Well, I hate to say it, but I've been busy, busy, busy - and who hasn't, right? - but last night, the hubby and I took a few hours for ourselves. We had a lovely dinner at a Japanese restaurant, and then we went for a walk in the city center. We hadn't done this at night for a long time, and we brought along the camera and tripod to capture some of the scenes for posterity.
So, please, allow me to present to you
13 Photos I Took Last Night!
And there you go. I hope you enjoyed these.
It's so rare to see the streets so empty and so quiet. It almost felt like the whole city was made just for the two of us.
It was a frosty night, but it was a delight to go out and walk with my hubby in it.
After we got home, there was a chance to cuddle and warm up together. Naturally, I'll keep my hubby to myself.
You get to warm up with this lovely gent, okay?
I know we're just now creeping up on Christmas, but I've already got my brain pan boiling with thoughts, hopes and plans for 2012. So, bearing that in mind, I'd like to share with you:
13 Things I Have in Mind for Next Year
(These Are Not Resolutions)
1) I'm considering putting Alternate Rialto together with Ask Me if I'm Happy in a single book. Don't know if I'll do it, though. I might do it for a limited time or something. We'll see.
2) I want to ride my bike a lot more. Well, more, anyway.
3) I may try to write a novella. If I can find the time.
4) I will publish 27 Stages.
5) I plan on taking more photos and, hopefully, finding a way to make money off of them.
6) I hope to keep writing guest blogs for other sites.
7) With luck, I'll do another book signing in the US - and possibly branch out farther than Newport this time around.
8) I plan on getting more organized.
9) I will work harder on learning/speaking Italian.
10) I plan on finding new ways to market my work. (I'm open to suggestions if y'all have any!)
11) I know hard times will come, and I will have to work hard at maintaining a positive outlook - both for myself and for those I love. It'll be worth it, of course.
12) Alle and I have previously considered getting another kitty to keep Sophie company. I'm not sure of the wisdom of that, but I still find it tempting.
So I might have to consider getting some therapy.
13) I plan on having another bash at A Marginal Life (Well-Lived). I'd really like to work out the problems with the narrative and get a saleable story out of it.
As I said, these aren't resolutions or anything. They're just things I plan on doing or am considering making attempts at accomplishing.
I'm sure they'll all see rather varying degrees of success.
But there's one thing I promise I will continue to do.
I'll keep finding - and sharing - the eyecandy.
And to all, a GOOOOOD NIGHT! Ciao for now!
My final blog for 2012 for Book After Book is now up! Come by and learn about the events of my first visit - ever - in Italy, almost exactly eight years ago today!
"Al centro esatto di Piazza Maggiore
con leggerezza da pattinatore
Bologna adesso voltati
mi fai commuovere
lo sai che esagero con le parole..."
"At the exact center of Piazza Maggiore
With the lightness of a skater
Bologna you now turn -
You move me
You know that I exaggerate with words…"
- "A Bologna" ("In Bologna") by Samuele Bersani (translation mine)
I frequently have to explain "Why Bologna?" I mean, I live in Italy – I'm surrounded by historic locations which could have hosted Emily and Davide's story in Ask Me if I'm Happy, right? So why limit myself to a frequently cold and foggy setting in northern Italy that readers might not be very familiar with in the first place?
Well, why not?
The truth is there was no other place as well-suited to the story as Bologna was. I cited some of the reasons elsewhere once, in an interview I did prior to Ask Me if I'm Happy's initial release in 2010: "It's the major train travel hub for northern Italy; it's simply a place I love; it is, as my husband might say, characteristic of the region where I live; and finally, it's a beautiful and historic city.
"Most of all, I feel it's one of the unsung locations in this country. Nearly everyone knows about Tuscany, Rome, Naples and Venice, but very few folks, it seems, are even aware of Bologna. I wanted my area of northern Italy to be represented, for better and for worse, and I think I've done that in Ask Me if I'm Happy."
I've done my best to give a real sense of the city and to show how it affects Emily and Davide throughout their relationship. I tried to not make the story feel like a travelogue, preferring to let the city peek through from time to time, by citing real places and inventing amalgamations of others. From what I've been told, I've done a decent job of it.
In spite of Ask Me… being a love story, I really hoped to write a story which could serve as an antidote of sorts to many other Italy-set stories. I wanted to show the Italy where I – and my ex-pat co-workers and friends – live and work every day. All of us had grown tired of the oh-so-perfect life described by so many novelists and travel writers, the false la dolce vita-isation of these places we know too well. As a result, I aimed to write about this place I've come to love with all my heart, but to write about it warts and all.
