Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Come study writing in Tuscany!

Many years ago now, the fabulous bon app├ętit magazine sent me to a farm in Tuscany to write an article and changed my life. Spannocchia  is less than 30 minutes from Siena, acres and acres of untouched, unspoiled land. Scattered around that land or stone farm houses, cente cinese pigs,  wild boars, verdant gardens, castle, and a villa – – not a fancy one, mind you, but one with  rooms that are hundred years old and a large dining room with big wooden communal tables for eating some of the best, local, organic food you've ever had. My kids have grown up running around these fields, watching baby pigs,  Learning to make perfect gnocchi, and sitting around a roaring fire roasting chestnuts and talking. After my first visit for that assignment, I returned with them every year, bringing a long cousins and grandmothers and friends of my kids.  My desire from the moment I first spend time there was to share this gorgeous, unique place. Six years ago I begin to take students to study riding with me there. We were a small group at first and I did all the teaching myself, though  writer friends joined me without pay just to do manuscript consultations and experience the Tuscany. Over the years, our group of students has grown and we have been able to add writers to teach workshops and even  to pay them a little for doing so. Last year we peaked at almost 2 dozen students. Those old stone buildings were bursting at the seams! Nights spent talking about the craft of writing, drinking wine together, eating Tuscan delicacies  Buy that roaring fire. During the day they were writing workshops, hikes, cooking lessons, tors of the farm, and a trip to a small walled city were some of the best wine in the world is made. On Saturday, when the kitchen closes it down for the day, we always go to Siena,  where we can gaze at the Duomo and shop for linens and olive oil and pottery, sip coffee or wine in the Campo, and all meet for a most memorable dinner.

 This year, for the first time, we are offering a workshop for two weeks. We always go in November to cut costs, since it is off season. Participants will have the opportunity to join us for one week – – either November 3-10  or November 11-18 – – or to come for both weeks! As always we have an outstanding faculty! Week one we will have Bill Roorbach  and John Searles  teaching writing workshops, Rand Richards Cooper will be available for private manuscript consultations, and I will be doing a full manuscript workshop. More on that in a moment. Week two we will have Alafair Burke  and my new hubby Michael Ruhlman teaching workshops, Laura Lipman doing private manuscript consultations, and I will be doing the full manuscript workshop.  Let me tell you about that workshop I teach in Tuscany. I have never seen another workshop that offers the possibility to have a completed novel or memoir read and critiqued by me and a small group of other students. We have to This class at five people because it's a lot of reading and a lot of critiquing  and a lot of help if you are trying to complete a manuscript. It's one of my favorite things that I teach because it is so rare to offer this to someone writing a book. Usually the same chapters end up getting workshop again and again, and I devised this so that riders can move on with their drafts.

We fill up fast, which probably comes as no surprise. Please check out the website for Spannocchia so that you can see just how beautiful it is there! And if you are interested in joining us please email mailto:spannocchiawritersworkshop@gmail.com for details!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Blossoms

Yesterday when I woke up and looked out the window, there were blossoms on the trees on the Greenwich Village street. My heart soared! Such a strange spring, with snow storms in March and April. But now there are daffodils in Abingdon Square, and blossoms on trees. And warm sunshine.

Readers here know about the hard few years I've had: the decision to get divorced, the decision to move from my beloved little red house, the nomadic summer as I waited for the bank approval to buy this loft Annabelle and I love so much, then the packing up of books and yarn and over two decades of memories, and the moving in--living with so many boxes for so many weeks!--as my book tour for THE BOOK THAT MATTERS MOST began. Such chaos of the heart and body!

But from all of this disruption and heartbreak and chaos comes so much. For the first time in many years, when I'm away I long for home. For my two kittens purring in my lap. For my big four poster bed covered with the susannah I bought in Uzbekistan. For dinner at the table made with love by my friend Steve of Fabulous Furniture in Woodstock NY, and the counter built by my dear friend Andre with his own hands and delivered in a rainstorm. The nights Annabelle and I spend quietly reading or writing stories side by side.

And as many of you know, in the midst of all of this, love found me too. How good it feels to be loved again. Respected. Found charming and smart and funny. How good it feels to love. The heart fluttering, the giddy joy of being with someone special.

That love and that joy are getting celebrated on April 20 when we get married. Every day we say we wish it were today. And now it almost is! We  have had so much fun planning every detail, choosing every little thing together, celebrating exactly as we want.

April is, for me, the cruelest month. In 1997, my father who I adored and loved more than words can say, died of lung cancer on April 14. In 2002, my beloved, smart, funny daughter Grace died of a virulent form of strep at the age of five on April 18. Yet April is also the birthdays of Sam and Annabelle. Choosing it for our wedding was purposeful. Please bring joy to this difficult yet celebratory month.

