November 11th, 2014
On Friday evening, November 14, at 7:00, I am talking about and reading from The Italian Letters in San Francisco at Books, Inc., Opera Square, 610 Van Ness. This will be a Champagne Launch and you are all invited.
Why is this so special? Books, Inc. is the West’s oldest independent bookstore with 11 stores in California. Amazingly, their “origin dates back to the Gold Rush Days of 1851 when Anton Roman struck it rich in Shasta City, California, and set himself up in the business of selling books. That small bookstore was moved, bought, sold, burned, rebuilt, renamed and became Books Inc., as we know it today, in 1946.”
On December 9, I’ll have the pleasure of sharing The Italian Letters with the community of readers at the Palo Alto Books, Inc.
Check out booksinc.net and join us.
November 2nd, 2014
I’m always seeking environments that offer moments of clarity. That one magnificent epiphany, that one true sentence, that pulse of reflective insight into self. A redwood forest, a beach, waterfall, or even a seat alone among a crowd of strangers. A few months ago, I wrote that Ernest Hemingway found that moment of clarity in front of a Cezanne. Doreen Carvajal’s romantic piece in the New York Times (10.26.14), entitled “Writing Retreat by Rail”, conjured up an enticing experience of traveling–and writing–by rail from Paris to the Riviera. She recounts the array of artists and writers who found their Eureka moment on the rails: John le Carre, Graham Greene, Matisse, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Picasso, Anton Chekhov, J.K. Rowling, among others. What do they find there? The repetitive moment of the rails? The kaleidoscope of colors and light stirring those brain neurons? Perhaps we out to hold collaborative writing retreats on trains as well.
October 24th, 2014
My son Tod suggested this morning that I explore the Brain + Gut phenomena as an analogy for desirable novels. Capital idea! Many now recognize that humans have two brains. One in the head and one in the gut. The gut is loaded with nerves and neurons; a very complex brain indeed. For the gut, taste+reward=energy. So describes Heribert Watzke of Oxford in the video below. So far, so good.
We experience the pleasurable taste of a good novel in the gut as well as in the brain holding our hat. I would suggest that a novel must satisfy the intellectual cravings of the big brain in companionship with the yummy tastes experienced by the gut brain. And the best news: both brains entertain your emotions, that lovable human possession that makes the world go round. Thus: Intellect + Taste + Emotions=Human choice and desires.
Think of the last novel you really loved (I’m hoping it was The Cairo Codex or The Italian Letters). Did it meet these criteria? How so?
October 7th, 2014
John Berendt is a truly unique writer. In Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil he engaged a true story and characters into a richly texturized novel of grace and elegance. Memoir authors have borrowed this approach in recent years—to their detriment when the fiction is excessive—and to their glory when it worked.
As I began to write The Italian Letters (just released), I turned to Berendt’s second such novel, A City of Fallen Angels, set in Venice for insights into the Italian culture and legal systems. I, in turn, invoked some of his approaches, particularly the use of true incidents and characters, into my novels (the Justine Trilogy). Berendt—and earlier Truman Capote (In Cold Blood)—offered gifts heretofore undiscovered. For me, these writing strategies created a format to bring together my background in history, non-fiction, and fiction. Thanks, John.
October 2nd, 2014
The Italian Letters lies in the sensuous curvature of ancient, 20th and 21st century Italy. The sequel to The Cairo Codex follows the adventures of anthropologist Justine Jenner after she is expelled from Egypt in the wake of discovering the diary of the Virgin Mary. Exiled into Tuscany, Justine finds herself embroiled in three interwoven stories of discovery: the long-lost letters of D. H. Lawrence to her great grandmother, Isabella; an ancient tomb revealed the origin and migration of an ancient people pre-dating Rome; and the genealogy of the Virgin Mary and Jesus. While shaken by the frank revelations in Lawrence’s letters and the intimate relationship between the primeval Etruscan’s and Jesus’ mother, Justine must confront her own sexuality and yearning for personal freedom. The second in a trilogy, The Italian Letters is riveted with literary, religious, and archeological history and international politics, each narrative magnifying and altering the meaning of the others.
The Italian Letters is the suspense edition of Etruscan Evenings.
September 19th, 2014
At your local bookstore or Amazon.
Release date: October 14, 2014.
The Italian Letters is the second in the Justine Trilogy.
