Name: Rebecca Branch is my pen name. My real name is Margaret (Molly)
Where are you from?
Born in New York City 09/25/65, moved to Florence when I was six months old, to Rome at two years, to Paris when I was six, London when I was seven, back to New York at eight, college in California and returned to live in Montclair, New Jersey for the past twenty-two years.
A little about yourself, ie your education Family life etc.:
I am the less distinguished daughter of highly accomplished parents. My father was an American archaeologist and my mother, an Italian socialite. Papa was second generation American. His father was a Hemmingway story, a Polish/Hungarian child who came to this country when he was ten years old by himself by hiding on-board a boat coming from Zagreb. He met a doctor who spoke his language at Ellis Island who adopted him and sent him to Columbia University where he became a pioneer psychiatrist and neurologist. Grandpa joined the American army in WWI and was on the medical staff of General John Pershing as a captain in the American Expeditionary Force sent over to fight the Huns. He bunked with another captain, his lifelong friend George Marshall. They both ended the war as colonels. FDR asked him to serve again in WWII as one of the chief psychiatrists in the Army Medical Corp with the rank of brigadier general. Grandma was from Russia, a student of Tchaikovsky at the Moscow Conservatory of Music. Her father was a horse trainer for Tsars Alexander III and Nicholas II Romanoff. They left during a pogrom because of their Jewish faith and came to New York, living first in Harlem and then in Brooklyn.
My mother’s family were Italian aristocrats; mom’s father was the agricultural minister under the fascist regime before the war, disagreed with Mussolini’s decision to fight against England and was sent south to Calabria in a sort of exile. Mom was the eldest daughter, raised with chauffeurs and horses, the first to go to college and was in Rome in 1940 at the university. She was a secretary at the agricultural ministry and fell in love with the foreign minister Galeazzo Ciano, with whom she had an illegitimate child, my sister, who still lives in Rome. Roberta is twenty years older than me.
I was raised wherever my father was assigned as an archaeologist and art historian so I grew up in Rome but also in London and Paris. Every summer we were on excavations all over the Med and I have been throughout Italy, Greece, Crete, Cyprus, Egypt, Syria, Palestine, Jordan and on and on. Pop was a purchasing agent for the Met, the Boston, Fogg, Getty and Philadelphia Art Museums. He was also a journalist and owned four recording companies. My readers get to meet both my parents in my books.
I attended the University of California at Berkeley, majoring in art history and the California College of Arts and Crafts (CCAC) to learn how art is made. There I studied painting, sculpture, architecture, design, photography and learned to throw a pot, smelt bronze, etc. They were preparing me for a position in museum management.
I returned to New York to work on my Ph.D. at Columbia where my special focus was on Roman architecture of the late empire. I became fascinated with the great public buildings and how they fell into disuse, crumbled and fell, or were saved to become churches after the fall of Rome in the fifth century. My first job was as an assistant to the curator of Greco-Roman Arts at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. I was paid $95.00 a week! Luckily, I was six feet tall and busty, had modelled though my college years, and could subsidize my career in the arts. Upon my father’s death, I chose to go into a field where I could make a liveable wage and entered the architectural design industry, having taken a course of study at Pratt. Knowing full well that I was hired as eye candy, I worked twice as hard as the men in my business, attending all-male construction meetings as a designer, then a project manager, working my way up to principal of design where I ran a boutique which worked primarily with fashion company clients. I designed and managed projects for all the major retailers while still modelling…a hard thing to do.
