Since 2006, husband-and-wife Daniela De Gregorio and Michael G. Jacob have been writing together under the name Michael Gregorio. The Italian-based couple—they live in the small mountain town of Spoleto—talked to us about their newest thriller Cry Wolf, which comes out in April, and the ups and downs of being married to your co-author.
Cry Wolf is a mafia thriller set in the town where you both live. Where did the idea for the book come from?
Michael: Daniela was born in Umbria, and I have lived here for almost thirty years. We love the untouched beauty of the Apennine mountains, the charm of ancient towns, such as Spoleto, where we live, the ‘otherworldliness’ of the area… Well, that myth took a violent blow when Umbria was struck by a massive earthquake in 1997. Money came pouring in from the Italian government and from Europe, and dramatic changes began to take place. We saw things happening that we didn’t like, but we couldn’t put our finger on why they were happening. It all came to a head when five young lads that we knew well, as environmentalists, were arrested as ‘terrorists’ in 2007. It took seven years to prove that they were innocent; we testified in their defense in 2010. Cry Wolf is dedicated to the memory of two of them (one died of a blood clot, the other after an epileptic fit). They’d been set up...
Daniela: Behind the accusations, we saw wild building schemes, an ocean of concrete burying the local history, a web of financial intrigue and political corruption. You get the idea. Something just wasn’t right, but there was nothing we could do about it... Hang on, though. There was one thing we could do, and so we began to work on a novel set in Umbria where a young park ranger from the south of Italy begins to see a nasty pattern emerging, a pattern from which he has been trying to escape. The Mafia—in this specific instance, the ’Ndrangheta from Calabria—is moving in, and only he can see it.
You two have been writing together, as Michael Gregorio, for eight years. What made you want to pair up? And how did you create your pseudonym?
M: Dani and I had both written novels individually, but neither of us had found a publisher until we wrote a novel together. Maybe we make up for each other’s weaknesses. Then again, perhaps we complement each other’s strengths. Daniela had an idea for a short story which I thought had the potential for a big novel. We were both teaching full-time, so the only time we could actually sit down and work together was at the weekend. After two years of weekend collaboration, we had a rough first draft of the story and we started to look for an agent. After two more years of revising and rewriting it, our London-based agent, Leslie Gardner, sold the novel as Critique of Criminal Reason.
D: Michael Gregorio was the name that came out of a three-way debate which raged between London, New York and Spoleto. Our publishers (Faber & Faber and St Martin's Press) were both reluctant to credit a novel to a writing duo, and we were over the moon at the thought of being published. ‘A rose by any other name,’ we thought. Thus, like it or not, we 'became’ Michael Gregorio, a shared ‘skin’ inside which we now happily dwell.
Writing is a fairly solitary pursuit, and I know some find it difficult to do, well, with another person. Do you two have a process--i.e. this person writes the first x number of pages, then the other person tackles the next x number of pages? Or, is it more organic?
D: Writing is a solitary skill, but getting it right is more about successful collaboration than many people outside the publishing industry realise. You have to work with an agent and an editor. Your work will pass through the hands of copy editors and print editors, and all of them will find glitches that you--the writers, in our case--missed. We see this collective process as a huge positive.
M: Daniela and I work out the ‘bones’ of the story. We decide what should happen, but making it happen is another matter. We work hard on our storyline, then we each write the chapters that particularly appeal to us. Daniela is hot on dialogue, plot and intrigue, while I’m more interested in settings, people and places.
D: I would add that we rewrite so much, whether refining the action or the dialogue, it really is impossible to say at the end who wrote exactly what! And it really doesn’t matter, does it? We are Michael Gregorio, that’s what is important.
Writing under a pseudonym can have, I assume, its pluses and minuses.
M: The great thing about having a pseudonym is that you can also be yourself without compromising your public image. As Michael Gregorio we talk about what we do. As Michael G. Jacob, I talk (and write) about my other interests--notably, the early history of photography and daguerreotypes.
D: The first time we had an appointment as Michael Gregorio, we went to Rome to meet our Italian publisher (Einaudi), who had just bought the rights ‘blind’ from Faber & Faber in England. Everyone in the office was practicing their rusty English, expecting to come up against an Italo-Americano who spoke no Italian. When we turned up, they discovered that we both spoke Italian and that we lived in Umbria, an hour’s train ride away!
M: Now, people tend to call us the ‘Gregorios,’ which doesn’t really correspond to anything.
I assume you each bring different perspectives and interests to each book, yes?
M: I would say that Daniela brings fire, passion and an unhealthy stubbornness that I never imagined an Italian would have.
D: Mike likes to play the phlegmatic Englishman, while I take it to heart if something isn’t coming across exactly as I want it to. 'It will all work out in the end,' he says, and that is when I really blow it. Still, it has to be said, he’s been right so far.
When you're not working, what kind of entertainment do you enjoy?
D: I watch films. At least one a day, and preferably a thriller. I’m fascinated by well-told stories, often jealous of the fact that someone else got there before me!
M: I’m a reader. Crime, of course. I’m a great fan of Alan Furst, and I love Bill James. Having said that, I was bewitched by the film Gomorra by Matteo Garrone, amazed that it didn’t win an Oscar as best foreign film. I was equally impressed by the TV series Gomorra, which takes crime fiction to new heights. If you haven’t seen it yet, you don’t know what you’re missing!
Q: What's harder, being married or being co-authors?
D: We were interviewed on Italian TV a while ago. They were trying to demonstrate a thesis – that marriage works better if you share a common goal. When one of us (me, I think) said that we had never had an argument until we started writing together, they stopped the cameras and asked the question again. Okay, we conceded, we get on better since we’ve been writing together. Everyone was happy with that. It wasn’t true of course, but we are still together, and we are still writing.
M: True. And we can always get a divorce, but where would we find another co-author?