Sunday, September 8, 2013

My travels to Ferrara, Italy - Part I

Outside the cathedral in Ferrara, Italy
In honor of Ludovico Ariosto's 539th birthday on September 8, 2013, I felt I should start blogging about my recent trip to the city of Ferrara, Italy. I visited there in June of this year.

I wanted to see as many sites associated with Ariosto, Matteo Maria Boiardo and their patrons - the noble house of d'Este - as was possible for the limited time I had available.

I had spent countless hours planning the sites to see, but alas, things do not always work out the way you hope.

I discovered there were apartments for rent in a building once owned by Ariosto. I reserved a room for three nights.  My plan was to arrive in Ferrara after a day of sightseeing in Firenze, spend the next day exploring Ferrara, and the following day we would have a day trip to Ravenna.

I had wanted to sleep in a home that once belonged to Ariosto and hope I would become inspired by the experience.

Historical marker for the current Cavallini-Sgarbi House

The Cavallini-Sgarbi House showing a covered walkway.
I was looking forward to that experience, but then Fate upended my plans.

Ferrara suffered from a large earthquake in 2012, and as luck would have it - the historical building I had reservations for wound up having maintenance scheduled to be performed during the time we were supposed to stay there.

These things happen. At least I learned about the conflict with adequate advance notice to secure a different place for us to stay. I am also grateful it was not a case of being At The Wrong Place At the Wrong Time and have something Truly Bad Happen, like the devastating earthquake that necessitated the seismic retrofitting. Instead, it was simply a disappointment and inconvenience for my family.

Here is an example of damage from the earthquake and the subsequent tremors has had in Ferrara. The picture is of a ceiling fresco in the Castello Estense.


I was surprised the first time I noticed tape on the ceiling, but then quickly understood why it was there. We asked a docent about the tape and our suspicions were confirmed as to its purpose. It is to prevent further cracking until restoration can be performed.

There was a lot of tape used throughout the castle on artwork. It serves as a sober reminder of how historical items are vulnerable to the power of Nature. They are not just pieces of art created centuries ago, but are precious items that need to be preserved for future generations.

We arrived in Ferrara on a Wednesday evening, but several hours later than we expected. Our connecting train in Bologna was late. Then again, most trains were late that day. One woman on the platform informed us that earlier in the day someone had thrown themselves upon a set of train tracks and it delayed all the trains in the region for at least an hour.

Once at the Ferrara train station, we had a taxi bring us to our B&B (bed and breakfast). It would have been a half hour walk, and dragging our luggage that far after being exhausted, and really hungry was not worth saving a few euros. Taking a taxi was a necessity and not a luxury at that point in time.

By the time we got to our room we were tired, our feet were sore from our sightseeing in Firenze and we were really hungry. The weather in Italy had been HOT for days and it added to our desire to find dinner, and go to sleep early in our air conditioned rooms.

My husband and son at that point in time were not all that interested in noticing the charms of Ferrara, but I came became revived once we left our baggage behind and started exploring the city. One aspect that I love about Ferrara is that it is a bicycle friendly city. There are cars and some Vespas, but bicycles seem to be the biggest method of transportation used by the people. They are not fine racing bikes, but instead generally old beat up bicycles with baskets on their front handle bars. They are utilitarian and get their riders from place to place over the cobblestone roads.

Rome has a frenetic energy about it which led me to the conclusion that traffic there is a blood sport. Crossing a busy street in Rome you must be wary. That sense of self-preservation extends to walking in the side streets as the drivers of cars and Vespas zoom past you with little regard to your safety. There were several occasions when I found myself hugging the walls in the back streets to avoid being hit by cars, scooters or motorcycles. Ferrara was a pleasant change of pace for me and I began to relax and appreciate the atmosphere of this historic city. 

We walked past the Piazza Ariostea and I was enchanted by the sight of a statue of Ariosto and the moon.

Here is a close up of the inscription on the statue.

That night we ate at a local pizza joint. It was "okay, nothing special." At least we were served quickly and it was not expensive. Afterward, we walked back to our B&B and slept soundly.

The next day was my day to explore Ferrara. My teenaged son decided that he just wanted to relax, sleep in and not go exploring. That meant I was free to roam around the city.

My husband and I started the morning by walking down the Corso Porta Mare and passing the Piazza Ariostea again.

I enjoyed walking in the park and gathering spot for locals that was built dedicated in honor of my favorite poet. We continued on the Corso Porta Mare until we came to Corso Ercole I d'Este, named after the patron for both Boiardo and Ariosto.

On that street is the famous building Palazzo dei Diamante. There are thousands of diamond shaped marble bricks covering the outside of this building. The shadows cast by the diamonds change during the day due to angle of the sunlight making the building a large and complex sun dial. It is a spectacular sight, even if it seems a bit disorienting at first.

An up-close image of the Palazzo dei Diamante and the Renaissance street Corso Ercole I d'Este.

My husband and I walked down the Corso Ercole I d'Este until we came to the heart of the Renaissance city. I had to make a quick stop to see a Piazza named for another poet who also worked for the noble house of d'Este.

Alas, this piazza was nothing more than a parking lot.

The Piazza Torquato Tasso

We soon made it to one of the big destinations for me: seeing the castle where the Estes family lived.

It is an impressive sight.


