Friday, March 20, 2015

Off The Air

Yes, I have been.  You see, we're in the process of getting our house fixed up to put it on the market, because we've found a house we love in a river town we adore.  

Yes, I do have a thing for river towns.

So wish us luck, because this business of trying to simultaneously sell one house and buy another is fraught.  I promise to be posting soon, when my life isn't in quite such a state of disarray.  

Monday, February 16, 2015

An L.A. Interlude

Audrey Hepburn on Sunset Boulevard
When the L.A. Teen Writer Series invited me to appear on a panel with some very fabulous writers--Susan Adrian, Jennifer Niven, Amy Talkington, Sandra Waugh, and moderator Mary McCoy--I wasn't about to let a whole continent stand in my way.  

I've never been to Los Angeles before, so of course I had to squeeze in a little sightseeing.  First stop: TCL (formerly known as Grauman's) Chinese Theater!

After that, I set off for a stroll down Hollywood Boulevard.  In New York City you can tell the tourists because they're looking up.  But on Hollywood Boulevard, the tourists are bumping into each other because they're all looking down--at the Walk of Fame.

Here's what I noticed about L.A.  They do things with a special flair.  Take, for instance, the lowly shopping mall...

Hollywood and Highland Shopping Center
...where a person might buy herself a plain old-fashioned smoothie.

Even the local high school is pretty darn flashy.

Hollywood High

Record stores hardly even exist anymore, but Hollywood's Amoeba Music is a super-funky work of art.

And the Central Public Library's not too shabby either.

By the way, our panel was loads of fun.  Here's photographic evidence--a collage by author Jennifer Niven:

And a post-panel get together proved that L.A. has a lively, vibrant community of Young Adult authors to match everything else that's stellar about the place.

Oh, and here's a link to a little interview I did with the LAPL Central Library Blog.

Hollywood Still Life: A Star, Crushed Roses, and a Weave

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Home is So Sad: A Poem By Philip Larkin

Not long ago,  I was in Florida, taking care of my mother who was recovering from pneumonia.  My Mom is doing better (knock wood!) but the illness took its toll on her body and her psyche, and made her a sadder version of herself. 

Even being home in Florida felt sad.  Something about the contrast between the piercing blue skies and balmy weather and my mother's newly circumscribed days.  The visits from nurses and physical therapists.  The meals--carefully prepared but barely eaten.  The soft boiled eggs and canned peaches and Ensure.  

This visit was like a new, gray layer in a pentimento.   The early layers are bright: Christmas with my parents, my sister, my husband, my uncles and aunts.  Disney World with my sons.   Lobster dinners on the water.  Pilgrimages to the power plant where the manatees gather in cold weather.  Boat tours on the Indian River.  And then, six years ago, my father's illness and death.  

Now the things that used to signify homecoming and vacation mean something a bit sadder.  The Melbourne airport with its relentlessy cheery carpet and festive manatee statue. 

The wall clock that chimes a different song on every hour.  Even the weather--the tossing palm fronds, the sunshine, the blue, blue sky.

How can I not think of this magnificent poem by Philip Larkin?

Home is so Sad

Home is so sad. It stays as it was left,
Shaped to the comfort of the last to go
As if to win them back. Instead, bereft
Of anyone to please, it withers so,
Having no heart to put aside the theft

And turn again to what it started as,
A joyous shot at how things ought to be,
Long fallen wide. You can see how it was: 
Look at the pictures and the cutlery.
The music in the piano stool. That vase.
Flying home

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Love, Lucy Playlist

photo by Eric Blackmore.
Whatever else my new novel Love, Lucy is about--romance, Italy, finding your way in the world--it's also about music.  At the book's start, Lucy has given up her first love--musical theater--in exchange for parental approval and a backpacking trip through Europe.  Then when she meets Jesse Palladino, a New Jersey street musician busking his way through Italy, she starts to find her voice again.

So of course there has to be a Love, Lucy playlist--the songs that might catch Lucy's ear in a Munich internet cafe or a boutique on the Via degli Strozzi.  Songs she listens to on her iPod on the overnight train from Munich to Florence.  Songs she revisits after returning home to Philadelphia, trying to recapture the thrill of her travels:

Thanks to Ashley and Alexis of With Her Nose Stuck In a Book for inviting me to contribute Lucy's playlist, and this little riff on my song choices:


When I graduated from college, my parents gave me the gift of a lifetime: two months backpacking solo through Europe.  I climbed an Alp in Switzerland, took the Sound of Music Tour in Austria, rode a Bateau Mouche in Paris, and ate fish and chips in the general vicinity of John Cleese in London—but nothing thrilled me as much as my time in Italy.  

