By Cecilla Chan, GSN Managing Editor
Gilbert residents Alan Simon and Erica Bianco Ellis married last year in Positano, Italy, on the 10th anniversary of their first date.
That trip led to a collaborative novel by the two.
Venice Redux is about a couple who married in Venice and then, years later, find themselves back in the City of Canals with their marriage on the brink of divorce. Could the magic of Venice somehow help the couple save their marriage at the very last minute?
Venice Redux is available on amazon.com in both paperback and eBook.
Simon is a senior lecturer in Arizona State University’s WP Carey School of Business and a management consultant. He also is a novelist as well as the author of 30 business and computer technology books dating back to the 1980s.
His novels to date have all been in the historical fiction genre such as “The Christmas of the War” and its two sequels and also “Gettysburg, 1913: The Complete Novel of the Great Reunion,” which briefly appeared on the USA Today bestseller list.
He is currently working on the first novel in a new series in the contemporary romance/women’s fiction genre.
Bianco Ellis recently graduated from ASU after going back to school. She founded and operates Gilbert-based Threadcessories.com, an online boutique, when she’s not writing.
The Gilbert Sun News interviewed them about the book.
Question: How long have you lived in Gilbert? Tell us a little about your family.
Alan: We moved to Gilbert in April 2016, so we’ve been in Gilbert for almost three years now. We moved from Ahwatukee. My family moved to Tucson in the mid-1970s when I was in high school, and I went to college at ASU and graduate school at the U of A. I moved back to Phoenix in 2008 when I met Erica.
Erica: I lived in both Chandler (Ocotillo) and Ahwatukee since the early 1990s. My two children both graduated from high school in Ahwatukee.
Q: How much of your own personal lives did you use for the two characters Leslie and Greg Meyer?
Alan: Greg Meyer’s character is a management consultant with a crushing work and travel schedule that has been very detrimental to their marriage.
Before I began teaching at ASU six years ago, my real life echoed Greg Meyer’s fictional life fairly closely. I tried not to overdo it, but I worked much of my own experiences into Greg’s backstory.
Erica: I used some aspects of my own life for Leslie’s backstory. However, Greg’s character is closer to Alan’s real life than Leslie’s is to mine.
- What was the most difficult part of working together on the novel and what was the best?
Alan: All of my novels to date have been solo efforts, even though about 10 of my business and technology books had been co-authored. Working on my own, I’m solely in charge of characters, story direction … everything.
Collaborating on “Venice Redux” was challenging at times because I had certain ideas about the plot, or even a few minor details, while Erica had different thoughts. I had to adjust to the idea that we needed to reach consensus on these points.
The good news – the best part of working together – was that as we went through the novel over and over as we progressed, the collaboration made the story line and the characterizations even stronger than they might have otherwise been.
Erica: I’ll echo Alan’s perspective about him having to adjust to collaborating on a novel. I read and commented on most of his previous historical novels, but because my name is on this book, I had a stake in my ideas being considered.
As for the best part, we sort of kept our wedding and honeymoon going by writing about Italy in general and Venice in particular. We kept transporting ourselves back to Venice, in a way, the entire time that we wrote, edited and reviewed.
- Alan, you are an established writer of technology books and historical fiction, what was it like to write a woman’s book?
Alan: My first historical novel – “Unfinished Business” – actually falls into the category of women’s fiction. It’s set in 1951 and is about the resumption of a brief WW2-era affair when the protagonist’s husband is sent to fight in the Korean War, and the story is told entirely from her perspective.
Then my most recent historical novel – “The DeLuca Furlough Brides” – likewise also falls into the women’s fiction genre. With “Venice Redux,” I drew on these earlier experiences and lessons and applied them to a contemporary-set novel.
Q: Erica, is this your first published book and if so, what did you learn from it?
Erica: Yes, it is and the most challenging part of writing a novel is understanding the prevalent themes and literary tropes that readers look for in genres such as romance and women’s fiction, and striking a balance between adhering to them but also trying to be original.
- What do you like most about writing a romance novel?
Alan: All fiction gives an author the opportunity for rich character development, but with a romance novel we have the opportunity to extend that character development into interpersonal relationships. We can craft the aspects of that relationship any way that we want.
We can throw roadblocks into the path of a relationship, and then we can have our characters overcome those challenges … or not, if that’s the path that we choose.
Erica: I can bring aspects of my own past relationships to what I write, and if I choose to I can cause a different outcome than perhaps what I experienced. I agree with what Alan said. We have the opportunity to create the entire ecosystem of a relationship, including how the characters overcome challenges and crises.
- What is your favorite women/romance book or writer and why?
Alan: Herman Wouk, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Caine Mutiny” and other historical fiction, wrote a women’s fiction novel in 1955 titled “Marjorie Morningstar.”
At the time, that novel was so popular and so much a part of popular culture that Mr. Wouk and a drawing of his character appeared on the cover of Time Magazine.
Mr. Wouk expertly takes readers – male as well as female – into Marjorie’s thoughts and actions throughout her on-again, off-again relationship with Noel Airman throughout much of the 1930s. The book is a fantastic New York City-set period piece, as well.
Erica: I went back to school at ASU in my 40s, and since graduating with my bachelor’s degree I’ve been running an online boutique that takes almost all of my time (other than working on novels with Alan).
Even before college and my business, I mostly read motivational books more than novels. So honestly, no particular author or women’s fiction/romance novel stands out the way that Alan described “Marjorie Morningstar” for him.
- What do you say to critics who say romance novels give an unrealistic view of what love should be?
Alan: Some romance novels may be accurately described in that way, if they too closely follow a set formula. However, that’s what many readers are looking for; perhaps from an aspect of escapism. In our case, we strived for realism.
Erica: As Alan mentioned, our theme is “it’s never too late.” Then, looking ahead to our next novel in which we have a brand-new relationship at the center of the plot, we’re trying to do much the same as we did with “Venice Redux” – bring real-life challenges into the plot that readers will relate to.
Q: What is your second collaboration about and when is that due for release?
Erica: It’s set on a cruise ship. Alan began working on this novel on his own several years ago, and has periodically started over with a new plot line.
We’re looking at later this summer or early fall for its release, and then we have several other collaborations queued up and waiting.