One of the poems read at Grace's memorial service was From Blossoms. When I asked my friend, the wonderful poet Dorianne Laux, for wedding poem suggestions, to my surprise she sent me From Blossoms. Re-reading it, I realized how it speaks to grief and joy. it speaks to love. So I wanted to share it with you here:

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the joy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom. 


Monday, March 20, 2017

Today

I have  set far too long trying to think of what to name this blog post. This is the curse of a writer, you can never land on the right word. But this has been an interesting week, in many ways a hard week. My sweetheart and I each lost friends. And I am not using that word  casually. For my sweetheart, he knew and loved this man intimately and knew his wife for a very very long time in a very close relationship. I do not want to intrude on someone's privacy, so let me just say  that this week the world lost a bright star. How is she in her quiet steady beautiful way wrapped her self around me when Grace tide is something I have struggled with for 15 years to express to her. I can only hope I did it adequately. She knew  her cancer was terminal yet she fought to write her story, and the story of her family, even as her health waned.  I just found myself shaking my head, as I try to write this, because there is too much to say about this beautiful woman in the beautiful man who my sweetheart lost. I guess it should suffice to say to all of us, to remind us, how short our days here  are. And how important it is to grab every minute with the people we love.

I could write to you now about where I am in Florida, and the week ahead in which I do a lot of very interesting and fun talks, but I think this week I will leave us with just the thought to seize life.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Snow Day!

A week from spring and here in RI we get hit with a nor'easter. As I sat here today, 5$3 shades on my enormous loft windows raised high so Annabelle and I could watch the snow and wind,  I remembered the April in 1997 when my father late dying in the hospital. In my memory it snowed a lot those first weeks of April. I remember getting those dreaded calls from the hospital telling me I had to get there fast if I wanted to say goodbye. I remember driving through the snowy streets  desperate to reach him in time. I remember the day snow fell big and hard like today and I couldn't get out of my driveway fast enough. Two teenage boys were walking down the street with shovels and I grabbed them and desperately sad please please do me first I have to get to the hospital. They did  and once again I raced down snowy streets only to find my father sitting up in bed asking what the fuss was about. Those two weeks or so fragile. I knew the only way they would end was when he died. and he did, on April 14, after making sure we had the usual Italian Easter feast that I've had every Easter of my life.  So yesterday as I sat under a quilt on the couch I remembered those early April to his 20 years ago, and how hard it snowed. And how hard I 12 to see my dad. And the joy I felt all the times I walked in and the crisis had passed, even though I knew it was inevitable that soon, soon, the crisis would not pass. I think of my dad every day and I miss him every day.

 So this is what a snow day I can do, return you to something you had forgotten or buried. Thankfully the snow day was not fraud at all. In fact it was quite the opposite: quiet and calm and lovely. My knitting buddy and I have signEd  up for a year of new techniques through Mason Dixon knitting. Our first lesson began this month and I have to admit I was a little lazy about it. When the Yarn arrived I dutifully rolled it into two balls as instructed. And I watched the tutorial video. Which looked very hard and confusing.  So I returned to knitting my hats with the gorgeous alpaca yarn from Yarnia in Nacogdoches Texas.  But then my knitting Buddy texted me a picture of her progress on the weird way to stripe, which is our lesson this month. And it was beautiful. So last night I watched the tutorial again and picked up my double pointed needles. It has been a long time  since I've met with size 2 double pointed needles. So I had to watch a few YouTube videos to remind myself how to cast on and join in the round with them. Well that's about as far as I got last night because I messed it up. So I took it all out put it in a Ziploc bag and vowed to get back to it today.  Which I did, with great determination. For the first few rows of ribbing I felt about as awkward as a knitter can feel.  But soon enough I got the hang of it, managing all those needles and all that yarn and all that knitting and purling.  Then I got to the striping into my great surprise and delight it was easy and beautiful! Honestly I didn't want to stop knitting. My friend and I texted back-and-forth a bit about how amazing this technique was. When it was time to make dinner for Annabelle and me I talk to my needles and yarn  into that Ziploc bag and then, after dinner while Annabelle was doing your homework I decided I could sneak in a few more rows. To my horror two of the needles had lost all their stitches. And so I spent the next 45 minutes picking up 48 dropped stitches and size 2 needles. But you know, that is  One of the lovely things about knitting, you can fix your mistakes I'm like life itself. That can sometimes be harder.

