Novelist. Poet. Professor.

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

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

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.

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

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...