Bestselling author Jo Piazza chats with Zibby about The SICILIAN INHERITANCE, an utterly immersive, multigenerational mystery about a long-awaited trip to Sicily, a disputed inheritance, and a family secret that some will kill to protect. Jo talks about the real-life murder of her great-great-grandmother, Lorenza Marsala, which inspired this story, and then delves into her meticulous research process, from unraveling family secrets to immersing herself in Sicilian culture. She also talks about the evolution of her writing, what it’s been like to navigate motherhood, ambition, and the shifting landscape of publishing, and what she’s working on next (hint: retreat in Sicily).


Zibby: Welcome, Jo. Thank you so much for coming back on Mom's Dinner Time Tree Books to discuss The Sicilian Inheritance. Congratulations. 

Jo: Thank you for having me. I'm so excited. This is actually, it's my favorite book yet, and I know we're not supposed to say that because it's like picking your favorite child, but I also have a favorite child that I don't say out loud, so it is what it is.

Zibby: We're going to keep lots of secrets today is basically what's going to happen. No one's telling the kids. Oh my goodness. Well, this book is fabulous. You are fabulous. Your other books are fabulous too, but this book is great in its scope and breadth and the historical fiction element of it and the timelines.

And I mean, you do a lot in this book. Like you, you pull off a lot. It's pretty impressive. 

Jo: Thank you. Thank you. Yeah, I, it is. It's, it was a lot. It was a lot of research. It was a lot, a lot of digging. And you were one of the first people outside of, like, my family to read this book, too. You got it very early.

So I'm, I'm very excited to be talking to you about it today. 

Zibby: Oh, yay. Okay. Well, first of all, tell everybody what it's about, please. 

Jo: Yes. Yes, yes, yes. So The Sicilian Inheritance, I wanted to write the book that I want to read. Right? And so this is first and foremost an adventure. I want readers to have fun reading this book.

You know, there's just, there's so many books out there that we feel like we should read, but then we maybe don't enjoy them afterwards. And I'm like, I want you to walk away and be like, you know what? That was time well spent. That was time well spent. So it is an adventure set in Sicily. It's loosely based on the actual murder of my own great great grandmother, Lorenza Marsala, in Sicily a hundred years ago.

And I've always known that Lorenza was murdered before she could come to the U. S. I didn't know anything more than that. There's a lot of family myths, but we're Italian Americans, so we're just liars and storytellers, and I had no idea what was true. But I took that nugget of what would it be like to be a woman left alone without her husband for years, and I ran with it.

And then we created a modern day woman named Sarah Marsala, who lives here in Philadelphia, the greatest city in America, who goes back to Sicily to try to claim her birthright, land that her family owns, and on both of these timelines, it's a dual timeline, historical mystery. You have forces working against these women, the patriarchy, the mafia, who are trying to take them down, and Sarah has to solve this mystery, mostly, in, in order to stay alive, so, it's an adventure, it's a murder mystery, it's got delicious food, not gross sex, because I read a lot of gross sex in books, and I'm like, that's not the kind of sex that I have, so, it's good, good sex, but not weird sex, and, uh, the right amount of feminism and taking down the patriarchy. 

Zibby: Yeah, I got to throw that in, you know.

Jo: Right? Yeah. I mean, it's like, I tried, I actually tried to not do that. I tried to just, I'm like, just write a snappy, fun story. And then, you know, the feminism and the patriarchy always slips in there. 

Zibby: I know. Sometimes when I'm writing, I'm like, oh, I didn't think I was writing about this, but it turns out this deep held belief has actually snuck into my writing yet again.

And it's like, well, where do you think the writing's coming from? Right? 

Jo: It's all Every, every single time. Every time. 

Zibby: All the things you're thinking about. Yeah. So How did you do this? But like, okay, yes, you, you're inspired by the story of your family, but that is a long way away from the creation of this epic read.

What did you do next? Like, where did you start and how did you go through it like systematically to create the project? 

Jo: This project has had a lot of different lives and a lot of different versions, and I personally love hearing authors talk about that because I know that people who are trying to write their first novel are like, I wrote this thing and I don't think it's right and I don't think it's good.

