Paolo and Francesca…

a novel about beautiful people in Italy.

Tag: Dodge and Burn

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]

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.]

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.]

mile high.

In the end, she was glad she had flown with Selim. Their seats were massive, full-reclining, and almost entirely private. She ate, she slept, she watched two films and she even pulled out a notebook and started making a list on the gridded paper of places she wanted to go. She showed it to Selim, asking if he’d ever done any of them. The Whitney, yes. The New Museum, no. The High Line, no. Daniel, yes. Ippudo, no. Did she want to go to any Broadway shows, he asked. Not particularly, she answered. Would she be able to amuse herself during the day, while he was working? Oh, certainly.

Before landing she went into the bathroom to brush her teeth and attempt to look presentable. She assessed her appearance in the mirror, dismayed in the fluorescent lights. A little more Touche Eclat under her eyes, a little more bronzer on her cheeks, and she looked more alive. A quiet knock startled her.

“Just a minute,” she said.

“It’s me.” Selim.

She unlatched the lock and he opened the door, squeezing into the small lavatory with her.

“You’re kidding, right?” She still had her makeup bag unzipped on the baby changing table.

He held his finger to her lips. “Come on,” he whispered. They stood face to face, already touching in the tiny space of the bathroom. He moved his hips against hers, pressing her into the door, and he nuzzled in to kiss her neck.

“I still can’t believe you,” she said, but she pushed back against him anyway, wending her fingers into his hair, pulling him closer to her. “I just did my makeup.” He unzipped her jeans and pushed them down her thighs.

“Sit there,” he gestured to the basin. She balanced herself on the edge of the sink while he sat on the closed toilet lid. “Now put your legs over my head,” he said, and ducked in between them.

She leaned back against the mirror and held on to the edge of the basin with one hand, the faucet with another, bracing her feet against the wall behind Selim.

“I want to make you happy,” he whispered into the inside of her thigh, kissing a trail to her labia. She gripped the faucet more tightly as he increased his intensity, targeting her with his tongue, slipping one finger, then another, quickly into her. The bell rang to call them back to their seats for landing. She squirmed against him.

“Not yet,” he said, moving his thumb to flick her clitoris. The bell rang more insistently. And then she was floating for a minute, heat emanating from the core of her body, dizzy and disoriented, and he was slipping out from between her legs, standing her up and pulling up her jeans, splashing his face with water and toweling it off.

“I’ll go out first,” he said, leaving her in the lavatory. She glanced in the mirror again and was pleased to see the color had returned to her face. As she left the bathroom she met a flight attendant eyeing her suspiciously. Francesca stared down the uniformed woman, defying her to say something. The flight attendant remained silent. Francesca noticed a cheap, glossy tabloid rolled in her quilted nylon tote bag.

[after this: New York State of Mind]

inspiration #30 : Wendy Davis.

I made a deliberate decision to include abortion in Dodge and Burn (as arguably the central event of the book) because I feel that it’s something our society doesn’t talk about enough.  sure, we talk about “pro-choice” and “pro-life” but we don’t discuss the actual event.  statistically, you know someone who has had an abortion.  statistically, she probably hasn’t told you about it.

Wendy Davis

so along came Wendy Davis, a committed state legislator from Texas, who finally gave voice to hundreds of narratives from women who had experiences to share.  her filibuster started a dialogue, and honestly, that’s a true inspiration for me.  what I hope to do with Francesca’s abortion is start a conversation, because talking about books is fine and good but in a perfect world, we would also talk about our lives.

CNN would rather broadcast a segment on blueberry muffins than cover the testimony of hundreds of women speaking frankly about abortion. for that reason alone, I feel a responsibility to make this issue an integral part of my work.


New York State of Mind.

view from the Standard Hotel looking uptown.

view from the Standard Hotel looking uptown.

photo credit Brian Solis

“I bet you never had a round bed at the Four Seasons, either,” she replied, looking around the room. In addition to the central, circular bed, they had incredible views of downtown Manhattan and the Hudson River and a bathtub in the middle of the bedroom.

“I am eager to try out the bed,” he replied, grabbing her and twirling her around the room. She demurred, and instead showed him the lights across the Hudson.

“That’s New Jersey,” she said. “That’s where my mama’s from.”

“You’re joking.” She shook her head. “Your mother is from New Jersey?”

“She is. She went to Italy to do a semester in university and she never came back.” Francesca smiled with nostalgia. It had been her favorite family story when she was young–her mother, the American art history student, running off with her father, the Italian student activist. She had imagined their romance when she was a teenager, after her father had died, a memory based more on creativity than fact. Her mother now seemed a stranger compared to that young woman of her imagination, carefree and easy once. Her father’s death and the overwhelming influence of his family had changed all that.

She snapped back to attention. They could see the new Freedom Tower, too, from the downtown-facing windows, all illuminated though it was still incomplete. She reached for Selim’s hand.

“Let’s go out,” she said. “Before I fall asleep.”

They walked through the streets of the West Village, smoking cigarettes, peering into the windows of the townhouses, and peeking at the corner cafes. The Spotted Pig was bustling with crowds outside and Francesca and Selim ducked in to try to get a table. They stood at the bar to wait; Selim drank a draft beer and Francesca had a cocktail called Corpse Reviver #2.

“That’s rather grim,” Selim said, to no one in particular.

“It’s a classic,” the bartender explained. “Back in the day, it was a hangover cure.”

