Saturday, June 30, 2012

A Rock in Every Pot

Canada Day weekend and it's a hot one in the Nation's capital. I'm sure that like me, everyone is happy for a break and a change in focus as we celebrate the onset of summer and a more relaxed few months.

I've been writing. Not as much as I would like, but there's just way too much to do in my free time these days. Just watering the garden and keeping the plants alive takes up a chunk of time every evening. I've written about 13,000 words in my latest manuscript, but have put on the brakes as I go back to record plot and character outlines. I know this organization will help me moving forward since this is proving to be a complicated story on some levels. I might need to cut out characters or a storyline at a later date, but for now, I'm keeping everything and everyone in to see if the tale comes together. I know where the plot is heading but this is a bit like diving off a cliff - you know the water is a distance below, but just not sure if you'll make a solid dive or a belly flop. Ahh, the adventure of it all.

The business of writing is taking up a bit of time as I head to the September launch of Second Chances. I've been updating my website with the help of the designer in Toronto - just minor tinkerings to add the latest news to the main page and the Goodreads link. Jared says an overhaul would take time but we might aim to do one in a few years. I've also been to and fro with Collected Works bookstore, attending fellow author events and lining up publicity for my launch. I have to visit them this morning with a few questions about posters, which Dundurn's creative team is working on. The list goes on.

After an meandering-kind of evening out in Westboro with our neighbours (which included sitting a stone's throw from Jose Canseco in the Royal Oak), I watched Bill Murray on Letterman talking about publicity for his films. He said, "The best publicity is a good film". I've heard similar advice about books - just write a good book and publicity will take care of itself. Meaning, word of mouth will make it a best seller. Maybe, it is that simple, but I don't think so.

Do you remember the pet rock? It was marketing to the masses at its best. Suddenly, everyone thought they had to own . . . a plain old ordinary rock, and people were willing to pay good money for one. There was no 'quality' or use to the item, but it caught on, sort of like a Chia pet without the vegetation. I've read bestsellers that frankly aren't well written or interesting, and other books that should be bestsellers but consumers skip over. I have no answers to the marketing mysteries, but it makes for interesting study.

So, heading into the heat to start the Saturday errands. It's days like this I think having an air-conditioned car might be pleasant, but it's worth remembering that people pay to sit in saunas, and I get this experience for free every time I drive to the store.

Happy Canada Day.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Procrastination and Other Failings

Is anyone else finding it hard to settle in at the computer these hot summer days? There is just so much else to do . . . my garden is crying for a bit of attention, I'm currently reading four novels simaltaneously, mainly sitting on the front deck in the shade, and then there's my neighbour's pool with an open invitation and other neighbours who keep droppng over with glasses of wine . . . . none of which one should miss. There is way too much to do . . . not to mention that pesky full-time job.

I was getting back on writing track, working faithfully every evening and giving myself a firm word count until my chapter didn't save on Tuesday night and I thought I'd lost 3000 words. Luckily, it turned out to be only 400, but it was enough to set me back. Anyhow, onwards and upwards as they say. I'm planning an overnight trip to Kingston one of these fine Saturdays since my latest novel is set there. I want to scout out locations and take photos - I plan to bring along my trusted side-kick Ted, who has a good eye for places to dump bodies - oddly, we've both opted not to have life insurance.

I've discovere the video function on my new Canon camera and filmed, quite shoddily I might add, some of the places we visited in Italy. Just like Where's Waldo, Ted appears in every one although he's not so difficult to find - usually his head fills the screen at some point. Anyhow, I thought you might like to get a feel of Positano on the Amalfi Coast where we spent a day. The film is mercifully short but really gives a feel for the place. Let's see if it uploads. Fingers crossed . . .

Hmmm. It took an awful long time and results are sketchy. Perhaps I'll try uploading it directly into my Facebook page (go to for the link to my fan page).  It seems cruel to whet your curiosity and then have let us all down. Maybe you'll have to come over and visit so I can show it to you on my computer. (I could set aside my writing for a bit.)

Well, before I get down to it, the butter should be softened for the strawberry shortcake I'm about to bake for supper tonight. My daughter Lisa and I made our annual trek to pick berries this morning and now I have to do something with them.  I know. I know. Where is my self-discipline? Today, it's hiding under a heap of strawberries and whipped cream oozing over  a crumbly cake base.