I married a contractor who was kind and cerebral, English and Finish by origin, and raised two girls who are now grown and my joy in life. My husband and I recently separated and I now live alone in an 1879 farmhouse which was originally a Roebuck and Co. kit house, made of chestnut with stained glass windows, built-in cabinetry and pocket doors. I’m about to move into the city for the next stage of my life.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
I am going through some serious changes in lifestyle. My family is all gone and doing their own thing. My ex suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident and is now living with a woman he likes in Florida. My eldest is out of college, won a fellowship, returned after a year and now works for a Google start-up in the medical field and my youngest is about to graduate and has also won a fellowship to teach. I lost my day job last September when my company bellied-up and am now seeking new work…difficult at fifty-one. My home is threatened with foreclosure and I feel it’s time to move. Oh dear.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I started writing on a dare by my youngest when she asked about her grandparents and great grandparents. After telling her various memories, she asked me to write it all down. Four years ago I had a travel job and had the time to write in planes, trains, and hotels so I started in October of 2013 and in two months had seven hundred pages of biography. A friend at Harper Collins looked at it and told me I had written four books; one about my grandparents and immigration, one a war-time romance about my parents, one a travelogue on the city of Rome and the last, a romance story about my youth and loss of innocence.
I had a dinner party and the twelve of us spoke of when we each ‘lost it’. Haha. My favorite neighbor, a brilliant historian told his story. He, too, had grown up in Rome and although ten years my elder, we shared many things in our youth. I was so intrigued by his memory that I asked his permission to use his story together with my own. Thus, was born The Summer of ’71, a romance of youth in the city of Rome.
It was easy to imagine my friend in the role of the hero of the book and myself as the heroine. In fact, Molly Moncrieff is very much me. She differs in the hard life she had to endure as a model, being passed from casting couch to casting couch. I never suffered such things in my modeling career and was well protected. But Molly in the book is damaged goods in need of care and understanding and she finds it with a young prodigy in the ancient city where she has ten weeks to heal, find incredible love, lust and happiness, and start a new life.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I thought it was just a hobby for the first two years. Now, after almost four years and four books I guess I’m an indie author. I am, as yet, undiscovered, and certainly cannot please everyone. My books are long and filled with the things I love; attraction, flirtation, infatuation, physicality, art history, history, Italian culture, cuisine, time-travel, relationship building, loss of innocence, friendship, bereavement, trust, renewal, etc.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
I had just read 50 Shades and knew I could write something better; something about cerebral characters who love and lust without the BDSM and without the damaged upbringing. I also had a feeling that an audience would enjoy being transported to the places I love and have the chance to tour Rome at the side of an art historian, gaining insights into why we are who we are…as Americans, and as people of the western world who owe so much to the classical period which invented the things we hold dear like religion, politics, basic freedoms, the arts, literature, theater, architecture, town planning, engineering, and on and on. All my romance novels assume an audience who wants to know these things. If you want bump and grind from page one, I’m not your author. If you want to learn how to cook osso buco and then spread dessert on your dinner guest and eat them, then maybe I am.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
I write in the first person and third person and switch between characters all the time. This may take a little getting used to, but I want the reader to be inside each character’s mind with immediacy. It’s a style used in the nineteenth century quite often. I leave each of my books open to a sequel. I write happy and funny stories. No one gets hurt, no one is beaten or dominated (except in the nicest of ways, of course) and my books are all respectful of gender, age, ethnicity, sexual bias, and condition. My characters grow page by page. The books are all very conversational and although they have erotic moments, there is never anything gratuitous in the sex scenes. I simply refuse to hide their physical love behind a curtain. Of course, as the author, I am putting myself out there with every word. On FB, I have many followers who’d love to date me…men and women. Haha. Ain’t happening. But if you read my books, you will know exactly what I like and that will have to be good enough.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
The original story happened in 1976 but I wanted to place my characters in the heart of the social revolution of the sixties and seventies, the anti-war movement, hippie drug culture, the outstanding music, etc.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Yes…embrace education with both hands at all times. If you don’t enjoy a formal college experience, that should never stop you from learning about everything and always keeping an open mind. Embrace people of all kinds…they are the ingredients in the stew we call mankind and everyone has a place and a role to play. Never judge a person by their external shell…beautiful people reside in all kinds of wrappings and fantasy is in the mind’s eye. If you’re a woman without a man but have a great girlfriend who loves you and supports you, give her a kiss. She just may kiss you back. If you have neither, get yourself a great dog. Celebrate your children. They are what life is all about and make for a better world, if not for your sake, then for theirs.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
All my books are very real to me. The hero is the man I’d like to have as a lover, mentor, friend and companion. The women are all me in varying stages of my life, in part, or actually me. In my fourth book, The Resurrection of Griffin Ballard, I actually place myself on the page as a character. It was a cathartic moment for me when I wrote it and I wanted to enjoy the lips of one of my heroes in the story. Haha. Author’s license, I guess.
