Today I’d like to welcome Staci Troilo as my guest. Staci is a friend and fellow author. She’s going to talk about her experience with writing, tell a bit about her latest book, and share one of her award winning recipes. Please welcome Staci!
Hi, Joan. It’s an honor for me to be here today. Thanks for inviting me. And to your readers, hello! I’m glad to be here and appreciate the chance to chat with you for a bit.
I’m not sure what your experience is with writing stories. I’ve been writing fiction for more years than I care to admit. One of the things I learned in my college classes was that regardless of the genre, regardless of the plot, the characters drive the action.
Cliché characters are boring. Even with a stellar plot, if the characters aren’t fresh and exciting, the story will be flat. (Agree? Click to Tweet it.)
When I began writing my latest release, Bleeding Heart, I brought a lot of my heritage to the story. The leading lady is an Italian American (as am I) and she lives in Western Pennsylvania (which is where I was born and raised). Her love interest? Also of Italian descent. I could have written her just like me and him just like my husband, but Corey and I are pretty normal. Reading about normal characters doing the expected is a bit dull.
So, in addition to an action-packed plot, I made Francesca hopeless in the kitchen. I’m an award-winning recipe developer. I love to cook and bake. I’ve been in the kitchen since I could walk, learning to prepare meals and desserts with my mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, and cousins. Francesca is not like me. She resists kitchen work. The beginning of the novel shows her with an injury—from a strawberry and a toaster. Hopeless. (If you want to know how that happened, you can download the deleted scene where the injury occurs by clicking here.)
But food is an important part of the Italian American culture. I wanted to pay homage to that tradition in the novel. How would I do that when my heroine loathed cooking?
I made my hero love it.
Gianni is more than competent in the kitchen. Cooking is cathartic for him. It reminds him of happy childhood memories and lets him show his love for the people he cares about by feeding them. His culinary interests gave me a way to not only showcase my heritage, but to craft unique characters and develop them beyond a single dimension.
I don’t mean to imply that I made my hero a kitchen dynamo because men can’t cook. I know men can. In addition to all the wonderful male chefs out there, I have firsthand experience—my husband is actually a fabulous cook. (You should try his linguini with clam sauce… heavenly.) But we’ve all heard the saying: a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. We’ve seen women cook for men countless times. I turned that trope upside-down. One of the ways my hero won his girl was by cooking for her.
The point is this—don’t fall into stereotypes when crafting your stories. As writers, you owe it to your readers to make your characters compelling. And as readers, don’t accept the damsel in distress and the knight on a white horse. Look for stories that challenge traditional tropes. (Maybe the damsel is a soldier and the knight is a nerdy college professor. That’s pretty unique.)
I promised Joan I’d talk about food. It’s a huge part of my heritage, and it’s a pretty big part of my novel. So, in closing, I thought I’d leave you with the recipe I won first prize for—stuffed eggplant (melanzane ripiene). Not only is it a traditional Italian dish, it’s low-carb (which is something my characters are concerned about) and delicious. At home, I serve it with a tossed salad, but it also pairs well with pasta and/or garlic bread.
(*Note: If anyone in your family is like my kids and refuses to eat eggplant, you can substitute zucchini [which my son also won’t eat, but my daughter loves] or make the meat/sauce/cheese mixture and put it on open-faced buns before broiling.)
1½ pounds large, firm eggplant (1 large or 2 small)
2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 pound ground turkey
1 15-oz can tomato sauce
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp dried basil
½ tsp dried oregano
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground black pepper
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with foil. Set aside.
- Wash eggplants, trim off stems, and cut in half length-wise. Drizzle with half the oil and rub it all over. Place cut-side up on prepared sheet pan. Bake for 30-40 minutes (flesh should be soft when removing from oven).
- While eggplant is roasting, heat remaining oil in large skillet over medium flame. Add ground turkey, garlic, and seasonings. Sauté until meat is brown. Add sauce and warm through. Remove from heat. Add half the cheese and stir to combine.
- When eggplant comes out of oven, scoop the flesh out of the skin (taking care not to damage the shell). Chop and add to meat mixture. Combine well.
- Set oven to broil. Fill eggplant boats with meat mixture. Top with remaining cheese. Place under broiler until cheese melts and meat looks crispy (about 4-5 minutes). Serve immediately.
Staci Troilo writes multi-genre fiction focusing on flawed relationships. Her series and standalone titles span the mystery, contemporary, and romance genres and many of their sub-genres, including suspense, paranormal, and medical dramas. Her short fiction has won many regional awards. Find her at http://stacitroilo.com.
Bleeding Heart—Franki, secret legacy of the Medici, is prophesied to return Italy to its former glory. Targeted for assassination and ignorant of her enemy’s identity, she is protected by Gianni, the warrior destined to defend her. He must conquer her fears and his demons to save them both. Available now on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iBooks.
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