Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Chicken Marbella and me

Hello Everyone! Happy Flag Day!

Last night I hosted a dinner for three colleagues to help with the exciting plans for a Low Residency MFA program in Newport RI at Salve Regina College, launching in June 2018 with fabulous poet Jen McClanaghan and me at the helm. As anyone in New England knows, it has been very hot and very steamy here. For dinner I was thinking of cold food--panzanella salad maybe. Corn salad. And I had pretty much landed on Laurie Colwin's yummy mustard chicken when my darling husband suggested I make Chicken Marbella, my no fail recipe from The Silver Palate.

He was in NYC doing publicity for his new book, so he wasn't going to partake in my Chicken Marbella. But I could almost see the twinkle in his eye when he suggested I make it.

Back in 2011, I wrote an essay about my beloved Chicken Marbella for the sadly now defunct literary journal Alimentum, which was dedicated to all food writing. That essay won a Best Food Writing Award that year, and unfortunately that's the only way you can still read it as it isn't available online.

"The Golden Silver Palate" told about my history with Chicken Marbella, and how in some ways it turned me into a cook--mostly because you can't mess it up. I've forgotten the brown sugar, the wine, marinated it too long and too short, and it's always delicious. So the first time I cooked for Michael (well, it was technically the second time, the first being spaghetti cacio e pepe, but that's another story) I was so nervous--I was madly in love! With a chef!--the only thing I could make that I knew wouldn't fail was Chicken Marbella.

So organized was I! I set up the chicken to marinade the night before he arrived. I snipped the parsley for the garnish, measured the brown sugar and wine for the baking, and...

It was terrible. I mean, really really bad. Michael likes to tell the story of how I woke in the middle of the night and said: I forgot the olives! But this was more than that: flabby chicken and tasteless juice.

Almost every woman I know who came of age in the 80s makes Chicken Marbella as her go to dish--BECAUSE YOU CAN'T MESS IT UP. When Michael and I tell about the first meal I made him, when I say I messed up the Chicken Marbella, we always get the same response: That's impossible!

Alas, it's true. But seven months later, at my sweetie's prodding, I made it again. And it came out perfectly. Check out my Instagram at annhood56 or my Facebook page for pictures of its yumminess. I guess it proves no dish is foolproof. Or maybe that you can be so blinded by love that you can even mess up Chicken Marbella?

It's been a truly lovely week, this victorious dish only adding to it. Michael and I drove to Coney Island with Cousin GJ and her beau on Friday night for a walk on the boardwalk and dinner at a new restaurant. Then we headed to Cousin Chippy's beach house in Breezy Point for a weekend of food and wine--pizzas in the pizza oven, long beach walks, lots of vino, lots of cousin love when Cousin Tony and his Girlfriend showed up and Marina arrived too, and our traditional Sunday morning ribs slow cooked all night in aforementioned pizza oven for breakfast. Perfect weather to boot.

I am still knitting away on the Churchmouse Yarns Airport Shawl in alpaca. This week I've been reading A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW by Amor Towles.

Tomorrow I'm meeting my beloved in NYC for our friend's art show opening and the performance of the daughter of another friend. On friday I'm on  a panel at Hunter College's Summer Symposium, then we are going to see the play WHIRLIGIG with my theater crush Norbert Leo Butz in it.

And then we are off to northern California for a week for some reading, writing and romance. Looking forward to eating lots of oysters, drinking lots of California wine, working on my new novel, reading Maggie O'Farrell novels, and well...the romance part!

I hope you are enjoying Flag Day wherever you are. And that you are eating and drinking and reading to your heart's content!

Monday, June 5, 2017

I say it just begins to live that day...

Beginning this post with a quote from my beloved Emily Dickinson is fitting today because I just spent three glorious hours making words live. (Full poem is at end of post)

Woke at my beautiful loft in RI with Annabelle beside me. the loft has been (happily!) taken over by Sam and the theatre company he and his friends have formed, What Will the Neighbors Say? (WARNING: proud mom approaching) They are doing a month long residency in RI, bringing the acclaimed play IN HER OWN WORDS: THE DIANA TAPES that played at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh last summer and a new musical for kids, UNTITLED SHAPE SHOW to Providence. I had a great time feeding them all, and playing cards and dancing into the night. 