The two time-travel books, Great Caesar’s Ghost and A Roman Holiday are well researched and the history and art history is very good. There are many secondary characters in my books who make special appearances and interact with the protagonists. I put words in their mouths in character with who they were historically. They include people like Gore Vidal, Sofia Loren, Federico Fellini, John Jacob Astor III, Nelson Rockefeller, Truman Capote, Andy Warhol, John and Yoko, Amadeo Modigliani, Theodoric the Ostrogoth, Gaius Julius Caesar and many others. Some are heroes of mine and others are villains.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life? a mentor?
Clan of the Cave Bear and Valley of the Horses by Jean Auel influenced how I write sex and also the fact that her books are not erotica at all, and yet they are highly erotic as the culmination of lengthy periods of introspection, self-awareness and relationship building. You read and read these lovely characters and wish them to connect for the longest time. That sexual tension is terrific.
The First Man in Rome by Colleen McCullough was a great influence in writing first hand in the classical world and putting words into iconic character’s mouths.
The Mummy by Anne Rice helped me along with Victorian styling in quasi-erotic fiction.
Tom Clancy was the basis for writing war stories and passages.
I adore the detail in the Harry Potter books and the Tolkien trilogy and the films made me read them again.
Dan Brown gave me hints at how to pace my time travel and the exploration of places in my books. My writing has been called Dan Brown with erotic passages. Haha.
I like some poetry, but am not a poet, nor am I likely to read much poetry, although I enjoy Shakespeare’s sonnets and the classical illusions of C.P. Cavafy.
Mentors: well, my mother and father, Julian Jackson who was a collector of antiquities and a government attorney who wrote many of the child battery laws in the sixties and seventies. Dietrich von Bothmer, curator at the Met, Donna Karan who inspired me with her stand on plus size and full figured women as well as dressing women in business at a reasonable cost. Salvatore and his brother Ferruccio Ferragamo who networked me to death as a young model. Several employers who taught me to always take an ethical stand in business. My husband, who even in the most dire of circumstances always chose the path of being an honorable man. My children who will do their part in saving the world.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest and who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Emmanuelle de Maupassant who writes with clarity and an elegance of language and has stood by me in tough times. I’m not a fan of BDSM but her book, The Gentlemen’s Club is a true winner.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
Costco. I buy everything there and can return anything which does not live up to my high standards. The butcher is of the highest standards, coffee at less than half the cost elsewhere, wonderful berries, baked goods and dips…and wine sold for 25% below the competition. They also have the cheapest cost of gas. Haha.
Both my daughters have enjoyed full scholarships at private, all-girl high school as well as at college. Both made the Dean’s list and my youngest has been on the Dean’s list every term. I’m very proud and repay the institutions through guest lecturing, fund-raising and sitting on boards. Working as a fund raiser/organizer at the United Nations has opened my eyes to so many things which are important to me.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
I certainly hope so. I’m finding it difficult to get re-employed and know that it will not get easier as I age gracefully. Being a writer for a living would be marvelous. The trouble is becoming known. If word of mouth does not take a hand, I’m just one of a quarter million housewives who think they can write the next great American novel.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Nope. I love The Resurrection of Griffin Ballard. It is my shortest book but my heroine, Bethany Lambert is a truly inspired, modern and strong women and she saves the lives of all those around her.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
A dinner party, already mentioned. I’ve never taken a creative writing course and only one English course in college. I wrote art history, nothing else, but I wasa raised by educated parents who could both speak and write. That sort of thing rubs off. You are what you eat.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
The following is a passage from Out of Time’s Abyss, my fifth book and a work in progress.
