Monday, January 16, 2017

Dreaming of Venice

I recently traveled to Italy on a 10-day Rick Steves Tour with my college roommate. It was an amazing adventure! Since college, where I spent six weeks in England as an exchange student at Canterbury College, I've dreamed of exploring Europe. And after watching the film, Under the Tuscan Sun, I knew Italy was first on my list. It was truly magical and everything I thought it would be. We spent four nights in Venice, three in Florence, and three in Rome. We explored historic galleries, museums, markets, cafes, bars. Saw incredible architecture, ceilings, floors, one more beautiful than the next.  But my favorite city has to be Venice with its canals, gondolas and vaporettos. Enchanting! 

Moonlight in Venice

Bridges cross shadow
Alleys beckon to markets
Gondolas swish by

Florence and Rome were beautiful cities, as well, each with its own history, art, and magic. In Florence, we attended a cooking class at the famed In Tavola (, where we learned to make Tomato Bruschette (Bruschetta al Comodoro), Fresh Egg Pasta (Pasta Fresca all'Uovo) with Mushroom Sauce, Chicken Fricassee (Pollo in Fricassea), and Tiramisu. We sat at two large tables and sampled our delicious dishes paired with lush rosso wine (as we did most lunches and dinners). We visited The Uffizi Gallery home to Botticelli's, Birth of Venus, among other glorious paintings. Open air markets displayed leather purses, wallets, belts, colorful scarves, hats, masks, fruit. In Rome, we experienced the Vatican with its impressive Sistine Chapel, and the massive Colosseum.

Not only did we have a wonderful Rick Steves tour guide, we had local tour guides, as well, who gave a peek into the history and local flavor of each place we explored. They definitely added spice and fun, as did the 26 other people on the tour with us. This was a trip of a lifetime and one I highly recommend. Bellissimo Italy!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Taking Care

I haven't blogged in a long while and finally feel ready to get back to it. My life has seen lots of changes in the past year and a half. I sold my house (the house my three kids grew up in) and moved to a smaller house. It's on a pond in the next town over. I'm living with my husband again after a ten year, well let's just say, sabbatical. I retired from teaching and am now devoting more time to writing. I'm revising and fixing and adding density to my middle grade novel, Saving Gracie. I'm spending more time with my 89-year-old Mom, who lives on the Cape. I visit once a month and it always feels like home. After teaching for years (which I loved), it was time to take care of me and do some of the things I'd been longing to do.

Life is good and I'm looking forward to the next chapter.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Little Things...

I was recently in an auto accident. I am fine, but my car isn't. It was totaled. It was an old car, circa 2000, but I liked it. It was a Volvo and very dependable. It may not have been the best looking car in the parking lot, with its many scratches and dings, but it was good to me. I will be renting a car for a week, then it will be time to look for something new, or at least newer. I don't care if a car is new, as long as it runs well, and gets me where I'm going. I live in a rural area, so I'm in my car a lot.

This past week, being home from work (my hands were badly bruised and swollen, especially my right, but thankfully not broken), I've had lots of time to think about things. I know it's been said many times before, but it really is the little things in life that make a big difference. This week, it was the little things I couldn't do. I couldn't hold my coffee mug. I struggled with getting dressed. I couldn't do a downward facing dog, never mind try to pet my dog.

As I pondered these things, it made me aware of the little things in the world-building of fiction. What are the little things a character struggles with, or the little things they do to gain attention? What are the little things he/she likes, or hates about a friend? What are the little things that make the setting seem real? What are the little things that make the reader want to keep reading?

All of these little things work together to bring about the bigger picture in a story. So, don't rule out the little things as being important. Little things can make a big difference. Like clutching a favorite mug filled with warm, sweet coffee.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Writer's Paradise

I spent a week on Martha's Vineyard in quaint Edgartown, participating in a children's writing retreat at a lovely inn called Noepe Center for Literary Arts. I call it a writer's paradise. Anyone interested in writing, at any point in their writing path, should consider spending time here. The offerings include residencies, workshops, poetry readings and even book launches. The setting is idyllic, perfect for inspiration and muse finding.

"Noepe has a very simple mission: to provide established and emerging writers with time and space to create, and the resources and community to support, encourage and inspire writers at all stages of their writing career."

It was a small, intimate gathering of twelve women, all with works-in-progress in various genres and stages of development, and one wonderful mentor, Emma Dryden, of drydenbks. We spent each morning on a different topic, with hand-outs, writing exercises, and wisdom from Emma. Morning workshops focused on first pages, voice, world-building, and revision.