I shall continue my travelogue about Ferrara in another post, lest this become epic in size similar to the poems which inspire my writing.

Friday, July 26, 2013

New landmark for my blog and photos of a real landmark in Paris

This humble blog has now surpassed 100,000 hits. Huzzah!

To celebrate this landmark I would like share a real landmark of France. There is an old saying that "all roads lead to Rome." In France, all distances are measured from a marker in front of
-->Nôtre Dame Cathédrale.

Here is a photo with my son standing in front of the disc helping to point out its location in front of Nôtre Dame.

And here is a close up of the marker itself.

Thank you for visiting my blog and I hope you will return again to enjoy my musings and pictures from my travels. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Magic words in France and Italy

Traveling can be an enriching experience, not only from seeing new sights but also by learning new customs. My language skills in French and Italian are limited. I have taken French lessons at my local Alliance de
--> Française, but I realize that my grammar is still rustic and rudimentary.
I do my best to use as many French words as I know, and with the best pronunciation as I can muster, knowing that if I am patient enough I will manage. I learned early on that the French people are formal and that you must start every interaction with "bon jour." If you do not begin with that nicety, you are considered rude.
I can respect wanting a formal greeting. It is a cultural difference and this may be a source of some friction Americans have when they visit France if they do not recognize the cultural expectations of the host country. Americans are much more casual and we will chat with anyone, and even think about needing to start a conversation with a greeting of "good day."
Many times we will be at a store, say a coffee shop, where we are staring up at the menu. Then, when we are greeted and asked for our order, we are more likely to answer with the drinks we want than to start with "Good day, I would like to have..."
During my first trip to France in 2007, I did my best to use bon jour with every interaction I had with a French person. It was when we were in the Midi-Pyrenees region and at farmer's markets that I discovered a different phrase, that of
--> bonne journée. (It is pronouced bun jour-nay).

A farmer's market in Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val.

At first I thought they were wishing me to have a good journey. I wondered how obvious it was that I was on vacation. Later, much later, I realized the significance of bonne journée. 
It is the feminine version of bon jour and the polite way of ending a conversation by wishing someone a good rest of their day.
Get it? Start with the masculine bon jour and end with the feminine bonne journée. It is like book ends to a conversation.
In 2011, when I returned to France I used bonne journée instead of au revoir to say good-bye. The reaction was startling. I found that in the villages, my wishing bonne journée was treated as if I paid them a high compliment. On more than one occasion, the person's voice went up an entire octave and they trilled out "Aussi!  Bonne journée!" (You too! Have a Good Day!)
Seriously. Americans have become so jaded and cynical that wishing someone a good day or "have a good one" is fodder for stand up comedians. Yet, that simple nicety will endear yourself in France with the locals.
My Italian is more sparse than my French. It consists of a few all purpose words such as buongiorno, buena sera, grazie, ciao and prego.
Having learned my lesson in France, I did my best to start any conversations with Italians with buongiorno or buena sera. 
The word that surprised me as to its usage is "prego." I feel it is the Swiss Army knife of words in Italian.
It is used to say please, thank you, and you're welcome. I have had waiters come to my table with their pad in hand and simply say "prego." It might translate as please, but it has so many more uses.
Tasso Ristorante Pizzeria in Sorrento, Italy

If you are traveling in Italy, know that prego is used far more often than per favore.
During our trip this summer we visited our exchange student and his family. While he was living with us in California, I saw him use his cell phone for reading texts, emails, etc., but do not remember seeing him talk into the phone. In Italy, I saw him answer the phone a few times and was surprised at his greeting.
Not buongiorno or salve, but pronto.
It reminds me of the old greeting, "go ahead, it's your dime."
The other day when I had a phone call from an unknown user, I decided to use "pronto" as my greeting. The caller was flummoxed and hung up on me. Just as well, I think it was a telemarketer and I am on the "do not call" list.

Does anyone have any other "magic" words they learned in a foreign country they would like to add?



Thursday, July 11, 2013

Writing, adaptations and public speaking

This essay was inspired by a private correspondence I have been having with another writer. I realized my experience might be helpful to others and so I decided to make this into a blog post.