“Hey lazybones. We’re back. Nova and bagels, warm croissants and fresh juice is in the kitchen.” He looked at his girl, all dreamy-eyed in their bed.
“Get back into bed, Maxi. I just want to lounge around this morning and maybe even go back to sleep.”
He tossed his jeans and tee onto the chair, bedside, pulled off underwear and sox and slid in beside his dream girl.
“Don’t you love this bed, Sally?” He said as he cupped her breast and kissed her cheek.
“It’s terrific. Almost as big as my room at home, and the mattress has got to be the most comfortable I’ve ever experienced. Who’d have guessed that horse hair mattresses are considered the best and are also the most expensive. I also love the canopy, don’t you?”
Sure do. In the nineteenth century and before, a canopy with thick drapes was thermal insulation against the cold room just outside. All homes were poorly heated until the twentieth century.” He snuggled in close.
“Well, I’ll always have you to keep me warm. And at the moment, the weather is warm and a bit muggy. This top sheet is more than enough.” She turned her back to him and he pressed close, spooning her, wrapping arms and legs around her tall and lithe form.
“So, what was with you and Molly kissing when we got home last night? You’ve offered no explanation. You like her, don’t you?” Max inquired.
She turned to face him and pushed his hair back from his eyes, circling her fingers around his head. “We spoke at length about little Max and you. Ambi and I both felt that she should tell him that you’re his father.”
“Are you sure that’s okay with you? I don’t want you being frightened or jealous of Molly. After all, she was my girlfriend years ago, you’re my wife.”
Sally looked deep into his eyes. “I guess I need to hear from you about that. I think she’s wonderful and I love little Max. He’s your son and it’s only right that he be a part of our lives. But will you want me and keep me if Molly is also around?”
He lifted her up to straddle him from above, holding her arms near her shoulders pretty tight. “You need to ask such a thing? Think I’ll stray? This happened with Ambrosia, too, remember. You slept with her before I did. What went on last night while I was dancing at Tunnel?”
“What do you mean? Molly and I sat around and spoke.”
“Just spoke? In point of fact, we walked in on the two of you kissing.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Blah, blah, blah. Maxi, she’s hurting. She’s trying to figure things out and so am I.” She lay her head on his shoulder and flattened out across his fit body. “I told her she should be a part of our family. I’m willing to share you with her…kind of, I guess. We kissed because…because our emotions were running rampant and we’d connected. It was a friendly kiss at first, but it’s hard to be around her without feeling attraction. Jeez, you know this better than anyone. The woman feels like mother earth. I want to attach myself to her and draw energy from her. She also kisses just like you.”
“How’d you ever get to be so open-minded? Your self-confidence leaves me breathless.”
Just then, they heard the running footsteps, and little Max jumped onto their bed, landing beside the two of them. He climbed up on top of Sally’s naked body and lay across her back, like a sunbather on a chaise, entangling both in his arms. They were now a stack of three.
They laughed. Having this little boy around was definitely changing their family dynamic. “Good morning, crazy child. You’re in a great mood this morning.” Sally said. She turned and he slid off to the side and kissed her cheek. “I’m gonna love having you around, I think,” she said.
“Goodie, because I never want to leave,” he said as he nuzzled into her cheek. They laughed some more. This child was pure love.
“There you are.” Molly was at the door. “I told you to leave Max alone this morning and let him and Sally have their privacy. Oh dear. I’m sorry. He couldn’t wait to see you this morning. Come on, darling. Leave them in peace.”
“No, it’s alright. He can stay. How are you this morning?” Sally asked, looking at Molly over her shoulder.
Molly smiled with warmth. “I feel like I’m starting a new chapter in my life because of you, Sally.”
