Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Weight Of My Children's World


While on a run this morning, a tiny spotted fawn crossed in front of me. It leaped over potholes in the road, its backdrop a bright blue sky and newly colorful leaves. I followed it with my eyes as it raced into the trees, but I couldn’t place its mama anywhere. All I could see was the fawn and the immense beauty of the world in almost autumn – the orange sun, clear horizon, lush forest – picture perfect setting.

But I feared for the baby- alone in the forest. What would come of it?

The appearance of the fawn was meaningful for me, because as I was running I was thinking about my own children. I was feeling the weight of being a mama in a time like now, when it seems more likely that the sun will suddenly melt and shower the world with lemonade than there ever being peace from all of the unrest. Evaluating the world in its current state through the lens of a mother has evoked in me the heaviest emotions I’ve ever felt.

I’m an empath. A walking emotion, I’ve been called. This season has taken the (inedible) cake for me. I’m overloaded with emotion – others’ and my own. I wonder if other moms are experiencing this lately.

Typically, when I feel too much, I write it out. My novels all started as heavy feels; I wrote them more for the catharsis than for others to read, but these days, I don’t write much at all. My heart is perhaps squeezed too tight to release any of the anxiety or sadness. My head is too polluted with the most recent catastrophic finding or event.

And how it will eventually affect my daughters’ lives.

My hands have been clenched in worry and in prayer. I’ve spent way too much time reading a gazillion opposing articles on all aspects of Covid-19, the U.S. Constitution and my rights as an American, child-trafficking, racial injustice… The list goes on. I try to balance the news I hear, to weed out the agenda and somehow isolate truth with which I can make good decisions about school and health issues and finances.

Decisions that will directly affect my daughters’ lives.

I bite my lip and pray some more as they head off to school, “masked up” and armed with what we’ve taught them at home, knowing that a virus is the least of their concerns when they walk into a classroom full of peers who they worry might judge their outfit or their words or perhaps exclude them. I trust that all of their teachers truly care about them as individuals, but I still wonder what happens inside their classrooms. I reach out weekly to school administrators with research on current practices for schools, hoping that other parents are doing the same and that my voice will make a difference in their decisions.

Decisions that affect the physical and mental health and well-being of my daughters.

These days, I find myself fighting. Often. Against the culture. Against perceived norms. Against the tide, it seems. And, I think to myself – I was not made for this. I am not a fighter. I was made to write inspiring words, not to research and report and be ready with an answer about every issue under the 2020 sun.

And I’m so dang tired.

And I feel like the weight of my children’s world is on my shoulders.

My. Children’s. World.

It’s a lot of weight. And it’s important

And sitting back and writing a story about heaviness is not enough right now. Some call it Instinct, some say it’s God’s voice, but it tells me that now is the season to race into the forest and protect my babies, even when they push back. Even at the risk of being judged, of losing friends. Even though I’m not a fighter, I have to fight for what’s right. For them.

For their world.

For their future.

It’s. Heavy.

So if I seem like I’m not quite myself lately, it’s because I’m not. If my smile doesn’t quite reach my eyes, it’s because I’m drowning, and it’s hard to smile when you feel like you can’t breathe.

The weight of my children’s world is on my shoulders.

I carry it into every battle, even though the fight exhausts me. Even when the forest is on fire, I sprint through the burn, the world on my back, trying to shield my babies.  I can’t just stand still and fake a smile. Flames of slander and isolation can lick at my flesh, but I won’t stop.

It hurts. But  - I can’t stop!

And I can’t let go of the weight!

Because I’m a mother.

And the weight of my children’s world is on my shoulders.

It’s heavy. It’s crumbling. It’s a beautiful disaster, and it’s the world they’re going to inherit.

And, if I’m honest with myself, there may be nothing I can do to make it better.

But I can’t lay it down.

This evening, as the sun was sinking and the sky bled orange and pink, my oldest daughter was driving home. She’s a new driver, and she was practicing while I coached from the passenger seat. My other two girls were in the back, arguing over the window being down, the music being too loud, whose turn it was to talk. I was distracted, trying to still them when suddenly a deer jumped into the road in front of our car.

My typically frenetic daughter calmly pressed on the brake.

The car went quiet.

We were safe.

And the safety wasn’t my doing at all.

I looked at my baby, her hands on the wheel, her cheeks pink, and I exhaled.

“It’s okay,” she said.

For a moment, the heaviness of 2020 life dissipated.

I’d let go, but God hadn’t. He’d covered us- with safety, with light, with control.

And, later that night, when I lay my head onto the pillow, knowing full well that sleep would not come easy, I reminded myself that no matter how much I try to control a situation, it’s ultimately God’s will that prevails.

Do I trust him?

I do.

Does that change the fact that every day when I send my kids out the door, “masked up,” and ready, that it feels like I’m sending them into a flaming forest?


Because I’m still a slave to my emotions when it comes to my kids. They are perhaps my idol, I’m ashamed to admit. I continue to see the collapse of normalcy around me and fear for their futures, even though my middle daughter reminds me that their futures are sealed for them already and that I need not worry. In my head, I know she’s right, but the heart is a big fat liar.

Does trusting God change anything then?

It does.

Because after the girls are on their respective buses and I sit down in the stillness with only God for company, I can sift through what is important and what is not. Unlike the unreliable news that squawks into my kitchen from the TV and contaminates the feed on my social media platforms, God doesn’t change. He’s there offering the same things He’s been offering my whole life.

Grace. Comfort. Rest. Wisdom. Sureness.

A moment to breathe.

And so many more gifts.

All I have to do is carve out the time to accept them.

So, does God’s presence squelch my urge to fight?


Because although I know this world is not the end-all, be-all for me or for my children, that it is only our temporary home, it was still created for us. And I believe it is still worth fighting for.

The weight of my children’s world is still on my shoulders.

Because I’m a mother.

But my children are God's children first.

We have a Father who strengthens us for battle. I wear His full armor.

And, despite the flames of hate and evil that seem to be engulfing the world my children and I stand on, I am confident that, under His wings, we will not burn.




Thursday, January 30, 2020

BookSparks 20 Questions with author Dana Faletti... that's me!

Tomorrow I'm going to Eden Hall to speak with 4th graders about writing and literacy, and in my prep time, I came across a 20 questions about BookSparks Author Dana Faletti. This interview happened after I wrote Wake, but before I pubbed War And Wonder, book 3 of my trilogy, or Beautiful Secret, my women's fiction "Italian" romance. Thought it might be fun to share the interview. This one's from 2013-ish. Enjoy!

20 Questions with BookSparks author Dana Faletti!

1.       What was your biggest inspiration while writing WAKE?
So many things inspired me while I was writing the sequel to Whisper, it’s hard to narrow it down to one. I can say, though, there is a radio show called “Grace to You” with John Macarthur, and he did a series about angels. I listened to it several times, and it gave me some incredible insight into the Biblical writings of angels as warriors.

2.  What is usually on your nightstand? A glass of water, my Kindle, several books, my earrings, my wedding rings, random toys or trinkets that belong to my daughters, a candle, my cat trying to sip from the glass of water.

3.  Which character in WAKE is most like yourself?  Hmmm… my mother told me Callie reminds her of me as a teen. I always had super amplified feelings, kind of like Callie has for Joshua. Callie is much cooler than I ever was, though.

4.  Which authors have most influenced your writing? Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker in subject matter.  They write about Christian themes –angels and demons, end of the world type stuff .Jodi Picoult and Karen Marie Moning in style. I am a big fan of writing from different points of view. I love short powerful sentences that drive home an emotion.

5.  What is your favorite scene in WAKE? My favorite scene is when Callie visits Joshua at his house after she is worn out from fighting Darks all day. Joshua is her happy place, so to speak. The two of them struggle with how passionate their feelings are for each other and how to keep themselves from crossing the line. The scene deals with authentic desire and restraint.

6.  What do you think is Callie’s best trait? What I love most about Callie is that she has no idea how amazing she is. She doesn’t realize that she’s beautiful or brave, and it always surprises her when she gets a glimpse of her true nature.

7.  Are any characters in WAKE based on a real person? All of the characters, except for Silas and Jules,  are loosely based on real people. Callie is based on my niece, Cassie. Her parents are my brother and sister-in-law. Romuel’s character came from a dream I had about my father-in law, dressed in a toga with long hair and crazy abs. It was a really weird dream J

8.  What is something your readers would be surprised to learn about you? I am a die-hard fan of a capella musical groups.  I love love super love Pitch Perfect, and I am so bummed that The Sing-Off was cancelled last year. Best singing show ever.

