OLIVE BRANCHES DON’T GROW ON TREES (2012)

Short Description

Drawing on her own background, Grace Mattioli has created a warring but loveable Italian-American family, who just can’t seem to get along. While they all have their individual problems, youngest daughter, Silvia Greco, hopes that she can bring the family together to celebrate the graduation of her little brother, and in so doing offer an olive branch of peace to the disgruntled factions. What follows is an energetic, funny, and endearing tale of a twentysomething woman with an incurable need to keep moving, but without any real sense of direction. As she finds her own way, so too she hopes to help her family put their problems aside.

Long Description

After working several dead-end jobs since graduating art school and moving around the country, Silvia finds herself broke and living back at home in New Jersey living with her crazy father, Frank. She contemplates what went wrong for a short while when she’s drafted into helping her mother, Donna, unite her feuding family together for her younger brother’s high school graduation party. Silvia and her three siblings have not been gathered together in over six years and her parents, Frank and Donna, are newly separated. Well-aware of the enormity of the challenge at hand given the many inter-family conflicts and stubbornness of her family, she takes it on with enthusiasm as it serves as a diversion from her current life situation.

She goes about appealing to each family member by individualizing each one’s needs and wants and by sometimes telling white lies. For instance, she tells her older sister Angie, who is preoccupied with appearances, that her absence at the party will look really bad. In her journey to gather her family together, she learns that peace is not something that is readily existing but something that needs to be cultivated. In other words, she learns that olive branches don’t grow on trees. She also comes to realize that uniting them together is not just about ensuring that her brother has a nice way to commemorate his graduation. It is about preventing her family from devolving into families like her parents’ in which siblings are estranged from each other. At the heart of her journey, lies her father’s alcoholism and she goes about trying t0 sober him up.

While trying to make peace in her family, she goes about her day to day life, nude modeling in the art school she attended in Philadelphia, getting a job as a manager in a candy store in a nearby mall, wondering what sort of career path she will take and where she will move next. When she realizes that her own restlessness and tendency to move from place to place is directly correlated with the lack of peace in her own family, creating peace in her family takes on a whole new dimension and importance.

Despite the seriousness of the issues dealt with in this novel, humor abounds. Her younger brother Vince believes the recent preponderance of war novels to be a government conspiracy. Donna is sexually assaulted at Disney World by the Three Little Pigs. Frank chases a centipede around the house with a broom, proclaiming “these God damned bugs run around here like they own the place!”

Review Excerpts

“The author weaves a moving and realistic portrayal of a dysfunctional family with enough drama and humorous family situations that will keep the reader engaged and entertained, while providing…subtle messages of life lessons to extend the olive branch and learn to live, love and forgive.” Jersey Girl Book Reviews

“The sequences of Silvia’s recollections into the past with her strong willed, born ahead of her time grandmother, the jobs she has held, and lost as it were, are nothing short of brilliant.” Chapters and Chats Book Reviews

“Grace’s intimate knowledge of her subject shows in her frank and open style of writing, which invites the reader into the lives of the Greco family, as though they were long lost friends and therefore there is no need to stand on ceremony, or pretend that things are not just as they are. An amazingly perceptive, cleanly written and well told story, marks Grace Mattioli’s debut novel.” Fiction-books.biz Book Reviews

“The author…manages to make us care about this family. All of the Grecos…are entertaining and their quirks are endearing. OLIVE BRANCHES DON’T GROW ON TREES is a very real drama that gets to the heart of the conflict within the Greco family.” Indie Reader Reviews

Best of 2012, Suspense Magazine!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DISCOVERY OF AN EAGLE (2014)

Short Description

When Cosmo Greco and his sister, Silvia Greco drive to Portland together, a soulful American road trip is set in motion, but when a near-fatal car crash threatens to do more than derail the trip, the story takes a thoughtful turn, forcing Cosmo to re-evaluate his life. With wit and insight, Mattioli approaches such issues fear of change and what it takes to be truly happy.

 

Long Description

When 28-year-old Cosmo Greco gets laid off from his IT job in Philadelphia, the first thought that pops into his head is how he’ll spend the rest of the day divided between the comic book shop and the cafe. He leaves his former place of work feeling renewed, goes home to clean his house and is served a notice from his landlord about an upcoming rent increase. Fears about his financial situation ensue but he doesn’t have long to fret when his younger sister Silvia persuades him to travel out to Portland, Oregon with him. He accepts reluctantly thinking that the trip will give him a renewed sense of appreciation for his life as it is. But when they are in a near fatal car accident in the beginning of the trip, he realizes the true unpredictability of life and that death is imminent.

