What are the chances?  Writing about the emergence of longshoremens’ union and the corruption that went along with this.  I name a thug after a grammar school chum.  Do more research and what do I find?  The mob boss is named the exact name of my thug and had the same job as my character in the same town as my story.

Who would have thunk it?  The more I write, the more I find that something out there–haven’t a clue what it is–directs my thoughts, directs my story.


Friends and Neighbors-A Treasure Trove of Possibilities.

Do you know your friends and neighbors back story?  What you see may hide stories so fascinating they can keep you writing for a long, long time.

Take my neighbors from Thailand. Kitty and her husband are both doctors.  They are affluent, live in an upper class neighborhood, have three children who are all physicians and six grandchildren.

Sounds boring but if one scratches the surface, one would find out that Kitty is not her real name.  Her name is her native language means “Snow White.”  According to her mother, she was such an ugly baby, that they had to give her a name that would bring her luck.   Her mother abandoned her in a orphanage run by French nuns.  She was educated and sent to France to college because of her high intelligence.

Her husband’s father was a heroine addict and had abandoned the family. Kitty and her husband met in Paris, came to the US and lived in a roach and mouse infested apartment until they graduated medical school and were able to get housing provided to the residents.

Another person let slip that she grew up in Manhattan. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Later I learned that her  parents’ enormous apartment was a cocaine processing plant. They sold cocaine until the police found out and raided the place.

The accountant down the street was from Jamaica and  a partner in a New York firm. He was born in Uganda originally. His parents were killed by Edi Amin. The first four years of his life he foraged in the local dumps to survive. A Catholic priest found him and brought him to his orphanage. There he was educated and shipped to Jamaica for college and later to NYC for an advance degree.

I know you can’t pry, but your neighbor may be a phenomenal source of ideas for stories.

Review by Tiziano Dossena

Tiziano Dossena, Editorial Director of L’Idea Magazine wrote this about Barbarossa’s Princess

Throughout antiquity, men have repeatedly and summarily destroyed cities and physical documentation of events. Because of that, we have accepted that the information regarding some historical figures have almost completely disappeared and very little is known about them. There are particular timed incidents, though, which place them in the chronology of history and sometimes even provides them with a mythical aura. Constance de Hauteville’s existence, for example, even though mostly lost in the fog of time, is as real as it gets. She sanctioned the unification of the Holy Roman Empire with the Kingdom of Sicily, through the union of her lineage (Hauteville) with her husband’s (Hohenstaufen). Her son Frederick II became accordingly the emperor of a much larger Holy Roman Empire, turning into a clear precursor of the Renaissance rulers, thanks to his profound culture, his designs and his visions for the Italian land.

Accustomed as we are to fictitious recreations of past events in movies, historical fiction becomes an accepted and welcome solution to the understanding and the presentation of characters, which lack the depth of records to allow for an accurate historical reconstruction, to the general public.

Barbarossa’s Princess is a work of art which bases its narrative upon historical facts, weaving a web of intrigue, lust and violence that amply reflects the times in which these events truly occurred. The main character, Constance de Hauteville, comes alive with her strengths and weaknesses, her sharp intelligence and her deep culture, drawing the reader in the plot more and more with each electrifying, inspiring and inspired page.

Elizabeth Vallone’s thorough research in the medical treatments of the times enhances the credibility of the storyline and allows the reader to plunge in the 12th century without hesitation. Her description of the places is factual, and so is the unraveling of the main events, but the author carefully plugs characters and small details of her creation in the story, intensifying the excitement of the tale by giving it a sharp characterization and a well-constructed setting.

Through her well-balanced amalgam of real historical episodes and characters with fictional ones, Vallone obtains a book which will thrill both history enthusiasts and lovers of adventure. Barbarossa’s Princess shows the drama behind the metamorphosis of the richest princess in Europe from a pious woman living modestly in a convent to a brave and audacious empress. It does so with an elegant style and a perceptive attention to the evolution of her personal feelings and thoughts.

