An interview with Frank P. Riga about his first book,
Beppo – A Calabrian Tale.
I am interviewing my ‘late in life’ friend and most interesting person. Frank P. Riga. He is a retired college English professor, who waited until he retired to tackle his first novel. To say Frank is an avid reader is an understatement. He has been a passionate reader all his life. What inspired him to finally write a book of his own? I hope this interview will give some insight into that question. With his second book half written and his eye on a possible third book, I think it is safe to assume writing has become his late in life passion. Frank, like many of his generation, is not on Facebook or Social media. I’m sharing this interview, to share his story. Feel free to comment and share. Here is a link to Frank’s Author page on Amazon:
Q. Tell us a little about yourself Frank.
A. I was born in Buffalo, New York to Italian parents who emigrated from Calabria. Now retired, I taught in the English Department of Canisius College where I also directed the Graduate Scholarship Office. My area of specialty was nineteenth century British literature, but I also taught courses in Shakespeare and children’s literature. My articles appear in several scholarly journals and include essays on Shakespeare, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Jean Rhys, Giuseppe Lampedusa, and others. My library reference book, The Index to the London Magazine, appeared in 1977. A few of my poems and short fictions have been published in several periodicals and collections. I am particularly pleased with my articles on Christmas traditions, which include Santa Claus, La Befana, the Magi, and the creche.
Q. You have recently published the novel, ‘Beppo, A Calabrian Tale’. It is available in both print and digital format. What is it about?
A. In brief, my novel is the story of Beppo Cordiale who was born in a small village in the Aspromonte in Calabria. The year is 1901, and Beppo plans changes that would improve the lives of his fellow villagers. His efforts are thwarted by a greedy and ruthless adversary who falsely accuses him of attempted murder and has him convicted during a corrupt trial. Escaping prison, Beppo meets with Giuseppe Musolino, the famous Calabrian bandit and vendettist, and discovers the difference between vendetta revenge and justice. Further complications force him and his new wife, Rose, to emigrate to America.
Q. Have you always had the urge to create a story, or did the desire come late in life?
A. It began it when I was two or three months shy of my eightieth birthday. I made an attempt in my early twenties to write an academic satire, and when I finished it, I put it away somewhere and haven’t looked at it since. During my long life, I did publish some short pieces, but Beppo is my first novel.
Q. What inspired you to tackle the daunting task of writing a novel?
A. Beppo was inspired indirectly. Reading a biography of Giuseppe Musolino, the Calabrian vendettist, triggered memories, some vague and others clear, of growing up in a more or less traditional Calabrian family. Beppo then found his way into my writing. I began with the intention of writing a fictive biography of Musolino, but after a few pages of composition, my true subject took over. I wanted to celebrate the place in Italy of my parent’s origin and to counteract the notion that Italians are all inspired by Mafiosi. I think The Godfather is a very fine book, for example, but Italians are too much associated with that kind of life. To write a fictive biography of Musolino would have reinforced that stereotype.
Q. Did you discard Musolino entirely to avoid the Mafia stereotype?
A. I kept Musolino in the novel as a contrast to Beppo. As I wrote, I made continuous references to Musolino, who appears in the novel at one point, and to Renzo Tramaglino, the hero of Manzoni’s great novel I Promessi Sposi. These allusions center my novel’s principal theme, the search for justice in a world where justice is hard to come by. Both Renzo and Musolino are unjustly condemned in a system of justice corrupted by powerful, selfish interests. My Beppo, too, is unjustly convicted of a crime, but he refuses the vendetta and waits for the courts to exonerate him. He then must suffer the consequences of his decision.
Q. Do you write more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two?
A. Having done some writing in scholarship and criticism before my late attempt at fiction, I should be guilty of careful preparation and extensive research in the writing of Beppo. That’s not what happened. After discarding the Musolino temptation, which, I think, would have required more logical preparation than intuition, I found that I had a story arc and a good feel for the characters I should develop. Some incidents came with the narrative outline but not where they’d fit in. As I began writing, the unfolding narrative determined the direction I would take, but a sense of reasonable control was always alive in my mind. Curiously, if Beppo is a historic fiction, history came with the territory. In the writing, it was incidental—necessary to the time and place, but of secondary concern for the characters and their story. As a writer of fiction, then, I would say my intuition was guided by my reason and emotions.
Q. Who is your favorite among your characters?
A. I really don’t have a favorite character in Beppo. The hero is an honorable man, perhaps a bit innocent, and I love Rose, his soon-to-be wife. Ciccio embodies the best of friendship. Their interaction within the warmth and concern of the Cordiale home creates, I hope, a moving ensemble that draws the affection of the reader.
Q. What scenes did you enjoy writing the most?
A. There are a number of scenes that I thought worked well. My selection may give away too much, if not of the novel, then of the writer. If I had to choose, I’d say my favorite scenes deal with love making and food.
Q. Having read Beppo’s story, I would have to agree. The love making and food scenes were both tastefully done. What age group would you recommend this book to?
A. I wrote Beppo as an adult for adults. I didn’t intend to scandalize or shock my readers, although the love scenes may be too frank for some and the scenes of violence too graphic. In these instances, I wanted to give sufficient detail to enhance the episode, but not so much as to invite voyeurism.
Q. What was the most difficult part of the writing process? How did you resolve this problem?
A. The funniest part of the writing process for me was the writing itself. Perhaps a better phrase would be ‘the oddest part.’ When I sat down to write, I sometimes hadn’t any idea of where I was to go. Yet invariably, the scene or incident would present itself. There was one curious thing that I think happens to many people. I would occasionally go to bed with some unresolved narrative difficulty. When I woke in the morning, the solution was in my mind—usually something simple. It’s strange, but once involved in the process of writing, the mind doesn’t seem to want to let go, even in sleep.
Q. Do you take time off when you finish a book or do you get right back at it?
A. When I completed Beppo, I thought I’d rest a while, let my imagination wander a bit. I had some idea for a second Beppo volume, but I didn’t think I was in hurry to begin it. The rest period turned out to be brief. As my imagination engaged the second Beppo book, the images and story line demanded words on paper. I’m currently writing the second volume, tentatively entitled, Beppo’s America: An Immigrant Tale.
Q. What do you hope people will take with them, after reading your story?
A. I hope people will read Beppo for its evocation of Calabria at the turn of the twentieth century, for its concentration on family, friendship, and young love, and for the refusal of a good man to take up the unjust ways of those who oppress him.
Thank you for your time Frank. I have read and reviewed stories from many of my writer friends. If I can’t give a book at least three stars, I don’t review it. I never pad a review. I just say what is in my heart. My honest review of ‘Beppo – A Calabrian Tale’ was not allowed on Amazon because of our friendship. I would like to include it here.
Beppo - A Calabrian Tale ★★★★★ from Joe P. Attanasio on April 8, 2017
The kind of story you think back on after reading, most enjoyable.
This book transported me to a small farming town in southern Italy just after the turn of the twentieth century. The living was simple by today’s standards, but life was not easy. This romantic tale deals with ideals, as well as revenge and justice. I found this a compelling read because of the human aspect. The struggles presented in this story, combined with the ideology of the protagonist, made for an enjoyable read. The ‘flavor’ of the times and the people presented in this book showed considerable research and familiarity with Italian customs by the author. I like a book that entertains and educates, I was not disappointed.