I had three different versions of this that I threw away, the first 50 pages. The story has been completely different. Many different times. So I first started writing this about five years ago. Like I said, I had this nugget of an idea. And I also said to Nick, my husband, You know, I want to write something for myself.

I love this idea. I love this story. I had been selling novels on a hundred pages and then, you know, you're writing them for someone else. You're writing them quickly for the publisher. And I'm like, I'm going to finish this whole thing. I'm just going to do it for me and maybe it doesn't sell, but I'm going to do the, do all of it.

And then life got in the way, I wrote some more books with Christine, we did We Are Not Like Them, You Are Always Mine, did that project for Younger that was awesome, Mary's Marriage Vacation, love Younger so much, and Then I picked it back up and I'm, I realized the story I had written was not, was not the right thing.

And I scrapped all of those pages and started working on it again in the pandemic. And that was kind of when it really came alive because during the pandemic we couldn't travel anywhere. And all I wanted to do was think about these trips that I had taken to Sicily. I've been to Sicily about 10 times at this point.

And that's when it started flowing. I didn't have an outline. I don't work with an outline. I knew sort of where I wanted to go and kind of where I wanted to end, and I sat down, got my butt in the seat, and wrote 2, 000 words a day, and then waited to see what would happen. And it did. And I don't believe in magic or woo woo.

I'm not religious, but I believe that this happens with books. And so it started flowing. And then some of the greatest characters I've ever written came out. We have this one character, Juicy. She's a Sicilian woman. I love her so much. I want to write a TV show just based on Juicy. But I had no idea she was going to exist when I sat down to write this book.

And I didn't know how it was going to end. And suddenly, it came to me. And so, it's been a long process. This book is the longest that I've ever worked on anything and I think that's why, I, it's so meaningful to me and I care so much about it. 

Zibby: I would, first of all, totally watch a TV show called Juicy.

That's a great name for a show. 

Jo: Right? Yeah, 100%. Yeah, yeah, yeah. From our lips to my agency ers. Hey guys, are you listening? 

Zibby: Someone, someone out there is hearing this and we will all be watching Juicy. Yeah. Um, can I just read just so people who haven't maybe read any of your books, I don't know if that's even possible, but maybe there's one or two people out there who haven't yet, um, just to see how you write and like your style of writing.

Can I just read like. 

Jo: Oh my God, please do. And also no one has read aloud to me from this book yet. So I might cry. Yeah. Get it. Get it. Yeah. 

Zibby: Yeah. Love that. Okay. This is chapter one. I'm going to, well, I, I was going to skip the prologue, but I guess I could. No, I want to read chapter one. 

Jo: Okay, chapter one, because I, do you want to do the Italian?

There's Italian in the prologue, and that trips me up every time I read it. 

Zibby: I'm going to skip the Italian. Thank you very much. I took like, Three sessions of an Italian class after college when I was like, I'm bored. What should I do? I'm gonna learn Italian. And I was like, no, I'm not. I'm actually not gonna learn Italian.

So I stopped going. Anyway, okay, Sarah, two weeks earlier. I often tried to pinpoint the exact moment when the life I'd worked so hard for began to fall apart. Because there's always a beginning. A place where you've screwed up so badly, there's no putting it back together. It's what happens when you slice through the wrong tendon in a flank of meat.

I ran a restaurant for years, but I started as a butcher, so I still think in terms of joints and muscles, the connective tissue of life. Cut the right one, and you end up with a perfect steak. Cut the wrong one, and the whole system breaks down. The meat falls apart in the places where you want it to stay close to the bone.

Once you make that single wrong cut, it's nearly impossible to keep everything else intact. When did I make the wrong cut? I mean, that is so good. Like, it's so good. How can you not want to keep reading after that? 

Jo: I mean, I hope everyone listening wants to keep reading after that. That was, that was, I am crying a little bit because I, like I said, I haven't heard it read out loud yet.

