Paolo and Francesca…

a novel about beautiful people in Italy.

PARALLAX.

I just spent the month of November (National Novel-Writing Month) working on the third and final book in the Francesca Trilogy, Parallax.

Fifty thousand words later, here’s a taste of what’s to come…

“So we’re both artists, then.”  He had finished his drink, and signalled to the bartender for another.  “Will you have one?”

“What is it?”

“Pastis.”

“Please,” she replied.  “And thank you.”  She touched his arm, lingering.  It was a tricky balance, this: she didn’t want too much conversation, she didn’t want to know his life story or his favorite television show or what he eats for breakfast.  She wanted to go to his hotel room, fuck for a few hours, and go home.  But getting from here to there took finesse.

She’d always liked pastis, its bewildering transition from clear to milky as she stirred in one, then two ice cubes, its heady licorice flavor tasting like disobedience and danger.  The first sip was arresting, she almost coughed, but the next went down smoothly.

“Where are you staying?”  She leaned in and whispered into his ear, her green fairy breath sweet and delirious.

“Finish your drink and I’ll show you.”

That was the thing about the French, she thought.  They knew how to play.  She felt the pastis numbing her tongue, the back of her throat.  She gave him half a smile.

She swirled the ice cubes in her glass, listening to the pretty sound they made.

“What note is that?” she asked.

“What?”

“The sound of the ice against the glass.  What’s the note?  That’s your thing, isn’t it?”

“Do it again.”

She rattled her ice again.

“Now drink some of it,” he directed.  She complied.

“Does that change the tone?” she asked.

“No.  But it gets you closer to finishing.”  He had his hand on her knee, teasing under the hem of her skirt.

“Guillaume,” she said.

“Quoi?”

“Rien.  I just like the way it feels on my tongue.  Guillaume.”

inspiration #33 : poems for grieving.

I apologize for returning with such a downer but I’ve been working like crazy on the THIRD (and final!) book in the Francesca sequence and it’s been emotionally draining.  spoiler alert: someone dies.  so I’ve had to work through all of that.  it was a great feeling to take some old poetry anthologies off my bookshelf and flip through them, looking for just the right poems to express my characters’ emotions.  and I did.  that’s the great comfort of poetry: someone has worked incredibly hard to put the right words in the right order to express something that will resonate with you.

and then, as a complete surprise, today I stumbled across this lovely piece by Joy Katz on the Poetry Foundation website, in which she writes about the poems that spoke to her after her mother’s death.  particularly resonant to what I’m writing:

The ones that sustain me, I find, have to do with living people, humans who mourn, rather than with the departed. These poems are not “like” grieving—they are not lamentations—but instead open up the isolating process of mourning. They translate sorrow through poetic form rather than confining it to a metaphor.

I don’t think I’m giving anything away by sending you to the one I found, in an old paperback Modern Poets anthology I bought at a book sale for $1, Edna St Vincent Millay’s “Dirge Without Music”.

red pencil Thursday!

the first 500 words of Dodge and Burn get the red pencil treatment today at romance writer Mia Marlowe’s blog.  Mia and I met at RWA in Atlanta and I am thrilled that she gave such thoughtful attention to my work.  read the original below and then check out Mia’s critique!

Francesca Garancini blinked twice, then clawed frantically through her Bottega Veneta hobo trying to find her sunglasses. The late winter sun was bright in Istanbul, but she had the added complication of having to contend with a growing swarm of photographers advancing towards her. She donned her big black Tom Ford sunglasses just as she saw, out of the corner of her eye, a red Porsche parked in the lot. With the paparazzi hot on her heels, she started running towards the car.

“Francesca! Francesca!” Some of the photographers were Italian, it seemed, camped outside the hospital waiting for news of Paolo Romaldo. Francesca was terrified that they recognized her so easily. Romaldo, meanwhile, was still inside the hospital, in traction, his left leg broken in two places during the previous day’s match with Galatasaray. He was most recently a Juventus midfielder, and, as Francesca dolefully acknowledged, her now-ex boyfriend.

She was running at a steady clip towards the Porsche but even so, the photographers were able to keep pace with her. Thankfully, she saw the man behind the wheel start the car and peel out of his parking spot, hanging a tight u-turn in her direction. She gripped the handle of the passenger door and propelled herself inside.

“I can’t believe you waited for me,” she said breathlessly to the man beside her.

He gripped her shoulder encouragingly. “I’d wait as long as I had to,” he replied. He took his hand from her shoulder and shifted gears, speeding out of the hospital parking lot, leaving a trail of photographers in his exhaust.

“I imagine they were here for Paolo,” she said, turning back to look out the rear windshield at the receding pool of paparazzi.

“But they got something even better,” the man commented grimly.

“What do you mean?”