The final product is therefore a well-knitted story, with developed characters portrayed as close to known reality and painted as colorful as they could have been without distorting that reality. Vallone shows at every step the rigorous research and she does that without becoming academic or exasperating the reader with unnecessary details. The accurate physical description of the environments are neither casual nor merely ornamental, but they aim at completing the characters through their milieus. For example, Constance’s sensibility may be understood better through the memory of her city: “In Palermo everything was bright. The walls of colored mosaics dressed in gold leaf, the brilliant geometric patterns on the altars and Moorish arches took my breath away. Sometimes when I entered, it felt as if I were witnessing the colors, the images, the architecture for the first time…”

Barbarossa’s Princess will also satisfy the readers who fancy love stories, because Constance is full of love, although lives mostly without it, finding herself, unfortunately and without any blame, in a loveless marriage with a brute: “Traveling and negotiating also made It more difficult to make time for his manly duties, which gladdened me, for I had come to absolutely abhor the feeling of his touch on my skin. If Heinrich never came to my bed again, it would have been all right with me.”

Constance will not deny herself a chance to love in spite of her position and will risk everything to be close to her lover, even if that meant to be playing chess in front of everyone at court: “Now the object of my affections sat across the chessboard smiling, and touching my pinky, my wrist. Though it was only the brush of finger tips, a fiery sensation passed between us. I watched him and shivered.”

It is the author’s ability of rendering the nuances of the main characters’ emotions that allows the reader to embrace Constance’s cause and root for this remarkable woman who preceded her times with her strength, her determination and her enlightenment.

Barbarossa’s Princess is available on KINDLE, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Idea Publications (

Writing Historical Fiction

I’m working on my third work of historical fiction.  It’s set in WWI Hoboken, NJ.  If you are not from the NYC area, you probably never heard of Hoboken.

Hoboken was an island when Henry Hudson sailed up the Hudson river.  They filled  in the island and it has been a one square-mile town for a while now.  I lived there when I was a kid but moved away at 13 years of age.

If you grew up in Hoboken, you’ve lived a special life.  Everything you could want was within the square mile, elegant ladies’ shops on Washington Street, Jewelers, Hardware, supermarkets, banks, pharmacies and a large WT Grant Store.  There were also streets with cheap discount houses like Mikey Finns.

Every class of meat and fish and staple could be bought there and many Italian and Germany specialties were served in the restaurants.  They even had catering venues, factories for people to work in, an engineering school as fine as M.I.T.

Everyone knew everyone on your street and many of the streets surrounding you.  Everyone was friendly.

You would have never guessed that the Italians, Germans and Irish were at war with one another at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Ideas for writing historical fiction come from nowhere and everywhere.   An exhibit in the Hoboken Historical Museum clarified many things for me,  like why my grandfather was jailed during WWI and deported to Italy.  It also gave me the impetus to tackle my new  project, Bavarian Blue.  It really helps having grown up in the place you are writing about.  You feel totally connected to your story.

Look around writers, you may be sitting on a gold mine of ideas and not even realize it.

Psalm 126.5

The bible says “Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting.”  I have experienced first hand what psalm 126.5 tells the reader.

Having lost my son last year, it has been very difficult to promote my last work of historical fiction, Barbarossa’s Princess.  You see my son died the same month that my book was supposed to come out.  Physically and emotionally I was paralyzed.   I scheduled gigs months apart and after each of my presentations and book signings I was so depleted I had to go to bed for two days.

In the writers’ group that I am in, I would bring the latest installment of my new unfinished work, Bavarian Blue, but often I couldn’t make sense of where in the story the piece should go.  I know the participants of the group were exasperated with me, my story’s lack of focus, the typos, yada.  They don’t know me, I don’t know them.  They didn’t know about my son.  Never connected with anyone in the group.  I just float in and out submitting my work for critique.