“Come on mum. Get into their bed. It’s enormous.” He started bouncing around by the foot of the bed. The two shifted over a bit and Sally said, “Come on, lay down and join us.”
Molly pulled the pajama top off her shoulders and slid in beside the couple in bed with her son. She reached over and kissed Sally on her cheek and pulled in close to her, now sandwiched next to Max.
“Goodness, all these kisses.” Sally smiled as her new friend extended her arm across her back.
“Hey everybody. Is the party in this room?” Anna dragged Ambi into the room, both in terry robes which fell to the floor as they jumped up on the bed and joined the others. Ambrosia climbed over and gave Sally her third kiss of the morning.
“Feels like a party, doesn’t it?” Sally observed. The boy pressed himself between his mum and Sally. He looked at her naked body, laying across Max, and cuddled in close, reaching out and stroking his little fingers across her back.
“Sally, you’re really, really beautiful. You’re tall like my mum but have bigger boobies. And I love your face. You look like an angel.”
“Oh dear,” Molly said. “Darling, Sally is an angel.”
“Maxi,” Sally said, “I’m just a girl like any other.”
“No, you’re not. You’re Max’s girl. That makes you extra special. Doesn’t it, Max?” He cuddled in closer. They all smiled. The little boy was magical. “I hope when I get older that I get to marry someone on this bed…someone like the girls on this bed.”
They all smiled. “And if you could, who would you choose, Max?” Molly asked, amused her son was being so forthright.
The boy sat up and looked at Sally, his mum, Ambrosia and Anna, all naked on the bed with Max, more or less in the middle. “I’d want to marry Ambrosia, I think.”
Ambi was overwhelmed.
“And why would you choose Ambrosia?” Anna asked, with no small degree of pride.
“Hmmm. She looks different from the rest of you and I love her eyes and lips. Her lips are a little like mum’s. She’s smaller than the rest of you and I guess I like that too. She knows everything about dinosaurs and outer space. I love her voice and I really like how she talks to me without opening her mouth.”
There was a collective intake of breath.
“How do you do that Ambrosia? How can you speak to me without words?”
Molly sat up. She reached out her hand and touched her son; the greatest gift anyone could have given her, and she looked at Max, lying beside Sally on the bed. “Maxi, my darling. It’s time to tell you two things; two very important things.”
“Maxi…since you were very little, I’ve told you that your father was American and that he died in a car accident before you were born.” Maxi’s heart started to race. “Well, I made up that story to protect you because…because I never thought you’d have the chance to meet him and know him.” The silence in the room was palpable. “Darling, I’m so sorry that I didn’t tell you the truth. I never expected to see your father again. His life was somewhere else and ours was in London. He was younger than me and I knew we couldn’t be married and live a life together. He needed to finish school and grow up into a man and I needed to be your mum and not someone’s wife. My wonderful son…your father didn’t die. Max is your dad.”
The boy’s eyes welled up with tears and he launched himself into his mother. “I knew it, I knew it. I’d hoped and hoped it was true. Sally slid off Max’s chest and turned to watch Molly and little Max as they spoke this truth. Releasing his mom, the boy turned and spread himself across Max’s chest, hugging him to death, then turned on Sally and kissed her cheek again, looked deep into her eyes and asked, “Does that make you my mother, too?”
Sally was about to burst into tears and just nodded yes, a big smile across her lips as she pet the beautiful boy in his enthusiasm. Both had tears in their eyes, tears of happiness and they wordlessly communicated an incredible depth of feelings and love. After a few moments, the boy turned to his mum and asked about the second thing that was so important, unable to imagine what could even come close to what he’d just heard. He had a father…a dad. And the gift he was just given was the best gift there ever was. He loved Max and had hoped and hoped for a father like him. He would love him forever and ever.
Finally, in a small voice that was obviously choked up, he asked, “What’s the second important thing you wish to tell me?”
Molly took a deep breath and answered, knowing she was opening the door to a truth which was far more science fiction than reality. She wondered how her son would take it. “Ambrosia can speak to you, and all of us, wordlessly, because she’s not entirely human. Ambrosia is a robot.”
The expression on the boy’s face was to die for. He was glowing with happiness and wonder. “No way! A robot?” He climbed up off Max and straddled Ambrosia’s waist, sitting on her hips and looking down upon her from above. She was so beautiful, dark and mysterious, but with a hesitant look, wondering if the boy would still like her or be afraid of her now that he knew the truth. He was the first child she’d ever connected with, and she loved how he’d constantly taken her hand everywhere they went, always asking questions and showing such warmth and respect. Passing his fingertips over her face and neck, she closed her eyes for a moment as he lay down across her body and hugged her neck tight, kissing her cheek. All the adults were overwhelmed, none so much as Ambi, herself, who cradled the boy in her arms. He whispered in her ear. “When I grow up, Ambrosia…when I am older, will you marry me?”
Ambi rose to her knees and lifted the boy, holding him in the air, then crushed him to her chest. “Yes. Maximilian Moncrieff, when you are older, if you still want to ask me again, I will marry you.”
Everyone was in tears now, Anna passed her hand across Ambi’s back, amazed with her creation, and so happy at her inclusion amongst her human friends.
“How long will I have to wait? I’ll be eight in September. You have to tell me what I need to know so I can be a good husband. Stuff like how to change your batteries and fix you if you break. I promise, I’ll be very gentle.”
Anna spoke. “Don’t worry little Max. I’m her doctor and she won’t break. I promise. And she’ll never get old so you have time to grow up and marry her when you’re a man.”
“But you and Ambi are best friends. Won’t you be upset if she marries me?” He looked at Anna, carefully considering her and not wanting to be the cause of pain to anybody. And Anna was nice and very friendly, never talking down to him and always letting Ambi have time with him even though she also wanted her attention. Anna was her friend but was also kind of like a parent in many ways. You could see her pride in Ambi whenever she did anything cool or smart. Anna was a parent, wasn’t she?
“Listen up, you beautiful child…my life is somewhere else. I love Ambrosia and will always love her, but she’s yours more than mine. I hope I get to see her often, but you’re going to grow up together and you will also be her teacher. She learns from you every day she’s with you. You are the first child in her life, so teach her well. With you, she becomes a better human being. It’s very important that you be close friends. She will need you when I am gone and she will always be there to protect you, your mum, Max and Sally.”
Through the collective cheer of all in the bed, Molly glanced at Max and Sally, both with eyebrows raised and smiling ear to ear.
The door opened and Raj and Carson glanced into the room. There lay Max with four gorgeous naked women in a huge bed. Raj turned to Carson and said, “I told you he’s my hero. What a lucky fuckin’ guy!”
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Editing…the activity is making me blind. I write very fast when I’m inspired. When I started my new book a week ago, I had no idea where it would start or end. I now have 26,000 words. At this rate, it will be complete in six or eight weeks. This new story is called Out of Time’s Abyss. It is the fourth in my Art Historian Superhero Series. When I finish this, I’ll move on to something entirely different.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
I hide behind my pen name in order to protect my family and my position at work. I’d never have a day job if it was known that I am Rebecca Branch. I can share the things in this interview with you because I doubt that anyone in my circle would ever read it. At home, my daughters are both pissed at mom for writing romance. To them, I am a pornographer. I’m being harsh, but they are not proud of my writing and yet, haven’t read any of it. They feel I should be writing some high-brow treatise on Roman Architecture. I could, you know. But if I did, it would sell three hundred copies.
