Monday, November 25, 2013

The Writer's Alchemy of Chance

When you are an independent author, connections and community play an integral role in meeting readers, finding new readers and letting the world know your book is out there.  But does a third ingredient play an even more important role? Perhaps, as Edda R. Pitassi explores in this essay, it is the serendipity of  chance; that unanticipated phone call or email that leads to a delightful encounter or journey. This essay is one in an occasional series featuring authors discussing the power, alchemy and joy of writing.

Community and Connections!  I thought about Susan’s blog post, emphasizing that very thing.  Let’s add ‘chance’ to those essentials.

Although one is busy with tasks and obligations, the serendipitous magic and power of community and connections can work their way into your life.  I was reminded of this recently.
On an early July afternoon, I happened to see an inviting book cover on the ‘New Books’ shelf at my local library:   Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo.
Both the pleasant-sounding title and inviting jacket design suggested a breezy memoir a train aficionado could write (or read) as he or she rambled through panoramic Italian hills and meadows.  I was reminded of my solo Italian vacation long ago, and I thought, Let’s see what a Brit writer named Tim Parks has to say about today’s Italy.
Humor and nostalgia conveyed his complicated 30-year love affair with Italy and its people as Parks vividly described the good, the bad and the ugly of Italy’s commuter train rides.  I agreed with the author as he warns unsuspecting travelers:  “Italy is not a country for beginners.”
How wonderfully comic of him to communicate petty annoyances and the all-too-human frustrations over the Italian “flare for the absurd!”  How clever to contrast these against Italy’s grand history, beautiful landscapes and world-famous food.
His droll vignettes about anxiety-filled excursions in quirky, old-fashioned train compartments had me laughing and reliving my unique journey through celebrated, historic towns and urban centers of northern Italy:  Mantua, Modena, Milan, Ravenna. 
I loved the book and decided it would be the subject of my monthly review for Chester County Seniors! NewspaperIt was published, and I thought nothing more of it.  

Within a few weeks, my husband, Mike, answered a call from a complete stranger.   I had just come home from my part-time job and entered the kitchen when Mike said, “You’re going on the lecture circuit.”
I’ve learned not to take my husband seriously when he delivers quips and one-liners.  I placed my handbag on a chair and said, “What are you talking about?”
Mike explained that he had just finished a 45-minute phone conversation with Harry, an Italian-American who wanted to know this: “Would Edda be willing to attend the next Sons of Italy Lodge meeting in Malvern and talk to the group about herself, Italy and the book?”
I was stunned that someone had gone to the trouble to look up my name and telephone number, call my home, and ask if I would “talk a little” about myself. 
That night I spoke with Harry.  We agreed I would attend the October 9 meeting of the Malvern Sons of Italy at the local St. Patrick’s Parish Center.  Funny.   Harry didn’t mention the book, the book review, or the book’s author.  After our conversation, I accepted the fact that he found someone of Italian heritage who might be a good choice for that month’s meeting.  With the Columbus Day holiday approaching, it all started to make sense.
Mike and I took the opportunity to eat out before the meeting at the Flying Pig Saloon, a small corner-pub eatery I’d always wanted to visit.  We weren’t disappointed, especially when we saw the extensive beer menu.  Another amusing thought:  An Italian-American enjoying a wonderful glass of Belgian ale before going to a parish center named after the patron saint of Ireland, to share some time with a Sons of Italy organization.  America!
When we got to the parish hall, 22 people greeted me with warm smiles and firm handshakes.  I caught one of the nametags and noticed the last name of a former friend of ours.  I shook his hand and asked him, “Are you Joe’s dad?”
The white-haired 90-year-old smiled and said, “That’s me.  I’m a deacon here at the church.  Harry said somebody special was going to be here tonight, and I didn’t want to miss out.”
As I stood at the lectern, I noticed a gentleman who had been a member of the Malvern Borough Council in the late ‘80s when I covered their meetings as a correspondent for the “Neighbors” section of The Philadelphia Inquirer.  I called out, “Hi, Dominic.”  He smiled back.
I spoke of my South Philadelphia childhood, my immigrant father’s love of reading the daily and Sunday newspapers, and the reasons why I wanted to turn any writing talent I had to journalism.  I went on to tell them of many nights writing articles after covering township meetings…how I’d deliver them to the local newspaper office at 2 a.m., get to bed at 3, and wake up at 6:30 to dress for my ‘real’job at IBM the next day. 
I believe they understood I took writing seriously.
Later that night, a man from the audience grabbed my arm. “I worked for IBM too,”  he said. We started talking, and he wanted to know more about the book, Slants of Light…Stories and Poems From The Women’s Writing Circle, that I had brought with me.  I had a short story and a poem in that book, I told him. He was fascinated that 15 women had collaborated and self-published a book. I told him he was remarkable for being 77 years young and still maintaining a 44-year work career with Mass Mutual Insurance Group.
Harry seemed happy with the evening’s event.  “You’ll be hearing from me again, Edda,” he said.

What about you? Have you had a chance encounter, phone call or email that set you on an unexpected journey with your writing?
Edda R. Pitassi has maintained a love/hate relationship with writing since she started seeing her ‘letters to the editor’ in print at age fifteen.  A published journalist with several suburban newspapers, she currently contributes a monthly book review for Chester County Seniors! newspaper.  A former web content writer and proofreader, her employment history includes a 20-year career with IBM. Highlights of her writing life comprise a writing internship in New York City, editing Morning at Wellington Square, and contributing to the Women’s Writing Circle.

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