I”ve passed the year mark in May and only now, months later, is my brain beginning to work.  I have begun to reap with joyful shouting because God is blessing me with opportunities I could not have imagined.  Resource material appears when I need it, people seem to appear when I need them, love and comfort surrounds me.  I am feeling whole, though a day does not go by when a thought of my Robert does not drift in and out.

Writers, if you have experienced a loss, a challenge, stay strong in your faith. God is walking beside you.  Ever so slowly you will see his work.  Don’t give up, for you shall reap with joyful shouting.

Surprises for the Writer

Writing, be it historical fiction or any other genre, takes one on a journey out of oneself to places one least expects.  Sometimes one writes a horrifically violent scene and wonders, where are earth did that come from?  Sometimes ideas  are launched at you from who knows where.  Other times, you write one sentence and suddenly a spark ignites, sending you in different directions but it’s all related and useful.

Then when your work is completed and you are doing promotion, a person out of the audience will offer you another gig when you least expect it.

AT 6:30 p.m. on Monday, August 13, I will speak about my latest work of historical fiction, Barbarossa’s Princess.  I will a guest on the Bill Russo Show and the broadcast will be live in Umberto’s Clam Bar, 132 Mulberry Street, NYC.  Come join the fun and have a bit to eat, the food is delicious.

To listen to the Bill Russo show, simply click on the Listen LIve button on the home page of  It will be podcast the following day.

Wish me luck.

The universe sends you what you need when you need it

I’m working on my third work of historical fiction.  Sometimes I get stuck.  I’m not enjoying my work, in fact it’s aggravating me right now.  My last piece was a labor of love and I don’t ever remember getting so frustrated.

Enter God, the universe, whatever you want to call it.  Reference material has dropped onto my lap which will help me finish my book.  It is making me rework the characters and I’m actually happy about  it.

I can see that it will make my manuscript better, my characters rounder, and best of all it will create more tension where none existed before.

This happened to me with Barbarossa’s Princess.  A book fell into my lap that made all the difference in the world.  Believe me, I’ve reviewed alot of WWI books since beginning this novel, but this one is what I needed.

Thanks.  From the 12th century to WWI was a big leap and I needed something special.

Loss of a child

The loss of a child at any age is a devastating blow to a mother and father.  All the dreams for yourself, your child and your child’s offspring go up in smoke.   You are left with a deep, dark hole in your heart.  You are left with a pain that lingers though with time waxes and wanes.

I was looking through a catalogue and saw  personalized Chrismas ornaments and it made me think of the holidays.  I did not celebrate Chrismas last year.  I thought this year would be different but when I saw the  “Precious son ornament,” I don’t know if I can do it.

My Christmas tree was always filled with ornaments collected over time, some were gifts, some were handmade.   Many of them have to do with milestones in my dead child’s life.  How do you hang those ornaments? Do I just buy all new ornaments?  Then the tree would be just a decoration.

If anyone has a suggestion let me know.

It’s easy to say, start all over but the pain is indescribeable.  I know a man who always went on a vacation to an exotic place every Christmas.  After the fifth trip, he realized he had stop running away.  Now he does Chrismas at home with his surviving son.

I ask myself, will it take five years to do this?  I’m at a loss for an answer.  My son loved Christmas.

The universe demands something of us

People ask, how did you come up with the idea for your book, Barbarossa’s Princess?  I believe the universe demanded that I give Constance de Hauteville a voice after 1000 years. Maybe Constance and I are related.  A DNA test revealed I have Viking blood as she did.

The  catalyst that pushed me to put words on paper was a book entitled, Travels of a Medieval Queen.  It documented Constance’s journey from Sicily to Germany.  When I finished this book, I made a commitment to write an intimate portrait of Constance.  This portrayal allows readers to live in her world, feel her joys and disappointments, taste the foods, and live the life of a medieval princess.  I also wanted the readers to experience the horrid beauty treatments and medical practices of that time.

I fell in love with the the story of Constance de Hauteville and this love is reflected in my work.  I think the universe would be satisfied.