Ivanka Di Felice co-authored the book My Zany Life with her mother Anica Blažanin; here is a link to the book’s Amazon page:
Q: What is My Zany Life about?
My memories of growing up in my family’s rooming house in a swanky Toronto neighborhood, surrounded by a cast of eccentric characters.
Many people think it’s tragic to grow up in a poor neighborhood, but I can assure you it is equally tragic growing up in a rich neighborhood, when you are poor.
Together, my mother and I gather our memories of a life full of happiness, sadness, and many hilarious moments, proving that hindsight not only is 20/20, but can also turn calamity into comedy.
The book takes us back in history to a small village in Croatia where my mom is introduced to a 1964 Ford Galaxy XL that has followers, stalkers, and even worshippers. Then she meets the man behind the wheel, and what follows proves that reality actually is stranger than fiction.
Q: What made you and your mother decide to write it?
A: I knew that I had a very unusual childhood living amongst wacky tenants. We had dealings with these unusual characters right up until a few months ago. I thought people may enjoy our life story of being poor in a rich neighbourhood. Then I pretty much conned my mom into helping me write it.
Q: Why did your Mom and Dad open up a rooming house in the first place?
A: My parents fell in love with a beautiful Victorian home close to High Park, in Toronto. It was three stories, with a huge cultivated backyard. They had to borrow money for the down payment, and in order to afford it, they never had the option of just our family living there. The only way they could keep it would be to rent out most of the house, in the most profitable manner. Thus was born “The Rooming House,” which sat among, but apart from, other stately family-owned homes.
Q: Who was your most memorable tenant?
A: There were many. I don’t want to do a spoiler but let’s just say the majority of the tenants were the sort who would have been voted least likely to succeed and had exceeded expectations. And if there was a skill in renting out rooms, knowing how to read people, and letting only the good ones in, then my parents did not possess it.
Q: What did you do when you wanted to have a private family argument?
A: Nothing was private in the rooming house; we all knew each others business but no one seemed to care.
Q: Were you embarrassed or proud to tell your friends how your family made a living?
A: Because we lived in a swanky, rich neighbourhood all my classmates were wealthy and lived in stately family dwellings. I tried to keep up appearances as best as I could and tried to hide the fact that our house and the people in it were anything but swanky.
Q: What sort of work do you do now?
A: We own a rental property (not a rooming house – a triplex) and I also write books and manage to make somewhat of a living from it.
Q: How did you and your mom settle disagreements about what to leave in and out of your book?
A: We did not disagree on anything however according to my mom the book is complete “thanks to my daughter who nagged me persistently to remember and to write what I have. ”
It is written in chronological order so my mom wrote the chapters in the beginning and then makes a guest appearance in the middle and writes her conclusion on life at the end. The actual experience of writing with my mom can be summed up by my acknowledgments:
Congratulations are also in order to me, for the patience I mustered up while trying to decipher my mother’s notes and for partnering with probably the last known author to still use pen and paper and write in a painful scribble. My mother, well aware that English is not phonetic, applied her “more is more” theory and, just in case, added an extra vowel or consonant to each word. She demonstrated her creativity with each draft she sent me, and she challenged my math. Sentences were written vertically and horizontally, and pages were randomly numbered, rarely in order. Celebrate the completion of this book with us, for it is nothing short of a miracle!
Q: What is the most effective thing you have done to promote your writing?
A: Advertising. I put my book on sale for either 99 cents of 1.99 and then advertise with several different sites that promote daily e-book deals. I really notice sales peak when I do this. Also I have a card printed out that I hand out to people I meet who ask what I do for a living!
Q: What characteristics should someone opening a rooming house look for in the house itself and the guests in it?
A: As the conclusion of my author bio says: “In her quest for sanity, she decided never to own a rooming house.” So in good conscience I cannot recommend this, even if the piping-hot real estate market has got one calculating tenants into their mortgage repayment plan. If you don’t believe me and still want to open up a rooming house then read our book, then decide!
Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects.