Sunday, August 31, 2014


     I've been back from Rome about two weeks now, and what I remember most vividly (aside from the gratitude I felt for being able to be there with my family) are two things: the masterpieces of art that literally take your breath away, and the humbler but every bit as real pleasure of just walking down the streets, never knowing what you might find around the next corner.  The Romans take the ubiquity of thousands of years of history completely in stride, but it still seems in credible to me that this yellow apartment building in the background of the ruins is where I lived for a week:

     You might not be able to see it in the photo, but the building was not only right next to Trajan's Forum; it was actually attached to the ancient brickwork.  This was the front door:

     There's really no reason for me to post photos of the art, which can all be seen online or in tour books, so I thought I'd close out my Rome series with some photos of what it was like for us to just wander around the city, slurping from out water bottles (it was SO hot), stumbling over uneven cobblestones, with Amy wanting to stop and feed every stray cat she saw (and there were many stray cats).


     It was a magical week for us.  I hope my family gets to go back there someday, preferably together.  And I hope you get to go there too!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


     I've been avoiding posting about Rome.  And the real reason is that as I look through all my photos, I get intimidated.  I can't remember what all of them are, or where I saw what, and I feel compelled to get it right.  But really - if all you wanted was pinpoint accuracy, then you would be reading a guidebook instead of this blog, right?  So here goes, mistakes and all.
     Roman culture 2,000 years ago was schizophrenic.  Huge enthusiastic crowds of men, women and children, would pack the Colosseum to watch wild animals tear gladiators to shreds:

     The floor is missing now, and what you see underneath where it once stood is the elaborate system of tunnels and walkways that were used to bring the combatants into the arena.

      So violent "sport" was what passed for public entertainment.  The Roman people couldn't get enough of it.  And let's not forget the bit of history that was hammered into my head throughout my childhood: that when the Romans conquered the Jewish people, they punished them in 70 A.D. for refusing to adopt the Roman religion by destroying their sacred Temple.  And from what I hear, they were no great friends to Jesus, either.
     And yet at roughly the same time all of this was occurring, as part of the same Roman culture, the Pantheon was built:

     You know, there aren't many perfect things in this world, but the Pantheon is one of them.  The height at the center of the dome is the exact diameter of the interior, meaning that a perfect sphere would precisely fill the space.
     And then there's the sculpture:

     Bloodthirsty, cruel monsters, these ancient Romans, who also sponsored, created and revered exquisite art.  Is it any wonder we're so fascinated by them?
     More to come.

Monday, August 25, 2014


     Okay.  I realize this is sort of cheating, but given my current frame of mind, this first post about my Rome vacation is going to be all about MY KIDS in Rome.  Be patient with me.

                                         CHILLIN' AT THE VILLA BORGHESE GARDENS


                                          DINNER (AND RARE SIGHTING OF NATE
                                          WITHOUT JETS CAP)

Nathan had to go back home after our first four days there, so:

                                                   NO, I DO NOT KNOW WHAT
                                                   VIRGIN WATER IS.

                                                AMY EXPERIENCING CARAVAGGIO

                                                       AMY EXPERIENCING STEPS

                                         AMY EXPERIENCING STREET-SHOPPING

     Actual Rome photos to follow sometime soon.  Honest!!!                                                          

Saturday, August 23, 2014


     I know, I know - I owe you Rome.  I promised.  But this is a little more urgent, at least for me.  Today my husband and I dropped our daughter off at her dorm room in Manhattan.  Tonight, for the first time, there are no children living in our house.  Nathan is 25, and off on his own.  And now, improbable as it seems, Amy has somewhere else to live too.  Yes, it's just a dorm room, but the fact is that for the first time in 25 years, I don't have at least one of my kids living under my roof.  And what's maybe even stranger is that my husband and I have never lived alone together before tonight.  Nathan was 3 when we met and 5 when we married.  Now, after 20 years, it's just us.
     For at least an hour I've been sitting at the kitchen table, empty-handed, for once not engaged in any activity except trying to figure out what I'm feeling.  And then the metaphor hit me.
     I did the Saturday NY Times crossword puzzle late this afternoon, after we got back home.  It had kind of a weird twist to it.  All of the clues made sense when you read them, but didn't seem to yield any answers that could be filled in on the grid.  Gradually I realized that none of the answers could be deduced unless each clue was modified - at least one letter N had to be added to it somewhere in order for it to lead to an answer. 
     And that's what I'm feeling right now.  All of my component parts (wife, lawyer, writer, etc.) more or less make sense on their own, but I can't integrate them at the moment.  I can't fill in the grid.  Tonight, every part of me is missing a letter.