“They got you getting into my car. They may be bottom-feeders, but don’t think for a moment they aren’t clever enough to put two-and-two together. The Italians know who you are. The Turks know who I am. Between both sides they’ll have a hell of a story tomorrow.”

She stared out the window. The view was bleak: bare branches like dark fingers in stark relief against a cold white sky, dingy grey buildings with dirty windows. She felt slightly sick, and pressed her cold fingers against her temples. “I don’t know what to do, Selim,” she said to him, never turning from the window.

He laughed, and it shocked her; his laugh was hearty and genuine, and her entire body tensed against it. She turned to him sharply.

“Why are you laughing?”

“Because you’re so serious,” he said, still chuckling, though more softly. “Don’t you understand? There’s nothing you can do. This is the way life is.”

“It’s over with Paolo.”

“And I’m sorry for him,” Selim said, “but I’m happy for myself.” He reached across for her hand. “And you’ll be happy, too. I promise you that.”

“You think it’s that easy? I can just walk away from Paolo Romaldo and take up with you like nothing happened?”

inspiration #32 : L’Avventura

I’m surprised it’s taken me this long to talk about L’Avventura, considering it’s one of my favorite movies OF ALL TIME and it’s such a direct influence on this book.  The Criterion Collection blurb reads as follows:

A girl mysteriously disappears on a yachting trip. While her lover and her best friend search for her across Italy, they begin an affair. Antonioni’s penetrating study of the idle upper class offers stinging observations on spiritual isolation and the many meanings of love.

That is basically the book I wish I had written.  I’m obsessed with the portrayal of detachment in the film, that relationships are so fleeting, that we so infrequently make meaningful connections (L’Avventura is the first of Antonioni’s so-called “alienation trilogy”).  But further, I love that the characters have everything they could ever want and at the same time are ceaselessly searching for more.  That’s the lens that I’ve used to look at Francesca and her family–Marco, Anna, Ricci, and Giulietta.  They’re direct descendents of the characters in this film.

Maybe it’s the post-modernist in me, but I also love that L’Avventura is not at all driven by plot.  Halfway through the movie, you forget that we’re supposed to be looking for the missing girl, and everything that happens is entirely character-driven.  That’s how compelling these people are, rich, idle, and vapid though they may be.  And of course, Italy is itself a character–its craggy Mediterranean outcroppings, its fertile inland plains, its frenzied cities.  

[Other film inspirations: Blow-Up, Layer Cake, Belle de Jour]

Francesca’s Milano.

Milano

in case you wanted to explore Milan like Francesca…I’ve made a map of her hometown haunts and posted it here.  I’ll update occasionally.

trench coat.

The concierge at his building knew her and let her in the front door; he smiled at her approvingly, looking at her hair piled high on her head, the cat-eye liner on her eyes, and the length of her legs stretched from the hem of her trench to her tall Givenchy shoes.  She rode the elevator up to his flat with her heart racing.  It had been almost three weeks.

The distance from the elevator to his front door felt like a hundred meters, and the sound of her heels on the wood floors echoed through the hallway.  Surely he would know it was her.  Finally, she reached his door and knocked, three efficient raps.

She heard him moving inside, turning down the volume on the television and walking towards the front door.  Like a man, Paolo opened it without looking through the peephole.

Francesca stood before him, leaning against the door jamb.  He was speechless.

“Open my coat,” she said, walking towards him into the apartment.  She put her hands on his shoulders and pushed him back into the living room.  She could tell he hadn’t been expecting her; he was wearing baggy Juventus sweatpants, black with a team crest and Nike swoosh embroidered just below the hip, a plain white v-neck tee that clung tantalizingly to his chest and biceps, and at least a day of stubble on his face.  “Go ahead,” she said.  “Open it.”

[after this: take out / eat in.]

yacht holiday.

yacht holiday

photo via LA Cool et Chic

[before this: sailing vacation.]

“I think I could sleep here all day,” she murmured.

“Is that because you didn’t sleep at all last night?”

Francesca sat up on her elbows. “Giulietta!”

“Sorry,” her sister-in-law said. “I was just curious, because I slept wonderfully last night. At least nine hours.”

“I’m sure you did,” Francesca giggled. Maybe this would be fun after all. Maybe they could start drinking now.

They spent the day sailing and sunning, drinking and eating, playing backgammon and smoking cigarettes. After three bottles of prosecco, a pack of Marlboros, and a seafood lunch they took a lazy, sloppy swim off the side of the yacht.

“We used to spend our summers doing this,” Ricci said to Selim, treading water beside him. Selim kept his head above water, a lighted cigarette in his mouth.

“Ummm hmmm,” he answered.

“Francie’s a great swimmer,” Ricci continued. “She used to swim laps forever–hours, it seemed–when she was a kid, all by herself.”