But today I left them with a fridge full of food to come to NYC for the launch meeting of Penguin Workshop, which my new YA novel, SHE LOVES YOU (YEAH YEAH YEAH) is debuting in! So so excited for this. 

On the train here I reread the 47 pages I have of my new adult novel, THE MUSEUM OF TEARS, and cut 12 pages, four characters, and one sub plot! I love a day like this, lost in words and story. I was able to rearrange and add sentences here and there, all to get ready to bring it to life. Just this morning the story led me to Pablo Neruda poetry, uniforms for waitresses at IHops in 1972, and the Merimekko website. God, i love my job!

When I looked up, ready to take a break and knit (Churchmouse Yarns airplane shawl), I was fifteen minutes from NYC! 

Now it's off to Penguin, and dinner with my wonderful editor and friend, and then a very early wake up tomorrow to catch a flight to Cleveland where my darling husband awaits me. He's doing publicity for his new book, GROCERY, which is selling like gangbusters, and I'm excited to be at his upcoming events at Heinens grocery store downtown tomorrow and on Pepper Pike on Wednesday, as well as his reading at Loganberry Books. If you are a Clevelander, come and say hi!

Thursday we fly back to Providence, ever so briefly, before a family weekend at the beach in Brooklyn. Hopefully the rain will pause (the hole in my ceiling and the leak from it would be especially grateful).

And here, as promised, the full Emily Dickinson:

A word is dead
When it is said,
Some say.
I say it just begins
to live that day.
– Emily Dickinson

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

On Books and Knitting

After a busy, fun-filled long weekend in Chicago with Annabelle and two cousins of mine, I am happily home in my loft with my kittens and my husband and my kid. We got perfect weather in Chicago and did such wonderful things--the architectural river tour, the Shedd Aquarium, the Art Institute (I went back alone just to gaze at the Impressionist art there), and of course HAMILTON, which blew me away. We ate well too: of course deep dish pizza at Gino's East, but also Fonda Frontera, Roister, and my favorite The Girl and The Goat. Our hotel, The Chicago Athletic Association, is now among my favorites (having Shake Shack room service was a plus!).

Before I left, I sent off revisions of my new YA novel, which I am very excited about! Tentative title is She Loves You (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah) and I will tell you details (pub date, basic story) here soon.

As I wrote about last week, I'm also celebrating thirty years with my very first novel, Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine, which has been in print ever since its debut. So proud of that little book, and the life it began for me.

Today, as my darling husband works across from me on his new book, I am taking out index cards to begin a blueprint of my new (adult) novel, The Museum of Tears. I began it many months ago and this is the second time that the start of a novel got interrupted by other work. And the second time that the months away from it made me, as Joseph Conrad said, re-vision it. Even though I wasn't actively writing, I was thinking the story. And this time thinking and not writing has opened up the story in a new and dazzling way. Our rush to putting words on paper isn't always the best route to the story we should be writing, I think. Now that my writing time has returned, I am even more excited to tell this story in this way. I cannot wait to begin!

But first, the promised knitting updates too. Yesterday I finished the Summer Scarf from Mason-Dixon Knitting's Snippets newsletter. This was a very fun knitting project, using cotton yarn in two different colors and the helical striping technique. I liked it so much that I'm going to knit another one later this summer (it's a great travel knitting project). Until then, I am going to start a summer wrap from Churchmouse Yarns and continue the swoncho from The Yarn Lady (my home knitting project). All of this finishing and beginning made me reflect on beginnings and endings on the flight home yesterday as I cast off that summer scarf.

Yes, I'm beginning a new novel just as my new memoir, Morningstar: Growing Up With Books is being published (in August! Available by pre-order now!), and I'm casting off and casting on knitting projects.

So this week is all about books and knitting for me. And cooking and loving. I hope your week is full of all these good things too.