This wake-up call causes him to question his life and to realize that he’s been in a rut and is bored and unfulfilled. He wants to start living life more fully. A number of encounters he has along the way reinforce this realization. He meets a blues musician who’s filled with passion for his art, a quirky cowboy who speaks in poetic verse for his lost love, a dying woman who, having lived a good life, is at peace with going on to the next world and Hopi artisans, who although monetarily poor, seem content. When he and Silvia stay in a youth hostel in Flagstaff, he remembers his brief college days when he studied astronomy which was his passion. He sorely regrets dropping out and losing his passion in life.

Midway through the trip, they visit the Grand Canyon and he sees a bald eagle flying through the sky and Silvia tells him how she loves eagles because of what they symbolize–strength, courage, immortality, divinity, spirit. He realizes that he’s discovered, on this trip, the eagle that resides within him and knows that he can’t turn back. But shortly afterwards, he hears from a former colleague who tells him the lay-off is over and that he’s in line for a promotion. Although he doesn’t want to go back to his former life, he knows that not doing so would be foolish and unpractical.

Silvia and Cosmo are both products of growing up in an alcoholic household although they juxtapose each other very nicely with the the former being a restless spirit who can’t stay still and stick something out and the latter being an underachiever who settles and can’t get moving. While she pushes him to get going and live more fully, he teaches her to stop moving and be more present. Together, they make it to the other side of the country, while learning powerful messages along the way which allows Cosmo to undergo a spiritual transformation.

Review Excerpts

“A warm blend of travel and observation, family interrelationships, and reflections that ultimately capture the meaning and purpose of getting away and journeying to new places…a soaring story of one man’s exploration of new possibilities, new worlds, and ultimately, a newfound purpose to life.” D. Donovan, Midwest Book Review

“The characters the two siblings meet along the way-whether delightfully crazy or attractive or lost-serve as foils for a kind of personal growth particular to a road-trip scenario, and the landscape of the vast space between the East and West coasts acts as a catalyst for emotional and spiritual change. Mattioli writes in an assured voice that carries the story through its potentially sentimental passages, and…by the end, (readers) may be surprised to find that they, too, have undergone an emotional odyssey…poignant and well-drawn.” Kirkus Reviews

“As you feel yourself traveling with these Grecos, you see Cosmo’s world open and expand with each cathartic, soothing and beautiful scene or person he discovers…If you are longing for change, feel stuck in your lifestyle and want to discover America come with Silvia and Cosmo to find the beauty that lies past your present world.” Ruth Amernick, reviewer for Library Journal

“The book isn’t just about Cosmo’s journey. It takes a hard look at the lives we live, the monotony we assume is a part of adulthood and the mediocrity we’re content to settle for. Through Cosmo’s shoes, the reader’s perspectives are quietly opened to new possibilities.” The Lit Room Literature and Film Reviews

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE BRIGHTNESS INDEX (2016)

This small collection of short stories all take place in Arizona and the characters who inhabit the stories are as unique and colorful as the place itself.  There is Stacy in Just Bring Your Own Food, a reluctant diner waitress who’ll do anything to keep her job, including chase down a thief. How Doc Holiday Saved Me is the story of a college girl living in a haunted house in Tucson who meets a mysterious pizza delivery guy who helps her get out of her lease. In Crazy Ted: a love story, a blond blue eyed man moves from Pennsylvania to Flagstaff and lets his inner cowboy out and falls in love with a beautiful Navajo woman. Something he could see himself In is the story of a born-again Christian tattoo artist and his quest to find the perfect tattoo for the one remaining empty spot on his back. In So She Could See the Color Plue, a misfit wants desperately to fit in in the only place on earth where she can see the most magical colors in the sky. 

“…Grace Mattioli gives her short stories little twists to make seemingly-predictable plots turn into exceptional reads through a character’s gritty determination to rise above their circumstances…All these stories offer food for thought, and all are bound together by positive human contact. Set against an Arizona backdrop, they’re gems of interpersonal relationships that illustrate how “stuck” people become unstuck and change.” Midwest Book Review

 

A VERY WEALTHY POOR MAN (forthcoming)

Short Description

 

A Very Wealthy Poor Man is the story of a woman who spends her entire life trying to save her brother but he ends up saving her, giving her the fortitude to leave behind the life she believed to be the life she always wanted.

