Minnie Bertot Bailey, and his uncle, the late Joseph Bertot,” Giacoletto said.
Coal mining plays an important role in Giacoletto’s novel “The Family Angel,” just as it did in Collinsville. Her story takes place in Southern Illinois, in a fictionalized town she named St. Gregory.
Born on the corner of 40th and Waverly streets in East St. Louis, Giacoletto used this location to help her set scenes in “Family Deceptions.”
“[East St. Louis is] a city well represented in my saga ‘Family Deceptions,’ especially those scenes about the stockyards, which I owe to recollections from the late Cliff Ahlert,” Giacoletto said. “As for Collinsville Avenue in East St. Louis during its heyday, those I remember from my childhood, although some years later when I was 8, my family moved to Caseyville [Hollywood Heights] where I lived for another 11 years.”
Because “The Family Angel” was never intended to be a biographical work, Giacoletto had to make changes to location, time and setting.
“I changed the time to the Roaring Twenties and the setting to Chicago, a period of time when both of my parents lived in Chicago and often talked about the Prohibition Era and life in general during that period of time,” Giacoletto said. “From Chicago ‘The Family Angel’ plot moved to Southern Illinois — coal mining and winemaking — again influenced by my mother’s family but also the family of my husband. Both of Dominic’s parents were Italian immigrants and came from the same Piemonte region of Northern Italy as my maternal grandparents.”
Giacoletto said she enjoyed writing “The Family Angel” so much she went on to write another historical fiction novel, “Family Deceptions,” inspired by Dominic’s family.
“[They] lived in Butte, Mont. during the early 20th century and worked the copper mines before returning to Italy around 1922,” Giacoletto said. “‘Family Deceptions’ focuses on a young married couple in 1928 Italy, their family shattered by the husband’s betrayal and the wife’s pride. Over the next 30 years their story alternates between Italy and America, much of which takes place in the Metro East area including East St. Louis during its heyday.”
“The Family Angel” and “Family Deceptions” are not the only historical fiction sagas Giacoletto has written. “Chicago’s Headmistress” is Giacoletto’s third historical novel that focuses on a character called Giulietta Bracca, who is also a presence in the Prohibition portion of ‘The Family Angel.’”
Giacoletto also writes contemporary mysteries and new adult novels for ages 18 years and older.
“All of my fiction contains elements of crime and romance, with characters more flawed than saintly,” Giacoletto said. “Moving between genres is not a problem, but historical fiction takes more research to ensure accuracy.”
Giacoletto said there is a different challenge within each style she writes. For her, writing fiction is the easiest.
“The challenge of short fiction is to tell a compelling story using a minimum of characters and details. [It’s] not as easy as it may seem,” Giacoletto said. “Novels require a broader picture, the ability to introduce a mix of characters over a period of time in a variety of settings and to create enough insurmountable problems for these characters to keep the reader interested until the last page.
“My bi-weekly blog, ‘Loretta on Life,’ represents the real me – from past and present travel experiences to family, lifestyle, cooking and pop culture.”
Giacoletto is a self-published author who made the decision to publish her own work after failed dealings with two literary agents.
“After 11 years of two failed relationships with literary agents – gatekeepers to the New York publishing houses – four completed novels and others spinning in my head, and almost getting published by two small press publishers, I decided to follow the lead of self-publishing trailblazer Joe Konrath and publish my own books,” Giacoletto said. “[I have] no regrets. I’ve never looked back, [I’m] too busy for that.”
Giacoletto shared her process for self-publishing one of her stories.
“Write the book, again and again,” Giacoletto said. “Get feedback from my beta readers who also check for errors [and] make appropriate changes. Reread [it] again and again, [and give it] another proofread. Format [it] as a [digital] eBook [and] later as a print book. Arrange for professional a cover; I’ve used three different sources: Caren Schlossberg Wood, Deanna Dionne and my daughter Diane Giacoletto Lambert. Publish [it] first as an eBook [and] later as a print book. [Finally,] market the damn thing.”
Advertising self-published books takes perseverance, according to Giacoletto.
“I advertise through a number of websites geared to eBook readers, which is where most of my sales originate. Traditional readers prefer holding a book in their hands, which is why I also make my books available in print,” Giacoletto said.
Giacoletto said she receives help from her family to maintain all her projects. Her daughter Diane manages all aspects of her websites and advises her on marketing strategies. Diane also strongly encouraged her to start a blog, “which at first I resisted but now enjoy,” Giacoletto said.
For new or seasoned writers, Giacoletto said reading other works can provide some of the best ideas and help.
“Read, read, and read. And listen. My best ideas come from listening to others,” Giacoletto said.
But don’t just listen, observe the speaker; those little nuances that make the person unique, Giacoletto said.
Giacoletto is currently working on a variety of new projects. The second in the “Savino Sisters Mystery Series” is a contemporary work delving into the past, with several deaths during World War II in the Piemonte Region. The story will also incorporate characters from “Family Deceptions.”
Her first nonfiction book will be a compilation of select entries from her “Loretta on Life” blog. She will also convert all of her books to audio books, beginning with “Chicago’s Head Mistress,” which should be available on Amazon and iTunes around mid-October.
“(It is) a collaborative effort with a professional voice actor who is a joy to work with,” Giacoletto said.
Giacoletto’s three historical novels, two mysteries, one new adult coming-of-age novel, 13 short stories, including 12 short stories in “A Collection of Givers and Takers” and digital eBooks are available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and Kobo.
Locally, her print books can be found at StL Books in Kirkwood, Mo., Afterwords Books in Edwardsville, Oliver Anderson Hospital Gift Shop in Maryville, Ashmann’s Pharmacy in Collinsville and Spirito’s Italian Grocery in Collinsville.
Giacoletto will be signing her books from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, Sept. 19, and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 20, at Spirito’s Italian Grocery in Collinsville during Italian Fest.
Check out Giacoletto’s website at http://www.lorettagiacoletto.com/home.html for more information about her novels, short stories and blog.