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Chicago!

What a week my darling husband and I have had! While he was wowing people on the west coast with his new book GROCERY, I was revising my new YA novel. He got home in time to come to Goat Hill's memoir panel with the most wonderful Andre Dubus lll and Dani Shapiro. Sold out crowd, which makes me so thrilled. This crazy idea of mine to bring the literary world to RI with Hester Kaplan and Taylor Polites has been more successful than I ever imagined. We are meeting next week to plan our next season so stay tuned!

Then we were off to Boston where he had a dinner and meetings and I had the great good fortune to be one of the writers at Alice Hoffman's Pink Pages, an incredible event that raises money for the Hoffman Breast Cancer Center at Mt. Auburn Hospital. I was so proud to share the stage with Diane Ackerman, ZZ Packer, Geraldine Brooks, and other writers whom I admire. Afterward we stayed late into the night drinking wine and eating snacks. A night to remember for certain.

One of the many things my husband and I enjoy doing together is riding the train. So we happily rode from Boston to NYC on Tuesday, working and knitting--yes! He finished his first dish rag! I frogged it about four times but it came out damn good! Me, I'm still happily Knitting the summer scarf from Mason Dixon's Snippets. Helical stripes and great cotton yarn. I'll do another after I finish since Annabelle wants this one.

After an early evening movie we went to Barbuto where we had our lovely wedding luncheon. Got all dreamy and warm there remembering the fun we had just a month ago there. Then played highly competitive cards into the night. The next day we had a real NYC day, with breakfast at the Odeon, him on the Leonard Lopate show on WNYC, lunch at the Ear Inn, an afternoon of writing before his event with Ruth Reichl and Dan Barber at the 92nd St Y. They rocked the place! Wine and gnudi after, and talk of books and writing and Northern California where we are heading for a romantic getaway in a couple of weeks.

But first! Chicago! When you can't get HAMILTON tickets until 2019, and then for way too much money, you go to Chicago where tickets are plentiful and cheap(er). The cousins and Annabelle and I fly out tomorrow. We have dinner at The Girl and the Goat, deep dish pizza, the aquarium, the Art Institute, and yes, HAMILTON!

So excited!

Taking the Richard Ford memoir and the new Denise Mina for the trip, and the aforementioned Summer Scarf Knitting.

And next week, when I'm home from Chicago, I get to work on THE MUSEUM OF TEARS, my next adult novel. Cannot wait.

I hope you all have a weekend of fun. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

SOMEWHERE OFF THE COAST OF MAINE

 Over 30 years ago, I was working as an international flight attendant for TWA. I was also attending graduate school at NYU, getting my MA in American literature. But most importantly, I was writing my first novel. To be fair,  for many years as I worked as a flight attendant I wrote in longhand a novel which I threw in a dumpster on Sullivan Street in Greenwich Village in 1982. I never finished that book, mostly because when I reread it I realized how terrible it was. For new writers this is an important lesson.  If you are anything like me, lacking in formal training on how to write, and therefore a total autodidact, you need that practice manuscript. The one where you make every mistake beginning writers need to make: thinly  veiled real life, imitative of writers  you admire, uneven prose, mistakes in plot – – if you even have a plot – – and characters and, well, in just about everything. I never finished that first  disastrous novel. But I might have. Instead the inner critic and editor in me recognized it for what it was, a bold and risky attempt to tell a story. I suppose that's what all fiction is. In nonfiction, which as you know I write a lot of, you already know your story and your job is how to distill it,  what to omit, how to organize the truth. When you write a novel however, you start with just that blank page and your enormous imagination. Lucky for me that imagination began forming stories when I was just eight years old. I would sit in my classroom and stare out the window and make up characters and stories. What if a little girl found an abandoned carousel that began to whirl when she got on it and brought her back in time? (that was in fact the first short story I wrote!) Here's a little aside:  my darling husband had a similar experience, beginning in fifth grade. As you know from my blog posts and the New York Times Vows section that I posted the link For here, our connections run deep. This early desire to become a writer is one of our greatest bonds.  His reasons for turning to predominately nonfiction writing are interesting ones, but he has the soul of a fiction writer too. And it is one of the things I cannot wait to see him do more of. OK. Enough digression. After that first novel, the Betrayal of Sam Pepper, landed in that dumpster on  Sullivan Street, I went right back upstairs to my tiny apartment, put a blank piece of paper into the typewriter, and wrote these words: to sparrow, her father was a man standing in front of a lime green Volkswagen van in 1969. That sentence remains as the first sentence to my first novel, somewhere off The coast of Maine.

