Novelist. Poet. Professor.

Novelist.  Poet.  Professor.
Novelist, poet, professor, and mother of dogs.

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!

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.  

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

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Preparing to Launch

After all the work and waiting, the first few boxes of Love, Lucy have arrived on my doorstep, wafting that new book smell.

Meanwhile, in anticipation of the big Italian-themed launch party I'm throwing, I've been trying out recipes for cannoli bites, trying to achieve the perfect mix of ricotta, mascarpone, cinnamon, and amore.  

I've been consulting with my fabulous friend Madame Fromage on the perfect cheeses to convey the mood of a picnic in the Boboli Gardens, perfecting my playlist of Italian music....

 and counting up the numbers of likely party guests to make sure we've got enough antipasti to go around.

An embarrassment of riches
By the way, there's still time to RSVP if you'd like to join me for the festivities.  We'll be gathering on January 30 from 7-9 p.m. at Salem Oak Vineyards, 60 North Railroad Avenue, Pedricktown, NJ.  Contact me at to say you'll be there!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Say Buongiorno to Lucy

...because there's nothing quite like holding your newborn for the very first time.  Or setting off on a brand new journey.

Lifted from

Sunday, January 11, 2015

On Retellings, Strong Women Protagonists, and Bopping Around Europe

Glimpsed in Tuscany

As the Love, Lucy launch day grows tantalizingly close, some terrific book blogs have been running reviews and, in the case of Dizneeee's World of Books, an interview. Thanks to Lisa for asking me some really great questions, and for letting me share our conversation here with you.


Q: Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions with me today. My book club recently read Love, Lucy and we had a great time discussing it and dreaming of taking a European excursion to see the sights and meet cute boys! We loved your retelling and spin of A Room With a View! What gave you the idea to write a new adventure for this particular story? 

A: You’re welcome! I’m so glad you enjoyed the book. Like Lucy, I was given the chance to backpack through Europe when I was pretty young. Ever since, I have wanted to write a novel inspired by my backpacking experiences, and A Room With a View—Forster’s novel and also the glorious 1985 Merchant Ivory film version—is such a romantic, funny, beautiful expression of what it’s like for a young woman to be transformed by her travels through Florence. After writing Catherine, I was looking for another novel to retell, and A Room With a View seemed like the natural choice, especially since it gave me an excuse to revisit Italy and travel in Lucy’s shoes. 

The Duomo, Florence

Q: Your previous two books, Jane and Catherine, were also retellings. Both of those were based on the Brontë sisters’ works. Do you have a favorite retelling you've written? 

A:  I think of my Jane and Catherine and now Lucy as my three daughters. I love them all differently but equally. It wouldn't be right to pick a favorite!

Q: Obviously, you enjoy retelling stories. Are you currently working on your next book? If so, what can you tell us about it?

A: I’ve been working for a while now on a retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion set on a high school study tour to Greece. Anne, my heroine, is too easily swayed by the opinions of a confident, sophisticated girl she wants to impress. She lets the study tour group’s popular clique get between her and the boy she likes, then struggles to undo the damage she’s done.

Delphi, Greece
Q: Do you think you'll stick to writing classic retellings, or do have other story ideas in mind?

A: I have a few ideas for novels that aren't riffs on existing books, but for the time being I've caught the retelling bug. Few things inspire me as much as the chance to move into someone else’s fictional world, rearrange the furniture, and make it my own. Each time I finish a retelling I promise myself I will write just one more…and, true to form, I've started drafting another one that may or may not turn out to be my last. 

Q: Are you a classic literature fan? Are these classic stories that you give new life to some of your favorite books? Who are some of your favorite authors and books?

A: Yes, I adore classic literature—big, thick novels that feel more vivid than the world itself. I was an English major in college, and when I got out of school I worked a series of temp jobs I hated. The thing that made those jobs bearable was spending my lunch hours with the Bronte sisters, E.M. Forster, Jane Austen, George Eliot, Tolstoy. I can’t tell you how many subway stops I accidentally rode through because I was so lost in whatever it was I was reading. 

Q: Have you traveled through Europe like Lucy and Charlene? You gave a great set up for the story and I felt as if we were there with the girls and seeing Italy with them.

A: When I was a lot closer to Lucy’s age, my parents gave me a wonderful gift—a two-month trip to Europe. None of my friends could go with me, so I travelled solo, and the experience was magical, life changing—going where I wanted to go, filling my days with art, gorgeous landscapes, new people, a new language to practice. I’ve been a travel junkie ever since.