Nuggets gleaned from Emma's workshops:
  • What you leave off the page, can be as important as what's on the page.
  • The first line/page is the crystallization of the whole story.
  • Most books use the home/away/home theme.
  • Allow space for the reader's emotions. 
  • Create rules for the protagonist's world and a personal set for your protagonist.
  • In the first draft, write with abandon! Keep it messy and do not edit!
  • Paraphrase your story in ten pages, then five pages, then one page, one paragraph, one sentence. 
  • Cut the first paragraph and the last paragraph from each scene.
  • List all the decisions your protagonist and antagonist makes. Do the same with supporting characters. The characters' decisions/actions should interfere with the protagonist's.
  • List the first ten things each character does. 
  • Ask yourself why you have to write this story.
My thoughts:
  • I know what my protagonist really wants.
  • I know why I have to write this story.
  • Revision takes a long time and there are many processes to choose from.
  • The scariest revision process is probably the one I should use.
  • My beginning needed work, but I'm on the right track. 
  • Children's writers are bright, generous, and fun to be with. (Okay, I already knew that.)
  • When you find a great mentor like Emma, feel fortunate. (I do!)
I feel blessed to have been a part of this inspiring, emotional, week-long journey. For more info about this amazing place, check out the website at For more info on drydebks, go to

Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Poet's Dream

My sister is a poet. She's been a poet since the age of six. Or eight. Almost her whole life. And now, she has published a book of her poetry. The poems, she says, reveal the emotional journey of her life. The poems she has written over the course of a lifetime. I don't think the poem she wrote when she was six, or eight, are in the book, but poems she wrote in high school and college are included. The book is titled "Dream of the Antique Dealer's Daughter" after the second poem in the book. One of my favorites.

Robin always loved to read. If memory serves me, she was reading Anne of Green Gables in the 2nd grade. We called her the bookworm. She huddled on the couch with a book, even in the middle of summer. When some plaster fell from the living room ceiling, Robin didn't move from her spot on the couch. My mother found her reading, oblivious to what was happening. I was her opposite. Climbing trees, playing pick-up baseball games, making forts in the woods, for I was the tomboy, not a reader. But I was in awe of her. I remember finding her scribbles on pieces of paper around the house. I knew they were hers and sometimes wondered if she left them on purpose, so anyone could find them and read what she was going through at any given moment.

Robin's poems are haunting and lovely, full of emotional images that deserve to be read over and over. I am still in awe of my sister. How she writes with such passion and voice and raw intensity. How she puts personal snippets of her life in these small boxes called poetry. They are beautiful.

My brother's wife, Liz Smith, designed the cover of the book. After reading the poems several times, she wrote down words that evoked themes. Liz then used these words/themes to create personal pieces of the collage that became the cover art. There is a map of Moldova, a mannequin, books, shells and sand, even a painting of my father's. It's the minutia of the poet's dream. It's an amazing work of art, and a labor of love.

An excerpt from the poem on which the book is titled:

She floats above me:  
the mannequin in my parent's shop.
I named her Cordelia
after a storybook character.
The color of coral, her face held
the secret of my growing self.

Robin Smith-Johnson, my sister, has published a book of poetry. My dad, the antique dealer, is surely smiling down from his place in paradise, so proud of his daughter for pursuing her dream.

"Dream of the Antique Dealer's Daughter" by Robin Smith-Johnson, published by Word Poetry, is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Simply Similes

Students shine as bright as the stars in the night sky. Once again, I want to share the similes my students have written. We read Tending to Grace by my good friend, Kim Fusco, to begin the year. It's my way of introducing the students to beautiful language, lovely descriptions, and sweet similes. Kim's first page shows the sad life of her protagonist, Cornelia, with these words:

I want to jump out of the car as it rushes along and wrap myself in a row of
                 sheets hanging so low their feet tap the grass. I want to hide because my life, if it were 
        a clothesline, would be the one with a sweater dangling by one sleeve, a blanket 
                     dragging in the mud, and a sock, unpaired and alone, tumbling to the road with the wind 
at its heel. 

Here is a sample of my students' similes and descriptive writing:

I'm as fragile as ice hitting the ground.
I'm feeling as deadly as a war.
I'm as scared as deer getting hit by a car.
I'm as excited as a mad scientist who made a new potion.
I was as sad as a rock in the pouring rain.
I was as scared as a branch held by a thread. 
I'm like a rock people kick down the street.
I'm like ice that will never melt.
I'm like the wind that has a harsh blow.
My feet are like soft jello.
I just stay there like a rag doll.
I'm as graceful as a prancing antelope.
I was so excited that I felt like I was about to explode all my madness. 

The morning we wrote these, describing how we might feel as Cornelia, the students typed them on my laptop at the front of the room. They were projected on the board with an Elmo so everyone could see. The students lined up, eager to type. It was an exciting moment in our classroom.