Maybe my abiding love of all things Italian can be explained by the fact that I’m half Italian.  Maybe it’s because I studied the language in college and can bluff my way through conversations with cabdrivers and waiters.  Or maybe it’s the art, the architecture, the amazing food, the warmhearted Italians, or the rolling hills of Tuscany.

Photo found at

Whatever the reason, I go back to Italy whenever I can (not often enough!) and, the rest of the time, I rely on music to transport me back to the land of my dreams. I can shut my eyes and listen, and suddenly I’m riding an overnight train into Florence, wandering through a sun-drenched piazza, hearing a street musician’s guitar, and falling in love all over again.

In putting together a playlist for my new novel, Love, Lucy, I chose songs with the power to jolt me back into Lucy’s world.  

For Lucy’s playlist, I’ve chosen a mix of American rock and European pop. Here are some highlights:

  • The first song, Check In by Fiamma Fumana perfectly captures the buzz of an airport’s busy international terminal, the sheer excitement of being about to hop on a plane to Europe for the very first time.
Fiamma Fumana

  •  Lucy and her friend Charlene land in Paris, then backpack on to Salzberg, Vienna, and Munich, so I have tossed in some of Lucy’s favorite songs in German and French: Ne Me Quitte Pas by Regina Spektor; Elle Me Dit by MIKA (a British pop star I first discovered in a cafĂ© in Rome):

       and Madchen Mit Plan by 2raumwohnung.


  • Italy is meant to be the trip’s grand finale for Lucy, and it’s the place where she meets and falls for Jesse. Songs like Cosa Hai Messo Nel Caffe by Malika Ayane, Come un Pittore by Moda, and Fammi Dormire by Matteo Beccuci capture the tenderness and excitement of a summer love in romantic Florence, Italy.

  • Finally, I’ve tossed in some songs in English for good measure—We are Golden by MIKA, Every Single Body Else, by Butch Walker and Whole World With You by Willie Nile—songs that capture the excitement of an American in Europe for the very first time—making new friends, walking through thrilling new landscapes, and saying yes to adventure.
  • Butch Walker

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

With Her Nose Stuck in a Book Celebrates Lucy

Alexis and Ashley at With Her Nose Stuck in a Book are two of my very favorite book bloggers.  Thanks to Alexis for this very festive post celebrating the release of Love, Lucy.

Tomorrow, Alexis and Ashley will play host to yours truly.  I'll be writing  about the songs that transport me straight back into Lucy's European backpacking adventures--and her vacation flirtation with footloose Jesse.  So stay tuned!

The tattoo of my dreams, lifted from

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Launch Day Giveaway And Some Rules of the Road

Lucy as seen in the wild at the Vero Beach Book Center
It's Lucy's launch day, and in her honor, the fantastic folks at Rock Star Book Tours are hosting a book blast and a giveaway!  To enter, visit one of the participating blogs!  

The book blast post is a little something I wrote about the first time I backpacked across Europe, and how the experience taught me a few rules of the road.
Me at 22, in Versailles
Like Lucy Sommersworth, the heroine of Love, Lucy, my parents gave me the gift of a lifetime: a backpacking trip to Europe. I was a bit older than Lucy—22, and just out of college—but when I arrived in Milan, Italy with a Eurail pass, a copy of Let’s Go: Europe, and a seventy-pound backpack I could barely lift, I was a wee bit terrified. 

Like Lucy, I spoke only a little bit of Italian, just barely enough to get by, and I wasn’t particularly good at reading maps or train schedules. 

Street map of Milan, courtesy of
Unlike Lucy, I was travelling solo.
Luckily, my journey began with training wheels. I’d just taken a college Italian class, and my professor had offered a safe crash pad for the first few days of my trip—in her family home in the Alps. Less luckily, when I reached Malpensa airport, nobody was there to pick me up. Giddy with excitement and jet lag, I wandered around the airport, eavesdropping on Italians as they hugged each other hello and goodbye, and had noisy arguments. I’d never felt more alone in my life. Where would I sleep that night if my ride didn’t show up?

Also luckily, my professor's brother arrived at last to whisk me away to the family home in Domodossola.  The extended family welcomed and fed me, gave me tours of their city with its charming medieval center, helped me practice my Italian, and, when the time was right, brought me to the train station where my solo travels began for real. It was time to take off the training wheels.

Found on Wikipedia
If I’d felt alone back in the airport, I was even more so on that train to Verona, a city where I didn’t know a soul. In those pre-internet days, I could disappear into thin air and nobody would even notice I was gone. The thought was chilling, but oddly exciting.
By nightfall, I’d made it to Verona. I’d figured out the public transportation, found a youth hostel, and booked myself a bed.

