If you think that the publication of an author’s first book by a big publishing house is always a moment of joy, think again. If you think that book’s garnering wide acclaim and being named one of the 10 best books of the year by the New York Times Book Review is invariably cause for cheer, Danielle Trussoni can tell you otherwise.
The Wisconsin-born and bred (La Crosse) author published an emotional and astonishingly powerful memoir of her dad and their relationship, “Falling Through the Earth,” last year to widespread praise. But on the day the book was released, her father died after an illness.
So, while most authors are hip-hip-hooraying, Trussoni says, “I wasn’t really able to feel surprise or happiness or any other emotion but sadness and shock.”
The book is now out in paperback and Trussoni has had some time to look back and the success of “Falling Through the Earth” is satisfying and surprising, she says.
As Trussoni prepares to return to the Badger State she loves to make some appearances promoting the book, we asked her about its success, about her father and about where she’s going next.
OMC: Were you surprised by the success of the book when it was published last year?
DT: “Falling Through the Earth” is a book about my relationship with my father. My father died at the same time that the book was published, making the whole experience very difficult for me. That is a long way to say that I wasn’t really able to feel surprise or happiness or any other emotion but sadness and shock during the publication period. I had worked for years on this book, and for many months before its publication getting ready for its release, but then when it came out I was in this sort of haze of grief. Now, looking back, I’m surprised.
OMC: Did your dad have a chance to read it before he died? What was his reaction?
DT: Yes, he read it, but he was very sick when he did. He told me in private that he was proud of the book. He also put it by his bed, so that when visitors came to see him they could see the book. I wish he had seen his picture on the cover of the New York Times Book Review. Perhaps he would know that his time as a soldier was being honored.
OMC: Presumably you had to ask your dad a lot about his role as a "tunnel rat" in Vietnam. Was he eager to talk about that or did you have to tread carefully to get him to open up about it?
DT: He wasn’t eager to talk about it. In fact, most of the time he didn’t talk about his time as a tunnel rat. I did some interviews with him about the tunnels and his time in Vietnam when I was in college. I had these tapes with me when I wrote the book. I also asked him questions about Vietnam before I wrote “Falling Through the Earth.” But he was never particularly thrilled to talk about it.
OMC: The book is so emotional, is it hard for you to tour and read from it night after night and talk about it all the time to the media, etc.?
DT: Yes, it’s very hard. I don’t think that people understand how difficult it is for me to stand in front of them and open my life in that fashion. It was especially hard after he died. But that’s the price one pays to write a book like “Falling Through the Earth.” I made the choice to write about myself, and feel a responsibility to follow through and connect with my readers as much as I can. But I admit: It is really hard to talk about my relationship with my dad sometimes.
OMC: After such a powerful memoir and one that was so well-received, where does an author go next? Are you working on something now?
DT: That is a very good question, about where to go from here. I think that it would be silly to put too much stock in the success of this book as an indication of my future success with another book. In my opinion, each book is a totally new creation. It may work, it may not. I’m writing a novel now, and it is very different in tone, subject matter and style than “Falling Through the Earth.” It is set in Wisconsin, though. That much is the same.
OMC: A lot of folks don't realize that there are pockets of Italian communities outside Milwaukee, Madison and Kenosha. What was it like growing up Italian in southwestern Wisconsin? Was there a sense of ethnic identity or was no one really paying attention to that by the time you were growing up?
DT: Actually, my father grew up in a very Italian community, outside of Genoa, Wis., but I didn’t have a sense of having an Italian heritage other than in my immediate family. My dad and I went to Northern Italy, to a town called Campodolcino, a few years before he died to see where his grandfather had come from. It was really incredible to see that there were a lot of Trussonis still living there.
OMC: Do you get back to Wisconsin much these days? Do you miss it?
DT: I miss it tremendously. I love the beauty of Western Wisconsin. Recently, I drove upstate New York and looked out at the Hudson River and realized that it looks very much like the Mississippi. It made me want to go back home.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.