Author Paul Salsini is not your run-of-the-mill fiction writer. During his talk, Turning Family History Into Historical Fiction, Salsini explains how after decades in journalism a family trip to Italy inspired him to write historical fiction. The experiences of his cousin during World War II started his first novel The Cielo: A Novel of Wartime Tuscany. After talking about his books and reading a few excerpts, Salsini turned to the main theme of the discussion: fictionalizing reality.
“You write because you want to write, and you have a story.” From there, nearly anything can serve as inspiration. Just like in journalism, Salsini pointed out, there is a lot of research that goes into fiction. In order for the setting, characters, actions, and story to be credible, a backstory had to be created for each. Everything requires a motivation. Whether you write that motivation or simply allude to it, you as the author have to know it. That is the only way you will convince the reader of th believability of the story. “You need to immerse yourself into the period, characters, setting.” He spoke about historical fiction and finding inspiration. Often the story you hear will only be a part of the tale you write. “…see what the story will be… maybe the story you heard will be a middle, beginning or end.” In reference to his own Tuscan trilogy: “Here it is,” he gestured to his stack of books, “300,000 words and it all started with a 20 minute conversation sitting around a table in a little village in Tuscany.”
By the end of the Q&A, the talk degenerated into audience members telling their own stories and opinions. While interesting in some aspects, the intensely passionate people lost the train of historical fiction pretty quickly. Like a kind grandfather, Salsini listened intently and then wrapped it up.
I bought a copy of his first book, and he graciously signed it for me. For his first foray into fiction, this book has won several awards which is quite impressive. I’m excited to begin reading it.
BIO: Paul Salsini’s career has been in journalism. He spent 37 years at The Milwaukee Journal, first as a reporter, then as a copy editor, then as state editor and then staff development director. He has been teaching writing courses at Marquette University for forty years.
He was the Wisconsin correspondent for The New York Times from 1964 to 1985. His travel essays have appeared in The Times and elsewhere.
His first work of fiction, The Cielo: A Novel of Wartime Tuscany, was published in 2006 and won First Place in Fiction from both the Council for Wisconsin Writers and the Midwest Independent Publishers Association. Its sequel, Sparrow’s Revenge: A Novel of Postwar Tuscany, was published in 2008. Dino’s Story: A Novel of 1960s Tuscany, the last of “A Tuscan Trilogy” was published in 2010.