Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Interview with YA author Eileen Colucci

YA author Eileen Colucci joins me today to talk about her new magical realism novel, She’s Like a Rainbow.

During her virtual book tour, Eileen will be awarding a $10 Amazon or Barnes and Noble (winner’s choice) gift card to a lucky randomly drawn winner. To be entered for a chance to win, use the form below. To increase your chances of winning, feel free to visit her other tour stops and enter there, too!

A native New Yorker, Eileen Colucci has been living in Rabat with her Moroccan husband for the past thirty-plus years. She is a former teacher and recently retired after twenty-eight years as a translator with the U.S. Embassy, Rabat. Her articles and short stories have appeared in various publications and ezines including Fodor's Morocco, Parents' Press, The New Dominion and Expat Women. She's Like a Rainbow, which was recently published, is her second novel.

Colucci holds a BA in French and English from the University at Albany and an MA in Education from Framingham State University.

When not writing, Colucci enjoys practicing yoga, taking long walks and playing with her chocolate Labrador Retriever, Phoebo. Now that she and her husband have four grandchildren, they spend as much time as possible in Virginia with their two sons and their families.

Welcome, Eileen. Please share a little bit about your current release.
“The summer I turned ten, my life took a fairy tale turn.”

So begins Reema Ben Ghazi’s tale set in Morocco. Reema awakes one morning to find her skin has changed from whipped cream to dark chocolate. From then on, every few years she undergoes another metamorphosis, her color changing successively to red, yellow and ultimately brown. What is the cause of this strange condition and is there a cure? Does the legend of the White Buffalo have anything to do with it? As Reema struggles to find answers to these questions, she confronts the reactions of the people around her, including her strict and unsympathetic mother, Lalla Jamila; her timid younger sister, Zakia; and her two best friends, Batoul and Khalil. At the same time, she must deal with the trials of adolescence even as her friendship with Khalil turns to first love. One day, in her search for answers, Reema discovers a shocking secret – she may have been adopted at birth. As a result, Reema embarks on a quest to find her birth mother that takes her from twentieth-century Rabat to post-9/11 New York.

Reema’s humanity shines through her story, reminding us of all we have in common regardless of our particular cultural heritage. She’s Like a Rainbow, which will appeal to teens as well as adults, raises intriguing questions about identity and ethnicity.

What inspired you to write this book?
A major theme running through the novel is the legend of the White Buffalo. This legend was actually the inspiration for the story. I read an article about Miracle, a white buffalo calf that was born on a South Dakota farm to black/brown parents. I learned that white buffalos are very rare but that, due to some strange phenomenon, other species, such as tigers, whales and turtles, were also experiencing white young being born. The white buffalo calf would not remain white, but would turn various colors – black, yellow, red and finally brown. Some Native American tribes believe that Miracle and other white buffalo are sacred and symbolize all the different races of humanity.

As I was reading, an idea was born. What if a human baby was born white to black parents? What if her skin repeatedly changed color as the legend of the White Buffalo played out on the human stage? From these questions, Reema’s story grew.

As with my first novel, She’s Like a Rainbow is also inspired by my Mission Statement: I hope that my books will promote peace and understanding among people of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. My aim is to stimulate discussion on everything we have in common as human beings regardless of our particular heritage. We are all connected.

Excerpt from She’s Like a Rainbow:
The summer I turned ten, my life took a fairy tale turn. Perhaps I should begin my narrative with: “Once upon a time there was a very pale, whipped cream-colored girl who woke up one morning to find she had turned dark chocolate.”

It wasn’t quite that sudden actually. It wasn’t like what happens in that Franz Kafka story, Metamorphosis, where poor Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning to find he has turned into a bug. It wasn’t that yucky and gross really, at least not in the beginning. No, mine was a much subtler transformation, a gradual darkening of the skin much like what happens when you spend hours in the sun every day for an entire summer; except that my “tan” was a dark brown and did not fade.  

We usually spent our summer vacations in the South. Mother’s younger sister, Soumiya, and her husband, Anis, owned a big farm near Agadir, in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. Mother had mentioned taking us to the Costa del Sol that summer. By 1985, Spain was already becoming the preferred vacation spot of the Moroccan bourgeoisie of which Mother so aspired to be a part. She certainly had enough money to take us there. The small fortune that Father had left her when he died must have doubled or tripled by then. In addition to renting out several apartments, Mother ran a small but trendy clothing boutique in Rabat.

In the end though, despite having the means to travel abroad, Mother declared that it was better to spend time “in the countryside.” That meant in our own country, and so we found ourselves once again on the plane from Rabat to Agadir and then on the hot and winding road to the farm. I have often wondered if we had gone to Spain that summer whether my life might have taken a different turn. But I don’t really think so. I believe some things are destined or “written” as we say in Morocco; that our fate, like the color of our skin, is non-negotiable.