9.  Where is your favorite place to write? I have a comfy oversized orange leather chair with ottoman that a friend was going to throw in the garbage. He gave it to my husband and I instead, and it ended up in our bedroom. This is where I wrote Whisper. Lately, I’ve been writing prolifically at local coffee shops. Much of Wake was written at Starbucks – how cliché, right? J

10.  What did you want to be when you grew up? I wanted to be a Broadway star. Now, I live that dream through watching my girls sing on stage. I still love singing… with them.

11.  What is your favorite book of all time? This is just a crazy question. I can’t narrow it down to one book. One series – The Fever Series, by Karen Marie Moning – has seemed to ruin all other books for me.

12.  When is your birthday? September 10th.

13.  What is your dream vacation? A year in Europe. I’ve been to Italy three times and France several times. I have wonderful family in both countries, and we visit often. I’d like to spend a nice chunk of time there, eating, drinking, sleeping on pebble beaches in the afternoons and speaking Italian or French with strangers- that- have- become -family late into the nights.

14.  Describe your writing style in three words. Unique. Unapologetic. Tangible.

15. When naming your characters, do you give any thought to the actual meaning? No, most of the time, names just come to me, they feel right. Evil characters’ names are harder for me to nail down. I confess to having tossed around the idea of naming villains after some people who have given me grief in real life. You know – cross me and I’ll write you into my book – and you won’t be a pretty character! No, I actually don’t do that!  I love Joshua Pride. My favorite name.  I have no idea how I came up with Silas and Jules.

16. What is Callie’s favorite song (or theme song)? Beautiful Soul.

17. Any recent works that you admire? Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter. Delicious book.

18.  If you could co-write a book with any author, who would it be? Again, a really hard question… Pat Conroy, maybe? His writing is so vivid, it places me wherever the characters are. I’ve read Prince of Tides three times, and every time I even think of the book, I can smell sulfur, taste sea salt on my tongue. I can close my eyes at any moment and be at Luke, Savannah, and Tom’s little shack-like house on their tiny plot of island. I’d like Pat’s writing style to rub off on me a little. It would help me in my next project.

19.  How have your personal experiences affected your writing?  Shortly after I started writing Wake, my husband had a very serious health scare. He was extremely sick for a few months, and I couldn’t write Wake at all. I did write some of another project I am working on. The story is much more serious.  For a long time after his health improved, I was still not in the right place to write something as whimsical as Wake. 

20.  What is your writing process? It is still very much evolving, as I think it always will be. With Whisper, I didn’t plan much. I had an idea and wrote a scene that ended up being in the middle of the book. Later, I started at the beginning of the story and wrote from chapter one through the end, then came back and wrote a prologue, then an epilogue. I never had an outline – I’ll confess. With Wake, I outlined some, but honestly, some ideas just come to me as I’m writing, and I go with them.  One thing I really believe in as a writer is the importance of critique partners – good ones. I’m so lucky to have a group of them. There are six of us who critique each others’ work twice a month. They help me to know what works and what definitely does NOT and also edit for grammar, typos, the dastardly extra spaces!

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Inspiration Beach

It has been awhile.

I admit it - I get busy with life - 3 kids, 2 dogs, 1 husband, writing books, editing books etc...  And, I forget to post to my own blog. It's not that I'm not writing. I've been writing like crazy lately. Poetry, songs, flash fiction, A NEW BOOK!

Yes, this winter I wrote a new book. I hadn't planned on it. I finished writing TABUPU AND HE KEY OF DESTINY sometime in January, and I decided to take a break from novel-writing. My head decided that. My soul had other plans.

The story of Margaret Star and Gray Trax unfolded and evolved over a period of 4 weeks. I have NEVER written a book that quickly. The characters just spoke to me. As usual, I was inspired by events happening in real life -  a horrible school shooting tragedy had just occurred in Florida, and my daughter's middle school was on lock down because of bomb threats two days in a row. Also, there was a student (whose locker was right next to my daughter's) who threatened to "shoot up" the school and claimed to have brought weapons to school with him. My daughter turned the boy in, as he watched from across the hallway.

Not the most comfortable moments of life. So this anxiety inside my heart translated into  questions, then morphed into a story.

The questions: What happens to the girl who fell in love with the school shooter? What does her aftermath look like? How does she miss the warning signs? Blinded by love?

Which is why my novel was originally called Blind Love - BLECH! Horrible title!

So, I had my basis for the story. Then the characters came to life and told me they were way more important than the plot - which is always true for me. I write character driven novels.

And - because my characters drove the plot - my story changed. It became more about 2 deaf teens, both trying to navigate life in a hearing world, both dealing with their own sets of difficult circumstances, who find comfort and inspiration in each other. Yes, they fall in love. Yes, one has mental health issues that urge him toward violence. Yes, one theme of the book is that intimacy can be blinding. But, the real theme is that love can be the driving force in overcoming hardships. Love makes us strive to be the best versions of ourselves.

After leaving the field of Deaf education 14 years ago to raise my daughters, I really loved diving back into the subject of Deaf culture and all of its intricacies. My book is now called HEAR ME. That could change. It's early.  I'm still editing.

And, as I edit, as always, I'm writing poetry and songs and flash. These are my release. Here is something I wrote yesterday, as I stared out at my favorite beach from the condo balcony.

Marco Island

Smiling and breathing the heavy salt air that wraps around all of Your creations.
Three of them are right next to me.
They're adding color to bone white seashells
I can close my eyes and see them as babies.
Just yesterday they toddled over the sand with tiny feet.
And now they vacillate from cartwheels and whirlpools to sun worship and tan seeking.
Ah, the mystery of time.
Only You know the solution.

Thunder rolls across the black sky at my back
While pale blue invites the sun to show itself over the Gulf.
Such vast expanse between the two.
Another mystery of Yours.
The fish jump in the lagoon.
Invisible bugs nibble at the skin on my elbows.
Foamy waves crawl slowly to the shore.
All by Your design.
All at the direction of Your hand.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Overcoming Fear With Human Connection. What's Your Trick?

In the acclaimed Broadway musical, The King and I, British teacher Anna Leonowens travels to Siam (now Thailand) where she serves as tutor to the Siamese King’s many children.  Anna’s young son bemoans his trepidation over his new home and his mother’s stern supervisor. Anna  gives him some advice that I love to sing along with whenever I hear the song playing on Sirius Broadway. She tells him~

“Whenever I feel afraid,
I hold my head erect
And whistle a happy tune
So no one will suspect
I’m afraid…
Make believe you’re brave,
And the truth will take you far.
You may be as brave
As you make believe you are.”

I’m sure Anna was just as nervous as her son was about leaving England alone, a newly widowed mother. It was probably scary for her to travel halfway across the world to work in a far-off land for a stern King whose cultural expectations were quite different from anything she knew.  Her trick for dealing with her fear was simple – Whistle.

We’re all afraid of something, and we all have tricks to deal with our anxieties.

As a child, my brother and I experienced what we and our parents believed was a near abduction. The creepy man who chased after us down a cloaked path to a quiet park one summer afternoon denied any unkind intentions when he was questioned later. Our suspicions remained nevertheless. The paralyzing fear that shot cold through my veins that hot summer day, chilling my cheeks and my limbs as they pumped for dear life, has also remained. It’s dormant most of the time, but at the right moment, it can rear its creepy head into any experience and freeze me.

You see, at the end of the path, I turned one way and raced through the woods toward home.


Without discussing his planned escape route, my brother had run in the other direction, toward the playground and the backs of neighbor’s houses. When I made it back to my home, breathless and hysterical, I thought my brother had been kidnapped. Words spilled from my mouth, probably unintelligibly, as my mother stood gaping at me from behind her shower curtain, trying to figure out what had scared me into such a state before throwing a towel around herself and hurrying to call the cops.

Even though everything worked out that day, the fear of strangers stuck with me. Most of the time, I’m totally functional, outgoing, and independent. But, when I’m caught in a bout of paranoia, my overly imaginative brain can conjure some doozies about who’s going to break into my house when I’m alone and what their sinister plans might be.

Like Anna’s son, fear attacks me when I travel alone, especially to new places.

It’s kind of a conundrum, because I love to travel alone to new places! I’ve been halfway across the world by myself, flown to France and Italy alone to visit family. Being by myself allows me to take in people and places in a way that’s not possible when I’m accompanied by my kids or husband or even friends. I enjoy traveling with others as well but being alone is satisfying in a different way, undistracted. So, the anxiety I experience before and during a trip is really annoying.

I nearly always almost cancel.

But then I don’t.

I stand in line at security at the airport and imagine all kinds of stories. Someone’s following me. Someone’s a terrorist. Someone’s a serial killer. And, of course, I’m the target.

Every situation has the potential to be a risk.

Hotel elevators- perfect place to subdue and abduct a person.

Taxi- the driver is definitely part of a sex traffic ring (so he’d choose a 40 year old woman to abduct, right? Now, that’s some logic.)

A semi-deserted street in mid-afteroon in Anycity, Anystate – crazy people prowling for victims.

It’s really maddening.

Only recently did I finally discover my own trick to conquer fear. When on a trip to New York City with my girls, my oldest was battling her own anxieties, and she was fearful of getting into a taxi with a driver who was a stranger to her. I told her – just talk to the guy. When you realize a person’s humanity, you find likeness in him. You see him not as a taxi-driving stranger but as a person. Someone’s husband or father. Someone who’s traveled far from home to make a better life for his family. Someone who likes to eat pizza with mushrooms on it, just like you.

By teaching my daughter this, I realized it was actually my trick. When I’m afraid, I talk to people. I find human connections, and my fear evaporates.

I believe that we are here on this Earth for the sole purpose to connect with other people, to learn from them and to teach them. I believe that fear blocks opportunities for connection, but when we push through the blockades and reach out to strangers, we break barriers and build meaningful and purposeful experiences that stay with us.

In other words, my taxi-driver has something to teach me, and if I’m too afraid to talk to him, I’m missing out.

This past weekend I traveled alone to Chicago for C2E2, a comic and entertainment conference. As usual, I performed the same song and dance of “should I go?” and “what if?” but eventually made it on the plane. The first leg of the trip, I was jittery. The airline lost my luggage, and I was exhausted and I didn’t know Midway airport at all. I had to get a taxi to my hotel, and the taxis in Chicago looked altogether different from the yellow ones I was used to in NYC. Suspicious! (Insert eye-roll emoji here.)

Finally, sans luggage, I slipped into the seat of my cab, where my driver was chatting on speaker with his son. This made me feel comfortable, because the guy was a dad. Still, crazy thoughts jumped around in my mind about what could happen if this stranger took me somewhere other than my hotel. What if he was only posing as a taxi-driver and was actually a creep?  I pushed the inane thoughts away and started chatting with my driver once he was off the phone.


When I face my fear of strangers and being alone I am rewarded with beautiful people and experiences that seem driven into my life by God and fate. This guy was inspiration, personified.


He was unusually chatty for a taxi-driver. Usually, I have to ask all of the questions, but Ammikhi was generous with his conversation, telling me about his kids who live in Israel, his talented dancer daughter, his headstrong son who plays basketball, and his youngest son who has a big gregarious heart like his dad. We shared the headaches and triumphs of raising tweens, and he gave me some good advice.

He asked me about my career in writing and I told him a little. He seemed especially interested in my Whisper Trilogy, which is fiction - spiritual warfare for teens. We discovered that we both have a strong belief in a higher power and that we both believe in the idea of unseen forces that lead us in certain directions while we’re here on Earth. Some good forces, some evil. It was a deep and spiritual conversation to be having with someone I’d just met. He then shared that he is a rap artist who writes “positive rap music.”  I came to understand, through our conversations, that everything Ammikhi does is done to spread positive energy, righteousness, and love in the world. He’s just a really awesome soul with a talent for writing and performing awesome rhymes.

“I’ve got kids,” he said about his rap, which contains no curse words or violence.  A huge smile stretched across his shiny face. “I can’t be doing that. You know what I’m saying?”

I totally did.

He played one of his songs for me – ‘Stay,’ and I loved it. The tune was catchy and soulful, and the rap was beautiful, a testament to what he believes about love relationships and how we should interact with our partners.  I immediately purchased it from itunes and have listened to it several  times since.
My 45 minute drive with Ammikhi was purposeful. I feel like he was meant to remind me that the unknown – people and experiences – don’t have to be foreboding. A stranger can become a friend or adviser in the space of a cab ride. Common threads twine through strangers’ lives, connecting us. Our unique life lessons can be imparted, paid forward with our hearts and our tongues. Sometimes our stories are the best gifts we give.