A page from my scrapbook: At Juliet Capulet's house, in Verona

Best of all, I had introduced myself to a handful of other backpackers. We hung out together in the hostel’s common area, sharing bread and cheese, exchanging stories, discussing the rules of the road—those bits of practical wisdom our travels were teaching us. Here are a few:
Time passes differently on the road.  Spend a few very intense hours seeing the sites with strangers and by the end of the day, those strangers have become a part of your story. Years later you’ll see their faces in your photo album and still remember stray details of the adventures you shared together, even if you can’t quite recall their names.

Street Artist, Munich
Spontaneity is key.  There are few things as magical as showing up at a train station with no idea where you’re headed next, picking a random train, and hopping on.

Window shopping near St. Mark's Square, Venice
Janis Joplin said it best: Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.  When you’re carrying all your possessions on your back in a city where you don’t know a soul, you’re absolutely free. You can go anywhere, do anything. That freedom has its lonely moments—but it can be the doorway to all kinds of adventures.

A scruffier me, after I'd been on the road a while!
Embrace misadventure.  
As carefully as you plan there will be crazy mistakes: wrong turns, slept-through train stops, multilingual misunderstandings, and all kinds of other blunders—and these will make the best stories. My misadventures are some of my favorite memories. The time I missed curfew and had to climb into my hostel through a second-story window. The morning when, hanging out my recently washed clothes to dry, I dropped my wet underthings out the window, onto a stranger’s head. The night when, with no room to stay in, I slept on Venice’s train station steps with about a hundred other backpackers, the stars above us and the Grand Canal stretched out before us.

Lifted from
Would I trade that last memory for a safe, comfy night in an actual bed? Not on your life.
Munich Street Musician--and friend

Monday, January 26, 2015

Picnic in Boboli Gardens: A LOVE, LUCY cheese playlist

Italian Cheese Shop, photo courtesy of Madame Fromage
On the eve of Love, Lucy's release, I'm still fine-tuning the plans for Friday's big Italian-themed launch party.  One of the things I really want to do is recreate the impromptu picnic lunch my characters share in Florence's Boboli Gardens.  

Lifted from

Lucy and her traveling companion Charlene meet up with Jesse, the cute street musician who also works at the hostel where they are staying.  He arrives bearing some very special delicacies:

"Jesse--with his hair ruffled from the walk across  town--was a welcome sight, to Lucy at least.  'You brought your guitar,' she observed, taking one of the bags from him.


"'Everywhere I go,' he said.  "Let me show you my favorite spot for a picnic."  He led them along a winding path to a shady spot in a grove of pine trees, spread his blanket among the fragrant needles, and motioned for them to sit.  Then he unpacked the grocery bags, laying out soft cheese, crusty bread, artichoke hearts, apricots, and prosciutto."
 For some expert tips on exactly which cheeses Jesse might have offered up, I consulted with my notorious cheese blogger friend, Madame Fromage.  Sweetheart that she is, she sent me a pair of dreamy cheese profiles to pass on to any readers who might want to plan a Boboli Garden picnic of their own:

Jesse's Provolone
"Like Jesse, Provolone is strong in character with a unique finish -- sharp, like a power chord. In Italy, this cheese is shaped into large globes and hung from rafters to age (it's the cheese you see hanging from the ceiling in cheese shops). Although American Provolone is viewed as a mild sandwich cheese, the Italians favor sharp Provolone as a table cheese. It's wonderful on a picnic with cured meats, olives, and a jug of red wine -- making just the sort of cheese Jesse and Lucy might have feasted on in the Boboli Gardens." 

The Mercato Centrale--where Jesse buys his cheese!
 Lucy's Taleggio
"Like Lucy, Taleggio is sweetly milky with a golden exterior -- a likable cheese that calls to mind the smell and taste of fresh bread. It's washed with a salt-water brine to keep it moist and to encourage its umber crust to develop. (This also adds a bit of grit to the surface.) In northern Italy, Taleggio is served on panini and on cheese boards with a mustardy fruit preserve, called mostarda. It's the sort of cheese Lucy and Jesse might have carried with them in a bicycle basket as they rode off into the wild."
photo by Madame Fromage
As the Midatlantic states dig out from Snowmaggedon 2015, I'll be cubing cheese and humming O Sole Mio to myself in preparation for Friday night's festivities.  If you're in the mood for a picnic in the Boboli gardens, please drop in.  

January 30, 7-9 p.m.
Salem Oak Vineyards
60 North Railroad Avenue
Pedricktown, NJ

Tutti i frutti: one more from the Mercato Centrale