Every writer has specific strengths and weaknesses. The differences are as different as the writers themselves and their own life experiences. Back when I was in high school I was a member of our forensics team. In this context, forensics means public speaking and has nothing to do with autopsies.
Being involved in competitive public speaking not only helped me develop self confidence, but it enhanced my own inherent flair for drama, working within time limits and knowing how to engage an audience. I was involved with three different categories during my four years of competition. In my freshman year I was a member of our "multiple." Multiple Interpretation is a category for a group of speakers (between three to eight) and our selection was to be between ten and fifteen minutes in length. We were not allowed to have physical or eye contact with one another. The only props allowed were stools and scripts.
The selection we used during my freshman year was a script from an episode of the old television series "The Twilight Zone." The story was "Monsters are due on Maple Street" and it dealt with space aliens causing the residents in a small American town to turn on each other.
Being part of a multiple meant that I was part of a team effort to succeed. It was similar to a mini-play competing onstage against other mini-plays. Everyone involved in that year's multiple was a first year member of the team and we practiced everyday after school for months working on our performances and our timing. We made the final round in tournaments a few times and even placed second in one invitational, but we did not do as well as we had hoped.
One aspect of being on the forensics team is that our coach had a large filing cabinet with hundreds of scripts. Some had been used in previous years and were considered "winning scripts" that were to be inherited by a new generation of team members. Those proven scripts were outnumbered by ones purchased from a catalog and had never been read before being put in a file.
My sophomore year I was able to change categories and tried my hand at Humorous Interpretation. That was a solo competitive event where the speakers would rotate two different comedic scripts that were five to eight and a half minutes in length. I spent the summer looking for my own selections and settled on editing an essay from one of Erma Bombeck's books and a short story from Shirley Jackson. I was okay, but my talents were not really suited for that category.
In my junior year, I switched to Serious Interpretation and found my groove. The major difference between Serious and Humorous, (other than trying to make the audience cry rather than laugh), is that your selections alternated between poetry and prose. In the beginning of the tournament a drawing would be held and it was announced which of the two formats would be read in the first round of competition.
Because many poems are short, there were some competitors who read collections of poems to fulfill the time requirements. I found that approach to be lame. I also found myself getting bored when I heard the same poem being read by numerous people. "Patterns" by Amy Lowell was one of those overused poems. One tournament I heard that poem read three times and by two different girls in a single round of competition. It was popular because it was a single poem that when read fit the time requirements, was written by a woman poet and most of the competitors in Serious Interpretation were female. I found the poem boring and mentally tuned out when I heard it announced in the introduction. I wondered how many of the judges had similar reactions due to its overuse.
That was another reason why I thought it was better to find my own selections rather than depend on my coach to recommend something.
In my junior year I remember one of my competitors had written his own selection based on a novelization from the movie Apocalypse Now. I had not seen the movie, but was astounded at his performance, and felt that its difference from the majority of the scripts helped him stand out as a competitor. Later, when I saw the movie, it felt as if he were sitting next to me, whispering in my ear. That is how good his adaptation of the movie was to encapsulate its essence into eight and a half minutes.
I remember reading the book with a highlighter in one hand and marking up several particularly emotional passages. I wrote my script using portions of scenes along with transitions making it fit my time frame and knew that no one else would be reading the same work.
That strategy worked for me.
After the regular invitational season was over in my senior year, my coach told me something that spurred me on to doing another adaptation. This time it would be for the Multiple Interpretation category.
Our team was so large and successful that we had more members on it than could be entered into  the District Tournament. So there were many teammates whose season was going to be over unless he did something creative. He told me that he was thinking of dusting off the "Monsters are due on Maple Street" script and create a second multiple to enter at Districts. I cringed at the thought. It was an okay script, but I did not want to see it used again. Especially since judges had seen it only a few years before. I knew my teammates who would be asked to be a part of it might feel as if they were leftovers thrown together in a hastily prepared soup.
I went home and grabbed a book of short stories by Stephen King and banged out a script for what I titled: "A Taste of Horror." I made sure that it fit the time constraints, typed it up and made a few copies. On the next school day, I told my coach that I had a different idea for a multiple and handed him the script. I also offered to direct.
It was far more than he expected from that little chat we shared on the bus. He also accepted my offer. We only had a few weeks of rehearsals, but I was proud of the performances by my teammates and I am certain they felt more confident with that script when they competed against other teams' multiples who had been together for months.
Then I entered college and didn't have any time for creative writing. Or drama. Or much else besides watching an occasional movie.
After I finished college and began working full time, I felt there was something missing in my life. I realized that I longed for an outlet for drama like I had back in high school and that one of my greatest strengths was recognizing dramatic scenes and adapting it for presentations to audiences.
I decided that I would try that on a larger scale, and so I took one of my favorite novels Whispers by Dean R. Koontz and try to adapt it into a screenplay. I owed college loans and was making entry level wages, so I certainly did not have any ability to buy the movie rights. I did however, decide to adapt the novel as a writing exercise to see if I had the talent and stamina to do such a project. I went back to using a highlighter and marking up scenes, then transferring them into my computer in a screenplay format. It took several months, but I finished the task and it was in the 110-120 page range for a two hour movie. (The working rule is one page of a movie script equals a minute on the screen.)
I was proud of my work, but I also knew that as an unknown writer with no credits I would never get hired to do film adaptations. So in order to have any chance in pursuing that career path, I first needed to write my own screenplays.
I took two screenwriting classes at Wayne State University and learned a lot. I had to write an original screenplay for the course and I realize now that it was spectacularly depressing and would never have been made into a movie had I pursued trying to get an agent. (It seemed like a good idea to me at the time, but hindsight can have better visual acuity than foresight.)
During this time I purchased several scripts of movies that I enjoyed. I re-watched those movies with the scripts in hand and analyzed any deviations. I also began watching movies before and after I read the books and compared the adaptations. I took copious notes including writing down each and every scene in a movie and realized for the first time how many different scenes there are. Sometimes over a hundred in a two hour movie.
I have been devastated when a beloved story's lifeblood was leeched out when it was translated to the silver screen by oversimplification of plotlines and elimination of characters, etc. and I have marveled at how the essence of a story was enhanced by condensing timelines, characters, etc.
I learned by this extended critical analyses that novels and movies are two different mediums and what works in one does not necessarily work in the other. In novels, you can spend an entire chapter in a character's head learning their inner thoughts, but on a movie screen that could be accomplished by a close up of a raised eyebrow or summarized into a single line of voice-over narration. Another thing I learned was the importance of having scenes with conflict and action. A stage or movie script has bare bones descriptions, whereas novels need to describe the setting, the actions/reactions of characters so that the readers "can see" these important details as well as the characters are wearing if it is important to the plot.
I have been told by many of my readers that they can see my story as a movie. I take that as a compliment that my years of analyzing what works in cinema and translating it into a different format has paid off.
My adapting the epic poems of Orlando innamorato and Orlando furioso is a result of my years of experience of larger narratives and culling portions then changing its format so that it will work for a different audience.
I still love watching movies based on books and analyzing the differences between the two forms and formats. One movie adaptation that I am looking forward to watching is the forthcoming, Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters due out August 7th.
Please let me know what some of your favorite or cannot stand adaptations from novel to screen are in the comments.  By the way, I did watch the movie adaptation of the novel Whispers by Dean R. Koontz.  It was awful!  My script was far better.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Glowing review from Midwest Book Reviews

I am happy to announce a glowing review of my novel by the Midwest Book Review.

In "Quest Of The Warrior Maiden", author Linda McCabe reveals an undeniable talent for creating a truly memorable and epic fantasy saga incorporating memorable characters, cliff hanger suspense, magic and Arthurian romance of the first order. "Quest Of The Warrior Maiden" is enthusiastically recommended reading and a first rate selection for community library Science Fiction/Fantasy collections.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Reading and signing in Milan, Italy

I am happy to announce that I will be doing a reading and book signing at the English Bookshop in Milan.

Mark your calendars for Monday, June 17th at 6:30 pm, at the corner of Via L. Mascheroni and Via Lodovico Ariosto.


I blogged about this wonderful bookstore back in January. I had a wonderful chat with the store's owner, Peter Panton, and I am looking forward to seeing him again.

I was saddened to hear that he made the decision to close his store as of June 30th. It will be a great loss to the literary community in Milan. I am grateful that Mr. Panton agreed to hold an event so soon to his store's closing.

Please help spread the word to your friends and colleagues who live in Northern Italy about the book signing and also of the store's closing. I am certain Peter would like to hear from people about how his store has touched their lives over the last thirty-five years.

Another request I have is to contact him ahead of time for those who will be attending my signing so that he can better prepare the amount of chairs to set out and the number of books to order. The phone number isl: 02 4694468

You can also direct people to my official Facebook page's event listing and have them RSVP there.

Thank you and I hope to have many pictures to share later from this memorable occasion.


Thursday, May 16, 2013

2013 Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo

Douglas Gallagher, Professor Richard Scott Nokes, Linda C. McCabe, Alexis E. Fajardo, Brandon Spars

I have a quick announcement before I give my report on the 48th International Congress on Medieval Studies:

I will be doing a reading and book signing at the English Bookshop in Milano, Italy on Monday, June 17th at 6:30 pm. The address is 12 Via Mascheroni (the store opens on Via Ariosto!). Please help spread the word to anyone you know who lives in Northern Italy and might be interested in hearing me speak. Note: I do not speak Italian, so they would have to understand English. If they intend on coming, please let Peter Panton know in advance to help him determine how many chairs to set out and how many books to order. Another way to RSVP would be to send me an email or to join the event on my Facebook page.

 Okay, back to my report:

I recently returned from my first ever Medieval Congress held on the campus of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

To give you an idea of how large this gathering is, here are a few statistics:

There are approximately 3,000 medievalists from all over the world who attend this four day annual event.

This year's program had over 250 pages

There were over 500 sessions with roughly fifty running simultaneously
The deadline to submit proposals for next year's Congress is June 1, 2013

It is so large that it not a conference, it is a congress.  I do not know at what point the classification changes from conference to congress, but perhaps it is with the sheer number of sessions offered.

If you couldn't find something you wanted to attend, you didn't look hard enough.

I grew up in the state of Michigan, but it was only after I moved to California and started reading medievalist blogs that I  learned of this annual event.

It took a fair bit of advance planning over a year ago for me to be a participant in this year's congress. Thankfully, I found some like minded people who all happen to live in Sonoma County to agree to join me in a panel. We all had adapted the legends of Charlemagne in the hopes of introducing these tales to twenty-first century audiences. I also approached a regular attendee of these congresses and asked if he would be our organizer and preside over the session.

Thankfully, Professor Awesome agreed.
Schmoozing with Professor Richard Scott Nokes AKA Professor Awesome.

We were session #402 out of 582 sessions. I think we were lucky in our schedule because it was Saturday morning at 10 am. It could have been an evening session after the wine hour or we might have had an 08:30 am Sunday morning session when people are recovering from the popular Saturday night dance.

I helped Lex Fajardo staff a table in the exhibit hall. We took turns staffing the table during meal times and when one of us wanted to attend a session.

Lex Fajardo and me at the exhibit table

There were several sessions I attended that I want to highlight. The first was "Constructions of Women Warriors in Medieval Eurasia 2.0." In particular, there were two papers that seemed appropriate to my interest in the women warriors in Carolingian legends.

Suzanne Hagedorn of the College of William and Mary gave a paper titled "The Amazon as Temptress: Thalestris in the Alexander Romance Tradition." I had never heard of Queen Thalestris and the story of her approaching Alexander the Great asking to bear his child since she regarded him as being the epitome of male strength, valor and prowess.

It was an interesting paper and it that reminded me of a portion of Orlando furioso that I did not use in my novel.  Canto XX details the history of an Amazonian tribe that warrior Queen Marfisa came across during her travels. Men were scarce in this tribe and those who were allowed to live after venturing near their shores had to pass tests of surviving combat with ten men in a single day and then satisfying ten women later that night.

(While this passage is interesting and humorous, it did not further my plot of Bradamante and Ruggiero's love story and so it was cut by me.)

The second paper from that session that I would like to mention was delivered by Diane Wright of Grand Valley State University. It was titled "Early Iberian Models of the Female Warrior: History, Myth and Legend."

I look forward to corresponding with Diane in the future about those legends.

Schmoozing with Professor Diane Wright

Another session I attended was the French Cultural Traditions in Italy: The Era of Andrea da Barberino. I do not speak or read Italian, so I was unfamiliar with the source material mentioned in the various talks. However, I met scholars interested in the Matters of France and how they were disseminated into Italy and Italian literature. I anticipate having a good correspondance with those contacts.

On Friday I attended a panel regarding E-publishing and Medieval Studies. I wanted to show support for Professor Nokes as well as meet Peter and Sandra from the wildly popular blog fame.

Peter and Sandra from and Professor Nokes

Saturday was the day of our session and while I had been hoping for better attendance, those who came were enthusiastic about our topic.

I spoke about the challenges of adapting two epic poems into a novel suitable for 21st century audiences. This included correcting continuity errors with geography, culling extraneous subplots, and balancing the needs of drama vs. historical accuracy.

Lex Fajardo discussed his approach to blending the Beowulf story with heroes of other legends in a graphic novel form. In his Kid Beowulf series, Beowulf and Grendel are twelve year old twin brothers and his stories are "prequels" to the classic legends.

Lex showing images from the prologue of his first graphic novel Kid Beowulf and the Blood-Bound Oath
Doug Gallagher discussed how he and his students adapted Orlando furioso into a stage production using Pink Floyd's album The Dark Side of the Moon  as a soundtrack.

Doug showing a picture of the many visual elements of that incredible stage production.

Brandon Spars then talked about how he taught the Song of Roland to his class. It involved using a tin foil horn as a prop as he read the classic poem and then squirting ketchup on his face to simulate Roland's temples bursting. I am sure none of his students will forget that day's lesson.

Brandon Spars with "blood" on his face

After our session, I participated in a lunchtime roundtable discussion sponsored by Kalamazoo's local independent bookstore Kazoo Books. There were seven (or eight?) authors on the panel discussing writing historical fiction. Most of the authors were also professors, and I believe I was the only one whose genre extended into the fantasy realm. There was a good give and take between the presenters and the audience who asked some thoughtful questions. For the next two days I had people who recognized me from that talk and I was able to extend the conversation with them about our shared love of books.

Here are two other photos of people that I met who helped make this a special time for me.

Here I am with Medievalist blogger and grad student Jennifer Lynn Jordan

I had read Jennifer's Per Omni Saecula blog for many years and grew to appreciate her humor and love of all things medieval. It was even better meeting her in person. She's cool and I hope once her busy academic year is over that we can share a bad medieval movie mash up like she did once with Carl Pyrdum.

I had so many wonderful conversations with medievalists from all over the globe. I was thrilled to meet Italian and French medievalists so that I could talk about the legends of Charlemagne with them since it is a part of their shared heritage.

I also met a man who is descended from the Noble House of d'Este.

Yes, as I read his name badge, I asked James Estes if he was a descendant to the patrons of Boiardo and Ariosto. He admitted that he was.

This led to a spirited exchange with many laughs and this photo.

Schmoozing with James Estes, descendant of the patrons of Ariosto and Boiardo
How many times do I have the opportunity to geek out over the Noble House of d'Este?

More photos from the 48th International Congress on Medieval Studies can be found on my novel's official Facebook page with this open link. (Meaning you don't have to be a member of Facebook to see this album.)

I plan on going back to the Medieval Congress again, but perhaps in 2015 to help spur on the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the original publication of Orlando furioso. Plus by that time, I should have my sequel published.

Please let me know your experiences with the Congress and any other pages with photos, remembrances, etc.

Thank you,


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Closing of Panton's English Bookshop in Milan

I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but another wonderful independent bookstore is closing. This time it is Peter Panton's English Bookshop in Milan, Italy.

I blogged about this store back in January, and had been hoping that I might be able to arrange an event in his store during my upcoming trip to Italy.

Alas, Mr. Panton has announced the closing of his store for good on June 30, 2013.


This is his official message on Facebook:

The book industry is going through dramatic changes, influenced by the transition from print to digital. No part of this industry is being more influenced with this new trend than bookshops.
From independent bookshops to big chains like B&N, Borders, Waterstones etc., etc, no one seems to be immune to these changes.
Milan’s first all English bookshop, Panton’s English Bookshop, established in 1978, is no exception!
It’s a well known fact that book lovers are quite happy to spend time in a bricks-and-mortar bookshop to see what sort of interesting titles they find and then, off they go home to buy online where prices are often cheaper.
Much to our regret “Panton’s English Bookshop” will be closing for good on 30th June 2013.
Panton's English Bookshop
Via L. Mascheroni, 12
20145 - Milano, Italy
Phone:+39. 024694468
9:30-13:00 / 15:30-19:30

This news saddens me. I hope that come July, Mr. Panton will find more time to enjoy the simple pleasures of life such as eating bruschetta and drinking wine, as well as more time for his writing.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo

For several years I have seen blog posts by Professor Richard Scott Nokes about all the fun he has had at the annual Medieval Congress held in Kalamazoo, Michigan on the campus of Western Michigan University.