Zibby: It's really good because immediately what you do is You get people thinking about themselves, which people love to do, right? Like, when did my life fall? How did I go off track? Like, when did this happen to me? And we're visualizing something so specific that we're all in it, everyone knows what it thinks and feels and smells like and tastes.

So like, you've quickly gotten people out of their own lives into some sort of scene. And yet reflecting on their deepest darkest thing. I mean, it's, that's a lot to do in like a paragraph. That's not even the whole page. 

Jo: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And I also, you know, I've got to say, I love Sarah, who's the modern day woman in this book.

She's a butcher. And I loved writing a lady butcher. I really did. I, you know, as, as I'm kind of, I guess, maturing in my, in my author life, I really like talking about careers that we don't see as much on the page. I'm working on a podcast episode right now that I think you'll really like about how influencers in novels are the new magazine editors.

We used to see magazine editors in rom coms and, you know, pretty much most of women's commercial literature for a long time, and now we're seeing influencers. As the job and it's fascinating to me how influencers are being written into fiction and I just want to see women doing doing other stuff aside from being influencers, you mean aside from being influencers or someone that works in magazines or newspapers.

We also see a lot of advertising executives and marketing executives. And so, yeah, I want to see I want to see the crossing guard. I want to see a construction worker or contractor or a badass butcher. 

Zibby: Yeah. Well, all the first jobs that you don't want to see, those are like where my mind works. Like those are jobs I've had or tried or, you know, that's like where a lot of, not a lot, but like many authors have similar makeups in terms of like the things they're good at or interested in.

And it's all about like human behavior when you come down to it, right? 

Jo: Totally. It's also all about what we know. In fact, I mean, I'm going through my mind and thinking about the jobs that my main characters have had in the past. Nine novels that I've written and they're all in media somehow. Mm, they are Because it's what I know.

And you write what you know. Yeah. But well actually no. Politics. A little bit. Politics. Politics. Yeah. Yeah. Totally. Totally. But even in, we Are Not Like Them, which was a book about social justice and race. Our main character Ri was a, a newscaster and she was a journalist. So like, it just, it always. That's what you do.

You write what you know. And I, I kind of really pushed myself to not do that this time. 

Zibby: Well, this is good too. I had a meeting a while back with this producer person, and they were like, okay, so the kind of things we want to produce are industries that you don't ever see, like something that's unexpected, like, you know, a remote farm where you're working in a mill or and I'm like, Okay, so in the back of my head since that conversation, I'm like okay, worlds that I'm not as familiar with, and here you are being like, it's the butcher life.

It's like yes, that's exactly what, because people want to learn what they don't always have. 

Jo: Absolutely. I think that's why people were so obsessed with the bear. You're like, oh my gosh, I know nothing about what it's like to work in a deli. True. Also, he's hot. Yeah, I mean, he's like, super hot, so, yeah, that's why.

Zibby: I was gonna get into that, but I'm not. 

Jo: Those Calvin Klein ads, Zibby! 

Zibby: Okay, the Calvin Klein ads. 

Jo: I was he's in his, it's the first time I've liked a Calvin Klein ad in a long time. 

Zibby: But before that, did you think he was hot? 

Jo: Like, I've seen I did not think he was hot in the show. No. In the first season, they made him hotter.

Post pilot, you can tell that in the beginning of, you can tell in the pilot that they didn't think he was gonna be hot, and then they start to get wise to it and they're like, oh, we're gonna play this up. Cause people, people are into you. So he's definitely hot second season. 

Zibby: Okay, well maybe I'll, that's, that's an ad for second season.

But anyway. Uh, so when you decided to write about a woman being a butcher, what did you do next? 

Jo: I, well, you know, I'm a journalist first and foremost, so I talk to a lot of butchers. I talk to a lot of, of lady butchers. I read memoirs by female butchers. You know, we actually, we had this amazing, uh, woman owned and run, uh, I was about to say female, I'm like, that is too many woman words, shop in Philadelphia.

And I was desperate to do a class with her, but it was the pandemic. And so we, we couldn't end up doing it. And I actually haven't even gotten to talk to her, which is crazy because I remember reading this profile of her five years ago and thinking, female butcher. That's cool. But yeah, I did a lot. A lot of research, mostly just so I would get the butchering and restaurant things right.

