Thursday, August 29, 2013


These are my very last hours here at Spannocchia, which, for the past week, has served as writing workshop, retreat, bed and board. From my top floor perch, each day I’ve taken in the expanse of the tenuta—the vast fields and forest of this amazing Tuscan farm—before trotting down to the common room for fresh vegetables, pasta, pork from heirloom pigs, wine and, um, more wine.

I brought one of my completed novels as well as something new to be workshopped, and got to weigh in on some pretty amazing writing. I did some writing. I also learned how to make pasta from scratch. I took side trips to Siena and San Gimignano, and met some terrific fun-loving people.

This place is 700 years old! How can you summarize  a week in a 14th-century Italian villa in the heart of the one of the most romantic countries on the planet and even come close to doing it justice?

It’s gonna take me a while folks. Meantime, here are a few pictures. Ciao.

Friday, August 23, 2013

two kinds of weird

Ah, duality. Always my favorite literary theme. The interplay of light and shadow. Coffee or tea, today? Going up, or heading down? One of these things is not like the other. Is it the outside David or the inside David? Is it live, or Memorex?

Today I found out that there are two places one can purchase postcard stamps: the post office, or a tobacco store. And not just ANY tobacco store; it has to be the type that doesn't sell espresso and food. But when you purchase stamps from a non-post office vendor, and then scribble out a card and take it to a post office, you will be told that you are shit out of luck. Turns out, you must go back to the tobacco shop and slip your missives in a special box they have there.

Also, by the way, the second floor of a building is 1. A first floor is designated 0. You can imagine the infinite challenges to a person who has to mentally pick up a pencil before giving right/left directions.

A year ago, when my agent started schlepping RAISING CHEER around, with the characters still firmly in my psyche, I embarked on a sequel with the working title, TWO KINDS OF WEIRD. And guess what? It was set in Florence. I'm not making this up.

Well, I got a bit waylaid and downhearted about the whole project, and after the first three chapters of the sequel, I put it aside. The whole Florence-studying art abroad thing has been so done, right? Except that, in Brady's case, I sort of set up the ending of the book for a future one to take place right here in Firenze! Thing is, though I had a sketched out plot (thank you plotboard), I didn't really have the soul of the book the way I did right from the get-go with RC.

But now that's changed.

Yesterday, trekking through the Uffizi, I had a moment of clarity while taking in the various Madonna-and-Bambinos in the medieval art room (it's brilliant how they show the baby steps toward realism in these three masterful pieces). The paintings illustrate, like nothing else could, the influence of perspective on art and culture.

But it wasn't until I wound around the U-shaped former office building and then took in the galleries on the first floor (or was it the zero floor?) that the deal was sealed. Of course there was a boy involved (With YA, there's always a love interest, right?). In the corner of the Caravaggio room, there hung a quiet painting they believe is a self-portrait (not the Medusaesque one, a much more normal-yet-bad-boy one that isn't on any googleable webstie that I can find, and I'm therefore obsessed). Brady's journey in the second book will be complicated by a boy who embodies the essence coming off of that canvas. Does that wet your whistle? I hope so!

So, ya'll, something's brewing. And now I embark on the second phase of this journey. Off to the hills near Siena.

What are you working on today?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

david and the duomo, done and dusted

 The first thing that surprised me, were his hands. I'd read the guidebook, downloaded the Rick Steves' audiotour, but still. It's hard to get beyond those paws. Phrases like, Hand of God, and Gotta hand it to him, kept assaulting me. Wouldn't want to get on the dude's bad side. Which, I guess, is the response that Michelangelo had in mind.

So, I'm standing there in awe, like everyone else, circling this iconic masterpiece, when all of a sudden there's a clunk sound next to me. A bad clunk sound. Turns out this rather large woman has just collapsed in front of the David. A small group of us start fanning our tickets and guidebooks around her. Her husband stoops down next to her and starts rummaging through her purse. An attendant grabs her legs and lifts them up. (I'd never heard of that.) It was a diabetic thing, apparently. Low blood sugar. Dehydration. Maybe a combination. After a few minutes she came to, and was dizzily guided out the door by her husband.

I'm sure it's not the first time David inspired fainting. Plus, it's August in Florence.

Still, it more than freaked me out, in that I'm-a-woman-traveling-alone sort of way. Humans are more fragile than we think. And the way those Smartcars and motorbikes zoom around the cobblestones here. And me, and my daydreamy half-attention style. Doom could easily be just around the bend. Or tainted gelato. Or a falling brick from some renovation project.

