Francesca Giacco, SIX DAYS IN ROME

Francesca Giacco, SIX DAYS IN ROME

Debut novelist Francesca Giacco joins Zibby to talk about her book, Six Days in Rome. Francesca shares her connection to and love for Italy which inspired the novel, as well as how the story features an amalgamation of her personal experiences. The two also discuss Francesca’s thoughts on traveling alone, her experience selling this book during the pandemic, and her favorite food to order when she goes to Italy.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Francesca. Thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Six Days in Rome.

Francesca Giacco: Yay. Happy to be here. It’s a pleasure.

Zibby: We were just chatting about our mutual friend, Lea Carpenter. Lea, thank you so much for this wonderful introduction, if you’re listening. Six Days in Rome just totally transported me. It was amazing. You have a real gift for these really impactful, short sentences scattered throughout that stay with me. I just wanted to read a couple of them. Then I want you to explain to everybody what your book is about and all of that. You said at one point, “He did tell me once that the reason we love someone is because we share their adjectives.” I love that. I love that sentence.

Francesca: Thank you.

Zibby: Wait, there was one more. “Rome doesn’t know what to do with a woman alone.”

Francesca: Also true.

Zibby: What is the book about? Then let’s get deeper in.

Francesca: The book, on its face, Emilia, the main character, is supposed to go to Rome for six days with her boyfriend. She finds out he’s married. They break up. She decides to go anyway. The resulting trip is really a self-discovery journey. It has to do with grief in many forms, heartbreak in many forms, art, creativity. Emilia is an artist. She’s the child of artists. Her father is a famous musician. Her mother is a visual artist in her own right. Rome is obviously a city that is full of character and art and food and wine. She experiences all of it at this pivotal moment in her own life. Along the way, she does meet someone. She meets an ex-pat named John who is living in the city who has sort of run away from his life in a different way. They meet at catalystic, if that’s a word, moments for them both and figure each other out, in a way.

Zibby: This is your first novel. Congratulations.

Francesca: It is. Thank you.

Zibby: How did this come to be?

Francesca: I’ve been writing, gosh, it feels like my whole life. I’d gone through many different ideas for novels in the past. I spent my thirtieth birthday, part of it, alone in Rome. It’s a city that I’ve had a relationship to. I’ve been there many times throughout my life. The way I feel about it has always been sort of a mystery to me. I’ve spent more time in other places. I speak French. I don’t really speak Italian very well. I’m a bit of a fish out of water there. Being in Rome has always made me feel really calm, really at peace. When I’m there, for some reason, I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be.

Zibby: Is your family from Italy? Are you Italian?

Francesca: Yes. My grandfather was born there, born in Campania, which is even funnier. Because I have this very Italian name, people expect me to speak Italian. It’s more of a question mark when I don’t. I’m trying to get better because I’m actually going to Italy on Thursday. I’m trying to improve. Setting the novel in Rome was, in a lot of ways, trying to figure out exactly what the city means to me and why it has the effect on me that it does. The other big catalyst for this story in particular was the experience of traveling alone, which is something that I’ve done a fair amount of in my life. It’s a very polarizing topic. People feel one way or another about it. People are terrified of doing it or love it. It’s hard to find someone who feels sort of lukewarm about traveling alone. I think it’s such a unique experience. The tradition of the flaneur, the wanderer, is such an interesting one in literature. I wanted to approach it in my own way. Traveling alone is such an interesting way to experience a place and where you are in your life at that moment and how the two intersect. That was really the impetus behind the narrative. I wanted to see if I could take a reader on that journey of where you are in the present versus how your past comes into it and get that down on the page. That was the task.

Zibby: Wait, so what was your first trip alone? How did you end up going alone?