 I knew nothing about writing books, publishing books, getting agents, or finding an editor. I just sat on those airplanes flying over the Atlantic at 35,000 feet and wrote my heart out. Oh! New writers out there! If I had one piece of advice to give you that would be it: write your heart out. Eliminate all of the noise of publishing and editors and agents and the literary world. Just write your heart out! That is what I did over the course of two years. And then one day my wonderful boyfriend asked to read whatever it was I typed and scribbled all the time. Hesitantly I gave it to him, because he was a huge and smart reader. I gave it to him and I fled my little apartment, this one on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village. Why did I flee? Sheer terror.  Although I wrote poems and short stories and yes novels or attempts at novels ever since third grade, I really did not show my writing to anyone. Or at least not to anyone who really mattered to me. This was a guy I loved  like crazy and if he thought my effort was pathetic or week or futile I honestly don't know what I would have done. But alas, he did not think it was any of those things. Instead he looked at me and told me that he thought it was really good. And that I should go over to NYU, which was kind of around the corner, and show it to someone who taught writing there.

To make an eternal story short, I did that and had the great pleasure of studying with EL Doctorow,  Who did not read our stories but instead had us read many many novels that he then talked about from a writer's point of view.  Excited and engaged by this new literary world I had stuck my toes into, I took a workshop with a man named William Decker, who had been a senior editor at Viking and had edited the likes of Katharine Anne Porter, Hemingway, and Zane Grey. Bill Decker did read our stories and brought to them the cool critical editor's eye that I so desperately wanted and needed. It was Bill Decker who invited me to his apartment one afternoon, looking over Washington Square Park, and said the words I'd dreamed of since I was eight years old: you've got it. You're a writer. With those words I felt my cells actually fall into place. And when he recommended me to go to the bread loaf writers conference  in Vermont that summer he gave me a ticket into the world I had dreamed of since I was a little girl. That summer changed my life of course. I worked with Nicholas Delbanco,  who gave  me encouragement and suggestions that propelled me to turn the interconnected short stories I was writing into the novel that would become somewhere off the coast of Maine. From that two weeks on that mountain in Vermont, I landed an agent and very quickly a book contract. It took me a couple of years to finish that novel, teaching myself how to do it as I wrote.

In 1986, TWA went on strike and all of the flight attendants were euphemistically replaced.  I found myself, a year from the book's publication date, suddenly a full-time writer. One of the best lessons my parents taught me was to never become a victim. We are a pull yourself up by your bootstraps family, and no matter what comes our way – – and readers here kniw all of the things that have come our way – – you do not Give into them. You grieve. You cry. And you move forward, stronger than ever.  So with my mortgage due and no job in sight, I wrote my first short story that got published in mademoiselle magazine, and my first essay that was published in the Washington Post style section. And then I started a second novel, even before the first had been published.  In a matter of weeks I was a full-time writer.

 On May 21, 1987 somewhere off the coast of Maine was published. It became an international bestseller, and launched my career as a writer, a career which has had its ups and downs but never let me down. Many people think that the knitting circle was my first novel, probably because there were so many years  in between it and the one before it. Those were the years when my Gracie died and I was struggling to save myself and my family. But now you know in case you didn't before you read this, that my first novel came out 30 years ago this month. And that little book, that little gift of love, has never gone out of print. It has had four different covers in the United States, been published in more countries than I can count, and still gets me royalties every year. I admit sometimes the royalties are as little as $.80, but sometimes they are in the thousands still. A joy which has not diminished. Nor has seeing it on library, bookstore, and home bookshelves.

