The Four Seasons

The Cross-Eyed Joker

When I was little, waiting for my birthday was sheer torture. Time was so mean to me! It refused to do anything but creep along, wagging its fingers behind its ears with its eyes crossed and its tongue sticking out. A month ago, waiting for THE FOUR SEASONS to be released felt a little like that.

One difference, of course is that at my age, one has to be crazy to want time to pass quickly, since it feels increasingly short. More to the point, however, the busy life of an adult makes having only one horizon, one thing to concentrate on, a long-forgotten luxury. I’ve had papers to grade, deadlines to keep track of, tests to revise, errands to run, presidential debates and World Series games to rush home for. One horizon was two days out and another three, and before I knew it a week had passed and then one more. And now here I am, on another kind of birthday—the debut of my firstborn novel.

Pop open the champagne! My book’s in stores, glowing with gold trim and a radiant violinist on the cover. Yesterday afternoon, when I first saw it in the new fiction case of Borders, I stood for a moment in front of it before taking a photo on my I-phone and rushing out of the store to call my friends and family. “Oh yeah,” I realize a while later, far from the store. “I’m supposed to sign stock!” I’m kind of glad I didn’t, though. I need some time to get used to this.

If the lead-up to my birthday was torture when I was young, the day after was the true valley of despond. If time ever played a cruel joke, it was making kids wait a whole year to be acknowledged like that again. This birthday is different, since it will just keep going. The first time I see someone reading THE FOUR SEASONS—maybe on the trolley, or on a plane or in a waiting room—is going to feel like the Fourth of July! I can see that cross-eyed joker, Time, sticking out its tongue again, getting ready to make me wait.

The Four Seasons

Feeling the Warmth

The announcements are in the mail, the performers are rehearsing, and many of my colleagues have big grins on their faces as we reach the finish of the long waiting period for THE FOUR SEASONS to reach its publication date. Today two of my faculty friends involved with VIVA VIVALDI, the November 5 San Diego City College launch event, told me they had to order themselves to stop reading the book so they could get some sleep before an 8 AM class, or hop in the shower to get to work on time. “I want to finish it tonight,” one said. “I can’t wait to see what happens next.” “I love Chiaretta,” the other said. “I’m rooting for her to bust out and do something just for herself.” And then, after a moment she added, “Actually, I love them both equally, each in her own way.” One of the nice things about the book, she said, is that even in the constrained world my heroines Maddalena and Chiaretta inhabit, they do not seem like victims but empowered individuals who choose for themselves and thrive within their limited options. “Hooray,” I say to my friend. “Exactly my message.”

And something I’ve noticed consistently is that everyone who holds a copy of the book strokes the cover. THE FOUR SEASONS is truly a beautiful product, and though the words within it are mine (with some great editing by Sarah Landis and the copy editor), the way people will have their first tactile or visual encounter with it in bookstores is the work of others who might otherwise go unsung. I’d like to thank the art director of VOICE, Laura Klynstra, and Jessica Shatan Heslin, who designed a cover that is lovely beyond words, and a beautiful interior layout as well. Wow, wow, wow! And thanks from a debut novelist who could not have asked for a better team. This book radiates the love of many, and I hope readers will feel that warmth.

I’ll be at the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association’s “Authors Feast” and Book Expo this weekend. I’m taking it on faith that authors aren’t on the dinner menu! I’m looking forward to meeting more folks from Hyperion, other authors, and, most importantly, those wonderful folks who keep the tradition of independent booksellers alive in Southern California. Details next week!

Uncategorized

Real Wood and Lamplight

I caught a tiny glimpse of heaven on State Street in Santa Barbara a few years back. It was the first bookstore I’d ever seen with a cozy reading area and comfortable chairs, and a little café selling banana bread and croissants to people reading magazines for free. I think it might have had a fireplace, but since it was a warm summer day, that part didn’t really register. Like a poem that hits right between the eyes, The Earthling expressed something perfect, something I’d always known but hadn’t thought of yet.

Last time I was in Santa Barbara, I headed straight for it. It so completely wasn’t there that I couldn’t even figure out where it had been. Sticky pages and coffee stains, or people reading for hours and not buying, were probably not what did it in. It’s gone now, most likely a victim of the crushing forces of online and megastore retailing. Just like so many other bookstores once part of my life.

I’m as guilty as anyone. Ordering books from the comfort of home is just so easy. And the chain stores have such a visible presence, often near somewhere I’m going anyway, that it’s become a habit to make my gotta-have-right-now book purchases as part of my other errands. Which is why, as I’ve made the rounds of local bookstores with advance copies of THE FOUR SEASONS, I’ve been giving the local bookstore scene more thought.

I love the mismatched chairs, the well-trampled area rugs, the glow of real wood and lamplight. I love the shelves with ethnic shawls and bangles, or packets of tea, or funny lapel buttons, or colorful yarn (as at the Grove Bookstore in San Diego), which say something about the personalities and interests of the owners. I love how the staff knows who among them the copy of THE FOUR SEASONS I left with them should go to first, and which regular customers will love it. I love that it will be on one of a few shelves of carefully selected fiction, not wedged among dozens of others written by authors whose last names start with “C.” I love their true caring about books, because I care about books too.