Francesca: My first trip alone, I think it was probably to Paris. Yeah, it was to Paris when I was in college, early in college. Paris is a city that I’d always romanticized, as so many people do. I’ve spent a lot of time there in my life. At this point, I didn’t know it very well at all. The big, eye-opening thing about that trip was I learned that I could be self-sufficient in a way that I hadn’t really been tested before. It was eye-opening. Part of traveling alone is, it’s not always pretty. It’s not cinematic. Things go wrong. You feel lonely. You’re sitting at a bar, and you have to sort of fend for yourself. To learn that I could do that and it could be rewarding in its own way was incredibly eye-opening. In the book, there are a lot of conversations with strangers. There are a lot of encounters like that. I love that. Even living in New York, that happens to me pretty frequently. People just tell you things when you’re sitting alone at a bar and vice versa. It’s a fascinating way to experience a place even if you live there.

Zibby: I’m not sure I’ve spent much time alone at bars in New York, but I have lived there my whole life.

Francesca: I recommend it.

Zibby: I think I’d be more likely to be getting lunch somewhere, a book, or something like that. Although, I don’t know. Post-COVID, I’ve become almost — what’s the word when you’re afraid to leave your house? I feel like I spend so much time in my house. I’ll think of it. Anyway, I want to talk about — wait, I had a question. In the book — this is such a random point. Emilia can’t sleep on planes. She says that she hallucinates with gummies and sleeping pills and all of that. Is that a you thing, or that was just a random detail?

Francesca: It’s definitely a me thing. I’ve made that mistake. It’s one of those things where I should’ve learned it long ago. I’m about to take this trip to Rome on Thursday. I’ll make the same mistake again. I know it. I can’t sleep sitting up. I’m so jealous of people who can. It doesn’t matter how tired I am. I’ve tried everything. Nothing really works. We’ll keep trying.

Zibby: Do you have sleeping issues on a regular basis? Can you sleep at home?

Francesca: I can sleep at home fine. If I’m horizontal, great. It’s just traveling. I can’t figure it out.

Zibby: It’s really hard. It’s definitely not the best sleep. Sometimes I wake up, though, at home, and I’m like, wow, I feel like I slept on an airplane last night. I’ve woken up so many times or whatever.

Francesca: Worst-case scenario.

Zibby: Exactly. There’s a passage about books that I found really interesting when Emilia is talking about reading the rest of the books of Michael. They were Michael’s books, right? She’s going back and reading all the things that he had written. First, she says, “That first book changed who he was to me, what he could be, all before we’d spoken for longer than ten minutes.” Then you go down and say, “The joy and hunger those books gave me then, the sense of possibility of being with or even just around this brilliant person who could write a heartbreakingly perfect sentence just as easily as whisper something delicious and filthy in my ear or touch my wrist in a way that made me feel understood, it makes me a little sad now, sad now to know I’ll never read any of them ever again.” I love that passage.

Francesca: Thank you.

Zibby: Tell me about that.

Francesca: To be perfectly honest, it’s the pitfalls of falling in love with a writer and any kind of creative person. Creativity is a big touchstone in this book, to be creative and to know and love creative people. Reading the book that’s written by someone you care for and are close to is — I don’t really know that there’s a similar experience. It’s an insight into who they are as a person, the way their mind works. It’s an incredibly intimate thing, especially to read early drafts of something or before something is polished and finished. For someone like Emilia, who is an artist herself, I think she places a great amount of importance on creative work. She takes it very much to heart. She’s a great admirer of his. Her ex, Michael, who she was supposed to go to Rome with, is a writer. She loves him. She wants to know him. He won’t let her. The books are one way she tries.

Zibby: Wow. It is sort of funny, the thought that now you don’t have the option of shutting someone out once you have a book out there. My book is coming out very soon. It’ll probably be out by the time this airs. Just the thought that anybody could be like, “Oh, no, I already read your book and know everything about you,” by the time you say hello, that’s a very odd thing.

Francesca: Yours is a memoir, right?

Zibby: You don’t get to choose what you share.

Francesca: No, definitely not. It’s an incredibly vulnerable thing.

Zibby: You have clearly dated a writer, right? I’m guessing because it’s sounding like that came from a personal place. Let’s go there.

Francesca: It’s not a one-to-one. I want to be very clear. That was a formative relationship, for sure. I don’t know that I will ever date a writer again. Full disclosure. Someone whose mind works similarly to yours, that can be great. It can be horrible. I think it all just totally depends. I obviously have a great deal of admiration for people who are not just smart, but write beautifully. It obviously means a lot to me to know and read people like that. It was the combination of a lot of things. The attraction was layered. It also happened many years ago. I was much younger, so I think that that has a lot to do with it. Again, I set this book in Rome to figure out how I felt about Rome. I think I wrote some version of a past relationship to figure it out for myself. It’s how I make sense of a lot of things, to be honest.

Zibby: I think many people relate to that. It comes out in writing, fiction. It’s all these fragments. They all show up. It’s like going through one of those weird voice distortion machines where you put it in and it comes out a little differently, but it’s still a take on what you have been thinking.

Francesca: Totally.

Zibby: Tell me the story of selling this book and getting your first book deal and that excitement, I’m assuming. Tell me all about that.

Francesca: Oh, gosh. It’s funny. It all happened in COVID. The book sold in October 2020. I signed with my agent August of that year. It happened pretty quickly. I feel like once things started to be in motion, they sort of took on a momentum and life of their own. Signing with my agent was a magical experience in that she read my book in one day. It’s sort of what that relationship is supposed to be because that person is your advocate. I think they really just have to live and breathe for your book, which I really felt that she did. All the restaurants in Rome in the book are real places, but I don’t name any of them. When my agent read the book, she knew exactly what all of them were. When that happens, you’re like, okay, so the universe is trying to tell me something. I clearly need to work with this person. The experience of being out on submission, which is when the book goes out to different editors and they consider it, was one of the more stressful periods of my life. I believed in this book. I believe in it now. We talked about vulnerability. It doesn’t get more vulnerable than that. I don’t know how much people know this, but it’s not really enough for an editor to love your book. A lot of other people at the publishing house have to love it too. A lot of things have to fall into place. The money has to — it’s all connected. A lot of things have to line up. It was a very stressful two weeks. I was very happy to land at Grand Central. My editor is actually married to an Italian. She is in Italy right now.

Zibby: That’s wonderful. Two weeks, by the way, is short.

Francesca: It’s short. It was short but intense.

Zibby: Now I’m on the publishing side too. Sometimes I don’t even open — by the time it goes through different people or whatever — having submitted myself and been, every day, emailing my agent, “What about now? Who replied today? What’s the latest?” as a publisher, I try so hard to be like, let’s just get the word out. Somebody is sitting on pins and needles waiting for us.

Francesca: I know. I made the mistake — my agent asked me at the beginning, she was like, “Do you want to know selective news, or do you want to know everything?” I foolishly said I wanted to know everything. It was a little bit too much information for me. Next go-around, I might approach it differently.

Zibby: Interesting. Have you already written another book? Are you writing another book? What’s the latest with that?

Francesca: I’m writing, very early stages. I’m hoping to have a full draft by the end of the year. I’m nothing without a deadline, so I’m trying to figure out ways to put the heat on myself in that way so I actually finish. The wheels are turning.

Zibby: Awesome. What do you like to read? What are you reading right now?

Francesca: What am I reading right now? I’m about to go on this trip. I have six books in my suitcase, which is a little excessive.

Zibby: That sounds just like me.

Francesca: I always err on the side of more because you never want to be without. I just finished The God of Small Things, which I am incredibly late to but was wonderful. It’s interesting. I really love writing in a sensorial way. Staying close to the senses is something that has always really been a hallmark of the way that I write. Arundhati Roy, in that novel, she takes it a step further and is making up her own kind of language and idioms. It’s so cool. I feel like I’m going to be thinking about that book and its ending for a long time. I feel very lucky. I’m taking a galley of the new Kamila Shamsie with me to Italy. She wrote Home Fire. She has a new book called Best of Friends that’s out in September. I love her writing, so I’m really excited for that.

