Happy debut day to Let The Mountains Be My Grave by Francesca Tacchi! I had the pleasure of reading an early copy of this Nazi-killing historical fantasy novella where the partisans get by with a little help from Etruscan gods.
Join me in celebrating this release with an interview with the author, where xe discusses the inspiration behind the novella, the kinds of research xe did, the fun xe had writing it, and what Tacchi is working on next.
Behind the Scenes of Let The Mountains Be My Grave
What inspired you to write this antifascist, queer, historical fantasy novella?
The greatest force that moves a writer: pure spite! I had just finished the first round of revisions on the YA novel I’m currently querying, and was pretty burned out. I was entertaining the idea of writing something easier, shorter, and more self-indulgent to recharge. Already, my mind was drawn to the Italian partisan resistance, since it was April (the month when we celebrate the liberation of Italy from Nazifascism). I had made a twitter post about the partisans, highlighting the role they had in liberating Italy, and some British dude was pissed that I didn’t thank the British army instead! So, that sealed it for me: I would write a WWII story completely focused on Italian partisan resistance. Just to spite Random British Dude. And of course, I’d make it queer, because…well, I am queer. And queer partisans existed! I still remember my uncle in law telling me the stories of this gay, ruthless partisan who operated on the mountains of Friuli—I’d love to say he was an inspiration for my main character, Veleno, but it’s just a beautiful coincidence.
What kind of research did you do to tell this story?
I’m lucky to have a friend extremely knowledgeable in WWII stuff (no, not THAT kind of WWII enthusiast, don’t worry) and he helped me a great deal in making the story as accurate as possible. Many little details that would have escaped me, he helped me fix—like, for example, the fact fuel was scarce in 1944 and most Nazi convoys moved with carts and horses. Other details I simply…knew. It’s very hard to grow up in Italy and not know about the partisan resistance. We study it in high school, we celebrate it, we hear it narrated from the lips of those who fought it. In my 20 minutes walk from home to the lab where I work, I cross four WWII memorials—three dedicated to partisans, and one to civilians who died in a misdirected Allied airstrike.
A particular mention, also, goes to the Jewish people who helped me craft Irma, the Jewish partisan that features in the story. I debated whether to include a Jewish character, since I’m a gentile, but Jewish people were a fundamental part of the Italian resistance and it would have felt wrong to erase them. I hope I didn’t mess it up ahah.
One of the most compelling elements is the relationship between Veleno and Angitia. How did you go about crafting the interactions between the two?
You know, this question actually made me realize…all of my stories feature a special relationship with a god and a human. It’s definitely not something I did consciously. In the case of Mountains, I wanted to include Angitia because I found her extremely fascinating, especially as her cult lives on in a way (the Festa dei Serpari, which I mention in the novella, is an actual celebration held to this day in Cocullo!). And her relationship with Veleno…I think it may stem from my own yearning for the divine. I grew up a very fervent Catholic, and despite having good memories tied to the faith, I distanced myself from religion and now consider myself agnostic. I would love to believe in something greater, I just…can’t. I guess this yearning finds an outlet in my writing, and this is why I have so many characters with a special relationship with the divine. A god, or goddess, watching over them, and giving them strength and counsel.
What was your favorite scene or moment to write?
I had a LOT of fun describing Veleno’s visions, and the magic connected with the antagonist. Describing magic is, without any doubt, what I enjoy the most when writing. Veleno’s tirades were also pretty cathartic to write, as I myself struggle a lot with rage and suicidal tendencies (yay, depression). Overall, this novella was, among my projects, the one I had the most fun to write! As I mentioned, it was a very self-indulgent work, and I didn’t have publication in mind when I drafted it. I just wanted to write something for myself, and have fun with it. It’s pretty validating that it paid off, and I’d love to write something as self-indulgent in the future.
Is Let the Mountains Be My Grave your first novel/novella?
It’s my first novella, and the third work I have written in English! Previous to this, I had written three novels. My first one was in Italian, and it’s a clusterfuck which will never see the light of day. The second one I wrote first in Italian, and then basically rewrote completely in English. I queried it, but didn’t have much success with it. The third one—a YA fantasy set in Tuscany and featuring a trans necromancer and Etruscan deities—is currently in the query trenches…we’ll see how it goes!
How has your experience been working with Neon Hemlock?
Oh it was absolutely lovely! dave is so patient, and very accommodating. As a neurodivergent writer, this is very important to me! Not everyone would be so understanding. You can tell he cares deeply about this project—not just my novella, but all the works he publishes—and it’s something that really shows in the quality of the finished product. I feel so honored to be published by Neon Hemlock (especially considering the astounding talent of my fellow debuts! Seriously, check their works, they’re amazing).
What are you working on now?
At the moment I’m working on…surviving these hellish times ahah. But I hope to get back to a project I started, and paused, as soon as possible: a YA fantasy inspired by the Roman and Byzantine empires, and their commercial and diplomatic relationship with Chinese dynasties. I’m having tons of fun devising the setting and the magic system(s), and I’m drawing inspiration from a period of history that I’m truly passionate about, so I can’t wait to get back to drafting it. It is, of course, extremely queer.
Once we’ve confronted our death and mortality after finishing the novella, what are you recommending we read next?
Oh, that’s a hard question, because I’m usually criminally behind with my readings. I’ve just finished reading A Memory Called Empire and I loved it, so…I guess I can recommend that! I’ve also bought Kaikeyi and can’t wait to dive into it. And, of course, I can’t not recommend my sister novella: Uncommon Charm, a queer gothic novella masterfully written. For non-fiction, if you want to learn more about the partisan resistance, I can point you to The Italian Resistance: Fascists, Guerrillas and the Allies by Tom Behan. Or, if you know a bit of Italian, Io sono l’ultimo: Lettere di partigiani italiani and Lettere di condannati a morte della Resistenza italiana: 8 settembre 1943 – 25 aprile 1945, two collections of various letters from Italian partisans that offer a vivid photograph of what antifascism and resistance truly is.
Francesca Tacchi is a neurodiverse, queer writer of dark and humorous fantasy. Xe’s based in Bologna, Italy, where xe shares an apartment with xir spouse, a chonky shiba pup and three dozen plants. Francesca’s a huge history nerd, and strives to share xir country’s history and folklore through xir works. Xe can be found on Twitter at @jackdaw_writes, where xe posts historical threads amidst the shitposting. Xir historical fantasy novella, Let the Mountains Be My Grave, is part of Neon Hemlock’s 2022 Novella Series. Xe is also a contributor to the young adult anthology TRANSMOGRIFY! (HarperTeen 2023).