Yes, Italy is a beautiful country, there's no doubt about it. I don't deny that, and I do think this aspect shows through in Ask Me if I'm Happy. But there are other aspects of living here which fall quite short of the idealized imagery in those "Ex-pats in Tuscany/Rome/Venice" tales we're all familiar with. This discrepancy is what Emily struggles with, and it's something Davide deals with, too, although in slightly different ways.
From the beginning of the novel right through to the end, I've tried to show the Italy I know in the season I love best: the cold air, the grey skies, and the style of urban living which is the reality for the majority of Italians I know. I wanted to show the romance in a foggy afternoon and in warming one's hands over a hot cappuccino or in the grasp of an attractive companion. I wanted the reader to imagine strolling along the porticos of La Grassa, the city of Bologna, and see her rather weathered charms in all their flawed splendor.
Emily rediscovers these aspects of Italy every time she leaves and returns, just as I – and many of my friends who came here from abroad – do. And every time they open Emily and Davide's story and journey into an Italy they might not previously have been familiar with, I sincerely hope that readers of Ask Me if I'm Happy will do the same.
Well, here we go: 'Tis the season and all that stuff. Everyone's running around looking for Christmas gifts, so I thought I'd share what I requested from Santa this year. I mean, hey, you never know, right?
So, with that in mind, please allow me to present:
13 Items on My Christmas Wish List!
The Bag of Holding. $39.99 (on sale!)
I don't care much for purses and/or shoes, but I'm crazy about backpacks and messenger bags. They're "my thing" as it were. And I LOOOOOVE this!!!!
There's a backpack version too! AUGH!!!!
A Dalek you can ride in! Just $299! What? You wouldn't want one?
A miniature TARDIS! Which LEVITATES! Just $34.99! You know you want to get this for me.
It could only get better by arriving *on* David Tennant.
A replica of the Tenth Doctor's coat!
How awesome is that???
A Jedi bathrobe. $89.99 Does anyone *really* restrict their use of this to a bathrobe? Really? *snert*
Stormtrooper hoodie. $59.99.
I'd get this in a heartbeat, if only I wouldn't ruin it instantaneously. (White is murder to keep clean!)
The Slanket - just $27.99. I know, it's basically a robe you can wear backwards, but I've tried using my robe backwards and it doesn't quite work. And it's not long enough - but the Slanket is! Awesome! No?
Twitch Programmable Cat Toy. Just $19.99!
Seriously, I could *totally* use this - if I could distract the Doodle during the day I'd get a lot more work done, and she'd be content to play on her own.
Then I'd just need something to hold her tail while she eats... Nah, I'll keep doing that myself.
Women's Trench Coat with 18 pockets. $149.99 - If only they had it my size! ARGH! I love this!
USB plug-in Toast Handwarmers. $24.99. They fit over your hands so you can type and keep your hands warm at the same time. Don't you want these? I sure do.
A Wi-Fi detector T-shirt. $19.99. Heck, for me, this thing is a *necessity* when I'm in the US!
A Star Wars Galaxy Poster. $5.99 - Every character in the Star Wars galaxy is here. I really want to double-check, but I'll have to brush up on my Star Wars geekery.
Any book or DVD by Stephen Fry. Seriously. I'm not picky. Most of my "To Buy" book list for next year consists of his work.
And there you go: 13 Items on My Christmas Wish List.
This post practically wrote itself!
And so, I thought it best to keep with the overall theme of the gifts in my post.
You did pick up on it, right?
The only thing I left out was "Firefly". Which I adore.
And what do I adore most about "Firefly"?
I think you'll figure it out.
After all, he *does* "aim to misbehave". Browncoats Unite!
Here's what I'm sharing for this week's Write On Wednesday Blog Hop First, my book teaser from Ask Me if I'm Happy:
"Just a minute," she said, then came out of the bathroom clad in flannel pajamas, her familiar, shy grin on her face. "See? Nothing too revealing."
His eyes narrowed, trying to make out the pattern. He reached for his glasses before remembering he‘d left them downstairs in his coat. "Che cos‘è? What is that?"
"They‘re penguins," she said cheerfully. "Penguins holding martinis."
He arched an eyebrow at her and she rolled her eyes.
"It‘s cute, Davide. Penguins don‘t drink cocktails."
Teaser for the book I'm currently reading - Inside the Peloton by Nicolas Roche:
As well as playing football and rugby, I continued to race and, as an under-fourteen, was selected for Ireland the first time. I had been picked alongside Páidí O'Brien, Stephen Adair and Michael Concannon for the Manchester Youth Tour in England. Although I didn't do anything in the race itself, riding for Ireland was all new to me and very exciting at the time. We were up at 5 a.m. to get the bus to Dun Laoghaire to catch the ferry. We got off the boat about nine and headed straight for McDonald's. It was like a school trip with bikes.
