The Four Seasons


I had a weird dream the other night. Two young children, maybe about ten and four, who didn’t look like mine, but I identified in the dream as mine, went off on a motorcycle, ten year old driving. I was screaming because I just knew they were going to be killed (they weren’t killed in the dream, they just disappeared down the road). That’s it.

The dream recurred several times, and i remembered it in the morning, which is unusual for me. I suspect it is a reflection of my anxiety about leaving for such a long time in Asia, but it was a strange  way for that to manifest.

I posted about it on Facebook, and had several friends who know a lot about such things offer explanations.  One offered a numerological analysis based on the three ages, the two children and myself.  Another added to that,  the idea that there was in it the “innocent exhilaration of a four year old with the sense of adventure of a ten year old,” adding that I was the experienced voice of caution, but might  not need to be as worried as I felt.  Another friend, well versed in Jung, agreed with this and pointed that in the dream no damage occurred. An adventurous and brave 10-year old undertook the  nusual act of riding a motorcycle, and shared  it with a friend.

I  feel  bathed in the love of three people who deeply want the dream to mean that things will  be okay. They wanted me to see this dream as a basis for confidence in myself.   Despite my apparent anxiety, I would be fine, and these little adventurers on the bike were extensions  of myself going off into the unknown.

But the dream wasn’t about the children.  It was about me.  It was about being helpless, about the dawning sense of terrible, terrible loss.

I don’t talk much about this, but here is what I think the dream meant.

In 1999, I went off for the fall semester to Florence for a sabbatical.  I said goodbye to my 21-year-old son, Adriano, and never saw him again.  In December of that year he took his life shortly before I came home.  I have recalibrated my own life, and have indeed been able to reconstruct a happy existence. He is there, tucked into my heart, to put it gently, or scarred into it, to put it another, blunter way.

I know from experience that you can never expect to come back to what you leave behind.  When I go off on my travels, everyone I  love goes off on their own life journey as well. I want to come back and find everyone unchanged, or better yet, changed in positive ways. But I can’t keep them safe. In many ways it is much, much easier to believe I can keep myself from harm.

When those two children went off on that motorcycle,  it would be nice to think it was all a fun adventure and they would be back.  I know better.  Trust, love, and hope are all I can send out into the universe, and pray that it will be enough.



The Four Seasons, Until Our Last Breath

Grand Prize Winner at the San Diego Book Awards!

Last Saturday evening, UNTIL OUR LAST BREATH won best biography, and THE FOUR SEASONS won best historical fiction at the 2009 San Diego Bookcatnhat2 Awards.  But there’s more!  THE FOUR SEASONS won the Theodor S. Geisel Award for book of the year!  To be recognized for my writing with three awards at this event, and earlier this year at the Christopher Awards in New York, is so far beyond anything I’ve experienced as a writer that I’m still pinching myself.

Here’s a link to the San Diego Union-Tribune article, “Top honor to ‘Seasons’ at S.D. book awards” and the San Diego Book Awards site

with my sister (and my toughest critic) at the San Diego Book Awards
with my sister (and my toughest critic) at the San Diego Book Awards



Here I am with my sister Lynn celebrating the San Diego Book Awards wins, and later, with the  honorary hat!

Better than trophy, that hat of a cat!
Better than trophy, that hat of a cat!
The Four Seasons, Until Our Last Breath

San Diego Book Award Finalist–Twice!

I received word this morning that both UNTIL OUR LAST BREATH and THE FOUR SEASONS  are finalists for

With Sarah Landis, my editor for THE FOUR SEASONS.  Thanks, Sarah, for your great work!
With Sarah Landis, my editor for THE FOUR SEASONS. Thanks, Sarah, for your great work!

 2009 San Diego Book  Awards.  I’ve been told that being a finalist in two categories in one year is a rare accomplishment, and I am deeply honored to have my writing acknowledged in this way.

The Four Seasons

THE FOUR SEASONS at San Diego City College on March 24

Many thanks to Virginia Escalante for her quick response to my need to reschedule my author appearance at San Diego City College, to enable me to go to New York to receive a Christopher Award for UNTIL OUR LAST BREATH.  Thanks also to the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture, One Book/One San Diego, The San Diego International Book FairJazz 88, and other sponsors for making the 2009 Spring Literary Series possible.


The Four Seasons


About two weeks ago I went to a 95th birthday party for a dear friend’s mother. As she does every time I see her, she asked when UNTIL OUR LAST BREATH and THE FOUR SEASONS were coming out as audiobooks. Once again, I had to tell her that as of yet the audio rights had not been sold for either of them.

Her face fell. Her eyesight isn’t what it used to be and she won’t be able to “read” my work except by listening, and she won’t be able to do that unless something happens that is entirely out of my hands. Perhaps one or both will end up as audiobooks, but I don’t know when.

My friend’s mother looks fabulous. I can’t believe she is 95. But there’s no point in pretending that the passage of time is immaterial. If she is to participate in my success the way we both would like, it needs to happen soon.

