Photos Courtesy of Diana M. Grillo

“An Accidental Murder and Other Stories” is a collection of connected short stories about navigating through trauma and overcoming life’s most challenging circumstances. Each story features someone struggling with abuse, loss and self-esteem as they fight to maintain their dignity and exercise control over their lives.

As we approached the door, I was still laughing at one of my boyfriend’s corny jokes. I buried my head in my purse to find my keys when suddenly the door flung open and my father loomed in front of me. I could tell by the look on his face that he was mad.

“Where were you?” he barked. “Why weren’t you home?” Before I had a chance to answer him, he pulled me into the living room, shut the door in my boyfriend’s face and turned the lock.

My father pushed me across the room. I almost fell but managed to brace myself on the easy chair; I knew what was coming. Before I could react, my father had grabbed my arm, yanked me close to him, and slapped me across the face, hard. I drew my hands up to my face to protect myself, but the force of his blow threw me across the room. I could see my boyfriend at the glass windows paralyzed with horror. I wanted to yell to him, “Break the window and help me!” But before I could utter a word, I felt another blow to my head. I sensed myself falling and then I was on the floor. Blood dripped from my nose. My father stood above me, yelling in his thick Italian accent, the same accent that sent me running anytime I heard it. If I met a boy who spoke with an Italian accent, even if I suspected he was a sweet boy, I wouldn’t wait to find out. No, if a boy with an accent asked me out, I would just say “no” and that was that.

I picked myself off the floor to try and get away, but my father wasn’t finished. He hit me again and once more I was thrown to the other side of the living room. I could still see my boyfriend, and I struggled to keep him in my line of vision. I desperately wanted to know he was still there. In an attempt to defend myself from my father’s blows I darted from one side of the room to the other like a prizefighter who was losing the match. As I moved, my boyfriend followed me from window to window, like a boxing trainer bobbing his head from side to side each time his fighter took a hit. He punched the window, rattling the glass with his fury each time my father hit me. The glass separated us, but we were together. I could see the pain in his eyes and the cringed expression on his face. Though he never stopped pounding on the glass and yelling at my father to stop, my tormentor never looked away. He just kept hitting me.

I kept trying to get away from my father and promised myself: When he is finally finished beating me, I am going to run to the police and tell them what he did. I was sure this time I was going to do it. After my father had felt he had battered me sufficiently, he stopped. I looked towards the window. My boyfriend was gone.

For the first time, I thanked those large open windows. Because of those windows, the windows that scare me at night, I now have a witness.

“Mr. Anderson” in “An Accidental Murder and Other Stories” by Diana M. Grillo

The collection was written by Cave Creek resident Diana M. Grillo, who grew up in a struggling Italian immigrant family with an abusive father. The author admits that the substantial wealth and social status of the wealthy suburb of Westchester County, New York in which she lived made her feel as though she never quite belonged. She became a mother at a very young age and worked her way through college while raising a son and daughter.

Images Arizona recently caught up with Grillo — who, prior to her retirement, worked as a paralegal and social worker — to ask the author a few questions about “An Accidental Murder and Other Stories,” the latest selection in its summer book club.

From where did you receive your inspiration for this book?
My daughter Laura passed away 13 years ago this August. I began writing short stories to help me through the trauma of her sudden death.

This book is dedicated to the loving memory of my beautiful and talented daughter, Laura. She took me on a journey in life that I could never have imagined. She was not only my daughter but also my best friend. Her smile, her laugh and her love of life lives on in her daughter, Tess. Love and miss you, Laura. Mom.

Dedication in “An Accidental Murder and Other Stories” by Diana M. Grillo

What themes did you aspire to tackle with this particular work? Did any other themes reveal themselves to you during the writing process?
My stories have relationship-driven themes. Many of the stories touch on family issues — such as abuse, poverty and fear. The characters are resilient, find strength in their circumstances and are helped by the kindness of friends or siblings along the way. Several stories take place in a turbulent time in our history. The struggle for civil rights was being fought in the streets of our towns and cities, and the laws protecting women and children from abuse were nonexistent.

What or how are you hoping your book makes readers feel? What other takeaways do you hope they have?
I hope that readers enjoy my stories and relate to my characters. Many of my readers say that my stories provoke strong emotions in them. And they can relate to the abuse because it has happened in their lives or to those they know. However, through all of the difficulties and pain that these characters go through, they are not just victims. With the help of either a family member or friends, they overcome their circumstances to gain agency. I try, in my stories, to shine a light on some of the social pressures and circumstances that bring about trauma in people’s lives and are often beyond their control.