19 February 2015

Author Q&A Session #32: With Mona Rodriguez

Hello and good morning folks,
Welcome to an all new author interview session, and today I present you the author who have a spun a family saga which is thoroughly compelling. Inspired by her own family story, Mona Rodriguez wrote her very first book, "Forty Years in a Day", and she is here on BookStopCorner to talk about those family secrets, her book, her journey and her life beyond books.
Read the interview to know more about this incredible first time author.

Read the review of Forty Years in a Day

Me: Hello and welcome to my blog, Mona. Congratulations on your new book, Forty Years in a Day. Can you please share with us the story behind your book, Forty Years in a Day?

Mona: Hello, Aditi, and thank you for hosting me today. Looking back I think Forty Years In A Day was a catharsis for me. A way to remember my family, especially my parents. I’ve had this particular story churning in my head for many years, sparked by the stories of my family’s past. Forty Years In A Day begins in 1900 and follows the incredible journey of a young mother and her four children as they escape from Italy into the streets of Hell’s Kitchen, New York. That woman was my grandmother. The story ends with a woman who knows the father of her children is living a double life with another, but she loves him so much that she overlooks the arrangement rather than forfeit the man. Those were my parents. In between are the stories that I had heard from family members who had lived through an era that we can only read about, intertwined with twists of fiction and sensationalism to have some fun.
We don’t realize what our ancestors went through to make life better for themselves and for us. What they faced was incredible—the living conditions, poverty, disease—and their work ethic was admirable. Although I had started with the intention of writing a story about my father’s family, it turned into a novel. There was so much more I wanted people to know about this fascinating era.

Me: What was your inspiration behind Forty Years in a Day?

Mona: My parents were just shy of 20 years apart in age, and they died 10 months apart. I think that in itself was not by accident, but the consequence of true love. I grew up with loving parents who loved their families and each other...but there are skeletons in every closet.
When I was in my teens, my sister told me that our father had been married before. Initially, I thought she was joking, but she convinced me that she had recently found out herself. I was shocked that I didn’t know this significant fact about my father. What else happened that I should know? Over the years, I wondered about his previous wife. Who was she? What did she look like? How did they meet? Is it possible they had children? Why did they divorce? My mother vaguely answered my questions. My father, I never asked. I questioned aunts and uncles about his first wife, but I sensed there were bits of their lives that were never to be disclosed.
It was over twenty years later and the night before my mother had brain surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in the center of her brain when she told me to look in their safe at home, there was something she wanted my siblings and me to see. The next day my mother underwent surgery and, unfortunately, she was never the same. We would have found this curious envelope that was tucked away in the safe when my sister, brother, and I were cleaning out the contents of their home, my childhood home, but for some reason, she had wanted us to know. It was a few days later, maybe a week, by the time my sister and I went to their home. (My father was living with me at the time and had dementia). What we found in the safe was our parent’s Marriage License—they had married when my siblings and I were in our teens. What? Impossible!
When my parents died a few years later, I felt more compelled to delve into their past, but no one alive could (or would) tell me the whole story. That’s when I started to dig up the past.

Me: How did you research for your book, Forty Years in a Day?

Mona: I started by writing down the stories I had heard from family members and interviewing the elders that were still alive. It took seven years—researching, attending seminars, workshops, conferences, and reading everything from books on how to write dialogue, character and plot development, to reading mainstream fiction and rereading classics. I also studied the history and lifestyles of the era. The Ellis Island Museum and Library and the Lower East side Tenement Museum in New York City were invaluable sources of information. I had a story to tell and I knew it had to be told.

Me: Tell us one trait of your main protagonist, Vincenzo, that intrigues you the most?

Mona: Vincenzo had many negative as well as many positive traits. I think his character has particularly appealed to the male audience because he’s good looking, he lived the rags to riches story, and he has an unflappable determination.

Me: What did you expect your readers to draw away from after reading your book, Forty Years in a Day?

Mona: Forty Years In A Day epitomizes the immigration experience and coming to America in the early 1900s. It reignites curiosity and admiration for what our ancestors had endured and accomplished to make our lives better. It also reminds us that every family has hidden secrets and that the choices one person makes filters down through generations.
There are many themes that run through this story as well—the loss and rebound of hope, overcoming fear, discovering strength, honesty, perseverance, forgiveness, it goes on, but I think the main theme is the importance of family; not just blood relatives, but friends that are like family. It’s having the people who love you around you that can get you through the trying times as well as take parallel delight in your good times. They are the support group that come along with you on your journey through life, and if you’re lucky enough to have people who love you in your life, you’re lucky enough.

Me: How will you describe your journey so far as an author? And was it always your one true dream to be an author?

Mona: There were many challenges that I had faced undertaking this project. First and foremost, I had the idea of the story in my head before I had the skills to share it. I’m a mathematician and an environmentalist so this was a whole new adventure and learning curve.While writing is something I always admired, to me, the passion was in the story and the writing was the vessel to get it told.
It is extremely hard to make a mark in this industry; the competition is talented and vast.
There are tons of great books out there that we never hear about. For an author to be widely recognized it has a lot to do with luck and perseverance.

Me: Describe your normal writing day. And how do you get away from the stress of a long day's work?

Mona: I like to write first thing in the morning while my mind is fresh and before the world starts to stir. I tend to read, mostly novels, in the evenings to wind down.

Me: Tell us about the coordination between both of you while writing Forty Years in a Day. And how long did it take to finish up this book?

Mona: I coauthored the book with my cousin Dianne Vigorito. She gave me the support and validation I needed to pursue this project. I was lucky to find a family member to work with, and she had an immediate interest in the idea. She grew up hearing the same crazy stories, some of which were almost unbelievable, that were told by our ancestors.  Dianne and I worked on our own, and we also worked together several days a week, collaborating, rewriting, and editing.

It didn’t take me long after I had started putting it to paper to realize that I didn’t know enough about writing a novel. There are certain formulas that work for publishers, and deviation from that norm ends up in rejection. Forty Years In A Day was seven years in the making and a year in production so it didn’t happen overnight, but it happened. Getting a publisher was a gift. Someone other than our family and friends believed in our story!

Me: So what's next up on your writing sleeves? Please tell us briefly about your next book.

Mona: There are six cousins at the end of our story. The idea is to take that next generation into the next forty years.

Me: Thank you so much Mona for sparing time to have this interview with me for my blog. I can only wish you luck in all your future endeavors.

Mona: Thank you, Aditi, for interviewing me today. It was a pleasure.

Mona's Bio:

Mona Rodriguez and Dianne Vigorito are cousins. Throughout their lives, they had heard many stories from family members that were fascinating, sometimes even unbelievable, and decided to piece together the puzzle of tales. Through research and interviews, their goal was to create a fictional story that follows a family through several decades, providing the reader an opportunity to stand in the shoes of a past generation and walk in search of their hopes and dreams. What they realize in the process is that human emotions have been the same throughout generations - the difference is how people are molded and maneuvered by the times and their situations.
Mona and Dianne strongly believe there is tremendous knowledge to be gained from those who are older and wiser, a resource precariously looming at everyone’s fingertips.
Mona and Dianne live with their husbands in New Jersey and they each have two grown sons. This is their first novel together.

Connect With Mona On:  Pinterest | Twitter | Author Website | Goodreads | Google Plus  


  1. It's so sad to hear that her parents passed away so close to each other :( It is very honorable of her to write this story in their remembrance and to preserve them in such a way. This sounds like a book that is very personal to the author as well.

  2. Yeah and the book is really very heart-touching! If you get a chance do read this book :-)


Thanks for your feedback!