One of the most surprising aspects of writing Ask Me if I'm Happy had to be the way Davide was received by the first folks to read the story. From its earliest days, men and women alike singled Davide out:
"Davide is a knight in shining armor that we all pray for to come save us."
"This Davide fella gets more attractive by the word."
The story was reworked considerably before it appeared on Authonomy, but I was confident it would – for the most part, anyway – pass muster. Again, to my surprise, people still seemed to notice Davide more than I expected:
"This man could seduce an iceberg! I'm half in love with him myself."
"Davide sounds so dreamy - good looking, sophisticated, cultured, kind, and a professor of literature - what girl wouldn't fall for him?"
"… Davide is lovely and one wants to spend time in his company."
I became concerned. Had I written someone too perfect? Had I written someone who couldn't possibly exist in the real world?
This proved rather troubling, as my intention had been to write a story which was, ultimately, very realistic. I wanted both Emily and Davide to strike home for the reader, to be people with whom the reader could identify – not in a fantastic manner, but in recognizing something of themselves as they read along.
I forged forward and the story grew and grew, giving me deeper insight into Davide's mind, his motivations and even his past. Based on "Connections" alone, it's clear he's not the "typical" Italian male. He's studious, perhaps slightly nerdy, honest and conscientious almost to a fault – not the self-involved, vainglorious and self-assured sort of man we're accustomed to imagining as the classic "Italian love interest".
No, Davide is no Casanova, no Valentino, no love-'em-and-leave-'em sort of guy. However, when the moment presents itself, he knows when to step in, when to seize the opportunity to declare himself and his intentions. When he does, he does so with all the fear and trepidation most of us would surely feel for taking such a chance.
In short, Davide is simply himself. A man who doesn't bow to the caprices of fashion and who quietly despairs for a world around him which seems to do just that; who struggles to maintain a standard of civility and propriety which he sees slipping to the wayside; who worships the woman he loves because he isn't able to see her flaws – however many there may be – and can only see her perfection magnified by his love.
Tragically, this may well be his most self-destructive aspect. Davide believes himself to be honest in all things yet his mistrust of anyone's ability to love him, or to be as honest with him as he is with them, keeps the world safely at arm's length. This, combined with his need to protect Emily, is his blessing and his curse. The very things which bring them together are what might well break them apart.
Not long ago, a friend read through Ask Me if I'm Happy and cited Davide's self-imposed isolation, his rejection of societal trends, his need for a deep emotional connection with someone – anyone – as proof that he is a man "out of his time". His initial perfection – as seen through Emily's eyes – gives way to his own view of his imperfection. His self-critical nature stifles his ability to be honest with himself – and thus, with Emily – in the way he knows he needs to be. Of course, this leads to trouble. Just like in real life.
Now, when I hear people telling me how much they admire Davide, how attractive and romantic he is to them, I have a better understanding of why that is. It is my belief that these readers, male and female alike, really do identify with him and with his struggles throughout the novel. They see themselves or their loved ones – or both – in him, and that spurs their desire to see him succeed, to work out his problems and emerge victorious on the other side of the struggle.
Whether or not he does this, I won't say here. You'll just have to read the book to find out.
Well, I promised some eyecandy for the ladies yesterday, since I didn't feel it appropriate with my Thursday Thirteen post on John Lennon.
In fact, I'll go one better and give you a whopping SEVEN pieces of candy, one for each day until the next Thursday Thirteen. How's that for customer service, eh?
So here you go, ladies! Enjoy!
Alexandre Despatie - diver
Ben Ross - rugby player
Yoann Gourcuff - French footballer
This morning I decided I would pick a "topical" Thirteen for today's list. Sadly, it's a topic which marks a loss, but I think it's one worth remembering.
So, this week, I'd like to share with you
13 Facts About John Lennon
John was born John Winston Lennon on October 9th, 1940.
John and his aunt Mimi.
His father abandoned John and his mother, Julia, in 1944. A short while later, John's aunt, Mimi, would take over raising him.
John and Julia.
John learned to play guitar at an early age, starting with banjo lessons from his mother.
John and Cynthia, 1964.
John married Cynthia Powell in 1962, after learning she was pregnant. Their marriage was kept secret (or at least, kept quiet) for fear of fans being unable to accept it.
Brian Epstein and John Lennon.
In 1963, John went on holiday to Spain with the Beatles' manager, Brian Epstein. The trip would provide fodder for gossip for years, since Epstein was gay. The 1991 film, The Hours and Times, was a dramatization of their visit.
