Paolo and Francesca…

a novel about beautiful people in Italy.

Tag: writing

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?”


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?

Anatomy of a Scene : Second Shower Scene.

photo via Flawed Louise.

 At the beginning of the book, when Paolo and Francesca first meet, there’s a hot scene in Paolo’s shower.  They are strangers, knowing barely anything about each other except for their names, and it’s exciting and new for them both.  I knew I wanted to write another shower scene with the two of them–I do all my best thinking in the shower, and the act of showering / bathing, for Francesca, reoccurs throughout the book at critical points.  For this post, I wanted to detail a bit of the thought process that went into writing the scene.

[before this: fight.]

“I’m sorry,” she said.  He opened the door and she crowded into the tiny shower stall with him, they knocked the nozzle out of place and it sprayed all over them and they laughed, a little at first, pressed against each other and feeling the laughter in their muscles, then harder, shaking their bodies until they couldn’t stop. [it is important that Paolo’s family’s apartment has one shower and it’s a small one; it is a subtle signifier of their socio-economic status, which was the whole point of the argument Paolo and Francesca just had.]

“I’m sorry for being such a pretentious, spoiled, obnoxious snob,” she managed to say, and he squeezed shampoo in her hair and wrapped his arms around her neck to lather it.

“And I’m glad you recognize it,” he said, kissing her cheek.

She sprayed him in the face with the shower head.  “That’s enough,” she said.  “You didn’t have to agree.” [I like the idea of playfulness here, both to indicate their affectionateness but also to deflect Francesca’s awkwardness.]

“But it was true,” he protested.  “You said it yourself.”

She moved her body against his, warm and slippery.  “Let’s not fight, babe,” she whispered.  “Not ever again.  Not about something like this.”

He massaged her scalp, rinsing the lather from her hair, kissing her forehead, her ear, her jawbone, the hollow of her neck.  She reached for him and he was ready, erect, hard in her hand, and he backed her against the tile. [they use sex as a way to bridge the distance between them.]

“Quiet, quiet,” he said.  She gasped as he entered her; the pressure of the angle was unfamiliar and he pulled back, instinctively, and moved slower and shallower.

“It’s ok,” she whispered.  She didn’t know what she was saying, suddenly the words just came out of her mouth, like someone else was speaking through her.  “Go harder,” she said.  “I deserve it.  You should punish me.  I deserve it.” [I have no idea where this part came from–it suddenly occurred to me that Francesca would do anything to deflect attention from how she really feels and defer to Paolo’s feelings, trying to ‘make it up to him’ somehow.]

He quickened, and soon he was slamming her against the tile, his hand pressed over her mouth; she felt her tailbone hitting the hard wall and it hurt but he didn’t stop; she was standing on her toes and flexing her thighs and bracing herself but it didn’t help, he just kept driving into her.  She screamed against his hand, bucked against his body, and he pressed against her more.

He put his hands on her shoulders.  “Get down,” he said, pushing her to the floor.

“What?” she whispered.  “I can’t–”

“Get on the floor,” he repeated.  She arranged herself so she was kneeling on the tile, straddling the drain, in between his legs.  [it’s hard to describe the physicality of sex scenes!  I try to make it possible for the reader to visualize without sounding like a how-to manual.]  He took his cock in his hands and jerked himself off, a rapid motion that had her worried he would punch her in the nose, but no, he just came on her face in three quick spurts, and she pushed back against his thighs trying to make space to wash her face.

“Don’t say you didn’t ask for it,” he said, stepping over her and out of the shower.  He took a towel from the rack and walked out, leaving the water running and the glass shower door open, an imprint of her ass visible in the fog.  [it’s obvious now that even though they’ve laughed and apologized, there’s something carnal in Paolo that is still angry.  I particularly like having him step over her like he’s stepping over trash on the sidewalk.]  She sat on the floor of the shower for a while, watching his semen wash down the drain.  It was New Year’s Day.  [call me crazy, but I don’t think it’s possible to imagine a scene with a girl sitting on the floor of a shower without recalling Eva Green in Casino Royale.  I wanted to evoke that same feeling of loneliness.]

inspiration #25 : Alexander House Hotel.

I’ve written before (and before, and before) about how I started this book when I was in high school.  Part of the writing of it happened during my first trip to Europe, when my family traveled to Greece.  I was obviously enthralled by this beautiful new way of living–cheese for breakfast! miniature cars! bidets!–and the beautiful people who lived it.  Everyone I met seemed to bathe topless and smoke cigarettes all day long.  (I grew up in Connecticut.  Those things are simply not done.)

In Crete, we stayed at a great hotel on the beach, the Alexander House.  The owner (Mr Alexander) kept the suite next to ours, and wandered across the veranda one night to have a drink with the American guests.  I remember, as plain as day, this handsome, older Greek man sitting on a chaise and telling us how things are done in Europe.

“You have your wife, and your family, but you also have your mistress.  Everyone does,” he said, to our astonishment.

That easy, casual rationalization has stayed with me.  At the time, it defined what it meant to be European, for me.

inspiration #22 : a discarded subplot.

returning to the long-lost draft of my teenage years…I had a weird, puritanical idea that Francesca should be relatively innocent regarding, of all things, alcohol.  yeah.  she sucks dick like a champ but she’s never done tequila shots.  riiiiiight.  and on the flip-side of that coin, Paolo, a professional athlete, had a tendency to become drunk and a little abusive.

I needed a way to start a fight between the two of them, and in my youth and inexperience I made several assumptions:

a) the man would be the one to stray

b) but it wouldn’t be his fault

c) because he was a victim of alcohol

d) and alcohol would also make him act out towards her

e) though she may harbor repressed rape fantasies, his drunkenness was no excuse for abuse


again, AWFUL.  and misogynist in a backwards way, or at least anti-feminist.  how dare I assume that a woman wouldn’t cheat, a woman wouldn’t drink, a woman would just allow herself to be a victim and then get fed up and walk out?  YAWN.

I’m proud to have accrued enough life experience to know that women cheat, women drink, and women are sometimes the ones who disturb shit for themselves.  it’s important to me to write Francesca as that kind of character; for all that’s difficult to relate to in this story–the shoes, the paparazzi, the men with consistently erect penises–I want her to be someone not unlike one of us.

it’s not the years, it’s the mileage.

inspiration #21 : Palm Springs.

Palm Springs has nothing to do with Paolo or Francesca.  it doesn’t inspire this novel at all.  but it is my favorite place in the USA (weird, I know, am I Betty Ford or what?).

Palm Springs inspires the very act of writing, because yes, I do this for the love of the game, absolutely.  I’ve been a writer since I was ten years old.  but I’m a capricorn and a pragmatist, and I’ve got some goals in life.  like that house in the photo above.  mid-century modern, gorgeous pool, nestled in the San Jacinto mountains.

have you spent a night in the San Jacinto mountains?  sitting outside by the fire, looking at the stars, listening to stories about Patti Smith and life on the road, drinking Tecate and tracing dreams in the sand?  he says he has a girlfriend, she sounds like a wife, she’s in Orange County and you’re there in Palm Springs, standing by the pool at the Ace Hotel.

Palm Springs inspires the act of writing because I want to sell these books and buy that house.  it’s as simple as that.