Cheryl Ossola doesn’t have an extensive explanation of how she got the idea for her debut novel “The Wild Impossibility,” about a contemporary Berkeley woman who has dramatic, scary visions and a World War II-era Central California teen who has a dramatic love affair.
“I wish I had a fascinating nugget to tell you,” says Ossola, who’ll be in The City at The Booksmith next week to launch her book. “I thought, ‘What if someone started living someone else’s memories?’ At first, I had no idea what kind of story that would be,” she adds, mentioning that she’s always been intrigued by memory – and has a bad memory herself.
And after hearing a podcast about quantum entanglement, she wondered if it could be manifested in humans’ emotional connections.
A former neonatal nurse, Ossola witnessed extremely premature babies, on death’s door, who didn’t take their final breaths until they had contact with their mothers.
“It was such a powerful thing to me,” says Ossola, whose protagonist, Kira, also is a neonatal nurse. Suffering from debilitating dreams in the wake of recent deaths of her infant child, and mother, Kira begins to question her capacity to love and the future of her marriage.
In the novel, Kira’s story alternates with that of Maddalena (Italian-American, also like Ossola), an adventurous girl who falls for a Japanese-American teen imprisoned in Manzanar, and goes to great lengths, at great risk, to sneak visits with him.
Ossola picked the atrocity that was Manzanar as a catalyst because she needed something “extreme” to move emotion and action. It was a period of American history she didn’t know much about before she began the book, and her research — including visits to Manzanar and museums near there, as well as reading memoirs of Japanese-Americans who were interned, lasted the entire seven years it took her to write the book.
A resident of Italy today, Ossola began the novel in 2012 when she was working on her master’s degree in writing at the University of San Francisco.
“It was my thesis, I had draft three by the time I finished school,” she says, admitting that she knew that trying to get it published would be difficult and traumatic.
But she had fulfilling day jobs; she wrote comprehensive program notes for San Francisco Ballet for 16 years and was an associate editor at Dance Magazine. Though she never performed, she says dance always has been a big interest, having grown up a “theater kid” visiting New York and training in jazz and modern for many years.)
She calls writing nonfiction and a novel “completely different” experiences, with the former being a cognitive process and the latter something based on emotion, coming from her subconscious.
Ossola realized her own pipe dream recently, celebrating her one-year anniversary of living in Perugia. She’s also started another novel, “about fine art and obsessions,” and set in Italy.
Pleased to be returning to the Bay Area for her novel’s release, which purposely was planned near Mother’s Day, Ossola says, “I dedicated this book to my mother.”
Though she initially had no intention of writing a book about mothers, she realized how much it was about motherhood after she completed it, and it “revealed itself” to her.
The Wild Impossibility
Written by: Cheryl A. Ossola
Published by: Regal House Publishing
Note: Ossola appears at 7 p.m. May 13 at The Booksmith, 1644 Haight St., S.F.