Plus I’d grown up pretty sheltered, so it was freeing to realize I could find my own way around a strange city, getting lost and getting found again, basically feeling more competent than I ever had in my life. The best experience in the world was showing up at a train station, Eurail pass in hand, looking at the signs listing all the departing trains, picking one at random, and hopping on—starting the day in, say, Vienna, and knowing I could end it in Paris or Munich or Venice.

One of my favorite corners of Venice

Q: By the end of the story, we were so happy to see Lucy deciding her future for herself. Is this a main goal for you in your stories? Do you like to have strong, independent women who do what they believe in?

A: I try to make each novel I write a different kind of challenge than the last, but you could say that each of my novels so far is about a young women finding her way in the world—figuring out how to be true to herself. In Jane, my protagonist is quietly strong, a survivor who has to struggle against a lot of disadvantage and against the temptation to go against her own better judgment. Catherine, in my second novel, is headstrong from the start—confident, talented, sure of what she wants, and uncompromising in a way that gets her into trouble. And then there’s Lucy who just loves to please people—she lives for applause. She makes a promise she fully intends to keep, until she realizes that doing so would mean being untrue to herself, living someone else’s life.

Q: If you could be any of your characters in your books, who would you choose? And why?

A: I would be Jane (from Jane, naturally), who falls in love with Nico Rathburn, a legendary rock star about to make his big comeback. Let’s just say there was a certain amount of wish fulfillment involved in writing about an ordinary girl who sweeps a rock star off his feet.

Q: When you're not writing, what do you like to do with your free time?

A: I love to go on road trips to strange cities and wander around, popping into bookstores and coffee shops. And I’m crazy about live music, getting as close as possible to the stage, losing myself in the crowd. My other favorite thing is reading in bed with my dogs—a lab mix and a cockapoo, both shelter dogs—especially if it’s a cold rainy day outside. 

Did someone say "cockapoo"?
Q: Is there anything else you'd like to tell us? Any writing habits? How you get your ideas? Favorite genre to write? What other genre would you like to give a try? Dream story to re-tell? Anything!!!

A: I’ve always wanted to write the libretto for a rock opera. In high school I did write one—about the tragic love story of Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungeon—but I was too much of a goody two shoes to really pull that gritty subject matter off! 

At the moment I’m collaborating with a friend on the libretto for an actual opera opera…something I never thought I’d do. It’s way too early in the project to say much about it, but I love the idea of seeing something I’ve written take physical shape on an actual stage with musicians and costumes and scenery—instead of just inside my own mind.

Q: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions! We honestly enjoyed the book and we're so happy to be doing a little mini-tour this week from our book club. Thank so much to NOVL for providing us with the books so we could all read and discuss it together! It truly meant a lot!

A: This was so much fun! Thanks for the great questions, and for being such a generous host.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Love Italy? (Some Odds and Ends)

As the release day for Love, Lucy approaches, I have a few odds and ends to share.  First of all, the amazing Jaime and Rachel at Rock Star Book Tours are putting together a killer book blast.  If you're a blogger, please consider signing up with them here.

And, speaking of blasts, I've been busily planning an Italian-themed Love, Lucy launch party.  If you'll be anywhere near Philadelphia, South Jersey, or Delaware on January 30, please consider stopping by for fun and light fare.  Here's what you need to know:

Finally, time is running out to walk with me in Lucy's footsteps.   A few spaces are still left in this summer's Travel Writing: Rome class.  We'll be living and writing in Rome and taking side trips to some very glamorous locations:  Florence, Assisi, Orvieto, Pompeii, Capri, and Sorrento:

Sorrento: lifted from

This Saint Joseph's University class is open to college grads and undergrads in any degree-granting program.  Click here to learn more.

Rome's Piazza Dell Republica: photo lifted from

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Reading in Bed With Nico

This morning Andre and I planned to set out on one of our river town daytrips.  We got up, got dressed, went out, made a pit stop for coffee, and realized that on a coldly rainy day like today no road trip could rival staying home in bed and cuddling the dogs.

So here I am, doing something I get to do all too rarely: reading for pleasure.  First up, this lovely ARC by Lara Avery:

There's so much else I should be doing--dusting, making my grocery list, answering emails.  But today, for once, I'm saving the shoulds for another day. 

Free the Mice!

  Thanks to Bearings Online , for publishing my poem about trying--and sometimes failing--to be kind to the mammals who only want to sha...