Just a few days after the party, my mood brightened considerably. The Kindle 2 (Amazon’s e-reader) had just come out with an experimental read-to-me feature. I listened to a couple of pages of THE FOUR SEASONS presented by a robot voice and was, by turns, pleased with how acceptable some of it sounded and cringing at how utterly awful it was in others. The voice wasn’t an interpretation by an actor or another skilled reader, but it was saying the words on the page nonetheless.

I got in touch with my friend right away. Did she know that any book that could be downloaded to the Kindle 2 could be read aloud? Not just THE FOUR SEASONS, but pretty much any book her mother might want to read? It felt as if the heavens were opening!

But where I had pictured blue sky, the heavens that opened did so only to pour down rain. The Authors Guild (of which I am a member) launched a strong campaign objecting to what they believed was copyright infringement. I’m not a lawyer, but it seems to me the Kindle application is more like asking someone to read something to you because the print is too small and you’ve misplaced your glasses. There’s no permanent copy, and the work is not being transformed into a distinct and tangible work in another medium. It’s just an alternative way of accessing a legitimately purchased e-text without using the eyes.

My guess is that the Author’s Guild is more concerned that a read-to-me feature could be improved upon to the point where it might actually rival the experience of an audiobook. This is a legitimate concern, and I’m glad they have it. But it’s my observation that generally people don’t own the same title in more than one medium, and if this is true, people would make the choice at the outset. A vision-impaired person would buy the audiobook. Others might buy either, depending on their preference, but they’re unlikely to buy both. The author gets one sale either way. For authors whose books aren’t available as audiobooks (most aren’t), the question I have is whether they would prefer non-reading consumers not to have access to their work at all. I suspect most will realize the read-to-me feature is likely to increase their sales because people who have difficulty reading will be a new source of customers.

Just a few days ago, Amazon announced that that authors with books on Kindle would be given the opportunity to opt in or out. Sounds as if they’re listening to authors, and that’s always good. I can’t wait to say yes to the robot voice. A beautiful and beloved friend is waiting.

The Four Seasons

Venezia, Venice, Venise…

Recently I posted images of the cover and some proof pages of the German translation of THE FOUR SEASONS, and just last week I heard from the French translator, Jacques Guiod, who tells me he is also finishing up. The Spanish translator also has written to tell me that she is starting work in March, so it appears that THE FOUR SEASONS will be out in 2009 in at least three foreign languages. Translation rights have also sold for Portuguese and Turkish at this point, but I have yet to get status updates on those two. My niece Melanie tells me she can’t wait to come to hear me do a reading in Turkish, but I think I’ll have to limit my foreign language activities to reading the dedication in German to my partner, Jim, and my sister, Lynn. If there’s such a thing as malpractice of a language, I think the Germans have a good case!
Jacques sent along a few photos that I’m posting here, one of himself and his wife in the Piazza di San Marco in Venice, and a beautiful one of the Pieta, taken from the Venetian lagoon. The view of the Pieta is particularly gratifying to me, since the fog never fully lifted during my trip, and the details on his shot are so crisp. The actual site of the Pieta is the Metropole Hotel (on the right of the photo, you can see the five stars and the first two letters of the sign). The alley between the two buildings leads to the Piccolo Museo della Pieta, where instruments and other artifacts from the cloister are kept. Definitely worth a visit! On the side of the building of the Pieta is a plaque to Vivaldi, praising his years of work with the coro.

Until my next posting, auf wiedersehen, hasta luego, and a bientot…

The Four Seasons

The Dog Ate My Homework?

The dog ate my homework...
The dog ate my homework...

Cheers to my friends Nancy Regan and Carolyn Shaw. Nancy finished THE FOUR SEASONS and left it on the couch for Carolyn to read. Harry, the new Corgi pup, gave it an interesting review, finding it “tasteful,” “easy to tear through in one sitting,” and “offering much food for thought.” Woof!

The Four Seasons

The Reading Chair

Many thanks to Taniya Barrows, Owner/Manager of THE READING CHAIR Independent bookstore in Ramona, California for permission to reprint her blog entry about THE FOUR SEASONS

Monday, November 10, 2008


I prejudged!I did, really! I had the honor of meeting an incredibly talented new author (and a local one at that) by the name of Laurel Corona who personally put her new novel, The Four Seasons: A Novel of Vivaldi’s Venice, in my hands and I did not truly appreciate the gift I had just received. Granted, on that day I had a lot of books placed into my hands by authors, publishers and sales reps so it’s understandable that I didn’t fully grasp the treasure Ms. Corona handed me.But that wasn’t bad enough… I prejudged again!