Selim removed his cigarette with a damp hand. “That doesn’t surprise me at all,” he replied.

Francesca overheard them and swam over. “He thinks I’m the most fabulous, glamorous woman born,” she told her brother. “Don’t ruin it by telling him the truth.”

Selim used his free hand to splash her.

[after this : above decks.]

revisions.

I took my red pen yesterday and made some serious revisions to Rule of Thirds, a book that I thought was done (hah).  I had a number of inspirations for making these changes: Mia Marlowe’s “Red Line Thursdays”, focusing on the first 500 words of a book, Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s emphasis on showing backstory sparingly through the first chapter, and Michael Hauge’s “From Identity to Essence” story arc workshop.

instead of starting the book with Francesca Garancini’s heels sinking into the turf at the soccer stadium (an opening scene I’ve played with since, oh, 1997), the new opening is when she wakes up in bed at Paolo’s apartment the morning after.  already it feels like the right revision–I don’t know that there’s anything lost with the change.  but let me know your thoughts: do you miss the first scene at the stadium?  the scene in the cafe?  the first sex scene?

inspiration #31 : writers who believe in writers.

I’m at RWA (the annual conference of the Romance Writers of America) this week and I’ve been amazed by how inspirational the sessions have been.  I’ve thought of myself as a writer since, oh, probably seventh grade, but working a day job and facing the harsh realities of life often make it challenging to envision oneself living the dream.  today I had the truly wonderful opportunity to hear Cathy Maxwell give the keynote address at the conference.  she spoke candidly about attending her first conference, and the moment when she acknowledged that she had “this thing inside” her that needed to be manifest–the desire to tell a story, and to write.  for me, and I imagine for many of the thousands of other attendees, it was a validation of the late nights, furtive scribbled notes, and impractical trips using valuable vacation days through which we try to realize this thing inside.  dear reader, I cried.  and my heart soared to be in the company of so many women from so many different walks of life who are pursuing this calling.

to call or not to call.

“I’m not sure this is working,” she began, but she wasn’t confident and her words trailed off.

“What do you mean, not sure?”

“I don’t think it’s fun any more.”  Inane, she thought to herself.  What an inane thing to say.

“Who told you it was going to be fun?  I’m sorry, Francesca, if you’re used to someone who kicks a ball and plays games all the time but life isn’t always fun.  I don’t know what perpetual fun you expect but grow up.”

She kept quiet for several seconds.  Selim seemed content to let the conversation drop.

“I’ll talk to you soon, I suppose,” she said weakly.

“No,” he said.  “We’re adults.  We’ll talk regularly, because we have a relationship.  And I’ll see you in a few weeks.  I’m working on a trip to Monte Carlo with some clients, and I expect that you’ll come.”

So this was how it was going to be.  At least she had some direction, she thought.  With Timo gone, it was a relief having someone tell her what to do again.  And it could be worse than Monte Carlo.

She wasn’t happy about what he’d said to her, and she had no idea at all why she’d said what she’d said.  Not sure it’s working.  Selim was right, she thought.  He was right to dress her down about relationships being hard work.  After all the time she invested into Selim, all of the miles she’d traveled with him, everything they’d been through together.  The entirety of their relationship, documented in magazines and trashy rag papers all across Europe, was she just to throw that all away?  Because she wasn’t having fun?

Selim had made reference to Paolo, off-handedly, in an attempt to remind her of her failed relationship with him.  But his comment had had the opposite effect.  It had been fun being with Paolo, fun all the time, fun in St Kitts and fun in Torino and fun in bed.  At the time, she thought he was simple, she would have agreed with Selim that he was a boy who played games rather than a man with a job.  Maybe he had been better than a man with a job and a wife.

She picked up her phone again.  If she called Paolo right now, after what, almost eight months, maybe he would speak to her again.  Maybe he wouldn’t ignore her call.  Maybe he was training and she could meet him in Coverciano and disappear with him into the hills of Fiesole, right outside Florence.

And Selim would call her a coward.  He’d say she was just running away again, the same thing she did whenever anything seemed to get just the slightest bit difficult.  How quickly he seemed to forget that she had already done the must difficult part.  Moscow.  The abortion.  The thing she could never tell Paolo, even if he did answer her call.

Her glass was empty.  Not half-empty, completely empty.  When she got up from the couch to refill it she played a game with herself: if it was an even number of footsteps to the kitchen she would call Paolo.  If it was an odd number, she wouldn’t.

One, two, three, four.  It would be a shame to go backwards, she thought, to go back to Paolo.  Eight, nine, ten.  But he had really loved her.  Entirely.  She had met his father and his sister.   Eleven.  And she was over the threshold, in her kitchen.  She wouldn’t call him, she decided firmly.  It had been a silly thought.  They had nothing else to say to each other.

[to remind you of Paolo: showering alone.]