His writing abilities were not limited to songwriting. John also wrote short stories and poems, and a collection "In His Own Write" was released in 1964, and was followed up with "A Spaniard in the Works" in 1965. (He can be heard reciting part of one of his poems "I Sat Belonely" in the film Help.)
Illustration for "I Sat Belonely" (In His Own Write)
John was also an artist, fond of sketching and doodling. His drawings were also featured in his books.
Publicity still for How I Won the War.
John also acted - in the 1967 film How I Won the War. He played a soldier, Private Gripweed, and his famous "Beatle cut" was a casualty. He also started wearing what would become his trademark round specs during filming.
When John married Yoko Ono in 1969, he intended to take her name as his own and be known as John Ono Lennon. Unable to alter his name officially, he had it legally amended to John Winston Ono Lennon.
He moved to New York in 1971, but because of his outspoken opposition to the war in Vietnam, he was denied permanent residency in the US for five years.
Julian and Sean today.
John's two sons, Julian and Sean (Cynthia's and Yoko's sons, respectively) are both musicians.
The now-infamous portrait of Lennon and Ono was taken by Annie Lebovitz just five hours before his death.
Lennon was killed outside his New York home by a mentally unstable fan thirty-one years ago today.
In light of the tone of this post, I'm not including any eyecandy. I'm sure you understand.
I promise, however, to post a special Friday blog with something for you to savor.
Ciao for now.
Being one of those writers from the "my characters tell me what happens" school, I'm endlessly surprised by the things I learn about my characters while I write the story. In this regard, they really do feel like friends I'm spending time with, getting to know them over time. Sometimes, the surprises are astounding.
Emily had a lot of those surprises in store for me from the start. When I first wrote the short story which became Ask Me if I'm Happy, I confess she wasn't terribly well-formed in my own mind. Over time, she shaped up on the page, but initially all I knew about her was that she was leaving Italy after a fair amount of time there, and she spoke Italian better than I did. I didn't know whether she was married, divorced or widowed. I didn't know precisely how old she was. I didn't really know for sure what she looked like, either.
Soon enough I understood she was nervous, and scared. She was frustrated at the obstacles keeping her in Italy. She prized honesty because she'd been lied to in previous relationships. Her attraction to Davide was natural and unhurried, and it was part of her becoming honest with herself once more.
The story expanded and went deeper into her head. I found she was prone to self-doubt – well, who isn't? – and that she struggled to move forward from her own past mistakes. I learned that she'd been alone for a long time, and she'd practically been abandoned to her despair to see her worst fears come true. I also found she was stubborn and bullheaded, usually at the worst possible times.
When she described herself in the story, it wasn't Emily who provided the words. Instead, it was the voice of Jacopo, her ex, who spoke – and he didn't speak kindly. He described Emily as mousy and dumpy – words which, ironically, weren't in his English lexicon until he met her. He even used the phrase thirty-four-year-old-woman as though this were some sort of insult.
My heart ached for her. I tried to determine what exactly had happened to Emily which sent her on this downward trajectory. Why was she so vulnerable? How was she so easily manipulated? Why did Jacopo choose Emily if he would be so unhappy with a woman like her?
It came to me in a rush, while discussing the plot's possibilities with a friend of mine while we walked through the city center. In the middle of a piazza not unlike the ones she would walk with Davide, I understood the source of Emily's pain: it was all I could do not to start crying on the spot. For a moment, it was as though Emily stood there with me, her head bowed so I couldn't see her face, waiting for me to give voice to her pain.
The linchpin to the story was given to me just like that. When I got home, I sat at my writing desk and cried while I made my notes and typed them out. It really was like having a friend tell me a devastating secret she'd held back from telling, out of fear of being judged.
For all her quiet, mousy tendencies, Emily was no blushing innocent nor was she brazen and careless with her affections. She'd been devastated by her father's death when she was a teenager, and she'd acted out, as teenagers do. Her mother, who was always distant, became more so in spite of the fact that she was all Emily had, and her daughter was all she had. So, Emily sought affection wherever she could find it, and it cost her dearly.
Writing all of this was difficult for me, but with every revelation, Emily became more real, and more realistic. She wasn't at all perfect. She had her flaws, and with each choice she made, with each tough path she chose, I found myself rooting for her.
Of course I hope that anyone who reads Ask Me if I'm Happy will feel the same way. I will always hope that my efforts to put Emily's (and Davide's) story on the page will be as moving an experience to read as it was for me to write. My constant refrain, as always, is "Time will tell" – because it always does.
And what we hear in the meantime is often quite surprising.