Trigiani explains ups and downs of writing
By SARAH RYKOWSKI
When Adriana Trigiani came to the Notre Dame/Saint Mary's community to visit with faculty, friends and students, her first words were a warning to writers everywhere.
"The first rule about writing is to never ever write a novel with the name of your home town anywhere near it," Trigiani said. "I had to go home to teach the people of Big Stone Gap what the word `fiction' means."
Trigiani, one of the most beloved alumnae of the Notre Dame/Saint Mary's theater program, is the author of two novels, Big Stone Gap and Big Cherry Holler. She is currently working on the screenplay for Big Stone Gap, which she will also direct.
Trigiani, who now hails from New York City, grew up in the Virginia mountain town and related to her audience Monday night that the use of her hometown's name was the least of her problems.
Most of the character names in her two books come from the local cemetery or were simply familiar to her. In some cases, she changed first names or last names. Since Trigiani's novels were published, she has come across several coincidences where the truth was even stranger than the fiction she wrote.
Ave Maria Mulligan, the main character in both novels, works with a man named Spec Broadwater whom Trigiani describes as "the opposite of a speck. He's a giant, the tallest man in the Gap, at six feet seven." In Big Cherry Holler, there is an incident involving Spec's girlfriend and his wife.
On a book signing, Trigiani was approached by the "real" Spec, who sports a different last name.
"He's actually about 3-foot-11 and didn't mind being painted as a womanizer," Trigiani said. "I found out two things that day. [Men] don't care if you make them taller or if you make them sexy."
Otto and Worley are also real-life people whose last names were changed for the novel. Trigiani met them during a break from her studies at Saint Mary's. When they found out that they were in the book, her father had to call her.
"He said, `I have good news and I have bad news,'" Trigiani said. "`The bad news is that Otto and Worley have heard they are in the novel. The good news is that they can't read.'"
As for the real "Jack Mac," Ave Maria's love interest, Trigiani just laughs.
"He is now the biggest sex symbol in Wise County," she said.
In reality, however, Trigiani referred to him as a "demented Burt Reynolds."
Trigiani even ran into difficulty with her publishers and editors over her name and Ave Maria publishing when they were preparing to print an Italian edition. Trigiani was allowed to keep her name, although Ave Maria Mulligan became Maria Mulligan in the final edition.
As she approaches production on the film and begins casting, Trigiani is beset by many townspeople. According to Trigiani, the most popular role for the women of Big Stone Gap is the cameo made by Elizabeth Taylor back when she was still married to Virginia senator John Warner.
"Everyone looks in the mirror and says, `You know, I think I look a little bit like [Taylor,]'" Trigiani said.
Like her main character, Trigiani was one of the only Italians growing up in Big Stone Gap, but the similarity stops there. Trigiani was not involved much in her hometown, whereas Ave Maria is an integral part of the framework of Big Stone Gap.
"The person who isn't doing anything is a writer," Trigiani said. "You make things up all the time because no one will play with you."
Things have changed and Trigiani is now a best-selling author, playwright, director, screenwriter and successful television writer. In New York, Trigiani has written for The Cosby Show, A Different World and Good Sports.
Her comedy special, Growing Up Funny, received an Emmy nomination for Lily Tomlin and Lifetime Television.
Her third book is a conclusion to her Big Stone Gap novels and goes into production this Friday for release in July.
All News Stories for Tuesday, February 12, 2002