Holy Bleep, I Went To Italy!

I spent the holidays in Bologna, Italy, which is the setting of several parts of my time-travel series, The Journeymen. It was my first trip to Europe, and it was amazing. So, instead of the usual January First-ish blog post about New Year’s resolutions and whatnot, I’d like to share a few things with you, my dear blogees, about the trip, if you’ll indulge me.

I had planned this trip all along as a research trip, to get a feel for Bologna and what it’s like. I’ve written the novels so far based on second hand information, albeit lovingly and painstakingly acquired to be as accurate as possible. But still… you can only learn so much from Google maps and travel blogs.

When you learn about a new place, people will tell you the big things–where to eat, visit, stay. But nobody tells you that so many people smoke cigarettes that the air permanently reeks of it, or how many people have dogs, and the dogs have better wardrobes than you.

Or that until you taste Bolognese food, you don’t realize how much garlic is NOT necessarily its own food group in Italy, and how good fresh, simple ingredients are. I’m looking at you, Ragu alla Bolognese.

By the way, speaking of food, McDonald’s needs to serve from the McItaly menu everywhere. I mean, burgers with fresh veggies on ciabatta buns, tiramisu and latte macchiatos… oh my. Yes, I traveled with two teenage sons, so McDonald’s and pizza were an integral part of survival there. I was grateful that it amounted to slightly better than mere survival.

I discovered in Italy, you can walk down an alley, knowing you’re going in more or less the right direction but not following a map or heading for anyplace in particular, and suddenly find a magnificent church or palazzo that is 800 years old and amazing. We often walked into a random church and marveled at the architecture and art that people walk past and ignore every day.

In fact, all I wanted to do in Bologna was wander aimlessly, on a treasure hunt of sorts. Turns out, it is a counter-intuitive truth that the more I walked, the less I wanted to eat. My sons noted immediately that nobody in Italy is fat. I pointed out the fresh veggie and pasta vendors and what we saw on menus, but there is more to it. In America, we have crappy processed food AND no place to see. I can’t imagine walking seven miles a day here. What is there to admire in suburban America within walking distance?

Another thing that surprised me was how I saw some of the most beautiful art ever created, including Michelangelo’s David, and yet, I stopped in awe at surprising things like fabulous doors and the architectural wonders at the end of alleyways.

So, forgive my brevity, but I wanted to tell you all a bit about my adventure and wish you a very Happy 2017. I’ll post pictures soon as the jet lag releases me and I get in the swing of being back. Releasing my first novel, Shadow of the Portico, is a high priority this year, and I hope you’ll stick with me through this shiny new year!

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NaNoWriMo Update: Day 28

Don’t laugh at me.

Yes, I know the last “daily” update was Day 7. Yes, I can add, or subtract, or whatever I’m supposed to do to make me feel ashamed that I definitely did not keep up with my blog on a daily basis during NaNo.

My head duly hung in shame, you should know that I’m actually less than 1000 words from completing 50,000 words of La Dotta, my second novel in The Journeyman.

I’m not even making excuses. I just barely hung in there, using what little creative energy I have to create this story. When I turned to my blog, it was always with a sigh of tomorrow… Sarah’s story comes first.

My creative turnips needing wringing.

As a result, I’ve got the first quarter of the book pretty much done, and then I’ve been working on pearls–scenes I’ll string together and turn into the rest of the novel.

I’m so glad I’ve done this, because now I can go back into the first book, Shadow of the Portico and have a much clearer idea of where the story is going. There is more political intrigue in La Dotta, where Shadow has more life and death adventure. And of course, Sarah’s story is very different from Giovanni’s, since Sarah comes from a Journeyman family.

The last part that I’ll be doing today is a conversation between Niccolo and his brother. So much of the skeleton of my writing is dialogue, and I put flesh around it later–details, movement, setting, other information. I sometimes wonder if I missed my calling as a script writer.

