Author Interview: Mario Dell’Olio

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?

I suppose you could say it was a mid-life crisis. My husband and I were 40 years old, stuck in a rat race in San Francisco. After an idyllic vacation to St. Thomas, VI, we decided to quit our jobs, buy a boat and sail the Caribbean. Leaving a loving community of friends  and successful jobs, we sailed across the ocean to St. Thomas. The journey took a turn for the worse, we encountered awful weather conditions and a number of malfunctions on our brand new sailboat. We ended up being rescued at sea. Our lives hung in the balance a number of times throughout the journey. This memoir tells that story and how I came to find meaning through all the trauma. This event transformed my life and who I am as a person.
What is the meaning behind the title, Coming About?

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.

Your second book, Body + Soul, is fictional but I understand resonates with many people as being very true to life. Tell me about this book and why you think so many people respond so strongly to it.

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 chose to have young Luca speak in the first person. I believed that for that age, every new revelation about self is of the utmost importance. That POV is typical of an adolescent journey. Teaching in a high school for my entire career, I have witnessed this natural ego-centrism as my students fall in and out of love, come to terms with disappointment and try to find their purpose in life. First person voice gives the reader an intimate feeling of being in the mind of the character.
I suppose the fact that part of the book is in first person gave the impression that it was a memoir.
A book that uses a similar POV is Call Me By Your Name. When I first read that, I was very moved by the adolescent struggle with sexuality and identity. That influenced my decision to use first person for the young man, and change it to 3rd person for the Bishop and the other adults.
Are there any additional books in the works for your hungry readers? 

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.

The other book may be creative nonfiction or fiction based on actual events. It is called The New Men. It takes place at the North American College in Vatican City. Three seminarians struggle with sexuality, faith, and the road to priesthood. Their journey is one of great hope, dreams of changing the world, and disillusionment when reality hits. They are faced with church politics, clericalism, and hypocrisy. They fall in love, get their hearts broken, and try to make sense of their lives in the bubble of a Roman seminary during the 1980s.
Where can readers go to find out more about you and your books?

www.mariodellolio.com

You’ve written both in the memoir genre and the fiction genre. Do you find you have a preference?

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.

What is the most surprising thing you discovered while writing these books? 

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.

What were the key challenges you faced while writing each book? How were they different for each book?

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.

Body + Soul was more fun to write. To be honest, the sexual content was difficult to write. I didn’t want it to be pornographic, but needed to show the importance of the sexual relationship to the individuals and the arc of the story. Maintaining a balance between describing a sexual encounter and leaving most to the imagination was a challenge.
How did you deal with the emotional impact (on yourself) of a book while writing it?

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.

Despite the differences in style, is there a key theme or message that you’re trying to impart in these books or is it different for each of them? What is that message(s) you hope your readers will take with them?

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.

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2 comments

  1. Hi whimsy! This is a great interview, coming about sounds fascinating. I think a lot of people have the living at sea fantasy and it does not always end well. So glad that the author made it out to tell the story. Adding to my TBR. Thank you!

    1. Hi Alison – I’m so glad you enjoyed the interview. Dr. Dell’Olio certainly had a harrowing experience and it makes for an excellent read, I hope you enjoy it when it crests your TBR!

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