Author of Big Cherry Holler
by Bella Stander
Like Ave Maria Mulligan, the narrator of Big Stone Gap and the newly published Big Cherry Holler (both from Random House), Adriana Trigiani grew up in Wise County feeling like a "ferriner." In the late 1960s her family moved from all-Italian Roseto, Pa., to Big Stone Gap in "poverty-stricken Appalachia," as the Small Business Administration described it, so her father could open a garment factory. At first the six-year-old thought the people in her new hometown were speaking a foreign language. "I couldn't understand that the teacher wasn't a nun," she recalls. "And no uniforms--the kids were all wearing normal clothes!"
Also like Ave Maria, Trigiani graduated from St. Mary's College in Indiana and her mother's people are from Bergamo and Schilpario, Italy. However, the story of the pharmacist and former town spinster is "not my life at all," says the New York-based documentary filmmaker, TV producer and award-winning playwright. And Trigiani is a generation younger than her protagonist, who is nearly 35 when Big Stone Gap opens in 1978. Big Cherry Holler picks up some eight years later.
Big Stone Gap began as a screenplay nearly five years ago, after Trigiani started wondering what would have happened had she stayed put instead of moving to New York. "I turned to the longings of my childhood in the 1970s. There was a lot of promise for the area then; Liz Taylor was there." (A campaign stop with then-husband John Warner figures heavily in the story.) "The mines were starting to dry up, but nobody was accepting it." However, Trigiani shied away from doing any research about the period: "I wanted to just let it be what it was. As I began writing, it all came flooding back."
A year later, she showed the screenplay to her friend (and now her literary agent) Suzanne Gluck, who convinced her to turn it into a book. For the next six months, Trigiani wrote from 3:00 to 8:00 every morning, and then at 10:00 went to work at Showtime, where she was producing "Linc's," starring Pam Grier. "I didn't know anything about publishing," she admits. "Suzanne had me believing there was a deadline, when there really wasn't."
How did Trigiani manage to write a novel and produce a TV show at the same time? "Every part of my day is planned --and I mean planned," she affirms. If she needs four hours to think, she schedules it in. "I'm very disciplined. Writing is not a job I do; it's the way I live. So anybody who's in my life knows this" (including her husband, a lighting designer for "Late Night with David Letterman"). "Once an idea has gestated enough, when I sit down all I do is work. I don't stare, look around or move around; it's ready to be born."
After landing a publishing deal for Big Stone Gap in 1999, Trigiani kept on writing, which resulted in the sequel. Now, she says, "I'd like to give a book a year to my readers." Next will be Milk Glass Moon, which starts where the second book leaves off, and ends with Ave Maria's daughter at age 18.
In the meantime, along with going on a 30-city book tour this summer, Trigiani is preparing to direct a film of Big Stone Gap in the fall (the projected Writers Guild and Screen Actors Guild strikes permitting). She has a lot of the movie cast, and at press time was meeting actors "to fill in the big stars." Her friend Rosanne Cash is doing the music.
When she was writing, Trigiani didn't given any thought to the effect her work might have on the folks back home. (Her parents are still there, but her six siblings have scattered.) "I thought that when you named a book 'Big Stone Gap,' it would be like naming it 'Philadelphia' or 'Charlottesville.'" Not so, she learned. "The people down there are so excited about the movie they're over the moon."
© 2001 Bella Stander