I can’t say my online days are over, or that I didn’t meet wonderful book lovers managing chain stores, but I feel a bit like I do at the end of a wonderful trip, when I say to myself that even though I could happily stay, it’s time to come home. I hope you feel the same.

The Four Seasons

VIVA VIVALDI

Line up a sitter, feed the dog, and head on down to 14th and C Streets at 7:15 PM on November 5 for a night of great musical and literary entertainment! Exactly one month from today, the launch event for THE FOUR SEASONS will take place in downtown San Diego at San Diego City College’s Saville Theatre. Take the trolley if you can—there’s a City College stop—and arrive early, since we’re expecting a full house.

Only recently did I realize the significance of the publication date for THE FOUR SEASONS: It’s election day in one of the most momentous presidential races ever. I hope the good vibes spread both ways and that sharing the date bodes well for both the nation and for my book. And I certainly hope the day after the election, we’ll be in a mood to celebrate down at the college. It’s looking pretty good right now! But either way, music soothes the soul and elevates the spirit.

I wanted a launch that celebrated not just the publication of THE FOUR SEASONS, but called attention to the tremendous artistic achievements—many of them far too well hidden—of my colleagues at City College. We count among our faculty (as well as our staff and students) first-rate talents in ceramics, glass art, photography, graphic design, poetry, storytelling, fiction and creative non-fiction, playwriting, performance art, voice, music composition, dance, choreography, and instrumental music, and much more.

We’re calling the event VIVA VIVALDI, and it will be a mix of vocal and instrumental performances, dance, and readings from the book. The star of the show is Vivaldi himself, and we’re hoping to build appreciation for this incredible composer beyond the ubiquitous “Gloria” and “The Four Seasons.” Now don’t get me wrong—those two works are hard to beat—but in writing THE FOUR SEASONS I saw the richness of his music for the female voice, and how the complexities of “The Four Seasons” are matched or surpassed by some of his other works.

The event will be taped, and I hope to post small portions on my website, but if you can, come down and see for yourself!

The Four Seasons

Word Wishes

Like most writers, I have ideas about the words I would most like to see in reviews of my work. I don’t mean generally flattering adjectives, like “terrific,” or “marvelous,” although if they knocked on my door I would invite them in and open a bottle of champagne. I mean the words that indicate that someone saw in my work what I had hoped they would. Words that tell me I accomplished what I set out to do. Other than news of stratospheric sales figures or a huge award—both of which I would be more than happy to describe if I should ever be so lucky—there’s probably no better news than a good, validating review.

I suppose every writer has his or her own secret vocabulary:

Articulate ? Amusing?

Briliant? Breathtaking?

Confident? Candid?

Dazzling? Dramatic?

Educated? Ethereal?

Funny? Fanciful?

(I’m running out of steam less than a quarter of the way through the alphabet. Got your own favorites, blog readers?)

I can’t say any of the above are my secret words, or even whether I know exactly what they are until I hear them, but the October 1 Booklist review of THE FOUR SEASONS certainly hit a few I like a lot. Charming,” ”exquisite,” “poetic,” “alluring,” “richly historical.” WOW! It’s enough to make me “lachrymose,” “misty-eyed,” and “teary, “ all at the same time! I hope this review and the equally laudatory one from Publishers Weekly are just a start. Five weeks out and counting….

The Four Seasons

The Middle Muddle

When someone I haven’t seen in a while asks me what I’ve been up to, I usually say, “not much” (even though “too much” would usually be closer to the truth). I’m feeling a bit like this as I start blogging for the first time in my life. What do I have to say? Not much?

In The Sound of Music, the beginning is considered a very good place to start, but it really isn’t. When it comes to my novel The Four Seasons, coming from Hyperion Books’ VOICE imprint on November 4, 2008, I’m in the “middle muddle”–several years out from writing it, near the end of the long period of waiting for it to come out, and about six weeks before its release gives me new and exciting things to say. I am tempted to label this a “not much” period of time except…. Well, let’s look at today:

The sales manager at a store where I dropped off a galley talked about what a great job VOICE had done putting together a beautiful advance reading copy.

I worked with a graphic arts student at my school, San Diego City College, on her knockout design for the poster promoting my book launch.

Three faculty colleagues asked me when my book was coming out, which says they knew it was.

I got an e-mail complimenting me on the great review of The Four Seasons in Publisher’s Weekly.

Funny how “not much” starts to look like “more than I thought” when I’m paying closer attention. Because here’s the thing…I HAVE A BOOK COMING OUT! I whisper, “Repeat after me: I have a book coming out.” Repeat after me….

What have I been up to, here in the middle muddle? Being amazed, thrilled, and grateful for everything that had to go right to find myself here on this beautiful road, just waiting for “much more” to pull up and offer me a ride.