September 12th, 2014
You need to know that the forthcoming The Italian Letters (October 14 release) is the second edition of Etruscan Evenings. What does that mean? It means that the second edition is a suspense novel, much more so than the first. It alters the characters, the tensions, the events, yet is true to the plot. Such an undertaking is very challenging. I’ve done second editions on textbooks before, but in fiction it means something entirely different. In this case, it meant that the novel shifted genres. Perhaps that’s a new concept, not sure: “SHIFTING GENRES.” Here is some of what it entails:
• an analysis of the first edition to identify aspects in the current genre
• deciding on the desired genre and what forces will drive it
• discovering the elements that would shift the genre to suspense, in this case (e.g. Justine is more proactive; characters are more edgy; occurrences are more sinister; elements are more entangled, each competing with others; motivations are more complex, delving into the psychological dysfunctions of characters; pace is accelerated.
• shifting genres is intellectually challenging–which I enjoy–in that it is essential to hold a gestalt of the novel in your head and play with the pieces holistically.
Questions about these practices?
September 2nd, 2014
Today Huffington Post suggested as much–so do I. Let me reflect with you on why this is true.
I am fortunate to have several feminist friends–including a daughter–and write feminist novels; e.g. The Justine Trilogy. The first, award-winning The Cairo Codex. The Italian Letters is being released on October 14. In addition, I’ve had the pleasure of writing Women’s Ways of Leading with feminist friend Mary Gardner. But I digress… These are some of the reasons, and how to know one when you meet her:
1. Feminists are strong, smart, and fascinating. They are awakened to the world of possibilities and see no limits. Friends like this are challenging and provocative, enabling you to see yourself in the same way.
2. Feminists understand what it is to be fully human, fully alive. To engage in a world of adventure, activism, travel, caring, problem-solving and new ideas.
3. Feminists are without prejudice, for they have been there. The place is called “invisible.” That was when identity was based on what others thought of us. So, they defend equality for everyone.
4. Feminists are honest. Therefore, you can count on authenticity in the relationship and hearty, rigorous feedback. I have a great writing group that is composed of stimulating companions.
5. Feminists know that reciprocity is the most vital, vibrant factor in any relationship. I’m invested in your awakening, you in mine.
August 30th, 2014
“I need to go to Rome for a couple of days, Cherie. Would you still like to come?” asked Andrea. The light from the eastern horizon flooded the terrace where Maria had laid out a small breakfast of croissants, coffee and cream, pecorino, and fig jam. Andrea opened a croissant, spreading jam on one side and topping it with a thin slice of cheese. “You remember Blackburn?”
“The codex thief? How could I forget?” Robert Blackburn was an infamous, slippery thief who owned the Tut Tut Bazaar in Cairo. It was rumored that he had stolen the original codex, but Justine suspected that was a ruse to protect the real villain, the Supreme Director of Antiquities. Still full from the night before, Justine settled for a cup of coffee. She had already dressed in her running clothes and carried her tennis shoes.
“Exactly. I have reason to believe that he might be in Rome.”
“I thought he was still in an Egyptian prison,” said Justine, genuinely surprised. “And, if you find him, you’ll walk right up to him and ask for the original codex? Just tell him Stanford is waiting with their new-fangled machines?”
“Don’t be cute!” said Andrea. “He’s been a prickly thorn in Egyptian sides for some time, so I understand they released him with the agreement that he would leave the country. All rumor, of course.”
“How will we find him? In the phone book, perhaps?” Justine began to put on her running shoes.
“In a little antiquities shop, I’m led to believe.”
“You have the most interesting informants. Tell me, do you seduce all of them?” Justine cocked her head and glared at Andrea.
“Agitated this morning, aren’t we?”
August 21st, 2014
Chapter 1-3 of The Italian Letters are attached to The Cairo Codex e-book now on sale
from Amazon. Here is Chapter 4:
The Italian Letters
“Unrequited love is the only possible way to give yourself
to another without being held in indentured servitude.”
-Bauvard, Some Inspiration for the Overenthusiastic
Her head still spinning from the museum visit, Justine parked her Spider in front of Chez Anna and checked in. She climbed the stairs to her room, threw open the shutters, and gazed out on the valley below, the sea beyond. Her mind floated back to the carved mirror in the ceiling of the tomb, the married couple in a warm, respectful relationship on the sarcophagus lid in the museum. Riveting images of men and women together . . . what did she know now?
