Keira: What made you choose Italy as your setting in Urbino, Unexpectedly? Have you recently vacationed there?
Maria Chiara Marsciani: I was born in Rimini, Italy, a mid-size town on the Adriatic Sea eighty miles down by Venice. I left Italy when I was twenty-four to come to the US, but my whole family is still there and I visit them once a year. I chose to set the story in the places where I grew up. They say the first book is usually autobiographic, and, even if “Urbino, Unexpectedly” is not a diary or a detailed report on my own life, I can definitely say that there is a lot of me in it. Starting from the setting.
Keira: Have you ever felt like Clara, the heroine of the novel – as if you were trapped in a life you didn’t want?
Maria: Yes. In the past I felt a lot like Clara probably because figuring out who I was and what I wanted from my life wasn’t easy for me. Many of my friends are very attached to their twenties and really miss that time of their life a lot. I’m much happier today. Perhaps I have more wrinkles and more ailments, but I’m also much more in tune with myself even if I’m still looking to understand who I truly am. In some ways, the writing process and the decision to finally publish one of my works is an attempt to know myself better.
Keira: How does one get the courage to shake things up? How does Clara?
Maria: I truly believe that decisions come by themselves when a situation becomes truly intolerable and when one has the courage to see life with all the potential. Clara is lucky because she meets a person who shows her that, at the end of the tunnel there is a light and she reacts the only way she can: risking everything she is and everything she has. A big jump in the dark is always scary, but it doesn’t necessary mean recklessness. If we have the courage to do it, it can be a new and better beginning and no matter what, a fantastic learning experience.
Keira: Clara finds herself in conflict with (almost) everyone who should be a part of her support structure. Does this mean she’s no longer a good girl or can you be a good girl even if you’re changing the way you use to behave, react, and act?
Maria: I think that Clara needs to change the perspective from which she looks at herself and others. Clara needs to understand that she is not a good girl because she blindly follows her parents’ rules or because she indiscriminately adapts to her country’s tradition. It is not easy, there are family expectations and thousands of years of culture on her shoulders, but she has to learn that finding the courage to act accordingly to her own nature doesn’t necessarily mean she is not a good girl anymore. In order to be able to break loose from cultural impositions, especially in the beginning, she needs to react and sometimes even overreact.
Keira: Do you think love can change a person? For the better?
Maria: I don’t think love can change us, but I think that love, true love, makes us feel appreciated and accepted, and for that reason it can definitely give us the strength to look inside ourselves and to find out who we truly are. Hopefully, we’ll find out we can be better persons.
Keira: How do you define love (romantic)?
Maria: Romantic love is first of all irresistible chemistry and attraction, then it is finding that behind and beyond all of that, there is your best friend, a companion you want to spend your life with, and the person that can see life through your eyes as you can see life through his. Dreams change as life progresses, but that person will keep on dreaming with you until the end.
Keira: How does romantic love and familial love influence the novel?
Maria: Romantic love gives Clara a new perspective on life. It unlocks her inner self and teaches her not to be afraid to appreciate life with her own sensitivity instead of continually adapting to external guidelines. Familial love influences the novel because Clara is surrounded by people whose ‘love’ has trapped her in rules and values she doesn’t believe in.
Keira: If you could go anywhere and do anything with money being no object – where would you go and what would you do?
Maria: Wow, this is hard and tricky. My gut answer is I wouldn’t go anywhere and I wouldn’t do anything, but if I think deeper, I don’t think that would be the case. It’s true that I like my life as it is right now and there are not many things I’d like to change, but it is also true that there are still a lot of places in the world I’d want to visit and many things I want to do. I think I’d like to stop time. But that is not a matter of money, isn’t it?
Keira: Tell us about Leonardo – Clara’s beau! What makes him special?
Maria: Leonardo has a very pure vision of life, he can see Clara’s potentials and he is determined to help her see them too. Unlike all the other people around Clara, who judge her based on cultural stereotypes and therefore find her ‘peculiar’, he has a free, non judgmental and open mind, and for that reason he is able to make Clara feel that there is nothing wrong with her. She just has to find her own way.
Keira: Who would you cast in the roles of Clara and Leonardo if your book was turned into a film?
She is an exceptionally eclectic actress able to believably play totally different roles. She can play sweet and cruel, frail and determined being almost unrecognizable in the different roles. I think she could be the perfect naïve Clara who slowly comes to life becoming a resolute woman. Tom Hiddleston is a very talented actor, he has a refined look, but at the same time something in his eyes says he can be a bad boy too and that is how I see Leonardo.