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Saint Mary’s alumna returns to campus to discuss career as author

| Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Saint Mary’s College alumna’s talk was set to begin at 2 p.m. The classroom was full of chatter, as Saint Mary’s students, faculty and staff awaiting the visitor.

As 2:09 p.m. rolled around, hosting professor Laura Haigwood gave her opening statement.

“Adriana [Trigiani] is a gifted and prolific writer,” she said, “whose distinguished career includes outstanding professional achievement in multiple genres of media, including television, documentary film, feature film screenwriting and directing, a wonderful family memoir cookbook, ‘Cooking with My Sisters,’ and more than a dozen enchanting and entertaining, wise and warm, beautifully written and deeply engaging, highly popular and published novels, including the best selling ‘Big Stone Gap’ series.”

At 2:10 p.m., Haigwood prompted the group to share why they attended the talk. Sophomore Claire Linginfelter shared her reasoning.

“Actually, my grandmother is a huge fan of her,” Linginfelter said. “She actually introduced me to her writings when I was a freshman in high school, and I didn’t have any idea that she was an alumnus of Saint Mary’s. I came to get [Trigiani] to autograph this book of her’s for Christmas [for my grandma].”

At 2:11 p.m., the New York Times bestseller Adriana Trigiani arrived.

“They’re all too pretty,” she said. “I’m out of here.”

Trigiani, a 1981 College graduate, visited the campus Tuesday afternoon to share her writing tips with the community. Trigiani began with what she said is essential.

“You really don’t have anything unless you understand where it comes from,” she said. “If you understand where it comes from, then you’re always going to be able to do it.”

She then addressed writer’s block, which she said does not exist. Trigiani said one must engage their subconscious to help with the process.

“Engage that subconscious to work for you,” she said. “When I go to sleep at night is when I write a book. I don’t write it when I’m sitting [at a computer]. By the time I’m here, it’s just the coal mining part. I’m already done; all the decisions have been made. My subconscious does all the work. It’s the most powerful entity within you.”

Once accessing the subconscious, Trigiani said the next step is deciding what to write about and what matters to the author.

“Only you know what matters, because you’ll know if it’s false and unauthentic or phony or fake. Now that you don’t have any writer’s block because you’re going to use your subconscious, what are you going to tell your subconscious that you’re want to create? What’s important? What you want to say to each other? I like to just say to one person because I think that’s effective. You try to tell a lot of people something, and it’s noise. If you’re just talking to one person, you usually just cut through something.”

Trigiani addressed the notion of having nothing to say and quickly disregarded it.

“Everybody has one common denominator,” she said. “Our common denominator is pain, grief, loss, which forces us to need to connect. The subconscious is fed by whatever you read, listen to, who you hang out with, what you’re looking at, what you choose to write about. … You decide what the subject is based upon whatever you’re feeding it.”

She said her writing process heavily involves character development and world building.

“I like characters. I name them, and I let them live, and then I think about what their lives are. Then I put them in rooms together,” Trigiani said. “You will have your own technique to it, but I think whatever triggers you to stay in the world of the people is good. … I want to create a specific world from something. Then, seriously, I dream of them, and I outline. Then I let the subconscious do it. I know everything, and I’ll go to bed, and I’ll go, ‘Okay, what happens to Chi Chi Donatello tomorrow morning?’ Then I wake up with the answer, and I go do it.”

Trigiani advised the audience not to force themselves to write certain kinds of characters. She said she was once told she wrote “working people” and rebelled against the idea at first, wanting to write “all kinds of people.” Later, Trigiani said she grew to love the fact.

“You’ll figure it out, who your people are that you’re writing,” she said. “It can’t just be all people. It’s got to be the people that you know. The ones who your voice is in and only you could do. That’s what’s so great about it.”

Trigiani said she lets her characters and stories take turns as she writes, and it may not always go as she planned.

“I’ll think that this is going to happen, and then it’s three in the morning, and then something entirely different happens,” she said. “I didn’t see it coming, but I go with that. Let it happen. If somebody’s got to go, somebody dies, I didn’t mean for them to die. They die. I cry. Oh, you had to go? Bye. He’s gone. Just let him go. You have to because that’s the gig. That’s what it is. If I’m crying, I know you’re going to be crying. I didn’t see it coming.”

Trigiani said hope lies in a similar path of people doing what they want, not what may have been planned for them.

“Don’t let anybody define your life,” Trigiani said. “Don’t do anything with your life that somebody else told you to do just because you can’t think of a better idea. Don’t get scared and just do what appears in the moment. Don’t do things because somebody says it. I’d rather do something I’m doing to get to my goal.”

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