Thursday, August 21, 2014


       As promised, I'm posting my interview with the lovely and talented Yvonne Ventresca, author of the debut YA novel PANDEMIC, which was released in May (SkyPony Press 2014):
     As the title suggests, Yvonne envisions what would happen if a deadly strain of bird flu were to strike a single town in New Jersey, and rapidly spread throughout the world.  As soon as the novel launched, both it and Yvonne hit the ground running.  PANDEMIC has earned a 4.5 (out of 5)-star rating from Amazon, and School Library Journal has called the book an "engrossing apocalyptic story."  I've reviewed it here, and here is what Goodreads has to say.
     As for Yvonne herself, she's been a human whirlwind over the pas three months, what with book- signing events -
- panel discussions, readings, school and library visits.... I get tired just thinking about everything she's been doing.  It's really a bonus for authors to have the kind of organizational skills Yvonne has, honed by her previous career in the business world.  And it typically generous YV style (yes, I feel fortunate to be able to say that Yvonne is my friend), she's somehow found the time to answer my interview questions.  So here goes:
1.              In the beginning stages of writing PANDEMIC, which came to life first for you: the character and backstory of Lilianna, or the public health crisis?  Whichever the answer is, what difficultiesdid you have in integrating that second aspect of the story with the first?
The idea of the deadly outbreak came first, but I quickly realized that Lilianna would have an emotional trauma in her past. This became a key part of her character and her ability to cope as the story progressed. It didn’t present any difficulties to integrate, but I did interview both a public health officer (about contagious diseases) and a social worker (about how a teen like Lil might react and recover), to make both aspects of the story as real as possible.

2.      PANDEMIC is a work of speculative fiction, but it’s obviously based on an impressive amount of research, and you stick very closely to realistic projections of how such a catastrophe would actually play out.  Were you ever tempted as you were writing the book to stray further into the realm of science fiction or fantasy?  Why or why not?
I will admit to not reading much science fiction or fantasy, so writing the story that way wasn’t something I ever considered. My goal was to portray a situation that could actually happen, because in some respects, the reality is frightening enough.

3.      Whom (age, gender, interests) did you envision as your ideal reader before the book was published?  Do you have a sense of how much (or how little) that vision now corresponds to reality?  Have you gotten fan mail from readers, for example?
I envisioned this as a book that would be interesting to teens girls, but the cover design and the supporting male characters have allowed it to appeal to a wider market. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the feedback from a range of readers, both in gender and age--lots of adults have been enjoying the story as well.

4.                In what ways have you been surprised and delighted by the realities of having PANDEMIC out in bookstores and libraries, and on the home shelves of young readers?  Are there ways in which you now feel that you were overly optimistic or naïve?
In some ways publication is everything a writer dreams about. I do have published friends who showed me the realities (beyond the dream) ahead of time, so I think my expectations were realistic. When I read reviews from strangers who loved the story, I feel slightly amazed at the people it’s reached.
In terms of being naïve, I knew that promoting the book would be a lot of work, but I didn’t fully appreciate how much preparation and effort various events (book signings, live interviews, etc.) require. It’s been a process of trial and error to work on publicity but not become overwhelmed by it.

5.      Has anyone (teachers, librarians, etc.) suggested to you that PANDEMIC might be a little TOO realistic for young readers?  Too frightening for them to handle?  How do you feel about that?
This hasn’t happened yet. If anything, I’ve been surprised by the maturity of young readers and the feedback I’ve gotten from some of the parents. If kids are reading THE HUNGER GAMES (which is listed as ages twelve and up), then there seems to be a different level of readership today compared to when I was that age.

6.      Now that the book launch is a few months behind you and you’ve been able (I hope!) to get some perspective on the whole process, what would you say has been the best thing that has come about for you personally as a result of PANDEMIC’s publication?   When you look at yourself in a mirror now, do you see the same person you did before, or someone a little bit different? 
To quote one of your June blog posts, Susan, “Becoming a published author does not change one's character.  Sure, it changes one's writing goals, and it adds a book launch party and an editor and a contract and a schedule of deadlines to one's life.  But an anxious prepublished author who gets a book published will become an anxious published author; only the focus of his or her anxiety will change.”
 I think this is very true. I’m not essentially different now, although it has been satisfying to achieve a personally meaningful goal. I do think PANDEMIC has boosted my confidence as a writer. As I hit rough patches in my current work-in-progress, I remind myself that I’ve created one successful story, so I should be able to do it again. I hope. J

7.      Last question:  Hooray!  PANDEMIC’s out in the world!  What’s next?

I’m working on a YA psychological thriller about a teen who fears she either is being haunted or suffering from mental illness. I love the dark stuff! I’ve been enjoying the process of trying to create a mystery without giving away the end, so it’s a new challenge.
*  *  *  * 

     Need I even add that Yvonne is also a whiz at social media?  Here's where she can be found online:

And just one more thing:  you might be interested to know that Yvonne's fascination with birds is nothing new for her:
Thank you, Yvonne!  Can't wait to read your next one!