Uncle Anis picked us up at the airport in his big new Mercedes, purchased from an emigrant worker visiting for the month of July. As we left the city and climbed into the mountains, the scenery changed from chalky white to reddish brown to green. The tufts of sun-baked grass and mile after mile of all kinds of cactuses gave way to olive groves and argan trees. We passed a few boys selling argan oil on the side of the road, but there was no need to stop. My auntie, Tatie Soumiya, lived near the local cooperative and had a ready supply of oil as well as the skin-smoothing soap made from the same trees.

We did stop when we came to the Palm grove. Already tired and sticky from the journey, Zakia, my seven-year-old sister, and I insisted we sit on the white rocks a few minutes, dabbling our feet in the river. Uncle Anis offered us some fruit he’d brought along, small, bright yellow bananas called plantains.

But, even though we were hungry, Mother said, “Don’t eat anything until we get to the farm. You know what happens if you do.”

So, we splashed the cool water at each other and admired the little oasis, surrounded by evergreens and spiky palms and the beautiful mountains, while our stomachs growled. Back on the road, we were reminded why Mother was right about not eating. As we climbed into the mountains, the road became more and more twisty and the drop down into the river gorge more impressive.

“It’s too scary. I can’t look,” cried Zakia, covering her face with her hands.

“You’re such a baby,” I said. Just to bother her, I rolled down the window and stuck my head out. The tires of the car seemed only inches from the edge of the cliff; so close that I felt a little dizzy.

“Close it right now,” Mother said. “You’re letting in all the dust from the road.”

“Sorry, the air conditioning isn’t working right,” Uncle Anis apologized. “I have to take it into the shop next week.”

He switched on the fan, but it did not help much and I ended up closing my eyes like Zakia and hoping we would get there soon.

What exciting story are you working on next?
I am hoping to start working soon on my third novel, but I am waiting for inspiration. In the meantime, I am working on a piece about having my dear father’s vintage Gibson guitar restored more than forty years after he died.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I remember writing stories and poems as far back as elementary school. In high school, I wrote for our newspaper and literary magazine and in college I kept a journal. I don’t know that I considered myself a writer per se at that point though. Many years later, after a long break from writing, I was married with children, working full-time as a translator. Then I enrolled in a distance learning program to get my Masters in Education. The first class was Teaching Writing and the professor taught it as a writing workshop. I wrote a short story for the class called THE BOND, based on an accident my older son had had when he was ten and the way it brought us closer. The professor and class liked it so much that I convinced myself to submit it for publication. It was eventually accepted by PARENTS’ PRESS and I became a published writer. From there I went on to write for Fodor’s and other publications and soon began work on my first novel. So I guess that having my story, THE BOND, published was when I first really started considering myself a writer.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I am retired now and so I can write whenever I am inspired and motivated. I prefer working after lunch for several hours. I begin by going over whatever I wrote during my last session and editing that before moving forward.

Now that my kids are married with their own children, I’ve converted one of their old bedrooms into my office and that is where I write. It was much harder when I was still working full-time as a French/English translator for the American Embassy in Rabat. I would write on the weekends and in the evenings, late into the night. I felt conflicted like Margaret Atwood who says, “If you’re writing, you’re not living, and if you’re living, you’re not writing.” Of course, just because I’m retired doesn’t mean I don’t still suffer from this “tug of war.” It still happens that I’ll be talking to my husband or a friend or someone and they look at me inquisitively and repeat their question because I’m staring off into space without realizing it, thinking about some plot hole I’m facing. It just means I have a little more control over how I divide my time.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Chocolate. I need chocolate to get me going. In the winter, I fix myself a cup of hot chocolate and settle down to writing. When it’s warmer I seek out some other form of chocolate – candy, cake, cookies. It’s always tough going if I can’t find any chocolate in the house.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be an actress. As a teen, I was very shy and I loved that I took on a whole other persona when I was on stage. My shyness fell away and I lost myself in whatever role I was playing. The summer after 6th grade, I played Gwendolyn in a production of THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST. In middle and high school I was in various plays including the lead (Melinda) in TEACH ME HOW TO CRY, and children’s theater where I played a leprechaun. In college, I was a ladybug in ALICE IN WONDERLAND; I was asked to read twice for the White Queen, but all the juicy parts went to the theatre majors. Anyway, by then I knew I was not going to pursue acting as a career. It was just a fun hobby. But I think actors are storytellers at heart and I have ended up being a storyteller.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I love interacting with readers and invite everyone to contact me through my website or through my Goodreads blog. I hope you enjoy She’s Like a Rainbow and look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Thank you for being a guest on my blog!
Thanks so much for hosting me.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Goddess Fish Promotions said...

Thanks for hosting!

Unknown said...

Congrats on the tour and thanks for the chance to win :)

Eileen Colucci said...

Thanks, Lisa! Good luck in the giveaway and hope you enjoy the book.

Eileen Colucci said...

Thank you again Lisa Haselton for hosting me!

Victoria Alexander said...

Thanks for sharing the great post :)

Unknown said...

Enjoyed reading the interview, an interesting path, good luck.

Eileen Colucci said...

Victoria, so glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading.

Eileen Colucci said...

Abdelilah, thanks for reading.