I write better on a full stomach.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Tales From Tuscany

Florence:  Birthplace of the Renaissance (1401-1530s). I studied the Renaissance during my English lit courses at university and always wanted to visit this amazing city. It does not disappoint. We spent a week exploring its ancient cobbled streets and museums although I have to say, it is one confusing place if you're trying to follow a map. Streets have a name one block and a new name the next, and a new name the block after that . . . and maps are not drawn based on north/south.

The first thing we did upon our arrival by train was book a Chianti wine tour in Tuscany, which took up the entire next day. The bus first took us to the winery where we toured the cellar before we were plied with Tuscan appetizers and many bottles of wine. From there, we drove to two more towns and then a final one where we had a typical Tuscan meal in village restaurant, which included more bottles of Chianti. It really was a fine day (or what I can remember of it).

Above is the winery - the wine-tasting was on the second floor. The cellars are just to the left, out of sight of this photo. Below, Ted and I are touring the little town of Greve. (While it may look like I'm leaning on him, I assure you it was the other way around.)

The local butcher shop.

A view of the Tuscan countryside just before sunset.

Back in Florence for the rest of the week, there are hundreds of places to explore. The main 'tourist' sights are near the Arno River, including the Duomo, which means 'cathedral' and refers to the main church in town. All the towns have a church. Most have more than one.

We spent a day visiting the Galleria dell' Accademia, where the original David by Michelanglo is housed (it's awe-inspiring) and then the Uffizi museum. The Palazzo Vecchio, dating back to the 13th century, and its neighbouring Piazza della Signoria are squares near the Uffizi with some amazing statuary, including a copy of David. Picture-taking in most museums is forbidden, but photos of the second David are allowed.

Below is the Rape of the Sabines in the Piazza della Signoria. (The ancient sculpters weren't shy about immortalizing the human body in all its glory.)

The tower in the background of the photo below was an engineering feat in its day.

 We spent another morning touring Santa Croce, a Franciscan church where many famous people were buried, including Galileo, Rossini, Machiavelli and Michelangelo. There are many of the more common people buried underneath the floor with 'headstones' or markers in the marble. Apparently, the Franciscans wanted people to remember that death was an inevitable part of life by walking over the departed. (or dancing, who can say?) Rossini's tomb is on the left in the photo below. Opulent really.

Our last day, we crossed the Arno River to tour the Pitti Palace. It was built by Luca Pitti in an attempt to outclass the Medici family, who controlled Florence for around 200 years. In a twist of fate, the Pittis eventually went bankrupt and the Medici moved in. It became the most opulent palace in Europe until Versailles. In the early 1500s, the architect Tribolo built the Boboli gardens for the Medici to romp in - we strolled around them for the better part of the afternoon. (How to you say 'goes on forever' in Italian?)

This is just a small portion of the back end of the palace with Florence in the background.

And to wrap up my Florence tour, some photos of the bridges crossing the Arno.  The covered Ponte Vecchio was built in 1345 and the only bridge spared destruction by the retreating Nazis in 1944. The Medici had it covered over so that the common folk wouldn't see them on their way into town from their palace. (Let them eat cake.)

Saturday, June 9, 2012

My Travels in Toronto and Sorrento

I took Via Rail to Toronto Wednesday morning and met up with the Dundurn team, including Marta Warner, my publicity go-to person:
Allister Thompson, the editor of all my books (with the exception of The Second Wife, published by Orca):
And Sylvia McConnell, Acquisitions Editor for Dundurn and past publisher of RendezVous:
Dundurn has a team of 24 hard-working and dedicated employees - I met a few others, including Beth Bruder, the VP, who gave me insight into the workings of their business. Thank you to everyone who took time out of their busy day to meet with me.

Thursday, I headed over to the North York Library for the Golden Oak celebration. It was great fun. I brought along my good buddy Dawn Rayner as my guest and photo-taker - two other nominees attended - Kathy Stinson and Janet Wilson and we had a chance to talk before the event. I'd seen their names many times before and was pleased to have the chance to get to know them, if only briefly.

About 300 adult literacy learners were in the audience so a very full house:

It began with keynote speaker Lesra Martin, a Vancouver lawyer who was illiterate until age 16. He was also instrumental in gaining the release of former boxer, Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter in 1985 after he served 20 years in prison - Lesra's story is told in the Denzel Washington movie The Hurricane. He is an engaging and inspirational speaker.