She also, Sarah also runs a restaurant. And so I've talked to a lot of women restaurant owners about how impossibly hard it is for a woman to be a chef, to own a restaurant. And that's a big part of this book. A big part of the book that I also hadn't expected to creep in, but again, our lives bleed onto the page is motherhood.

and choosing motherhood and privileges in motherhood and just how hard it is. For both women, for our character a hundred years ago, and for our modern day character, to be ambitious and also be a mother. And all of the chefs that I talked to that were women and restaurant owners said, it's it's impossible.

You're you're at a restaurant every single night. Being being a mother and being a successful restaurant owner are. Are really, really not possible to do at the same time. And we see Sarah's world start to fall apart because of that. And she says this, she was trying to give everything she had to both of her babies, to her restaurant and to her actual child.

And she couldn't do it. She felt like she was failing one all of the time. And I think most mothers can relate to that. I mean, I know I can. That. I feel, especially with this novel and nurturing books and podcasts, I feel like I'm either failing that or I'm failing my three kids. And that, that is a thing that just snuck in there, snuck into the novel.

Zibby: Yeah, we just can't, can't seem to cut that out. It interferes. How do you handle the kids and doing everything? I mean, I know that's such a broad question, but You know, the other, yesterday, my son had the day off of school and I, I was, and he's like, you barely hung out with me. And I was like, well, I didn't have the day off yesterday.

Like, I, I have my job. I have my work. Like, I can't just, it's your snow day or whatever. It's your, so, um, and then I was like, all these articles say that I'm supposed to say something like, and look at how much fun it is. Like, you know, you, I hope you find something you're as passionate about and instead I was like, stop giving me a guilt trip.

Jo: Totally. Totally. Exactly. Exactly. I yeah, I like talking about how I manage it all because I don't think we talk about it enough. I think that there's a lot of, you know, also hiding, caregiving and childcare. So we have a full time, mostly, mostly full time caregiver. And although she's in school now, so she does go to class every day at 3:30. So now I'm, I'm full time, full time mom or Nick is full time dad starting at 3. 30 every day. But everyone has to do what they have to do. And I want her to get this nursing degree. So, but we have helped with all three of our kids. And that's, that's amazing. I couldn't do what I did in the past three years without, and we've had that since my second was four months old.

Yes, could not do what I do without that kind of help. I also have a super supportive husband. 

Zibby: I was going to say, pause for two seconds, because I know you referenced podcasts and writing and whatever, but could you just for people who don't know you as well, talk about the many things that you are doing all at the same time?

Jo: Yeah, yeah, totally. Like I said, I was a journalist for a long time. I still consider myself journalist adjacent, but, and I've gone through this massive overhaul of media with all of the different platforms, right? I thought I would spend my life in print journalism. That didn't happen. So then it's digital, it's social, it's podcasts.

And I recently started my own podcast production company after working with iHeart for about six years because I realized, wow, I can, I can do a lot of this on my own. I'm currently doing three podcasts on my own, uh, Under the Influence, which is about, it started out as a podcast about influencers and social media, and now it's really what it is like to be a woman in the world.

We just got my podcast Committed back from iHeart, so I'm relaunching Committed, which is a podcast about marriage, and we're working on a podcast related to the Sicilian inheritance right now, which, is so crazy. It's a true crime podcast where I'm trying to solve the actual murder of my great, great grandmother.

Went back to Sicily, it's White Lotus meets Only Murders in the Building, and we get a lot closer to solving it. We're not there yet, but, yet, but we're not done. We're going back to Sicily in a few weeks, so. Oh my gosh. Yeah, yeah, a lot of, a lot of podcasts. You're a detective on top of everything else. I'm a detective.

I'm totally Steve Martin and Martin Short at the same time. 

Zibby: Well, it just doesn't end. Okay, so anyway, back to what you were saying. And also, you have this book, but you have your books that you co write, and are you writing another one of those, by the way? 