This year I am going to join him.

Correction, this year I am going to be in a panel discussion where Professor Awesome will be our moderator.

This will be Session #402 out of 582 sessions.

"Carolingian Legends: Adapting Medieval and Renaissance Literature for Twenty-First Century Audiences" on Saturday, May 11th, 10-11:30 am in Room 2355 Schneider.

The panel will consist of Alexis E. Fajardo, author of the Kid Beowulf series,

I will be discussing adapting my novel Quest of the Warrior Maiden from the epic poems Orlando innamorato and Orlando furioso,

as well as Douglas Gallagher and Brandon Spars of Sonoma Academy who produced an incredible musical adaptation of Orlando furioso set to the soundtrack of Pink Floyd's "The Dark Side of the Moon."

It should be a fun round table discussion. We hope to inspire medieval literature professors in their preparations to have a grand celebration of the five hundredth anniversary of the publication of Orlando furioso in 2016.

I would enjoy meeting up with other medievalist bloggers at the Congress. Please drop me a line here or attend my session. Lex and I will also be vendors, so you can try to find us there as well.

If anyone has any suggestions about these Congresses and what to expect, I would enjoy hearing about it. I have attended other conferences, but never one with so many sessions and an expected three thousand attendees.

Help this newbie out if you can!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Forged in Grace by Jordan Rosenfeld

"Jordan E. Rosenfeld’s  luminous, edgy debut is dark, searingly-written, and ultimately redemptive. Forged in Grace startled me at every breathtaking turn." - Patry Francis, author of The Liar's Diary

My friend Jordan Rosenfeld's debut novel Forged in Grace publication date is February 28th.

Here is a description:

Grace Jensen survived a horrific fire at age 15. The flames changed her: badly scarred in body and mind, Grace developed an ability to feel other people’s pain. Unable to bear human touch, she has made a small life for herself in Northern California, living with her hoarder mother, tending wounded animals, and falling a little in love with her former doctor. Her safe world explodes when the magnetic Marly Kennet reappears in town; Grace falls right back into the dynamic of their complicated friendship. Marly is the holder of many secrets, including one that has haunted Grace for over a decade: what really happened the night of the fire?

When Marly exhorts Grace to join her in Las Vegas, to make up for the years they have been lost to each other, Grace takes a leap of faith and goes. Although Marly is not entirely honest about her intentions, neither woman anticipates that enlarging Grace’s world will magnify her ability to sense the suffering of others—or that she will begin to heal wounds by swallowing her own pain and laying her hands on the afflicted. This gift soon turns darker when the truth of Marly’s life—and the real reason she ended her friendship with Grace—pushes the boundaries of loyalty and exposes both women to danger.

FORGED IN GRACE gives a new twist to the idea of reuniting with an old flame—literally. Exploring ruptured female friendships as in Leah Stewart’s The Myth of You and Me with the dark psychology (and twist of the inexplicable) found in Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, FORGED IN GRACE will resonate with anyone who has wanted to set the past right.

To help build momentum for the release date, Jordan is highlighting the work of some of her literary friends and offering free copies of their work through daily literary trivia questions.

Today an electronic copy of my novel Quest of the Warrior Maiden will be given away to the first person who correctly answers the trivia question posted on her blog.  She also has a Facebook author page you can "like" and a link will appear there as well.

Jordan had been an influential part of the Sonoma County literary scene when I first met her. She had created a literary salon in Petaluma as well as a literary radio program on our local National Public Radio station. 

She has moved out of Sonoma County, but her influence is still felt here. Last night an interview with Jordan about her forthcoming novel was aired on KRCB Radio by Gil Mansergh, the new host of "Word by Word." It will be available in a few days as a downloadable podcast from the station's website and through iTunes. (I will add a link once that is put online.)

Jordan has written many articles that have appeared in such publications as Writer's Digest Magazine including a cover story interview with New York Times best selling author Tess Gerritsen. She has several nonfiction books on writing including the wonderful Make a Scene: crafting a powerful story one scene at a time published by Writers Digest Books.

She has returned several times to our county to be a speaker at Redwood Writers meetings and workshops. Here is a photo of her from the 2009 Winter Editing Workshops where she discussed the importance of writing powerful scenes.

Jordan has not only done her own writing, but is a successful freelance editor. I am one of her many satisfied clients in that regard.

One more thing I wanted to mention is that Jordan also teaches online writing classes with lessons and assignments to bring out the best in your writing.  She has a Revise for Publication class starting February 18th. So if your New Year's Resolution was to shape up your NaNoWriMo manuscript into something publishable - consider this as Opportunity Knocking on your front door.

I wish Jordan well in the launch of her novel.  Bonne chance mon ami!

Edited to add links to her book that is now available.

Trade paperback on Amazon

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Dos and Don'ts of Public Speaking

This blog post is intended for writers who are given the opportunity to read portions of their work aloud. However, others who have to speak in front of an audience may also find some of the suggestions to be helpful.