 I am asking everyone to join me in celebrating that gift of somewhere off the coast of Maine this month. If you haven't read it yet, please go to your favorite bookstore and get a copy. I would love for it to have a little burst of life on its anniversary.

write your heart out!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Mother's Day

I enjoyed reading yesterday about, Anna Jarvis, the woman who started Mother's Day. Her own mother had been a peace activist who cared for wounded soldiers in the Civil War. Jarvis wrote letters to President Teddy Roosevelt and even Mark Twain in an effort to create a national day to honor mothers. But it wasn't until 1914 that President Woodrow Wilson declared Mother's Day a national holiday. I love obscure facts and information (another reason I adore my new husband--so does he! and we share them all the time!) so this story certainly appealed. But I also liked that the holiday was born from love and the desire to honor mothers. In fact, Jarvis tried to sue Hallmark because they took away from handwritten personal expressions of love.

Of course if you are a mother, Mother's Day reminds you of when you had your children and all kinds of warm and fuzzy things about them and motherhood. I was so happy to spend Mother's Day morning with my kids at breakfast at Cafe Cluny. And I was happy to drive with Annabelle from NYC back to RI with a Fiat full of Sichuan food for my own 85 year old mother. The three of us ate dumplings and orange beef and about seven more dishes. All in all, a lovely day in which I felt both feted and celebratory.

But when I woke up and stared out at the bright blue sky, what I felt was sorrow. When you've lost a child, Mother's Day is a double edged sword (forgive the cliche). It brings back all the joys that were Gracie. And all the pain of losing her. As I lie there, my family sleeping around me, I thought of the pain motherless daughters must also feel on this day. Holidays make loss so present, so felt.

Yet, as we must, I delighted in the hugs from sleepy Annabelle, and the cards she'd written from her and our cats, Hermia and Gertrude. My heart expanded with love and joy that my grown son made the hour trek from his apartment Brooklyn to meet me at 10:30 in the morning for breakfast, and that he'd copied a picture from the wedding as a gift. And I was filled with gratitude that my mom is still here, smoking cigarettes and giving advice and wrapping me in love.

Oh! The human spirit never fails me. How we ache! How we love so deeply!

I hope your own day reminded you of love gone and love here, and that you enjoyed the lilacs that are blooming all over New England, and even the lovely rain that fell last night.

May I share a favorite poem of mine about lilacs?
https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/lilacs-5/

And now a catch up on my knitting, which I have been doing quite a lot of lately. My travel project is a summer scarf in blue and white from Mason-Dixon Knitting's Snippets newsletter. It uses the helical striping method, which I am now offically addicted to. Such a fun project! My home project is called a Swoncho and comes via The Yarn Lady in Florida. It's a loose pullover sweater/poncho hybrid that I'm knitting in the yummiest spring grass green. I like sitting with Annabelle in the evening and doing my increases and purls. Hopefully I will finish them both before summer ends so I can actually wear them!

My darling husband has been asking me to teach him to knit for a long time now. At Christmas I gave him yarn and needles and finally on our trip to Cuba he started a dish rag. I daresay he is a natural knitter and is hooked on it! Next up for him, a scarf, maybe in Mistake Rib.

Speaking of my husband, please read his terrific new book, GROCERY, which is part social commentary, part reporting on food in America, and part memoir. He is on the west coast promoting it this week, so if you are in San Francisco, Portland OR, or Seattle, please go and hear him talk on this fascinating and important subject.

While he's away, I will revise my newest book--a YA novel! Details on it and more coming soon!