Long Description

Eighth-grader Donna is sitting in her brother, Vincent’s room admiring his paintings that hang on his wall and listening to the latest Beatles album, Let it Be. They live in their house in New Jersey with their parents and the rest of their large Italian-American family, six siblings in all. Vincent is a senior in high school and wants very badly to attend art school but his parents don’t want him to go. Donna tries to persuade them otherwise, but her efforts are unsuccessful. Eventually Donna is convinced that art school isn’t a good thing for Vincent when her mother says that many artists can’t provide for themselves. Vincent silently protests against his parent’s refusal by moving his bedroom furniture and belongings out on the front porch and living out there. He likes living outside and this metaphor is telling of his tendency and desire to live outside of convention.

A few years later, Vincent is visiting home from the liberal arts college he ends up attending and telling Donna about his philosophy course, in which he learned of Aristotle and his belief that happiness is the major goal of life. Donna starts to wonder what is necessary to achieve happiness and decides that it’s contingent upon having a spouse, children, a nice house and a dignified career. During Vincent’s visit, he and his father have a big fight, (a common occurrence) and his father kicks him out of the house. Their mother drives him back to college, with Donna and three of her siblings accompanying, and when he’s dropped off, she sees sadness in his eyes and decides that she will make it her mission to ensure that he lives a happy life.

As the years pass, she goes on acquiring the necessary ingredients for happiness—a spouse (Frank, a well-earning lawyer), children, a nice house and a dignified career. Vincent remains single, childless, working jobs that are beneath him and that pay only enough for him to live in tiny apartments and boarding houses. He does maintain his creativity through painting, drawing, playing various instruments, woodworking along with his intellectual pursuits of studying the stars, reading Tolkien, studying Latin, Greek, etc. He is a true renaissance man. Donna, acknowledging his many talents, strong intellect and good looks, is always encouraging him to do more with his gifts so that he may have a full and happy life. Her attempts are unsuccessful and she continues to feel bad for him, believing him to be lonely and unhappy.

Meanwhile, her marriage crumbles as Frank drinks more and more and refuses to get the help he needs and her visits to Vincent’s home become a refuge from her problem marriage. Vincent also visits Donna and her four children, who each are influenced by their uncle, in particular, Silvia, who is very artistic and wants to go to art school. While Frank is against sending her to art school, Donna assures her that she will go and eventually she does attend.

Vincent dies of a heart attack at age 49 and Donna blames herself for his early death, reasoning that he would have lived longer had she tried harder to ensure his happiness. Upon his death, she discovers a sketchbook of pictures he’d made of himself in various stages of his life—playing instruments, studying the stars, making donuts, going to Vietnam War protests and more. She realizes that he was happy all along and that he had an internally rich life, which she currently lacks. This realization gives her the fortitude she needs to leave Frank and she imparts the lesson about happiness and true wealth she onto her four children.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Short Biography

Grace Mattioli is the author of two novels–Olive Branches Don’t Grow On Trees (2012) and Discovery of an Eagle (2014), which both feature a quirky, dysfunctional, yet highly lovable family named the Grecos.  She is currently working on a novel, entitled A Very Wealthy Poor Man, which features the same family. She also published a small collection of short stories entitled The Brightness Index (2016). 

Long Biography

Grace Mattioli is the author of two novels–Olive Branches Don’t Grow On Trees (2012) and Discovery of an Eagle (2014), which both feature a quirky, dysfunctional, yet highly lovable family named the Grecos.  She is currently working on a novel, entitled A Very Wealthy Poor Man, which features the same family. She also published a small collection of short stories entitled The Brightness Index (2016). 

Her fiction is highly visual and filled with unique, highly dimensional characters. While her stories deal with such serious issues as dysfunctional families and addiction, they’re very humorous. Finding happiness and inner peace are major themes that run throughout all of her work and readers can discover valuable insights that they can apply to their own lives.

She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and three cats. She worked as a professional librarian for over twenty years and is currently a food cart owner. She has been writing creatively since she was a child. She studied English literature in college and has participated in several writing workshops and classes.

Grace’s favorite book is Alice in Wonderland. Her favorite author is Flannery O’Connor. Her favorite line of literature comes from James Joyce’s novella The Dead:  “Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.”

 

Interview Questions

  1. What led you to writing your debut novel, Olive Branches Don’t Grow On Trees?
  2. Why did you decide to feature the same family of your debut novel, (The Grecos) in Discovery of an Eagle and A Very Wealthy Poor Man?
  3. Why did you decide to make your second novel a road story?
  4. Are your novels autobiographical in any ways?
  5. Are there recurrent themes that run throughout your novels?
  6. Who are you writing for, or who do you consider to be your target audience?