Bustle Book Club

Jo Piazza Does Her Best Writing At 35,000 Feet

The author of The Sicilian Inheritance writes from trains, planes, and (years ago) nightclub bathrooms.

Jo Piazza's mystery/thriller, The Sicilian Inheritance, was inspired by her great-great-grandmother'...

Jo Piazza has written 12 books, and she’s not afraid to play favorites.

“I’ve been hustling for this one more than I have for anything else,” says the author, podcaster, and journalist about her new novel, The Sicilian Inheritance. “This is, I think, the best thing I’ve done, but also it’s so intensely personal because it’s based on my family’s story.”

A twisty, multigenerational mystery, the book follows Sara Marsala, who heads to Sicily following the collapse of her marriage and her business. Her great-aunt Rosie has recently passed away, leaving Sara a plane ticket to the island and the deed to a plot of land. The catch: to find out what really happened to Sara’s great-grandmother, Serafina, whom Rosie believed was murdered. Toggling between the past and present day, the reader meets the independent, headstrong Serafina, who makes waves by refusing to settle for a traditional life, and sees parallels to the ways women have been held back both a century ago and today.

The book is inspired by Piazza’s great-great-grandmother, Lorenza Marsala, who was also murdered in Sicily. In addition to the novel, Piazza recently launched a companion podcast, which she describes as “White Lotus meets Only Murders in the Building,” that attempts to solve Lorenza’s murder. It’s a quest that took the author back to Sicily, digging through archives, talking to locals, and combing through court records.

Jo Piazza went to Sicily to research her great-great-grandmother’s murder that inspired her new novel, The Sicilian Inheritance.Courtesy Jo Piazza

“We found some crazy bombshells going through the records of the town,” she says. “About her murder and who she was murdered with, which is something we did not know.”

The recent fixation on the “mob wife” aesthetic could not have been more perfectly timed to The Sicilian Inheritance. “There is really something to big Sicilian energy,” says Piazza, who’s based in Philadelphia and the Catskills. “I think you pick it up when you read the book, and you walk away from it like, ‘Yeah, I’m not going to take any sh*t — I’m going to kick some ass and take some names.’”

Here, Piazza chats about her ideal bookstore, the luxe candle brand she keeps by her desk, and writing from planes, trains, and (years ago) nightclub bathroom stalls.

On writing from anywhere:

I write all the time — at all times, in all places. Have laptop, will write. I was so used to filing from all over the country when I was [a reporter and columnist at] the Daily News. I would write on my Blackberry half the time. I miss the Blackberry, to be honest. I did it from the bathroom at Bungalow 8 with a bunch of people snorting coke in the stall next to me. Sometimes I still write on my phone.

I love coming up to New York on Amtrak because I love writing on trains. I love writing on planes when I’m alone — I do my best writing on planes. It’s uninterrupted, because I never buy plane WiFi anymore, because it’s $100. And there are no distractions. I don’t think there’s anywhere else in the world where we don’t have distractions, where we can’t get online. So a long flight without my children is just — it’s my dream. I have a new novel that I have 50,000 words of that I need to start shaping up to go to market. And I’m like, “Where can I fly?”

On burning sage and bougie candles:

Oh, my God, so I really have gone whole Sicilian and woo-woo. I’ve got sage on my desk that I have been lighting — to bring about good things. I lit it when we were going for the book deal.

My only indulgence is expensive candles: Diptyque, which is everyone’s favorite brand. And then we have Catskills Candle Studio candles that I buy up in the Catskills. I buy it every time that I’m up there. There’s a local Philadelphia brand called Dilo that I really like. And they’re right down the street from me.

On not believing in writer’s block:

I was a daily newspaper writer for so long in the early 2000s, when it was like “If you don’t deliver copy, f*ck you.” So I don’t understand writer’s block. I do have days where it’s harder. Also, I will just put down 1,500 words of crap and walk away, because something is in there.

It’s so funny — I think women are probably more efficient writers than men. I talk to male writers a lot: “I have to be in the perfect space. I have to be in a cabin in the woods. It’s got to be very quiet.” And I’m like, I can write 1,500 words while taking a sh*t with the kids banging on the door.

On her entrepreneurial pipe dream:

I eat cheese and chocolate constantly. It’s a really well-rounded diet. In fact, the dream bookstore that I want to open one of these days just sells books and cheese and chocolate and wine. It’s called Nice Things, because we deserve nice things. You can tell I’ve already envisioned this in my head — I have a space that I want already. And who doesn’t want nice things?

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.