Until I am making a real living doing this, I must hide in the shadows. I’ve only posted a few real pictures of myself and they are mostly body shots with me turning my face away from the camera or pics from when I was so young that few would recognize me. On Facebook I use doppelgangers of me or my main characters. Monica Bellucci and Sonia Aquino are my favorites and look like me, or so I’ve been told. Both are stunning women. Last year in Rome, I was approached by three families for an autograph. Each thought I was Sonia. Haha. But I was very complimented by the comparison. Being tall and thin has its advantages, something I did not feel when I was a teen and others called me a stick-bug with boobs. Once I make a real living from this hobby, I’ll come out into the open and take a deep breath of fresh air. I’ll do signings and interviews. But that’s a dream. For now, writing under an alias makes me happy.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
Courtney Lopes at email@example.com She interpreted my ideas to a tee. I love my covers.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Oh dear…so many things. The reviews are the hardest part. If you read some of them on Amazon, they’re so sweet. Molly Moncrieff, my heroine in Summer of ’71 seems to be a dream to all my male readers. Many men are completely infatuated with her…and she is me! What a compliment. Many older gentlemen speak of their own memories of their first love who was a slightly older woman and taught them about love and intimacy. A few women have told me they really relate to the character. Many readers have fallen in love with Rome as I describe that great city and ask for hotel and restaurant recommendations as they plan their trips because of my book. One reader, a clinical psychologist for teens at Bellevue Hospital in New York wrote to me saying that Summer of ’71 is a roadmap for an honest and loving loss of innocence. How great is that!
But then I get totally deflated by the poor reviews which are mostly offered by women. One wrote that the book was too long and she had to skim through it to get to the sex. Oh dear. The length is the length. Summer of ’71 could have been serialized into three books. It breaks perfectly into three but I didn’t want to do that. At one point, it topped 900 pages but I cut it back to about seven hundred, created numerous crisis, added and subtracted characters, etc. I feel it is the right length but if you are an erotica fan, you’ll not be pleased. So many erotica genre books have sex on page three. My books are all erotic but the point is the relationships and the atmosphere, not the sex. Oh, my books are plenty steamy, but Summer, for example, doesn’t have a consummation scene until page 250. By the time you get there, the reader is screaming at the couple to combust. Haha. I like that. Personally, I cannot read sex without being heavily invested in the characters. If not, then it’s just pornography and is not my style of writing or reading.
Another reviewer said that the hero, Maximilian DuPont spent too much time looking at Molly’s legs. Well, Max is eighteen. He is a dream of a young man, young, enthusiastic, holistic, brilliant beyond his years, entitled, handsome and fit. He’s a dream for a woman who’s been mishandled and abused by all the men in her life. He is safe and kind and renews her spirit and soul. And poor Max is confronted by a woman who unleashes all her sexuality on him. He can handle it. But in response to the reviewer, Max is young, and young men see women as parts and pieces until they are in love. Then they see the whole person. I write Max’s thoughts as he is confronted with Molly in a way that I’d expect a young guy to see her and I write him in a youthful 1971 hippie-speak vernacular.
When I was twenty-three, I dated a guy who was nineteen like Max. The young man was brilliant and could run rings around me intellectually, had traveled the world and was the son of a diplomatic family. I loved that guy but I was a runway model and surrounded by admirers and clubbing or at events all the time and his self-confidence was the problem. He simply didn’t trust me out of eyesight. He could have, of course, but he was a freshman in college and I was studying for an advanced degree, working at the Met and moonlighting for Donna Karan. It was never going to work. But Max and Molly have the summer together and never leave each other’s company.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I had to research many things and the history I learned in college thirty years ago, has been revised. I needed to update my own data to keep things current. In my new book, my time-travelers are in Florence in 1483. I did my minor in Renaissance Art but need a real refresher to get the facts correct.
Fiona: If any of your books was made into a film who would you like to play the lead?