I was in a foul mood. I had just endured a pretty crumby weekend and I was in between books. Four Seasons caught my eye and I remembered how much I enjoyed chatting with Ms. Corona. So I plopped onto my couch and began examining the exterior of the book, at which time I began to get a sinking sensation (yes, you could insert the age old book cover cliché here). I loved the concept of the plot; two orphaned sisters raised in the Venetian orphanage Vivaldi taught at and composed for and how the three lives intersected and influenced each other. But I have been burned before and something on this jacket cover, I can’t really articulate what, gave me the suspicion that the pages inside held the expected: superficial characters, a drawn out plot line and the sensationalistic and predictable subjugation and use of women in 18th century Italy!

Wow, was I cranky or what?! I was also very wrong!

Three pages…

That’s all it took, just three pages and I was hooked! I honestly started this book in the absolute worst mindset. I even told myself to just power through it and skim if I needed to. Yet, three short pages into this book all of that melted away. I was now emotionally invested in these two young girls who only had each other in a frightening world. I had to keep reading – not skimming, reading! I had to know that my girls were going to be okay. I needed to know that someone would be there to look out for them and shepherd them through a society that didn’t exactly view women as much more than pretty things that produced heirs; and if she wasn’t pretty, a nunnery was the best she could hope for.

The most remarkable part of this book is the growth of these two women. I found it easy in the beginning to think of them as “my girls.” Each moment I had to sit and read I was able to check in on “my girls.” However, as the story progressed and they were growing up, Maddalena and Chiaretta could no longer belong to anyone, not even the reader.

The Four Seasons is a magnificent surprise. Read it, I urge you! It is a story of life and the journey we all travel from childhood to adulthood artfully told. Two sisters diverge on the road of life and follow their own paths yet remain true to each other. Laurel Corona has given us a beautiful lens to watch these incredible girls grow into the remarkable women anyone would wish for as a sister, a wife, a friend. Corona even rejects the stereotype of the domineering man who must be overcome and beaten down. Men, women, the Catholic Church, the whispered customs of 18th century Venetian nobility and a demanding and controversial composer of the day are all respectfully represented and honored in this beautiful book.

-Taniya Barrows


The Four Seasons

Sharing the Wealth

San Diego City College celebrated itself this week. Coming the day after the election, I saw the showcase of faculty and student talent that launched my novel, THE FOUR SEASONS, from a perspective that might have escaped me otherwise. This has been so much on my mind that I want to share it with anyone who is listening.

My good friend and colleague Stephanie Robinson (pictured with me to the right) has been training in the operatic style of singing for years, but probably only a handful of people at City knew that, since she teaches electronic music composition–almost the polar opposite. When we talked last spring about putting on a launch for my novel, we realized that we knew almost nothing about what our colleagues do when they’re not at work. My guess is we had the skills among us to have offered a work for chamber orchestra at the event, but we didn’t know whom to ask. Most of us, myself included, try to cram as much work into our time on campus as we can, and don’t do much hanging out in the corridors, or sitting down in the often-deserted staff dining room area just to see who stops by. “I don’t have the time to get started,” I tell myself. “I don’t have the energy to get involved in any more lives.”

This isn’t good. I realize this with a particular sense of urgency now, since less than two weeks ago, a thirty-nine year old colleague in my department had a stroke. It isn’t clear why, but she thinks she knows, and her message to all of us, even before she had regained the ability to speak clearly, was “Slow down.” I’m going to try. I’m clear enough about who I fundamentally am not to expect a sea change in how I go through my day, but even baby steps to connect with others will make my life richer.

But that’s not really what I most want to say. In the afterglow of the election, I want to shout to the world a beautiful principle that was reinforced by putting on this show. When I decided that I didn’t want my launch to be just about me and my book, but to include others whose achievements also deserved celebrating, I set in motion something that has come back to bless me many fold. Rather than a small event in someone’s home or in a restaurant somewhere, THE FOUR SEASONS was launched in a theater packed with several hundred people. I don’t have that kind of draw myself, but together all the performers–Stephanie, dj, George, Terry, John Mark, Zaquia, and Ramon—did. The bookstore sold two full cartons of books, many to people who knew nothing about my novel before the event and can’t wait to tell others about it. Stephanie and all the other performers have new fans, and people are talking about how the college can keep this form of self-discovery going.

Sharing the wealth is not a scandalous concept despite recent attempts to make it seem so. It is the wellspring of the most profound blessings that come to us as individuals and as a society. Especially in times that are bound to grow more difficult for all of us, we must never forget that our real treasure is each other. I am reminded of this every time I enter the classroom at San Diego City College. The environment in which I teach was not possible when I was growing up. In fact, when I started kindergarten in 1955, it was illegal. My students (Stephanie’s and my team-taught class is pictured below) are African-American, Asian, Latino/a, and White; gay and straight; Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and Atheist; male and female; native born and immigrants; vegan and omnivore. They span several decades in age, have more brains than money, and more hope than despair. It’s wonderful how comfortable they are with each other, and how open and eager they seem to be about making friends with people unlike themselves. They “get it,” that the whole is more than the sum of its parts, and they are a microcosm of where we as a people need to be. We all need to want for each other what we want for ourselves, because we are all in this together.