Jo: I am, yeah. Christine Pride is my co writer. We did We Are Not Like Them and You Were Always Mine, and we have another one coming out, which is kind of a domestic thriller that also deals with race in intimate relationships called I Never Knew You At All, and we are about halfway through that right now.

Zibby: Wow. Do you ever just feel like, I just don't? When I get out of bed and I can't deal with any of this stuff today. 

Jo: Yeah. I mean, I don't think you're human if you don't feel like that. I think it's so overwhelming and exhausting. And I kick my own ass out of bed on a regular basis. And like I said, much like my character, I feel like I'm failing my career or I'm failing my kids.

My, my kid is home right now. There was a two hour delay for school. I think that also the world has, has gotten a lot more scared of snow and ice. Like, I remember there were snow days when I was a kid, where it's like, there's like three feet of snow and you freakin go to school and now they're like, the sidewalk might be icy.

Yeah. So, there's a, there's a two hour delay. I'm really worried about my kids. anyone walking on ice. But, so he's home right now until 10 and thank the Lord we have someone here so I could do this podcast, right? And she's gonna take him to school. And, but this morning he's like, what, you're not gonna hang out with me?

And I'm like, no, we're not. That's, I, I'm going to work and my workday starts at nine, just like you. But yeah, it's, it's a hard thing to, uh, Explain to kids when they're like, woohoo, I'm off. Let's do, let's play dinosaurs. 

Zibby: Exactly. Well, at least it's not just me. So that's good. When you think about The Sicilian Inheritance, which character, aside from Juicy, did you, well, let's not even know, let me ask something different.

Which character did you struggle with the most? Like, who did you have to go back and rewrite and rewrite and, or if anybody? 

Jo: Yeah, that's such a, that's such a good question. I have to say, the character in the past timeline is Serafina, and she is a woman who gets pregnant when she's a teenager. She doesn't get pregnant.

want to have kids that young. She wants to try to go to school, which was a near impossible thing for a Sicilian woman to do back in 1910. She was very ambitious and she was kind of forced into a life of motherhood and being a wife that she didn't want. Writing, I rewrote her a lot because this is my first time writing.

In the past, writing something that is partly historical fiction, and I wanted her voice to feel right. And that's hard. It's really hard. I did a lot of research into what it was like to be a woman back in Cicely during this time, but that didn't really help. You just have to figure out who they are. And so I probably rewrote her more than I rewrote any other character, just to figure out who she was.

Zibby: Wow. Yeah, sometimes that's the only way, right? You have to like, get deeper and deeper in. I don't know. 

Jo: Get deeper and deeper in, and there's so much that I wrote, because I know a lot of people who are just getting started writing have a hard time with throwing away words that they've written. They're like, well, oh my gosh, I invested so much time, I don't want to get rid of it.

I threw away so many words with this book, but the only way to get to the end is through. And so, I don't think they're wasted if you get rid of them. They're, like, they're leading you to where you need to get. 

Zibby: Yes. Will there be some sort of Sicilian retreat or group trip of any kind? 

Jo: Yes, there is, Zibby.

I'm so glad you brought that up. So, I'm in the midst of planning a Sicilian storytelling retreat for this summer. And it's not just writing, it's storytelling. How do you tell a story? So that can be in writing or in podcasting. And so our podcast producer is going to be there. I'm going to be there. And, I mean, It's going to be pretty great.

It's just going to be on a cliff overlooking the ocean in Sicily. And we are also closer to book launch, I think, going to try to figure out a way to do a big giveaway for people that pre order the book, which is great. And also will be so difficult to figure out how to do it. But I'm also, the cool thing is I've been giving away free subscriptions to our newsletter over the influence when people pre order the book, because books are expensive.

And I just think You know, you should give, you should give someone something, something for, for picking up your book. And, and that's been really great because we're just, you know, broadening our community and reaching more readers. 

Zibby: That is smart. That is very smart. You're, you're so good. See, it's also the business of being this brand yourself that you're honing and, you know, really well, right?

Like you put a lot of thought into all of that too. It's like behind the scenes stuff, but it's part of what has helped like catapult you, you know? 