 I didn't just sit and watch snow, think about that snowy April long ago, and today. I also got in four hours of writing while Annabelle worked on her own writing. I can't describe how wonderful it was to sit in silence, each of us in our world of imagination and story.  I have never been a fan of a lot of noise, perhaps because I grew up in a very noisy large loving Italian family? Silence with a very special thing. And many days I don't put on music, television, any noise at all. Instead I live in the world of my dreams, and today Annabelle and I shared that wonderful experience.

 All in all the blizzard was kind of a basket in the end. At some point while  annabelle and I sat writing our stories the snow turned to sleet and then to rain. Most of the snow is actually gone now and to Annabel's great disappointment there is no snow day tomorrow.   But there will be tortellini soup, which I make every week the day after Annabelle and I have our chicken dinner like we did tonight. Are used to have the chicken remains simmer away all day the next day on the stove top with some carrots and leaks and a Bayleaf thrown in.  But my sweetheart it's taught me a better track, which is to put all the same stuff in a pot with water and stick it in a 180° oven overnight. When you wake up your stock is ready and the house smells delicious. I also  started a nice loaf of bread today, which is rising as we speak and then I'll bake tomorrow.  Is there anything better than homemade soup with homemade stock and freshly baked bread?

And now I am curled up in bed with the biography of Shirley Jackson called a rather wanted life, written by Ruth Franklin. I so adore reading author biographies, and this one is my favorite kind. It almost reads like a novel and Jackson's life is so interesting once I start reading I can't put it down.

 Despite the cold I have that will not go away and decided to turn into more than a cold, forcing me into bed for a couple days, again, I've had some terrific experiences in the past week. The first was to speak in the author series at the Gainesville library in Gainesville Florida.  The second was to interview the writer Meredith Maran about her new memoir my old new life, which is about starting life over at the age of 60, something I can certainly relate to. The interview was for parade magazine and is online there now. I'm having trouble copying the link for some reason, but I hope you have better luck and can find it. And I hope to that you read the book, which is pretty damn good.

 I have a few more things coming up this week and I'm grateful that the snow day gave me one more day of rest so that by the end of the week I will hopefully be in tiptop shape for them. The first is on Saturday at school one in Providence, goat Hill's workshop-palooza begins at 9:30 on March 18.  it is an opportunity to take two workshops in one day and have a wonderful lunch in between. The workshops are taught by professional writers and this year we have food writing, travel writing, writing about spirituality, poetry, flash fiction, hip hop, crime, and more. If you are interested and have been signed up they were still a few spots left. You can reserve a spot on the goat Hill website www.goathillwriters.com

Then on Monday I am off for a week of events in Florida. Please check my website for details, but if you live in the Orlando or Daytona area there is an event near you next week!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Workshop-Palooza!

Two years ago, writer friends Hester Kaplan, Taylor Polites and I dreamed up Goat Hill, a Providence based group dedicated to all things writerly. So far we've hosted agents and editors, crime writers Laura Lipman and Alison Gatling, food writers Michael Ruhlman and Ruth Reichl, and our big spring event Workshop-Palooza, a day of workshops in all genres: travel,poetry, crime, children's, spirituality, food, hip hop, non fiction. Last year we had a sellout crowd, and this year promises to do the same. If you are in or near Rhode Island, join us on Saturday March 18! For more details and registration go to www.goathillwriters.com.

Friday, March 3, 2017

AH-CHOO!!!

Greetings from the land of sneezing, coughing, and nose blowing. Yes, I have been taken down by a very bad cold. If ever there could be a good time to have a bad cold, this week is it. Annabelle is on a class trip to Quebec and my sweetheart is on a work trip to Singapore. This means that I have been free to moan and complain, wake up at 3AM miserable and listen to podcasts without headphones on, stay in my jammies all day--mostly in bed--and read (SHIRLEY JACKSON: A RATHER HAUNTED LIFE) and write (working on not one but two secret projects!) and watch TV (GIRLS, CHOPPED, and a spur of the moment rental of THE BREAKFAST CLUB) and knit (the second fingerless mitt for my sweetheart, a finished hat with alpaca and a pattern from Yarnia in Nacogdoches TX, and a puzzling how to video for the pattern a month from Mason-Dixon Knitting).

I have soft scrambled eggs (some people call these French eggs) in a double boiler with butter and cream and fried up bacon and made toast; cooked up my favorite comfort food, which is doctored packaged ramen from a NYT recipe (you poach an egg in it, add butter and two slices of American cheese, scallions or sesame seeds if you have them on hand--I didn't); reheated fried rice leftover from a dinner party we had in which sweetheart made sous vide short ribs with char sui sauce, I made the fried rice and dry fried Szechuan string beans, and we bought a whole chopped duck in garlic sauce from the duck place two doors down from me. Last night I finally dragged myself to the supermarket and got the fixings for the pot of black bean soup I've been dreaming of all week.