Sunday, August 17, 2014


     I'm back!  And I'm going to blog about my trip and attach lots of pictures, but first, I thought I would give you all some helpful tips about things not to do the week before you head off to Rome yourself.
     1. Don't go into an insane landscaping frenzy the week before you're due to leave, thereby giving yourself a monster case of poison ivy requiring a prescription for steroids in order to be able to survive eight hours of sitting on a plane.
     2. Don't wait until two days before departure to look in the drawer where the passports are kept and discover that your husband's passport isn't there.  But if you do make that mistake, don't inform him of the problem only to learn that he has no idea where his passport is.  And under no circumstances spend three hours on the phone with the emergency passport line while he rips apart the house looking for it, only to learn that there is no passport office within a 4-hour driving radius that has any appointments available for the next day.  And do not wait until after you receive this information for him to finally find it.
     3. At 11:30 the following night - a.k.a. the night before departure - do not receive a phone call from your son who lives 4 hours away stating that he cannot locate HIS passport.  Then, at 6:30 the next morning (a.k.a. departure day) do not receive a followup phone call from him stating that he thinks he knows where his passport is:  at your house, in a shopping bag on his desk.  Which, in fact, is where it is.  But once you find it, don't call the airline to try to cancel his shuttle flight from D.C. to Newark, because he won't be able to get on the plane in D.C. with  no passport, but he will be able to take the train to Newark and meet the rest of the family, who will have his passport.  Because if you call the airline to cancel the first leg of his flight, you will learn that in order to do so, you will have to rebook all of his other three flight reservations (which of course remain unchanged) at same-day-booking prices, the cost of which amounts to an additional two thousand dollars, give or take.  As a result of learning this, your husband will drive to meet your son halfway between New Jersey and D.C. in order to bring him his passport - 2 hours in each direction for each of them.
     Please, please promise me you won't do any of those things.  You wouldn't, would you?  Because none of those things remotely make sense to do, and you, my friend, are nothing if not sensible.  But I thought it best to warn you anyway, just in case.

p.s.  Somehow we made it there anyway!  They say that God protects fools, and we are living proof.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014


     Just a quick little post here to follow up my WE WERE LIARS giveaway contest. I asked the contest winner, Hilary Leung, to let me know when she'd finished reading the book and tell me what she'd thought of it.  I heard back from her today, and she sent me the link to the review she just posted on her blog:  Check it out!  And I'm sure she'd love it if you left her a comment!

Saturday, August 2, 2014


     I have a couple of things to report.  In no particular order, these are:

1.  I finally got around to submitting interview questions to Yvonne Ventresca about her debut YA novel, PANDEMIC, and her first-time author experience to date.  Please keep checking back here for her answers, which I can guarantee will be worth the wait!

2.  But don't bother checking between August 8th and 16th, because that's when my family will be in ROME!  (Where we'll be doing as the Romans do, naturally.) We're celebrating my daughter's high-school graduation and her upcoming freshman year in art school, and my son will be able to join us for about half the week we'll be there, so I'm very excited about the whole thing!  And I'll take lots of pictures and post some of the good ones when we get back.

3.  I finally got around to doing something that I think every single workshop-giver at the annual New Jersey SCBWI conference kept advising every attendee to do:  make myself some promotional writer's business cards.  I paid My Daughter the Future Illustrator to design a logo for me, and voila!!

    Pretty professional-looking, ay?  I'm pleased.  So far I've given away three of them, but I'm not sure I should really count those because they were to my husband, my daughter, and my mother-in-law, respectively.  But now next time I go to a writing conference I'll be able to network like a rock star!  It was well worth the small investment.

4.  I did my best to plug up the plot holes in my Parrot Book, and then sent the manuscript out to an agent I met at the Conference who had requested it.  Which means nothing, of course... and who should know that better than I?  But try as I might, I can't quite stamp out that last faint vestige of hope...

     So, ciao for the next two weeks or so!  If you're a writer, keep writing no matter what!  If you're a dreamer, keep dreaming no matter what!  And, whoever else you might be: enjoy the next two weeks and then report back to me about the awesome things you did.