Jo: I really, I think so. And I think that, you know, you used to, we used to live in a world where you'd write books and you'd be like a magazine editor at large.

And now it's hustle, hustle, hustle. And you hustle harder than almost anyone I know. And that's, I could write books all day long. That's what people ask me. They're like, what's the hardest, hardest part about being an author? I could write, I can write. all the time. It's selling yourself. It's selling the book.

It's reaching new readers and, and having the book find an audience. That's the hardest thing. I've gotten really gorilla with this book. We, like I said, we're giving away, uh, subscriptions to the Substack. We also printed out this massive poster board and put it on the back of our e bike that we bike our kids to school every morning.

Kind of like what you would see when, like, during an election. We put posters up in our window. I put I am trying to reach readers eyes wherever they are, because that's what you would do with any other product. I get 50 emails a week from Voiree Sweatpants, and I will eventually, and I will eventually I have like six of theirs.

Right? Right? But on the seventh email, I will buy those Rory sweatpants. And so I'm like, why not do that with books? Like it's, it's the exact, we're trying to sell a product and get it in front of people and that's what I'm doing. 

Zibby: Totally. Actually, you should really partner with Viari Sweatpants. Right.

Jo: That's a great idea. I will email them as soon as we get off the phone. And then I'll let them know that you want to partner with them, too. And we'll create a whole Viari Sweatpants thing for the books. For all the books. 

Zibby: What they could do is each color sweatpants, we could pair with another book that kind of like matches.

Jo: Yep. 100%. 100%. Yep. Okay. Done. Done, Zibby. Done. I knew this was going to happen. I knew it. I knew when we got on the phone we were going to come up with some business idea and now, great, we're doing it. Rory, we're coming for you. 

Zibby: Okay. Well, Jo, congratulations. This is amazing. Your book is fabulous. You are fabulous.

I'm so excited to watch you go rogue and do whatever you're going to do and to find, you know, rip off flyers next time I'm like going to the bathroom somewhere. So anyway, I'm very excited. 

Jo: Exactly. Exactly. Hey, you're a captive audience, okay? When you're in the bathroom, you're a captive audience. 

Zibby: You know, I mean.

Jo: I know. Airplane. 

Zibby: Anyway. 

Jo: All the places. 

Zibby: All the places. Congratulations. 

Jo: Thank you. 

Zibby: Okay, now really quick speed round. Okay, Jo, a book that you've recently finished that you loved. 

Jo: I just finished Demon Copperhead, which I know everyone is talking about, and I'm so lame for saying that, but I also, I'm very into the Finley Donovan series by Elle Cosimano, and I'm doing an event with Elle in like a few weeks now.

And so I just finished her new one, Finley Donovan Rolls the Dice, and they're just, they're a delight to read. I want to read things, especially after Demon Copperhead, I'm like, I need something light. It's something smart and light and, and all of her books are just a joy. 

Zibby: What are you streaming or what, what have you seen lately?

Movie? TV? 

Jo: I am on the second season of The Gilded Age. I did not realize there was a second season and it's so easy to watch while you're doing other stuff and that's what I need. I need something that can just kind of be on the background and I can tune in and out and it's just, it's Downton Abbey e- delicious.

Zibby: Perfect. And a product you're obsessed with aside from Dior sweatpants. 

Jo: I mean, I do like Vuari, I can't even say it, Vuari, Vuari Sweatpants. I've recently gotten very into Quince Sweatpants. They also, their, their big push was, they have these great sustainable cashmere sweaters, but after they became a sponsor of, under the influence they sent me a bunch of pants to try out and they're like putting a cloud on your legs.

They've got these joggers that are great and these yoga pants that are great. So I'm super into those and also a bonus one. I love the new Jenny Kane Oak Street Face Balm which I'm wearing right now which makes you look like a queen. Glowy, and I don't normally look glowy because I'm buttoned up on menopause.

So my skin is dried and weathered and I look like the Crip keeper, but it makes it, it makes me look shiny and influencer. 

Zibby: Perfect. Well, thank you for all of the tips and congrats on the Sicilian inherit. 

Jo: Thank you. 


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