I had a funny chat with a fellow NaNoWriMo author here in Austin, about how so much of dialogue and action happens in white rooms with no furniture. I probably could have made this writing marathon a lot easier if I spent pages describing the wainscoting and the hardness of the oak chairs with the worn cushions that had faded to a sad, gray chintz and flattened to virtual nonexistence. I could make non existence two words.

Manufacturing words is fun.

So I’ll let you know when to pop the Asti Spumante on my behalf when I cross that 50,000 word finish line. Maybe tomorrow, if I can stay awake this evening to write.

Anyway, song of the day. So during my busy month when I heartlessly ignored you, dear bloggee, one of the things I did was go see a Yes concert… well, 3/5ths of Yes. Jon Anderson (who sounded amazing), Trevor Rabin (I had such a thing for him in high school and now I feel old), and Rick Wakeman (the becaped keyboard wizard) played an astounding set of Yes music, including one of my absolute favorites.

I’m an old bass player, you see, and Yes had the best bassist to ever lend a foundation to a rhythm section — Chris Squire, who we lost in 2015. However, ARW brought on Lee Pomeroy, an extraordinary bassist in his own right. They performed Long Distance Runaround, and at the end of the song, when the guitar plays a series of natural harmonics, the song usually segues into a piece called The Fish, which was a Chris Squire feature with him playing all the instrumental parts on bass guitar with drums. It starts at about 3:35.

Sure enough, at the concert, Pomeroy sampled himself right on stage, playing The Fish and breaking into a solo that had this bass player standing and cheering (and ignoring grumpy old men shouting down in front behind me).

So in honor of my being MIA in November–no, there’s no real connection, except I went to this concert–here is the original version of Long Distance Runaround, concluding with The Fish. That lyric at the end is, “Schindleria praematurus,” the scientific name for some kind of weird looking transparent fish. We don’t ask why. It’s a bass solo, a rare and beautiful thing. We just accept it.

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NaNo Journal Day 7

Not bad… seven days in and I haven’t collapsed in a heap yet, despite the time change.

Today I wrote one of the finale scenes. Yes, I’m taking that whole not writing sequentially thing seriously. But I’m actually following the advice of the Seven Point Story Structure, which says that we want to start at the end.

That may sound counterintuitive, but it makes sense for the same reason that we put the final destination into our GPS. The resolution of a story really defines what the story is about. It’s where the whole thing is going. In so doing, you can write the beginning with the end already worked out.

With that, and speaking of endings, today’s journal is brought to you by Blue October, who has provided a glimpse of what a happily ever after may look like… after.

And if anyone deserves so much happily, it’s Emilia and Niccolo. Well, and other characters, too…

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NaNo Journal, Day 6

Liberated from my constraints about writing in a pretty, linear order, today I wrote all kinds of stuff. I wrote my mood, and my mood was schmoopie.

Having a magnificent husband sometimes puts you in that mood.

Just saying.

So I’m all caught up now. Tomorrow I really have to throw myself into another project–editing my friend’s novella. I’m nearly done, but it may set me back a day or two with NaNo and La Dotta.

But that’s why God created weekends.

Today’s schmoopie writing was brought to you by k. d. lang, and one of my all-time favorite albums, Invincible Summer. We may feature more k. d. before I’m done, just because that voice.

We can say a lot about Sarah’s life in La Dotta… it’s frustrating, infuriating, disappointing, messy, wrong. But Giovanni will never, ever, allow it to stay ordinary, not since he came waltzing in.

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NaNo Journal, Day 5

Let’s start with Day 4. Zip, nada, no-thing.

Sometimes I need to be a teacher and grade papers. And sometimes I need to work football games at my high school. And sometimes I go home and collapse in a heap.

But that was yesterday. Today was better.

I struggled mightily with coming up with an opening scene. I wrote one that I didn’t much care for (I’m counting the words anyway). Eventually, my mentor best buddy told me that I don’t HAVE to write it sequentially.


I didn’t write Shadow of the Portico sequentially, and it ended up being quite a job putting it together in some kind of order that made sense. So I didn’t want to repeat that mistake.