“There you go,” Francesca said.

“People here are so friendly,” Selim whispered to her. “I don’t know why they say New Yorkers aren’t nice.” She could detect a hint of sarcasm even in his whisper.

“It’s delicious,” she replied, passing him the pretty gimlet glass to taste her drink.

Selim looked anxiously over at the hostess station. “I wonder why it’s taking us so long to get our table.”

“Relax,” she said. “This is fun. We’re at a bar in New York City.”

He drank his beer. “You’re right,” he said. “I’m almost always here for work, I forget what it’s like to have fun.”

“I’ll remind you,” she promised. “We’re going to have a great time.”


image via

The water-bus passed under the wooden Accademia bridge and along the white Peggy Guggenheim collection palazzo. It was another of her favorite museums–a home turned into its owner’s modern art collection. She remembered visiting in school, and being mesmerized by a Clyfford Still painting titled “Jamais”, her teenaged self felt a deep connection to the starkness of the gash, the idea of never. They were approaching the San Marco stop, where she would get off the water-bus with Selim’s Bric’s bag in tow, board a private launch, and check into his room at the Hotel Cipriani.
Her legs seemed to shake more than usual walking down the gangway; she wished she could stop in at Harry’s for a quick, stiff drink–a negroni, maybe–something to fortify her for the coming evening. She couldn’t imagine how Selim would react. If he left her? If he left her, he would have left her, she thought. They had such an erratic relationship up to this point, it wouldn’t be surprising if it were to end. He could leave now with nothing invested. Go home to his wife and children.
She had to tell him, and she had to tell him tonight. It would be dishonest not to. And she had had a hard enough time not telling him already, on the phone, when she could have sworn he could tell there was something wrong by the sound of her voice. She shivered on the end of the dock waiting for the launch to cross the lagoon, careful to keep the heels of her boots from slipping through the slats on the dock.
On the launch, the captain gave her a cashmere throw for warmth as they sped across the lagoon. She huddled in the corner, looking back over her shoulder at the receding lights of San Marco. The familiar part of Venice, the part that she knew, was the part she was leaving behind. From here, everything was new to her.

thoughts on a hangover.

She weighed her options for the day: she could get out of bed, she could shower, she could go across the street to the grocery and buy some food, she could go to the nail salon and get a pedicure, she could call Selim and hope he was in a good mood.  Or she could stay in bed, find some movies to watch on TV, splurge and order Chinese takeout or sushi.  It was almost like a holiday, this not-working.  The only issue was the not-money.

What still troubled her, she thought, as she pulled she sheets over her head to block out the sunlight, was that last niggling thought she’d had before falling asleep.  How she’d have been happy if Bruno had kissed her.  Again, she reminded herself.  She still remembered the moonless Capri night when they’d stood on the dock and he’d leaned into her, a kiss so genuine in its tenderness that it had shocked her, she’d never felt anything like it before.  She found herself squirming against the sheets at the memory.

And it would remain a memory, now.  She’d chosen her lot, and it was with Selim.  Now that Bruno knew what she really was, that she was no longer the quiet girl who read books about Leni Riefenstahl but the mendacious hypocrite who judged her friends to make herself feel better, she’d never taste that kiss again.

[to flashback to that kiss, click here.]

a moment of intense brutality.

Selim was still awake, waiting for her in bed.

“Do you want to talk about it?” he asked.

She shook her head, climbing into bed on the opposite side.  She tried to take up as little room as possible, making herself linear along the edge of the mattress, lying on her side with her back to him.  He touched her shoulder and she flinched.

“Hey,” he said softly, stroking her damp hair.  “I’m sorry.”

When she turned to him her eyes were shiny with tears.  “Sorry?  Sorry?  Of course you’re sorry.  It’s all over now, you’ll have your money in the morning.  It’s easy for you to be sorry.”

“I never meant–”

“What did you think was going to happen in there?  When I went with him?  We were going to play checkers?  Talk about the weather?”

“It was the only thing–”

“Do you want me to tell you what we did?”

“Please don’t.”  She could see genuine pain behind his eyes.  He was proud; it would ruin him to visualize it.

“Why?  I had to do it.  You made me.  Don’t you want to know what you made me do?  For your precious five million Euros?”  She was sitting up perfectly straight, seething now, teeth bared.  Still he shook his head no.  She could hardly bear to think of it again, she didn’t want to say the words, to relive it all in her retelling, but she wanted him to suffer.  She wanted him to feel as awful as she did.  “First, I just had to watch them.  I watched the girl undress him and call him ‘daddy’ and suck his dick, and then he fucked me, doggy style, and I’ll never get that sound out of my head.  He made me jerk him off so he could come on her fake tits, and she made this show out of eating it, licking her fingers, all, ‘daddy, daddy’ again.  Next he had her eat me, he had her go at it until he was good and hard again, and then he made me ride him.  He finished by sticking his dick down my throat, making me gag as he came, and I could barely breathe.”  She was shaking, and the color had drained from Selim’s face.

“I never thought–” he stammered.

“You sold me.  Because you’re too fucking proud to walk away, because you’re too fucking greedy.  I hope it was worth it.”  She rolled over onto her side again.

She woke up early the next morning, slipped out of bed, and wheeled her small suitcase out of the suite.  She took one last look at the strand of diamonds coiled on the nightstand before she closed the door quietly behind her.  There was an early train to Milan, and she made sure she was on it.