This is an interesting question and I’ve thought about it a lot. My books could be great costume dramas and a miniseries would work well. My books read a bit like a screenplay. Molly is English so perhaps Rebecca Hall. I’d take Monica Bellucci in a heartbeat, but she’s very Italian and hardly twenty-six. Max is a problem. Young actors who could run the gamut from eighteen to twenty-five are hard to find. Aidan Turner is my current man-crush but he’s too old to play someone so young and a bit dark. It would have to be an unknown. Ambrosia could be played by a Bollywood actress named Asin. Alexandra Daddario might work for Sally and my dog Boris would be perfect for Kody.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Read a lot before you ever put pen to paper. Do it for yourself without ever expecting or even hoping for financial success. Learn the English language before embarrassing yourself. Develop your characters so they jump off the page and are real. Start with short stories. Take a creative writing course at your local college.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
You mean, besides asking everyone to read my books? Haha. I suppose everyone who writes, thinks there is something special about their book. I fall into that category. My work doesn’t translate well into the existing models of popular erotica or romance. When an agent tells me to send my first chapter for review, I cringe. The first chapter does not define me. When I offer my book for free on Amazon and it gets a thousand downloads and two months later not a single review, I cringe. How can that be? I’ve been told people download anything for free and then never read it. I have FB friends who’ve been entertained by my wit, my artistic and literary talents and my charm for years and yet, have never read one of my books. Why? Many FB friends have read my book and reviewed it on FB in glowing terms and then never post their thoughts to Amazon or Goodreads…why? That’s awful. My website took me two months of concentrated development and yet has few visitors. Social media is the ultimate time-suck yet has little return. Publishers get over 200 submissions a day and hand the manuscripts to twenty-year-old interns to decide what should be read and what shouldn’t. I have spent upwards of 4,000 hours on my writing and more on marketing for a return on investment which translates to pennies per hour. But, heaven help me, I love it. I love to write and I’m a good story teller. One day, someone connected in the publishing industry will take notice and I’ll make a living doing this. Someday.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
The Rise of Germany by James Holland and I Hate My Neck by Nora Ephron
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
A.A. Milne which included Disobedience and Winnie the Pooh.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
The current administration. Well, I don’t really laugh any longer.
Fiona: Is there one person past or present you would meet and why?
Marcus Aurelius. I will meet him in the book I’m writing now. He was the last of the great Roman emperors of the golden age. He was a philosopher and his book, Meditations, is still in print, 1,900 years after he wrote it. The subject, as written by the ruler of the western world, is how to be a good prince and a great public servant.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why?
Here lies Rebecca Branch, a fond owner of Jimmy Choo’s, Ferragamos, and Manolo Blahnik’s. She always said her feet were killing her and no one believed her.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies ?
I love to cook and entertain at my home constantly with weekly dinner parties for ten to twelve. I love my dog and walk him in Central Park each Sunday where he is perceived as a tourist attraction. I enjoy gardening. I ride my bicycle for twenty mile trips, weather permitting. I enjoy morning yoga and dance. I like to paint on a watercolor block. I like to collect antiques and go to auctions even if I don’t buy anything. I listen to NPR all day long. I’m a news junkie. I’m a feminist and a political activist. I love to stay in a cabin by a lake in the mountains. I like to fish. I like to sit around a campfire, play guitar and sing Joni Mitchell and Beatle songs. I love the spa and a good facial and massage. I lecture on Roman Architecture for design associations to audiences of two hundred and more and love the connection. I also lecture to architects and their families in Rome at least twice a year. It’s fun to be a teacher.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
Many BBC costume dramas on TV plus good investigative journalism like Frontline or nature series like National Geographic. Film…Too many to mention but I’ve enjoyed most of the Oscar contenders. Saw Arrival two nights ago, and enjoyed it. I like musicals and Disney movies, romcoms and foreign films. I’m very sentimental and patriotic and often cry watching films and reading a good story.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
I cook Italian and can handle a grill better than any man I know. I eat sushi three or four times a week. I can also bake. My favorite music…too many and it depends on my mood. I love classical, opera, jazz and the pop music of my youth and things that came just before I became conscious of music like the sounds of the sixties and seventies.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
I’d love to be a successful novelist, a food critic, lounge singer, a pediatrician, college professor, a time-traveller or a Secretary of State (I know, I know…this one’s a stretch)
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?