Thursday, May 11, 2017

Abingdon Square

I am overwhelmed by the hundreds and hundreds of people who have sent congratulations and best wishes on my new marriage (three weeks today!) via my website, FB, Twitter, and email. Michael and I have not stopped smiling and at least once a day recount our perfect day, which started with his son and my kids and Laura Lippman, our officiant, drinking champagne and singing show tunes and signing official papers and just feeling love and joy. Then we were off to our ceremony in Abingdon Square, where twenty close family and friends awaited us. (You can read about this and more here:https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/04/27/fashion/weddings/ann-hood-marries-michael-ruhlman-writers.html )

I want to take a moment to tell you about this little square in the West Village where we were married, and its significance to me and to us. As many of you know, I moved to NYC in 1982, when the city was a dangerous and scary place with one of the highest crime and murder rates in the country. I lived first in the West Village, then in Alphabet City, then in the East Village (now called NoHo), briefly to Brooklyn, and then back to the West Village--this in about 15 years. During that time, the West Village was unsafe, home to drug addicts and prostitutes, and Abingdon Square was the resting place for homeless people, many of them mentally ill. A friend of mine who lived on Jane St was mugged twice in the vestibule of the D'Agostino's grocery store. Another friend of mine was brutally raped on Bank St. In fact, when I moved to Leroy St in 1990, friends thought I was crazy. Too dangerous, they said. But I loved that scruffy part of the city, just as I'd loved Alphabet City back when taxi drivers refused to take me there (or walked me into my building if they did), and my way east Bleecker Street apartment when there was nothing there but a bodega and The Unique Boutique and The Great Jones Cafe. From Leroy St I moved to W 11th, but Abingdon Square remained a place to avoid. (I have written an essay about a murder that took place there then for my true crime column in The Normal School literary journal, which was cited as one of the 100 Notable Essays of 2016)

Years passed. I moved to Providence but kept various sublets in the city, always in my beloved West Village. For over a decade, I sublet an apartment on Bethune St, directly across from that D'Ag's where my old friend got mugged twice. On warm or sunny days, I sat in Abingdon Square, now cleaned up and safe and full of blossoms, reading or knitting or critiquing student manuscripts. So lovely, this little park that had once been so sad and full of despair.

About five years ago, the wonderful guy who is now my husband, texted me when he saw we were both going to be at the Miami Book Fair and asked could we meet for drinks. By this time we were in very loose, very casual touch, though we were great fans of each other's work. (Some cynical person has actually suggested he married me so I could teach him how to write fiction! I almost split a gut laughing over that! Although it has been one of our beautiful connections--what the poet Donald Hall calls the third thing--that we read and edit and inspire each other's work)

Anyway we had a couple drinks before dashing off to different dinners. And over those drinks we learned our apartments were literally around the corner from each other. Though it was several more years before we saw each other again, when we did Abingdon Square was our intersection point. Originally we were going to marry in City Hall, but since we planned every detail together and every detail reflected Us, we chose that park for the ceremony.  It helped that tulips, my favorite flower, were in abundance, excited bloom (as Laura said). Michael went to the bodega across from the park to get three dozen pink tulips for me to carry. There were tulips, and tears, and big grins, and poetry, everywhere I looked.

So many of you have been beside me through great joy and great sadness; through large and small life changes. I am so happy to have you all celebrate this most wonderful and exciting event in my life. Michael and I have chosen to fill our life with love and friends and joy. Each of us had 25 year marriages before this, and fabulous children, and even further back other loves and other lives. Of course those relationships and that history can never be erased. Who would ever want to do that? All that we've lived has made us the people we are today, the two who have fallen in love and started this next chapter together. We feel surrounded by deep
love--ours for each other and the love from all of you who have opened your arms and hearts to us. Honestly, we can't be more grateful.

I think the poems we chose to have read at our wedding tell you everything I could write here. They are all available online:
The Summer Day by Mary Oliver
Hope is That Thing With Feathers by Emily Dickinson
A section from The Velveteen Rabbit
I'm Crazy About Your Shrimp by Charles Simic
The Master Speed by Robert Frost
I hope you enjoy them,  as much as we do. And that when you read them, you will feel all the love we do.






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!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Things Fall Apart

It is perhaps strange to be quoting this line from Yeats on Valentine's Day, a day when we celebrate coming together. But I find myself thinking about love, of course, and all the loves that come and go in our lifetime.

