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


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.