I’m pleased to introduce you to author Dr. Mario Dell’Olio today. Dr. Dell’Olio has written both the memoir Coming About and the popular fiction book Body + Soul. Today he provides us with some valuable insight into his works.
Your first book is a memoir, Coming About, tell me about the period of your life it focused on and why you chose this particular time?
Coming about is a sailing term. It means to change tack, turn in a different direction. Often times one changes tack when the wind changes direction. With dreams of living in paradise and leaving the rat race behind, my husband and I aimed for a new life. Because of our harrowing experiences, and my struggle to come back from emotional and physical trauma, my outlook on life was totally changed. In a very real sense, my life changed tack, I came about and moved in an unexpected direction. The winds of my life caused me to take a different path and make sense of all that had happened. I was forced to take stock of my life and what gave it meaning.
In some sense, I was not surprised by the strong reaction to Body + Soul. When characters deal [with] gay issues and teachings of the Catholic Church, there’s bound to be a visceral reaction. Gay clergy and the abuse scandal in the church is a hot topic right now and I believe my book touched some raw nerves. I pulled together coming of age stories from many people I know and created characters that might have wrestled with faith and being gay, with societal judgment and fear of rejection. Body + Soul shows a bishop who is a flawed man, one who struggles with his beliefs and his own loneliness, one who wrestles with his human frailty and the need to be loved.
I am working on two at the moment. I am writing about my parents’ love story. A work of nonfiction that starts during the 1930s in southern Italy and ends in New York present day. It is based on letters my parents wrote to each other before meeting, from Italy to NYC and back. I have been interviewing my mother and writing their story.
I enjoy fiction more. I can be more creative and let the characters develop. I’m not a plotter, I let the characters tell me where the story is going. It’s always a revelation! Nonfiction/memoir is more difficult for me because I have to worry about getting all the facts correct, dates, terminology etc. But I still enjoy it.
That I can write. I have written academic papers, theses etc., but never tried my hand at books. I have always been a story teller. Now I just write them down.
For Coming About, it was more of an emotional/psychological challenge. Re-living all the trauma of, not only the sailing adventure, but the decision making process that led to our leaving it all behind. It was difficult to be kind to myself for what I would consider poor decisions.
Coming About took many years to write. Each time I sat down to write, I would find the emotional journey difficult. Eventually, I allowed myself to write what was in my heart and head at any given moment, then fill in the more traumatic parts later. I didn’t force myself to keep at it when it got to be too much.
I suppose the key theme for me is “it gets better.” Whatever life hands to us, it’s up to us to make sense of it, whether that be a traumatic experience or love lost or gained. For LGBTQ people, we are coming out every day. There is always some situation when people simply assume you are straight. Finding love, trying to be in a healthy relationship is difficult for everybody. Ultimately, we have to love ourselves enough to allow someone else into our hearts. We have to believe we are lovable. Then we can find people to accompany us on our life’s journey. The struggle for self acceptance is a big part of my writing. I suppose it’s a big part of my teaching as well.