So, I did the thing I always do when I start down the doom-trail. I manned up and strode toward the Duomo, intent on climbing to the top. Unfortunately, by the time I'd finished the Accademia Gallery tour, the line to walk up those 463 steps to the dome was a winding mile long. I don't know about you, but it seemed absurd to stand in a two hour line, and then pay money to climb the world's longest staircase. So instead, I walked across the piazza to the Campanile bell tower (413 steps, no line, 10 Euro), to sweat out my anxiety.

As with most huffing and puffing adventures, the payoff did not disappoint. It was a clear, moderate morning in Florence, and the view from the top was magnificent. Plus, I got to look down at the massive Duomo line from my perch.

Have you ever had a "plan B" experience that made you feel pleasingly cocky? 

Monday, August 19, 2013

and behind door number three?

I'm in the basement of Imbarchi C in Rome, laying over for a couple of hours until my flight to Firenze, wondering how many cappuccinos I can toss back in that time and not have a heart attack.  As I type this, sitting in one of several metal chairs that dot the long hall, there's a monk all garbed out a few seats away. The tourist in me is all, "Maybe he's from the Vatican! Think he'd be up for an autograph?" But, this holy man is dressed much more in the vow of poverty style than the Pope's entourage (but, then again, we did get that new Pope who's humble, right? The one who replaced the fashion plate Pope?).

Maybe it's a sign from God, because I'm here in Italy workshopping my legacy heretical novel, Blackdirt. Maybe I just better get on my heathen knees and beg for a blessing.


Clearly, I'm a little rummy. I've slept about five broken up hours in the last two days. Ambien and all.

(Oh My God, a nun just walked up dressed in the exact same feed sack attire. Long canvas robes cinched with simple brown belts. Birkenstocks on their feet. They're sort of having it out. They seem perplexed. Their discussion is in Italian, of course, so I can't eavesdrop.  Damn it! The nun is taking out an old cell phone--pre-flip, even--and untangling the charger's cord, looking for a place to plug in. It just seems wrong, doesn't it? Monks with cell phones? Even dated ones.)

The Rome airport is a little surreal. Very gleaming and shiny. Long halls to nowhere. Poor signage (Even in the mother tongue). But it's so exotic. Fendi bags and perfume shops. Even the restroom doors (shown above) are intimidating and stylish. My only other trip to Rome, I was here about 72 hours, and I must say, it's one of my favorite cities. It's just so weird! I mean, the ruins, the mopeds, the hucksters, the holy places, the fountains, the gelati, the "everyone going home to fuck in the afternoon" thing. It's like an ant colony, constantly crawling with activity (unless it's the afternoon), and purpose that all very insidery. All so very Star Trek.

We landed amid a cloudburst. Oddly, it's rainy and crappy out this August day. Grey like Portland in February. But muggy. Ay. Well, the monk couple seems to have worked out whatever they were upset about. I think I'll fold up my laptop and people watch for a few minutes before my flight to Florence. I hope the monks are on my plane.


Anyone have a favorite place in this little burg? I'll be here three days, beginning tomorrow, and am partial to off-the-beaten-track sort of places.

(Of course I plan to do the must-see regular tourist stuff too.)

Have tips? Please comment!

Florence bound in ten, nine, eight...

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

book deal

Is there anything as pretty as a PM deal with your name on it?

Here it is folks, my plot board experiment. The book I finished on May 17th, 2012.

It's found its true home with the genius pioneer team at Diversion. I was telling my friend last night that I feel like I'm on the Oregon Trail, but I lucked into the covered wagon with all the good food, medicine and state-of-the-art horses.

RC was a weird beast. Editors would fall in love with it, want to buy it, and then the board would shoot it down. Kaboom! As most of you know, last year was a crazy year in the NY pub world. It felt like some sort of massive influenza epidemic--everyone hiding in their houses, masks covering their faces. Oh the fear! The uncertainty! Pink slips, divisions closing, the Big 6 no longer 6.

And in the wake of it all, emerged the e-book publishers.

Diversion's been around for longer than most. The two phone meetings I've had with the team have born out my hunch that they're hella smart, innovative, and forward-thinking. They came out of the gate with connections (check out their backlist), and tools, and a plan for growth. Of all the boilerplate details though, this is the one that means the most to me:
Founded by book lovers from the world of traditional publishing, Diversion is building the next generation publishing company, one great book at a time.

So folks, stay tuned for updates. It's looking like RAISING CHEER will be coming to an e-reader near you before the end of the year!