I have over thirty years public speaking experience. In high school I was a member of our championship forensics team and was an award winning competitive public speaker in the Serious Interpretation category. This advice is the product of my experience as well as my frustration when I have witnessed public readings I have found to be embarrassing.

1. Do  know your time limits and plan for them.  If you have a short time frame to work with, say five minutes, select a passage that fits within those parameters including any prefatory comments you need to make to set up the scene for the audience. Time yourself. If it goes long, consider choosing another passage or perhaps change your beginning or ending places so that it fits in the time frame.

2. Don't Ramble or waste time. I have been to a few open microphone sessions where a writer is one of several speakers, but once they have the mic it seems as if s/he will not relinquish it without a big hook coming out and taking him/her off the stage. I particularly hate it when people ramble, because it demonstrates they were not prepared.

If you are given five minutes to speak, that five minutes starts from the time you are given the floor or handed the microphone. Rambling for four minutes before you start reading does not mean you still get to read for an additional five minutes. Nope. If you are given five minutes, you have five minutes. Especially if you are sharing a stage with others. That means that there will be members of the audience who came specifically to hear someone else speak. If you go over your time limit, (by more than a minute or two), you will be cutting into others' time or causing the program to go long.

Recently I saw an author bring her book to the stage, but her opening was not a statement used to set up her reading. Instead she rambled on and on about her life. She spent her entire time speaking without any discernable purpose, used up her entire time and never read a single word from her book. It became nothing more than a prop she waved in the air.

A different example of wasting time was when I delivered an academic paper at an international conference. I was one of three speakers in a session and I was given the last speaking slot. We were all to have an equal twenty minutes to present. However, the first speaker was a college professor who had not timed his presentation until the night before. He became irritated about the brevity and felt this time constraint caused him to eviscerate the heart and soul out of his talk. He complained about this. Repeatedly. Not just to the panel moderator in private, but during his talk.

He took time during his speech to complain that he did not have enough time. He probably spent a total of three minutes during his talk saying, "oh I cannot go into more detail about that because I do not have enough time."

He also ignored the moderator when she told him that his time was over, and continued speaking for a few more minutes. This cut into the time left for my presentation. I was professional about it and was able to condense and speed up some of my presentation so the session did not run overtime.

3. Do make a script that is easy to read. One of my pet peeves is authors reading from their physical books. I think it is fine to read directly from a book if it is a picture book where the pages are read and shown to an adoring crowd of children. Otherwise, it is often awkward for someone to read directly from a bound book. Not only do you have to fight with the binding, losing your place if it closes, but the font is generally not large enough to read with ease.

If you are reading your own story, then make a script off of documents you have on your hard drive.

Boost the font. Make it 18 or 20 point. Make it bold. Whatever works best for you to read without difficulty.

Print it out, and make it so that your paragraphs do not have widows or orphans. It is best to read to the end of a paragraph and then turn the page.  Number your pages.

My personal preference is to put the printed pages onto construction paper. This makes it a script where the pages can be changed with ease. I find this easier to use than plain paper with a staple on the top. I also find myself being distracted from the reading by concentrating at the stapled copy in a reader's hand to assess how many more pages they are going to read. A script with separate pages will remove that distraction.

4. Don't think that reading glasses will make reading from a physical book easy to do in public.

It will not. Wearing reading glasses while trying to read from a physical book will make you have to look down more often. This will hurt your performance. As your head is turned downward, your voice will be focused downward. Or your throat will be at an acute angle and this will change the tone of your voice and your ability to project your words. Alternately, you could hold the book upward so that your neck is straight and your voice is projected well. This will also cause the book to cover your face making it hard for your audience to see your facial expressions or to have any eye contact with them.

5. Do entertain your audience. Express yourself in a manner that will captivate your audience's attention. If you are reading passages with dialogue, create different voices to help them understand and follow who is speaking. Use eye contact to engage the audience with you. Having rehearsed your talk enough times and having an easy to read script will allow you to look up and at your audience.

Remember, if you are sharing the stage with others then many in the audience will be there in support of other speakers. They may know nothing about you. Make them sit up and take notice of your performance. Make them feel as if they discovered someone new to admire.

6. Don't bore your audience. Rambling at the beginning of your talk is lethal for grabbing and maintaining an audience's attention. Once lost it is hard to get back.

Fumbling with a book and reading glasses as well as speaking in a monotone is also high risk behavior for losing your audience.

Whether you realize it or not, you are competing for all of the audience members' attentions. Make it worth their while to pay attention to you and not make a mental list of errands that need running or check their email on their iPhone. They could be other places right now, but they are chose to spend a portion of their lives at whatever venue you are speaking. They could change their mind at any moment and leave to go to the bathroom or go home.

7. Do your best to be heard. It is frustrating when a speaker does not project his or her voice well enough to be heard or does not know how to properly use a microphone. If someone objects when you start speaking and says, "I can't hear you!" make sure that the situation is resolved before you continue with your planned talk. This may mean readjusting the microphone to being closer to your mouth or forcing yourself to SPEAK UP!

8. Don't think you do not need amplification.  I have seen speakers at a podium decide they did not want to use the microphone that is provided. Even after someone in the audience complained. Most of the time speakers are mistaken when they think their voice is loud enough without amplification to be heard in all corners of the room. I only knew one woman who could pull that off with ease, because She Could Project. Loudly. When she chose to project her voice, it was as if she used a megaphone. She was the proverbial exception that proves the rule.