The iron four-poster bed, covered with a white quilted coverlet, coaxed her to take off her shoes and dirt-encrusted khakis and relax with her latest purchase—D.H. Lawrence’s Virgin and the Gypsy, a quick read that the author had written for his stepdaughter, Barbara. She was again surprised by Lawrence’s ability to write with such sensuality without explicitly describing sexual consummation (until Lady Chatterley, that is):
. . . And through his body, wrapped round her strange and lithe and powerful, like tentacles, rippled with shuddering as an electric current, still the rigid tension of the muscles that held her clenched steadied them both, and gradually the sickening violence of the shuddering, caused by shock, abated, in his body first, then in hers, and the warmth revived between them. And as it roused, their tortured semi-conscious minds became unconscious, they passed away into sleep.
An hour later, Justine was awakened by a cool air drifting in from the sea. Stretching and shivering, she took a warm shower and dressed in a white silk blouse and clean khaki slacks. She was ready for dinner with her father.
It was a short walk back down a narrow street, hugged by fourteenth-century stone houses, to the fish restaurant Morgan had suggested. The theatrical owner and chef came from Napoli, and therefore was immediately held suspect by locals. The Ristorante Vladimiro ai Bastioni boasted the best Napolitano seafood outside of Rome . . . and Napoli, of course. Two diners at the table in the intimate room. One was her apprehensive father.
“Good evening, Dad,” she said in a lighthearted tone. “I see you’ve started on our bottle of wine.”
The other man turned toward her. She gasped. “Oh . . . Amir! What a surprise! I didn’t know you were here.” Her voice sounded slightly accusatory.
Morgan looked puzzled.
Amir met Justine’s questioning stare. “Do you think I’m following you?”
Justine blushed. “It entered my mind.”
“Whoa! Hold on here!” Morgan nearly shouted. “If I’d thought there was something between you two, I’d never have hired Amir without talking with you, Justine.”
“There is nothing between us.” Justine’s voice was confident.
Amir looked wounded. He turned toward the mustard stucco walls, dotted with framed photos and commendations to the owner as a much younger man. “Quite an array of accomplishments,” he noted, and picked up his wine. “Your father’s offering me a job. Archaeologist on the new dig.”
Morgan glanced at each of his guests, one at a time. He squinted. “You do know that I’ve known this young man since he was a mere whippersnapper.”
“Of course, Dad. I was just caught off guard.”
“Now for the wine. A little celebration,” Morgan said. “Mastroberardino Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Bianco, tears of the Christ. I thought it apropos. Made from the Coda di Volpe, tail of the fox, to be exact.” He poured them each a glass. “Did you get some rest?” he asked, cautious with his daughter.
“I couldn’t rest until I went to the museum. Remarkable!”
“How so?” asked Amir.
“I visited it on my first day in town,” Morgan interrupted. “Impressive structure, but not much of a museum. At least, it doesn’t live up to the reputation of the necropolis itself.” He sipped his wine, watching them closely over the rim of his glass.
“You asked why I found it remarkable, Amir,” she said, ignoring her father. “I found it not only informative but moving. Particularly the Sarcophagus of the Married Couple. There seemed to be such an equal, respectful relationship among Etruscan men and women.” Picking up her wine glass, she held it suspended in her right hand until she concluded her impassioned description, then she took her first sip.
Amir nodded, captivated by her passion.
“You read too much into things, honey,” said Morgan. A flicker of regret moved through his eyes.
“Perhaps you’re right.” Her comment surprised both of them. Morgan relaxed into a familiar grin. He didn’t anticipate what was coming.
“Women are gifted with intuitive powers denied to men. Perhaps men are just defective women.” She saluted the two men with her glass, winked, and suggested that they order.
Amir laughed wholly, a laugh that Justine loved, and looked around for the menu.
“So true, Justine. So true.” Morgan also laughed with unrestrained fullness. “We don’t order here. Giuseppe tells us what we want to eat.” He motioned to the owner, who walked toward the table, his majestic stride practiced for a more abundant audience. “What delightful dishes do you have for us tonight, my friend?” Morgan had become a regular patron, one who was treated with the reverence of family.
“Calamari Ripieni and Pescespado o Tonno Alla Stemperata, signore. Giuseppe’s best. Only for you.” He clustered his chubby fingers into a bud and pressed them to his pursed lips. His smile stretched from cheek to cheek.
“Squid and tuna?” Justine asked, turning toward her father.
