Interview with Kathleen Ann Gonzalez

What's the story behind your latest book?
I love retelling the story behind my latest book because it is linked to my first book, and both of them recall wonderful people and memories that actually make my skin tingle. My first book, Free Gondola Ride, is about a summer I spent hanging out with Venice's gondoliers, trying to get to know them as people rather than as cardboard cutouts thrust into the tourist itinerary. While I got to ride along in Stefano's gondola telling his customers about local history, or Giannino's gondola as he returned it to its parking space for the night, or while I sat alongside the canals where the gondoliers cruised by, I saw over and over again these guys pointing at various buildings as Casanova's house. "This is the house of Casanova, the Italian stallion," one guy might say, but it seemed that they pointed to different houses every time.

So some years later, after I had published Free Gondola Ride and also after I had read Casanova's twelve-volume memoirs, I recalled how the guys would point at these houses. The idea clicked--what were the real houses of Casanova? Published works listed as few as 8 or up to maybe 30 locations, usually published only in Italian. My research led to over 90 spots--palaces, churches, squares, bridges, and more where he gambled, loved, played pranks, spied, and carried out his many adventures. I've immensely enjoyed every minute of the research, whether in books or websites, with Casanovists around the world, or walking Venice's streets myself.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I was lucky enough to begin my publishing career by being approached by an editor who wanted to include an essay I wrote into her anthology titled Latina: Women's Voices from the Borderlands. Although I made no money on it, I had a positive experience where I got to promote the book through bookstore appearances with the other authors.

Then I got the idea for my first book, Free Gondola Ride. While I worked with a writing group, consulted with friends in the publishing industry, revised endlessly, and sent hundreds of query letters to agents and publishers, I was not able to find representation. At one point, I had an interested agent who suggested that I completely start over and rewrite the book and then title it "Ciao, Bella!" which was already a title in circulation and which was, well, trite and overused. Around that same time, I had planned a trip to Venice with my very supportive and talented partner who said, "Let's make your book ourselves." He did all the formatting, friends chipped in with editing, a gondolier friend gave me artwork for the cover, and we printed 1,000 copies and dragged them over the cobblestones to the bookstores of Venice.

Though I'm not much of a business woman, I love the freedom that being an indie author gives me. I have complete control over the cover art and design. Though I would welcome a trained editor's expertise, I'm willing to forgo that in order to remain independent. With the continued help of my partner, we have now created a publishing imprint, Ca' Specchio, and published three books together. I've created the websites to support the books and garner promotional events with supportive local bookstores, libraries, schools, book groups, and historical societies. I love meeting people and talking about Venice with them, and when they express their enthusiasm for my work, it's so very satisfying. I'm sure having a publisher would bring some of this same satisfaction, but as an indie author, I feel like I'm just a regular person sharing my passion with others, and that feels pretty good.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
Smashwords has fueled my writing career both literally and figuratively. My latest book, Seductive Venice, was first available on Smashwords as an ebook before I ran the paperback edition, making it available to readers quickly and easily. I had wonderful feedback from travelers who were heading to Venice and wanted to carry my book in their phone or e-reader. I then made Free Gondola Ride available on Smashwords as well.

Being able to publish on Smashwords also helped me in other ways. I feel like I am part of a greater writing community, a large democratic populace, not a tiny elite who has somehow magically entered the gates of a so-called publishing paradise. As Smashwords advertises, it allows all of us to share our work with readers. It levels the playing field and democratizes the process. Thanks to Smashwords, I can reach a larger reading public, and I feel more like the established author I am.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
One of my favorite quotes is by Mary Heaton Vorse: "The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair." Yes, I spend a lot of time slogging through research or a lot of seat time, but the writing process can definitely be marked by moments of magic. I write first drafts by hand, and when I'm lucky, that little extra time that it takes for an idea to travel from my brain down my arm to my hand and onto paper, that's when the magic happens. That's when a metaphor snakes its way through, or that's when the alliterative adjectives find their way out my pen. I don't plan those words. They come on their own, and those moments are pure joy. I somehow don't feel completely responsible for them. It's like Elizabeth Gilbert speaks about in her TED talk on creativity--writers are responsible to show up and put in the time, but it's up to our creative muse to make the magic happen. I'm grateful when it works.

But back to the seat time. Another other great joy of writing for me is when I discover something through research. I won't soon forget sitting on my couch, surrounded by books, laptop on my legs, when I finally found the location where Casanova lost his virginity. I yelled to my partner in the other room, "Woohoo! I just found number 70!" I had been searching for this site for a long time, and my seat time paid off. I'm now researching people in Venetian history who made a positive difference, and I've been amazed and sometimes miffed that so many of them have been forgotten. I'm hoping that my new project will resurrect their voices for a new generation, and finding their words that have been lost for centuries inspires me to keep putting in the research time so that I can somehow honor their contributions.

Finally, I am overjoyed when people tell me that they have enjoyed my writing. "Really?" I think. "You spent your leisure hours reading my words and you truly got something out of it?" People have told me that I inspired them in various ways--to travel, to risk, to write, to explore, to meet others--and I can think of no greater compliment. I hope to continue sharing my writing with others if I can somehow bring them these positive experiences.
Who are your favorite authors?
I am a voracious reader and have been my entire life. I've swallowed whole genres at a time--for a while getting into 19th century French novels, or American Southern gothic, or Chinese American literature. I'll read pretty much anything set in Venice. So answering this question is nigh impossible, and the answer has changed over the years or by my mood. I will mention one author by name, though, because I feel like he's under-appreciated. Lewis Nordan's novels are luminous and often take my breath away.