Except, maybe that wasn’t a mistake. Maybe the mistake was not having an outline, a road map that covered beginning, middle, and end. In fact, having an outline means I have the freedom to write as ideas they come to me, since putting them together will be much easier with a plan in place.

So okay, I won’t write in order. Here we go.

As if my insecurities were zapped by my newfound freedom, I came up with a better starting scene. I’m pretty sure this one will stick.

And while I’m still a few words behind (6509 / 8335), I’m still in the running.

So today’s song is brought to you by one night stands and Sam Smith.

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NaNo Journal, Day 3

There’s a trick to writing 50,000 words in a month that doesn’t even have the decency to provide 31 days. The trick is to plow through. Don’t stop. Keep spewing words, and don’t pause to edit or doubt yourself.

It’s called shutting down your internal editor. That small voice inside of you that is desperately trying to tell you that everything you write is complete and utter bilge.

It’s hard to quiet that voice, that self doubt, that better angel who is saying, you know, you’re using too many adverbs. But in my current writing adventure, I’ve discovered a force much more powerful and damning than my internal editor.

My external editor.

Let me be clear. My editor is also my dearest friend and writing buddy, and I adore her, admire her tremendously. So when I wrote a scene that was what I call a book-sequel scene, meaning a scene that explains something that happened in my previous book, I thought I’d run it by her. You know, just a quick look to see if I was on track.

She completely garroted it, sweetly, with generous words and copious blood.

Of course, I reacted like anyone would after a garroting–I couldn’t breathe. But then, she did something magnificent. She taught me some rather profound lessons about writing a sequel. Specifically, she told me where to start this bugger.

It’s what I needed to hear. I needed to not write a book-sequel scene. I needed to start my sequel in a place that made sense, so my readers could actually see what was going on, not guess it from my oblique references and Sarah’s emotional instability.

So my word count was low yesterday. (I’m still counting the scene I wrote, may it rest in peace.) I decided to stop and give some thought to this new beginning, and give it fresh start. Three days in. Bless my heart.

But seriously, thank you, Olivia, for not allowing me to write anything less than the best I can do. I’m blowing grateful, if exhausted, kisses your way.

Today’s writing is sponsored by Phil Collins, with a live version of Against All Odds, which is significantly more tolerable than the movie video. This song, because Giovanni was the only one who really knew Sarah at all.


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NaNo Journal, Day 2

I’m finding there’s a certain skill involved in writing a sequel. Early in the story, I have to inform, or at least remind, the reader of events that happened in the previous novel. This is not into a standalone novel–you really need to read Shadow of the Portico before you read La Dotta.

One of the early scenes in this novel, one I wrote today, describes an event at the close of Shadow from Sarah’s point of view. It’s tricky to find the balance between saying in a television announcer voice, “Previously, on The Journeymen…” and actually telling and continuing a story that readers may be familiar with.

It was hard to write. It made me sad, nearly brought me to tears. Maybe I’m a little too attached to the make-believe people in my head.

Anyway, today’s Journeyman Journal is brought to you buy Roxette and her uncertain feelings about what may or may not have been love… but whatever it was, it’s over now.

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NaNoWriMo Journal, Day 1

Yeah, I don’t know if I’m really going to do a daily journal for National Novel Writing Month. But I can try… right?

I’ll be writing book two in the series this month. It’s called La Dotta, and it focuses on Sarah from the first novel, and the aftermath of her failed romance with Giovanni.

Sarah has a fresh PhD and a brilliant mind… and a stutter. That makes it hard for her to become a professor, and she’s not sure what else to do with her life. So as she takes a job as a barista, and she’s feeling quite discouraged.

Since music often informs my writing, this is the song that I have in mind while writing about Sarah’s seemingly hopeless situation. I picture it coming from the point of view of Giovanni, even though he’s not with her anymore. Thank you, Gotye, for knowing Sarah so well you wrote a song about her. (By the way, Gotye reminds me a bit of Giovanni. He’s part of the amalgamation of men who inspired the picture I have in my mind as I write him.) Oh, and this video is just plain awesome.