“Tonight, no tuna. Swordfish, my lovely signorina. Calamari stuffed with pecorino and prosciutto,” Giuseppe said in his rich Genoan accent. “And who is this beauty with you tonight, signore?”
“Ah, forgive me. Meet my daughter, Justine.” Giuseppe bowed deeply and kissed Justine’s hand. His gallantry charmed her. “And, this young man is my colleague, Amir El Shabry.”
Amir smiled and bowed slightly.
“Everything sounds wonderful,” Justine assured him, flashing her most beguiling smile.
The chef came to stand next to Giuseppe. “My friend here prepares the swordfish with olives and raisins and capers. Delicious,” said her father. The rotund chef hurried back to his open kitchen.
Two hours later, compliments about the glorious seafood paid, the three of them exhausted from speculating about the work to come in Cerveteri, the evening was winding down. With the second bottle of wine, tensions had relaxed and the three had become playful, recalling the years Morgan had taken Lucrezia and Justine with him on dig assignments in Egypt. Amir had tagged along, fascinated by Justine’s buoyant crinoline skirts, at children’s parties at his family home in Cairo. Morgan’s partner and mentor, Amir’s grandfather, Ibrahim El Shabry, had brought the families together on festive occasions. Being Egyptian, Lucrezia had forever been the guide and the star of any occasion.
Justine watched Amir closely as he picked at his dinner. Both Justine and her father knew that Egyptians tended to shy away from exotic cuisine. She had almost forgotten how handsome he was with his rumpled, curly black hair and piercing dark eyes. So sensual, so sexy.
“I’ll walk you back to Anna’s. That’s where you’re staying—right?” asked Amir.
“Thank you, Amir. Dad—you coming?”
“I’ll nurse my brandy.” Morgan pointed to the owner. “Giuseppe and I have some lies to exchange.”
“Why did you say there was nothing between us?” Amir asked as they turned the corner and started west down the narrow, darkened street. “We’ve been through a lot together. How about the kidnapping? Finding the Virgin Mary’s comb? My brother’s death?”
Justine shivered. He was right. They had been through a great deal together. Perhaps she didn’t want her father to know how intertwined they really were. They had desired one another, but refused to act on those feelings. Besides, she knew she wasn’t entirely over her affair with her betraying Egyptian lover, Nasser. Her father had been pressuring her on the details. “I know, you’re right, Amir. I’m sorry. But why didn’t you tell me you were coming? Going to be working with Dad? You have my e-mail.”
Amir took a deep breath. They had arrived in front of Anna’s. “I’d like to come up for a few minutes. At least try to resolve some misconceptions.”
Justine let the comment pass. She opened the outside door with her key and started up the stairs. Amir followed. The door to her room was unlocked. Inside, she turned to face him. “So, what’s the story here?”
“I assumed your father would tell you—and, frankly, as you said at dinner, I feared you’d think I was following you.”
“Were you?” she challenged.
“Justine, you know I’ve wanted to get back into the field for a long time . . . but there is some truth in your hunch. I did want to be nearer to you.” He stepped closer, moonlight catching the side of her face, her white blouse.
“So you relied upon my father to be the intermediary? To inform me of your intentions?” Her voice rose, eyes flashing. She reached over and turned on the table lamp. “I think you know I don’t like being treated like a little girl, especially when my father is concerned. Please don’t communicate with me through him.”
Amir looked confused, miserable, angry. “Why are you overreacting like this? I thought you’d be glad to see me!” He grabbed her by the shoulders. Their fiery eyes met, and held. Her body stiffened—then, breathing deeply, relaxed.
She let her head drop onto his chest. He softened his grip, wrapped his arms around her, holding her, and both began weeping, exhausted by the old desire that now seized them. They began breathing together, the near panting that marked longing. Finally, he raised her chin to meet his and kissed her tenderly, the embrace long, delicious, leading to hunger, then to demand. Shivering, she pushed him back, enveloping him with her eyes. He was handsome, sensual beyond belief. Slowly she began to unbutton her blouse.
He took her in his arms, spun her back toward the bed and let them both fall, press into her quilt. He kissed her with near desperation, born of unrequited obsession.
She held him tightly as they embraced, her legs wrapped around him now, and rolled on the bed. They slowed as they flourished in each other’s bodies, exploring with touch, caressing, finding the heat of buried passion. Shadows danced across the walls, then stilled. No words were spoken before they fell into a deep sleep.