I remember a sad case of a female politician who had become feeble in her old age. She was a guest speaker at an event and when it came time for her to speak, she could not make herself heard by using the microphone. It had worked fine for all the speakers before her, but it seemed as if it stopped working when she took the stage. People scrambled to find a replacement microphone, they tested it and then handed it to her. We were all hopeful this would resolve the problem. She took the microphone and then it became clear that her anemic vocal performance was not due to technology, but due to her inability to perform anymore.

This was heartbreaking for me, because I had looked forward to hearing her talk and knew she had a wealth of knowledge and a lifetime of experience that was worthy of hearing. I stopped straining to make out her words, and instead accepted that I could not hear her unless I was standing next to her onstage.


Here is an example of a recent public speaking appearance where I read a passage from my novel. You can see how I used a script, varied my voice to entertain the audience, tried to use eye contact and did my best to be heard over the ambient conversation of those in the restaurant who were not there for the literary event.

I was the only participant to stay in the 5-7 minute time frame mentioned at the beginning of the event. (The video running time is just over seven minutes, but that includes the introduction given to me before I started speaking.)

If there are any other pieces of advice in public speaking that I did not mention, but you think should be included in this list - please leave it in the comment section. Thank you and I hope this advice is helpful.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Charlemagne died January 28th 814

A reliquary of Charlemagne containing his head. This is found in the cathedral treasury in Aachen, Germany.

In honor of the 1199th anniversary of Charlemagne's death, and in anticipation of the major anniversary to be celebrated next year, I wanted to write a post in honor of that historic leader who changed Europe.

His date of birth is reported as April 2nd, but the year is in some dispute. Encyclopedia Britannica has it listed as 747? while his official biographer Einhardt suggests he died at age 72 making his birth year as 742.  There is not any dispute as to when he died. 

I have snapped pictures associated with Charlemagne ever since beaming a devotee of Carolingian legends.

I wanted to share some of them with my blog readers.

Staring in Paris, there is a statue of him in front of Notre Dame Cathedral.

Then on the Right Bank is Rue Charlemagne.

I was delighted to find that his street intersected with one named after his biographer, Rue Eginhard.

There was also a bookstore named after him a few blocks away.

Not far from the Musée Carnavalet is a street named after the famous poem Les Quatre Fils Aymon.

Then in Chantilly, a chateau north of Paris I found a painting depicting those four sons of Aymon riding on the back of Renaud de Montauban's coveted destrier Bayard.

Too bad the artist did not have Renaud sporting Mambino's golden helmet. Then we would know for certain which of the four brothers was Renaud.

In the Louvre you can find not only a reliquary containing one of Charlemagne's arms,

but a replica of his famous sword Joyeuse.

While in Amboise, I noticed Rue Joyeuse.

In Reims, the treasury for the cathedral had a statue of Charlemagne that had been taken down because it has deteriorated and needs a replacement.

Here is a closer look.

Here I am providing perspective as to its size. Plus, I wanted a picture taken of me with Charlemagne.

Here is where I believe it had been placed on the cathedral. You can see the empty pedestal.

It is not so obvious when you look at the cathedral as a whole.

Speaking of cathedrals, there is an entire stained glass window devoted to the legends of Charlemagne at the cathedral in Chartres.

If you are wondering how someone can tell that this window is about Charlemagne and not just any king, you can see if you look closely the word Carolus used in many of these insets.

During a trip to Italy in 2011, I arranged a tour of St. Peter's Basilica because I wanted to see where Charlemagne had been crowned as emperor of the Western Roman Empire on Christmas Day in the year 800.

Outside the entrance to St. Peter's stands a large statue of Charlemagne.

There is a companion statue of Constantine facing Charlemagne, but I never even looked his way. So I do not have a picture of that to share.

Inside the basilica, my tour guide showed me the very spot Charlemagne was crowned. It was upon a disk of red porphyry.

My guide stressed that red porphyry was expensive and had been mined from a single mine in Egypt, but had been long since been exhausted. This made the existing porphyry all the more valuable.

I then started taking pictures of red porphyry where ever I saw it.

Here is one in the Roman Pantheon.

And a close up of that disk.

Then in August 2011, I visited Aachen. The capital of Charlemagne's empire.

This time when I saw a disk of red porphyry inside his cathedral, I made sure to have my picture taken standing on it.

Here is his throne which was on the second floor in the cathedral. There are steps leading up to the throne and pilgrims used to crawl under it.

Here is a replica of his crown that is in the Rathause, a building where the current Aachen City Council meets and where Charlemagne's palace once stood.

He was originally buried in this sarcophagus that is now housed in the cathedral treasury.

However, when he was canonized, they removed his remains and placed several portions in small reliquaries (like the golden head at the top of this page and the arm held in the Louvre) and the bulk of his bones inside a golden reliquary inside his cathedral.

In Aachen, Charlemagne's influence can be found everywhere. Including his monogram found on the streets.

I hope to make it back to visit Aachen next year and see some of the festivities planned for such a significant anniversary of the death of an important leader in history. Perhaps I will be lucky to be asked to participate as an author whose work's purpose is to inspire a new generation to discover and enjoy the legends of Charlemagne.