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It’s not that I’ve forgotten you, bloggy friends, I promise! This tends to be a busy time of year for me. Most of the abuse is self-inflicted, to be honest. So, here’s what’s going on.

In November, I have decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month. A rather large chunk of Shadow of the Portico was written in last year’s successful participation of NaNoWriMo, so I thought I’d have another go.

Granted, I’m still cleaning that up (being a novice and all), and that made me think that perhaps such marathon writing of WORDS (more words, more words…) wasn’t the best use of my time if I ended up spending so much time mopping up the mess. But I changed my mind for two reasons.

First, having a good chunk of my second novel, La Dotta, in the can may be a good idea ahead of my research trip to Bologna. That way, I have two fleshed out stories written as I’m digging up information and sightseeing.

Second, NaNoWriMo is fun in a kind of manic way. In Austin, we have an active group of independent authors who get together a lot for write-ins and other encouragement. So, even if I don’t eek out 50,000 words of La Dotta (I think I will, actually… this story has been rolling around my head for a long time), it’ll be fun to try.

October has been spent cleaning up Shadow and outlining La Dotta. That makes a girl busy. I’m also a U.S. History teacher and many of my students are taking their STAAR state exams in early December. Busy. Trip to Italy December 17. BUSY.

I’ve also been cooking and thinking about posting a few recipes, just for fun. I’m writing that down so you guys hold me to it.

All that and sleep pretty much makes up my life these days. Hope you are having a beautiful autumn. I’m sure I will as soon as it’s not 90 degrees outside. Oh Austin, you weird city with your uniseason…

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Going to Italy!

It’s official. God willing, my two sons and I are going to Bologna over Christmas. Reservations made and paid. Ohmigosh.

I haven’t really wrapped my mind around it yet. Not only is this the city where my novels are set, it’s freaking Europe. I’ve been fascinated (obsessed may be more accurate) with Europe since the beginning. Now we’re going.

The only bummer is that my husband cannot get enough time off and will not be joining us. That means lots of videos, which I will likely share with you all, too. Prepare for a deluge.

We’ll be there two weeks, mostly in Bologna and making side trips to Venice, Florence, and Rome. We’ll also probably get over to Imola and maybe even Modena and Ferrara, which are all mentioned in the book.

I have to tell you about the hotel, though.

It’s next door to the Palazzo dei Notai, which is the Notary’s Guild where my character Niccolo Bruni worked. During the period my novels are set, notaries were the legal scribes of the community. Not quite lawyers, they did record legal documents, and they were in a position of community trust in that they attested to the veracity of those legal transactions. Their signature was all that was necessary to do this.

Having said all that, the Art Hotel Commercianti is just behind the Palazzo dei Notai, down a narrow street, almost an alley, adjacent to the massive Basilica di San Petronio. In the thirteenth century, the building housed the Brentitori guild, those who made wine carriers called brente. Wearing these brentes on their backs, these wine carriers were experts about the wines they traded. They also served as volunteer firefighters, since they were used to carrying around water anyway. 

I’ve written about San Petronio before on my blog. It is Bologna’s civic church that found itself in something of a competition with the Cattedrale Metropolitana di San Pietro, the Catholic archbishop’s seat in the city. That bishop was none other than Cardinal Gabriele Paleotti, who is a character in Shadow of the Portico based on the historical figure.

San Petronio, meanwhile, was supported by my fictional character, Lorenzo Croce. Oh, politics!

So yeah, we’re staying right there. Right flippy-dippy there.

Seriously… a room with a view! Art Hotel Commercianti. (Photo courtesy of ixigo.com)

I’m going to be totally honest, I feel sorry for my two teenage gamer boys. They are going to have to deal with more history geeking than anyone ever should.

As you can imagine, I’ll have a lot to say about this trip over the coming months, and I’ll be sharing it here. To say I’m excited doesn’t scratch the surface, and I hope you’ll enjoy and geek out with me!



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