Zibby: Amazing. When you’re not writing and you live in the city, what do you like to do aside from go to bars by yourself?

Francesca: I do like to do a fair amount of that, and with friends. I do have friends who I love to go to bars with and restaurants with. It’s funny. Now that — well, I guess we can’t say COVID is over, but we’re starting to travel and be out in the world again, which I’m obviously very excited for. I never want to forget how New York was there for me during COVID in different ways. I wonder if you feel this way too. I live on 90th between Park and Lex. I’m right next to the reservoir and the Bridle Path and that part of Central Park. I’m a runner. I like to run probably three, four times a week. I remember when there was so little we could do and everything was standing still, just being able to go there every day and see how things were changing. It was spring at the end of COVID, so seeing how the park was changing. Even in these small, little ways, it just connected me back to the world, in a way. I won’t say it made me fall back in love with New York. I’ve lived here for so long. Like any long-term relationship, you go through ebbs and flows. We’re back in a flow.

Zibby: That’s great. I’ve never really considered my relationship with New York as a romantic one. Now I’m going to go reevaluate. I feel like I’ve been kind of annoyed at New York lately.

Francesca: Very easy to do. I’ve certainly — many, many times.

Zibby: Now I feel like, also, New York is sort of misbehaving. There’s so much crime right now.

Francesca: Oh, it is. It’s interesting times.

Zibby: Interesting times, yes. We need to reel back in New York City. the doghouse a little bit, or something. What advice would you have for aspiring authors?

Francesca: The biggest thing is, write every day. I have been delinquent in that lately. It’s interesting. I’m working on this new novel now. I wish I’d started it a year ago. It was advice that I got and I just ignored. I wish I hadn’t. I won’t again. I’d say write every day. Just stay connected with that part of yourself. The old story goes, the young aspiring writer asks the established one, how do I become a writer? The older one says, do literally anything else unless you can’t do anything else, in which case, write every day. It’s old advice, but I think it’s the only real advice I would have. It’s just what you have to do.

Zibby: I love that. Very true. Someone recently said if you’re not going into the document every day, then you might as well start over with a new novel every single time you start again.

Francesca: You have to stay connected to it. That’s why I’m one of those people that carries notebooks everywhere. A lot of this novel was composed of notes that I’ve written over the past five years. I have notes in my phone. Too many times, I’ve woken up at night and had a great idea. I’ll be like, oh, I’ll remember it in the morning. I never do. I don’t make that mistake anymore. You have to stay connected. I would agree with that.

Zibby: When you go to Rome this time, what are some of your favorite meals or dishes to order?

Francesca: I would say gricia pasta, mostly because I can’t get it here. It’s not as common on menus as an amatriciana or a carbonara. A really good Negroni, gricia. The concept of aperitivo doesn’t exist in New York. I’m really looking forward to that. I love just the fact that the city sort of, not shuts down, but lulls a little bit in that hour around six PM, seven PM. I’m actually going to Sicily for the first time this time. I’m really excited for all the food there that I’ve never experienced, all the seafood. They have a very different way of life and way of living in Sicily, so I’m excited to experience that.

Zibby: I’m very jealous. That’s amazing. Very, very jealous. Thank you so much, Francesca. This has been so fun. Thank you for whisking me away to Rome by reading your book. Even though I can’t come with you, now I have, as you said, all the senses and what it feels like to be out and about and all of it. Thank you.

Francesca: Thank you, Zibby. It was so lovely to talk to you.

Zibby: You too. Good luck.

Francesca: Thank you. Bye.

Zibby: Bye.

Francesca Giacco, SIX DAYS IN ROME

SIX DAYS IN ROME by Francesca Giacco

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