My parents fell in love the night they met, at a dance in 1949. That night, my father asked my mother to marry him, and a year later she did. This is a high bar for love. I grew up thinking the right one would come my way, lightning would strike, and then happily ever after would follow. Instead I find that love is a series of highs and lows, missed opportunities and mistakes, a coming together yes, but also a falling apart. This is not meant to be pessimistic. I love love. I love being in love, I love the idea of love, I love coupling and leaping and canoodling. But when one lives an unorthodox, off beat life, things don't take a straight path.

From the outside, we look at couples--at people too--and think we understand their relationships. But alas, we don't. No one knows the real joys and disappointments, betrayals and broken promises, precious moments and triumphs of anyone else's life. Things fall apart.

This Valentine's Day I find myself happily in love. Almost thirty years ago this man called out to me on a summer afternoon in Vermont and I did not listen. Instead, I went this way and that. I fell in and out of love. I made smart choices and bad ones. I had three incredible children and wrote more books than I ever dreamed. Things fell apart. And I kept trying to glue them back together. We do that, we romantics. We keep trying, even when no sensible person would.

And then, I listened. As a young girl I would play my Simon and Garfunkel albums over and over, crying (romantic, foolish me). Would I ever meet someone who would "read his Emily Dickinson, and I my Robert Frost"?

Yeats goes on to tell us the center does not hold.

That is so true. Too true. Yet sometimes after things fall apart, someone calls to us and we look up and everything--everything--changes. For the good. Love appears after all. And we open our arms and we jump.

Ah! We jump!

Happy Valentine's Day to all of you who are standing in a life that has fallen apart: there's a new one out there waiting for you. I believe it. I know it. To all of you who have found that true love: celebrate it and treat it with care like the precious thing it is. Let's all of us have some champagne tonight and toast this glorious mess called life.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Rested and Ready To Go!

Happy February everyone!

As promised, I took the month of January off to read and write and knit and cook and just be. I feel rested and ready to embark on 2017 after a crazy 2016--getting divorced, moving from my home of seventeen years, moving into my fabulous new loft with Annabelle, losing my beloved dog Zuzu (fifteen years old, but still), gaining two cats--Hermia and Gertrude, doing a BIG book tour, visiting 77 book clubs, and finishing a memoir (coming out in August! Morningstar: Growing Up Reading). Oh. And starting a new novel, publishing a "Modern Love" in the New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/16/fashion/modern-love-whats-love-dont-ask-the-answer-couple.html?_r=0), and teaching!

After my birthday on December 9, I stayed home. Happily. My kids were with me. Family and friends came for dinner. My sweetheart was with me. We all cooked and drank and ate and played cards and danced to my vinyl records on the turntable. The New Year arrived filled with love and more food and wine and family and dancing.

I've taught in St. petersburg FL and gave a reading in Miami. But mostly I've written, every day. And made yummy food. And read. And knit.

What I've read so far this year:
The Trespasser by Tana French
The Vegetarian by Han Kang
Before the Fall by Noah Hawley
Two Kinds of Decay by Sarah Manguso
Hourglass by Dani Shapiro
and almost finished with Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta

Also, I am reading a story a week from the Best 100 Stories of the Century, edited by Lorrie Moore. This week I read the first one in the book, by Edna Ferber. It slayed me!

I had the great good fortune of going to the Pulpwood Queen's Girlfriend's Weekend in Nacogdoches Texas, and the added benefit of finding my new favorite yarn store there, Yarnia. They dye their own alpaca yarn and it is heavenly. I quick knit up a blue slouchy hat for my sweetheart and am waiting for a delivery of three more skeins. Meanwhile, I'm working on the Station Wagon Blanket from Mason-Dixon Knitting's book, "Stripes". It is a fun knitting project!!!

Ok. I have a kid eyeballing me to start making dinner: steak and broccoli stir fry with a side of Trader Joe's dumplings. It's Chinese New Year! The Year of the Rat, my Gracie's sign.

It's good to be back here talking to you all!