Here is the revelation I had while I sat in bed coughing and sneezing and nose blowing, my two cats--Hermia and Gertrude--nestled beside me, my computer on my lap: there is great joy for me in being a writer. In writing. In not talking to anyone all day (well, except my mom who is very sympathetic to my misery and Sam who calls in reports of his life as an actor in NYC and my sweetheart in Singapore who has the same bad cold but is eating giant crab legs and shrimp that are still wiggling on the plate and who patiently tells my what time it is across the world). Mostly, I am just living in my head, in my imagined worlds, which is what writers do. Happily.

Yesterday I remembered with great fondness having a similar bad cold thirty years ago when I was writing SOMEWHERE OFF THE COAST OF MAINE and living on Bleecker Street. Every day for a week I called my local Chinese restaurant and got cold sesame noodles and fried pork dumplings delivered. Every day. I stayed in my jammies and wrote my book, typing on an electric typewriter, living in the imagined world of those three friends who had gone to college together in the 60s and of their teenaged children. My two cats, Lewis and Daphne, nestled against me then. I read Anne Tyler's DINNER AT THE HOMESICK RESTAURANT and I ate those dumplings and noodles and I was happy.

So often, writers have to do the opposite of this cocooning. We have to go to libraries and bookstores and fundraising luncheons and book clubs and talk to people. We have to get up at 4AM for a 6:30 flight, and sleep alone in hotels, and eat airport food, and not write. This, my friends, is not a complaint. I am the luckiest person in the world. When I was four years old I read my first book and had one thought: I want to live in a book. And that's what I do. I love the great pleasure of meeting people that my books have touched. I love all the independent bookstores that hand sell my books. I love sharing the story of how I got from that four year old girl to the woman who wrote these books. But in the excitement and busy-ness of promoting our books, writers can lose the simple joy that comes from writing. That's what I rediscovered this week. The joy of moving your story along to an unexpected new place; of understanding something new about your character; of keeping the real world at bay so that you can be in your imagined one.

Tonight I will meet the bus bringing Annabelle and her classmates home. Tonight my sweetheart begins his long journey across the Pacific back to me. Tomorrow afternoon at 3:30 I will give a talk at the Athenaeum Library here in Providence. And I am grateful for all of these blessings. But I am grateful too for the blessing of this bad cold that kept me inside and in the world of my imagination, the place a writer needs to dwell.

On this, my last day of seclusion, I will write for hours. I will dip into Shirley Jackson's life. I will watch that damn video again and hope I understand what I'm supposed to knit. I will roll some yarn and make my black bean soup. And I will return to the real world of teaching and parenting and loving rejuvenated, inspired, writing.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

News

what a lovely few days I've had in NYC! Started Sunday off with brunch with my sweetie and My pal Laura Lippman and her wonderful family at Bar Boulud on the upper west side. Arrived at Penn Station at noon and the day was so glorious that I hoofed it up to the restaurant. Thirty+ blocks lugging two bags and it was wonderful, every step. Spring like weather, sunshine, and a Croque Madame waiting for me. That night we saw the Iranian movie THE SALESMAN, which is an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film. Riveting for sure. Highly recommend it. We walked there from the West Village, all the way down Bleecker (where I lived so happily for so long) to Houston. When we walked out into the warm night I pointed out that one of my favorite old school NYC Greenwich Village restaurants, Arturo's Pizzeria, was just a few blocks away. So off we went for pizza and red wine and jazz, then the lovely walk home. Another old school  favorite of mine, The Ear Inn, on Spring St. between Greenwich and Washington is where we met my pal of thirty-five years (!) Glenn for lunch OF burgers and beer on Monday. And continuing that trend we met up with friends of my sweetie at Fellini's that night before going to The Dutch on Sullivan Street for dinner with one of my favorite people Helen Schulman, a true blue friend for many years. We are sticky ribs and fried oyster  sliders and Fred Flinstone like pork chops and drank Ridge Zinfandel into the night.

And now my sweetie and I are on Amtrak heading to RI for a week. He's getting us hot dogs in the cafe car right now. Tonight we are hitting Persimmon, one of our favorite restaurants in Providence, then heading to Woodstock in the morning to visit my friends Catherine and John Sebastian so that Catherine can take his new author photo. She took mine, and there isn't a finer photographer around. I'm lucky enough to own two of her photographs and have her byline under my author photo!

I have been reading a lot--everything by Beryl Bainbridge and galleys of new books by Dani Shapiro, Tom Perrotta, Bill Roorbach, and Elizabeth Strout. Knitting myself a hat and my sweetie fingerless gloves. And writing! Writing lots!