But in relation to my own writing, I can say who I aspire to write like (though I know I'll never attain such mad skills). Bill Bryson is my inspiration. His writing is hilarious (more than once I've spit liquid through my nose while reading his books), and he has a knack for finding the weirdest historical facts. He helped build in me a love for history, etymology, and definitely travel. Since two of these three are genres I write, he's the perfect model for me. And he was friendly to me when I met him.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Well, when I can, I first stay in bed to read a book. But after that my work gets me going. I'm in my twenty-third year as a high school English teacher, and working with young people, and occasionally having the joy of sharing their excitement about books and writing, is worth the commute and the other difficulties that teaching entails. My colleagues are also a funny and wonderful bunch of people who make the workplace worthwhile.

I'm a bit of a workaholic, so the other thing that gets me out of bed is accomplishing something. These days that usually means researching and writing. I'm promoting my latest book, Seductive Venice, and beginning work on a new book about Venetian history; every minute I'm working on it, I'm also in Venice (in my head), which is a lot more affordable than a plane ticket. I love moving forward on this work, discovering new facts and people, and I look forward each day to finding time to devote to it.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I once took a personality test to determine if I'm an introvert or an extrovert. I score exactly in the middle. This means that I love being with people, but I also need time away from them.

To be with people, I do things with my family and friends, like a nice meal, a walk, or a good glass of wine. I've been in a bellydance troupe, Jewel of Opar, for nearly a decade, and the camaraderie of these women is a great boon that I didn't expect when I took up dancing. I love performing, too, and feeling the energy of the crowd that in turn energizes my dancing. The troupe also gives me the opportunity to help design and create costumes, which gives me a more tactile creative outlet. In contrast to bellydancing, my partner and I love motorcycles and take off into the twisty roads when we can, or we meet up and ride with a group of friends.

To be away from people, I dissolve myself into books, I walk or work out, and I dance--yes, alone, too, in an interesting setting called Ecstatic Dance, a sort of meditative group dynamic. I may sit a lot when I'm researching and writing, but dancing is as necessary to me as walking.

Travel is the other big constant in my life. I need to have a plane ticket waiting for me, or a trip on the horizon, or I start to frown and bark. As much as I love my home and spending time in my wonderful life, I also want to see as much of the world as possible--and keep returning to Venice as often as I can fit it in. Luckily, my partner RJ enjoys traveling as much as I, and we do trips together, apart, and with groups of friends--to satisfy all my selves!
Published 2013-09-04.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

First Spritz Is Free: Confessions of Venice Addicts
Price: Free! Words: 60,880. Language: English. Published: July 2, 2018. Categories: Nonfiction » Travel » Essays & Travelogues, Essay » Author profile
We call ourselves Venetophiles, and we're addicted to this beautiful and ancient city in the middle of a lagoon. Editor Kathleen Gonzalez has collected memories, adventures, and dreams here in this new collection of stories from 32 contributors: novelists, bloggers, musicians, photographers, chefs, tour guides, historians, and more. Learn why we're addicted to Venice. And with us, it's free!
A Living Memory: Immortality for Sarra Copia Sulam
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 11,470. Language: English. Published: October 1, 2016. Categories: Nonfiction » Biography » Historical biography, Nonfiction » History » Jewish
Venice contains many remarkable historical figures. One deserving recognition is Sarra Copia Sulam, a Jewish writer who was publicly attacked by the men who benefitted from her learning and generosity. The only Jewish woman to host a literary salon in the seventeenth century, Sarra overcame such censure to remain true to her faith and to produce writings that have ensured her "living memory."
A Beautiful Woman in Venice
Price: $5.99 USD. Words: 113,140. Language: English. Published: June 2, 2015. Categories: Nonfiction » History » European, Nonfiction » Travel » Travel - Reference
Libraries of books have been written about Venetian history and men’s roles in shaping it. But little is written about the women. From writers to orators, courtesans to composers, you’ll read their stories in A Beautiful Woman in Venice. Boat racers, artists, glassmakers, and the first woman to earn a university degree all overcame obstacles to achieve greatness. It's time to redefine their beauty
Seductive Venice: In Casanova's Footsteps
Price: $5.99 USD. Words: 63,200. Language: English. Published: September 10, 2012. Categories: Nonfiction » Travel » By region, Nonfiction » Travel » Hikes & walks
(5.00 from 1 review)
Seductive Venice takes readers on seven walking tours of Venice to over 90 locations Giacomo Casanova visited--churches, bridges, statues, alleys, and canals, all with helpful maps. Discover where this famous lover gambled, drank, cajoled, loved, spied, and seduced. Historical sidebars and Casanova’s own words punctuate this entertaining romp through the life of Venice’s most famous lover.
Free Gondola Ride
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 58,630. Language: English. Published: June 16, 2012. Categories: Nonfiction » Travel » Essays & Travelogues, Nonfiction » History » European
Kathleen went to Venice with a goal and a plan. The goal was to write about a cliched group of men, the gondoliers. The plan included a notebook and the perseverance of a serious journalist. But sometimes plans change. From skinny dipping off a gondola under the full moon to sitting at the gondolier's feet, Free Gondola Ride takes the reader through a summer of beautiful episodes.