Category Archives: Trip To Italy 2016

M is for Making More Memories

I wish I was better about taking pictures.

Seriously, I have a phone that never leaves my person. It has a great camera that I don’t use.

Masks Ren Fest 2014I’ve just discovered that the first pics that are on this phone are from the exact period when I began my writing adventure — November 2014. That Thanksgiving, we went to Texas Renaissance Festival, not garbed (shamefully), and I took a picture of a mask that my son, Joshua, liked. I took a few other pics that weren’t terribly notable. I should have taken more, but we didn’t dress up. Such a silly reason to not take pics.

But yeah, that’s when all this started, inauspiciously, when I decided I could write stuff, sure, what the heck? And I already had Giovanni, so I gave him a love. Sarah, whose name means princess, a medieval scholar with messy hair and a stutter (I had to make her imperfect somehow).

Bologna 1604 Fontana BookBy January, I had taken this picture of Bologna from the period when my book is set. It’s from a book called Lavinia Fontana: A Painter and Her Patrons in Sixteenth-Century Bologna by Caroline P. Murphy. I’m pretty stoked to find this picture on my phone. It means that between Thanksgiving and January, I had already decided that I wanted to make my novel a historical romance rather than a modern one. Alas, though, my characters struck me as terribly modern. How do I reconcile this?

It just so happened that season one of Outlander was being shown. I refused to watch it until I read the book. So, that was on my bed stand when the lightning bolt that my contemporary characters could time travel to the Renaissance hit me. I think I spent that Christmas break in a state of extreme manic creativity.

It was Bologna because of the University. It was 1578 because I had found that book about Lavinia, and that was when her painting career took off, and there had been a plague a couple years before that I thought I’d build a story around. I developed a character named Emilia, given the same name as Lavinia’s first child. Caroline Murphy’s book was a veritable goldmine. Still is.

By January 25th, I had Niccolo, Emilia’s beloved. I know this because I shot this picture of a resource I found in the library at the University of Texas.

Notary Source Jan 2015

I’m not sure why he ended up as a notary, and I’m still looking for the resource that told me notaries wore black, but those things stuck. He became my dark, mysterious man, as much as a Pollyanna like me can write a dark character. Especially since I absolutely adore him.

20161222_162318.jpgWell. This wasn’t what I was going to do my M-is-for post on at all! But perhaps it’s appropriate that I record these spontaneous decisions I had made that didn’t seem important at the time.

I suppose a great way to frame this blog post is to show a picture of my son, Joshua, standing outside a mask shop in Venice. We were in Italy researching the book series. Who would have ever thought my silly ideas for some scribbling would turn into this?

Yeah, and I guess I had forgotten how old (and fabulous) my phone is. (Samsung Galaxy 6, people…)

What did we learn today, kids? TAKE MORE PICTURES! Make More Memories. They may turn out to be more important than you can ever imagine.

Oh, before you go. I have a postscript to yesterday’s blog about the actor who’s my Giovanni muse. I woke up to this on my Twitter feed this morning. Can I just say how much I love being a writer?

Alberto Tweet



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Filed under #AtoZChallenge, Chatting with the Readers, Historical Fiction, Trip To Italy 2016

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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Filed under Chatting with the Readers, Trip To Italy 2016

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

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!



Filed under Chatting with the Readers, Trip To Italy 2016