Congratulations to Cindy Watson for winning the Golden Oak for her book Out of Darkness: The Jeff Healey Story. While The Second Wife didn't take away the grand prize :-) I was very moved by the introduction it received from adult learner Marcela Pawlowska. She concluded by saying that she wasn't a reader before she read The Second Wife, and now she is. Words to make an author keep on writing.

Now, let me take you back to the second leg of our Italian journey. After five nights in Rome, we took the train south to Naples where a driver picked us up and took us down the Mediterranean coast to the very beautiful town of Sorrento. It is a tropical retreat with palm, lemon and orange trees . . . and lemoncello. This is the view from our hotel balcony:
And the Mediterranean Sea was just a short walk - Mt. Vesuvius can be seen across the water with Naples at its base:
Ted and I decided to spend the day roaming around Sorrento while our travelling mates Jan and Frank headed off to tour Pompeii, the city buried by 4-6 metres of ash and pumice when Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD :

Sorrento downtown is a warren of streets, shops and restaurants:

With a steep climb down to the sea:

Day two in Sorrento, Ted and I caught the local bus to Positano, a town built into the side of a cliff part-way down the Amalfi Coast. They drop you off at the top of the hill and then it takes about half an hour to climb to the base. We spent the day on the beach and settled on the ferry back to Sorrento after considering the steep climb back up the cliff to catch the bus.
And a final trip down the road from our hotel to the look at the Mediterranean our last day before our driver came to take us back to Naples where we caught the express train north to Florence - my final installment on our Italian holiday next week!

Friday, June 1, 2012

All Roads Lead to Rome

Well, I've been away from my blog for a few weeks because we made the trek to Italy. Before I tell a bit about the first five days in Rome, along with a few pics, let me catch up on book news.

First, my publisher Dundurn has been nominated for a very prestigious award - the 2012 Libris Award for Publisher of the Year! The Libris Awards are presented by the Canadian Booksellers Association with the winner announced June 3rd. Dundurn is actually the only 100% Canadian publisher in the running. They also just celebrated their 40th year in publishing - very well done indeed!

I'm most excited to be meeting the Dundurn crew this Wednesday when I take the train to Toronto to attend the Ontario Library Association luncheon. As I earlier wrote, The Second Wife has been nominated for their Golden Oak award and the winner will be announced after lunch on Thursday. There will be about 300 mainly librarians at the event so most exciting (I love librarians). It'll be great to meet the Dundurn folks in person - so far, it's been by e-mail only.

So onto Rome. We went to Sorrento and Florence as well, but I'll concentrate on Rome today and the other places in the next few weeks.

The first thing that took our breath away as we drove in from the airport was the crumbling twelve-mile wall that surrounds old Rome. We also saw remains of the Roman aquaducts.

Drivers in Rome are absolutely crazy - no lanes, motorbikes weaving in and out, horns blaring and pedestrians jaywalking. It's vibrant and noisy - I can still hear the police and ambulances, which seemed to be everywhere, all the time, with their sirens on full. Somehow, it all works. We only saw one motorbike struck and the driver of the car drove off after honking his displeasure at the stupidity of the motorbike driver. The chastened biker picked up all his parcels scattered across the road, righted his bike and continued on his way.

Statues everywhere you turn . . .

And churches . . . below is Basilica Santa Maria in a section called Trastevere, where legend has it, the church was built on the spot where a fountain of oil bubbled up in 38 B.C. to herald the coming of Christ.

We had to see the Vatican - below is the balcony from which the Pope greets the crowds. (We had nothing to do with the document leaks - honest, it was just a coincidence that we were roaming around the Vatican days before the scandal . . .)

Did I mention the statues?

We left the Vatican and wandered into what we later learned was Piazza Navona above with stunning Baroque statues. Cafes line the other side of the square as they do all over Rome. We sat near this piazza for supper and watched a clown mime and mimic people walking by. We didn't realize until we returned a few days later that we were sitting across from the Pantheon. (Clowns have a way of making you forget where you are.)

The Pantheon dates from ancient Rome and is almost perfectly preserved. Each of the Egyptian granite columns weighs 82 tons.  The oculus inside opens to the sky.

Rome is a fabulous city, so steeped in history and old architecture, narrow cobbled streets, shops and outdoor cafes. It really was amazing to be there.

And to conclude, a view of the Tiber River at night as we walked back to our apartment.

Next week, on to Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast!