Updated: Mar 5
Rebecca Chianese follows up her debut novel Mercy with her latest book Unspoken, an empowering story about shedding light on the assault of girls and women in society.
Rebecca is a Brooklyn native who studied writing at Sarah Lawrence College and has always been creative by nature. She began writing as soon as her tiny fingers could grasp a pencil and wrote her first poem The Rat when she was six years old. Since then she has continued with poetry but only shares it with the person it was written for. She has dabbled in short stories and recently tried her hand at flash fiction which she loved.
Rebecca has also written stage plays, some of which have been showcased and workshopped off-Broadway.
Before Rebecca was a writer, she was a daughter and a sister, then she became a wife and a mother. When asked how she managed to find time for her passion while raising a family she said something that most writers or creatives, in general, can understand all too well.
“I had to find a way or I would go insane” she said.
So she carved out small moments and stole pieces of time to dedicate to her craft as a way to feel whole. When the children were asleep or playing she would write. When they were very young, as long as they were in the same room with her she would let them do anything that wasn’t dangerous to keep them occupied so she could write. Bubbles in the house? Sure. Tents out of the newly folded sheets? That would buy her an hour. Then of course the favorite, finger painting on a shower curtain on the kitchen floor. They had fun and she was able to work.
As her children grew and went off to school she found more time to write. Life was less hectic and she was able to settle into a schedule that worked for the family.
Due to family life, of all her projects, her debut novel took the longest to complete. It was ten years from outline to book release but, six of those years were spent like a Jeanie in a bottle with the main character, Carly, pounding away to get out. When the pounding got too loud to ignore, Rebecca freed her from the confines of the drawer and begun the rewrite and editing process which ultimately took about six months. She was able to find a tiny niche of Indie publishing professionals and Mercy hit the shelves.
Carly is a newly divorced, middle-aged woman with two grown children and an empty bank account. (A woman no longer sure of herself or what life has in store for her that is impossible not to root for.)
Set between Brooklyn and the suburbs and panning back and forth between the ’70s and present-day, it was easy to get lost in, not only the story but the city streets and their pre-gen-Z grit. The Characters were so richly developed that I feel like I have a new friend to cry to Johnny Cash tunes with and a new family member to worry about.
The last few pages were read slowly as I always do with books I hate to see come to an end.
As we continued to talk she graciously indulged me with a few more questions. Our conversation went like this:
Were you involved with any other creative endeavors? Art, theater, dance perhaps?
I've been a recreational dancer all of my life, love taking classes, or hitting the dance floor, but not the stage! I'm a behind-the-scenes dancer haha. I never painted until I needed to research Mercy. I wanted her to be a photographer because I knew more about it and felt like it would be easier to research. But, Carly had other ideas and she's very bossy. I was fortunate to have Pat Tobin and Laura Carraro as friends; two incredibly talented artists who generously took me through the process. Laura actually had me come to her studio and paint. It was an incredibly freeing experience and I'm grateful to both of them for teaching me enough to let Carly out of the box.
How do you feel your writing has changed from your first book to the second if at all?
They are such different stories, so the writing had to be very different. Mercy was my fourth novel but the first I ever felt was ready for publication. The first two will never see the light of day, HA, the third I'd like to revisit (and the protagonists in that one are Jake and Joanna!) Mercy started with a concept I'd been thinking about for many years....
I was incredibly fortunate to have studied with some excellent teachers. My undergrad was as a fiction writer at Sarah Lawrence College, I was a scholarship student there and incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to work with the faculty there.
Louise Merriwether (Daddy Was a Numbers Runner) taught me many things, but the first thing I remember learning from her is that truth doesn't work on the page (for fiction and I'm a fiction writer.)
I also took a master class with Jamaica Kincaid (post-grad). She gave us an exercise, she had us write a memory. Then she had us rewrite it and change the ending to something we wish had happened, or feared would happen. We did it and read them in class. Then she said, That's fiction.
The exercise stayed with me. So I decided to write Mercy and base it on what happened in my early family life and change all the things to what I most feared would happen, and when it came to her growth, what I most wished for Carly. More than for myself because by then she was her own person and didn't even resemble me. She had co-opted my memories for herself and created her own present and her own future. But, I wished for her and wrote that. Just as Jamaica Kincaid had suggested all those many years before.
When Louis Merriwether taught us that “Truth Did Not Work On The Page”... I believed her. What I set out to do every single time I write now is to find the truth in the story. The only way to do that is to go to the places I'm afraid to go. To dig into characters and their motivations, to contemplate the world they live in and allow it to reflect the world we actually live in while not trying to simulate it in any way but to let the characters and their stories find their own truths. It hurts to do. That's why I procrastinate so much!
How did you find your publisher for Unspoken?
For Unspoken I sent out query after query to agents and indie publishers in early January 2019. When Penny Eifrig from Eifrig publishing wrote to me to tell her about her response to the book I knew I'd found my home. Penny's response to Unspoken is the reason I write. To connect with readers in such a way that something shifts, for the reader, and I know this sounds crazy, but for the characters as well. They feel real to me and everyone leaves their mark on the book the same way the book (Hopefully) leaves a mark on the reader.
When you aren’t busy being an author or mother what do you do to relax or have fun?
When I'm not writing, I am happy spending time with family and friends, taking walks, dancing in my kitchen, reading reading reading reading, and while I don't take dance class anymore I take a center barre class and love that.
Gathering with friends and family at home and in restaurants is what I miss the most about pandemic life. I miss music venues terribly. We'd often got to Bo Peeps for their fantastic lounge where Skip Brevis and his guest singers entertain the room and then eat dinner upstairs at Ragtraders.
Speaking of good eats in the city. As I’m sure you know, so many of New York’s restaurants and their employees have been hit very hard by the pandemic. How about a shout-out to some of your favorite places to remind people that they are still out there and still need our patronage?
L'Amico NYC is our favorite!
Coppolas on 79th and Amsterdam has great Italian food.
Joe's Diner on 3rd and East 17th St is our favorite diner.
Cafe Cluny is a giant fav---best mussels in New York! Also best brunch I think.
My restaurant goal would be Manhatta.
Oh! And a family favorite is Toledo! Great Spanish food, family-owned restaurant, big round table, best chicken villaroy, and a wonderful warm staff. It's like going to your family for dinner but fancier!
One more favorite restaurant...and it's new! Peaches Low Country Food on Fulton Street, best low country food I've ever had in New York and it rivals anything I've had in Charleston. The best fried chicken I've had anywhere!
Now, for Unspoken. Be sure to get your copy which will be released on April 25th. The book can be ordered through Eifrig Publishing and at Scattered Books, an Indie bookstore located in Chapaqua, N.Y. Pre-orders are also being taken now on Amazon.
Alecia, Ivy, Thia, and Fiona are in a book club with only two rules: discuss the book and drink as much wine as possible. When the women discover their daughters are harboring a terrible secret, they set out to uncover the truth, forcing them to examine their own lives, motivations, and loyalties.
An empowering story of breaking the silence of the assault on girls and women.
Alecia Caulding has built a perfect life for her husband Everett and their 13-year old daughter Hannah in the glossy suburbs of Westchester, New York. Her own abusive childhood is deeply hidden beneath the veneer of perfection.
Ivy Barnet left a high-powered career as an attorney to be a stay-at-home mom to her three sons. She will stop at nothing to help her friends protect their daughters, even if it means confronting truths she'd rather not face.
Thia Daniels, dental hygienist and practicing Wiccan, spends her days wrangling her unruly children and wondering why she isn't as happy as she should be.
Fiona Payne is co-parenting with her ex-husband and his new wife, who happens to have been Fiona's divorce attorney. Fiona thought Chloe had adjusted well to their version of a modern family, and she wonders how she could have gotten it so wrong.