Ammikhi set the tone for my trip to Chicago. Once my head was reset and my anxiety had evaporated, I met each new experience and person (even the ones wearing detailed alien costumes and toting weapons) with a positive attitude. Some amazing people graced my life over the weekend. I was able to meet my fellow Pandamoon authors and Mindsoak colleagues in person, which was really cool because I’ve interacted closely with them online for almost two years.  “Comicon” would not typically be my thing, but after being reminded that all experiences, even the most unlikely ones, have purpose for my life, I walked into C2E2, a.k.a. Crazytown, with an open mind, ready to share with others about my books and writing and ready to learn whatever I could from a myriad of superheroes and villains – 162,000 on Saturday to be exact.

When I contacted Ammiki to ask him to drive me back to the airport on Sunday, he was glad to agree to do so. He has a super-strong work ethic and a positive outlook on working. He asked if he could purchase all four of my books, and when I offered to gift them to him, he refused, said he wanted to support good people who spread good messages. I proudly signed them and sold them to him, feeling like we each had a piece of each other as a memory of our short time together. He has my words, and I have his music!

Now, every time I listen to Stay or think of Ammikhi, I am reminded that there’s always opportunity for comfort and purpose and wonder, even in the sometimes scary shadow of the unknown.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Inspiration Italy

This post was originally shared on Mindsoak Me as answer to the question - When do you feel most alive?

When do I feel most alive?

The first thing that popped into my mind when Jon asked this question was  ~when I am in Italy. There’s a raw energy that captivates my spirit the moment my feet touch the dry, cracked earth in Valanidi – the town in which my father was born.

Every swallow of rich, syrupy espresso, every long breath of fresh mountain air – tinged with the aroma of baking bread and peeled garlic, every dip into the clear blue Ionian Sea.

The breathlessness of crowded streets, the heady stench of overripe fruit, the contradictions that lurk behind broken portico walls then reveal themselves unapologetically, breaking every rule of logic and reason.

The crooked smiles and musical dialects that change with every quarter mile of country road.

The old women in head-to-toe black who pinch my cheeks and the young women in tight jeans and tube tops who shoot me the evil eye.

My family.

All of it is holy to me. Every aspect of the culture, its people and places, transforms me from living to alive in the space of one breath.

I’ve often thought that perhaps there’s something about being in the birthplace of my extended family, my tribe, that stirs and amplifies me. Maybe there are geographic coordinates in my genetic code, somewhere. The first time I stepped foot into Calabria, I felt that this was where I could be my best self. The first time I looked into the eyes of the strangers who were my cousins, I sensed that I was at home. My skin fit like never before. I felt free, unleashed, unhindered by expectations of culture and society. Energy seemed to infuse into my core from the very ground. Because it was the ground of my ancestors?


I didn’t understand it, but I felt a palpable connection to this place. The sensation first undid me, then laced me up again - the way I was meant to be. And for the first time in my life, I didn’t need to understand why. Usually, I pick everything apart, especially the why’s behind every situation. There, I didn’t. The feeling of wholeness was enough.

In my home environment in Pittsburgh, where I raise daughters and manage a household with pets and laundry and schedules, where I write using a process, I am a creature of habit. I wake up early. I must have coffee before speaking to anyone. I exercise. I stick to the plan, and I don’t sit down for a rest. I tire in the evening and go to bed early. It’s the daily grind, and I’m no different from most American moms.

I have learned through multiple trips to visit my family in Italy that I am a different creature there. I somehow shed the skin of the American impostor who inhabits my body in the meantime, and I fully submit to the donna inside.

She smiles immediately, even if she wakes up drenched in August sweat at four o’clock in the morning, because she can no longer sleep in the sticky stillness. She needs conversation more than sleep and perhaps even more than coffee. She doesn’t require much but does thrill at the idea of a daily gelato and a nap on the pebbles of her favorite beach. She has no plan and doesn’t bristle when she realizes nobody around her has one either.

She breathes deeply and often.

She stays up all night with her cousins. To talk about nothing and everything. To sit quietly together. To be what they cannot be in the mundane of their daily lives.

She is fully alive.

I have tried and tried to bring this donna back to Pittsburgh with me. After my first tearful goodbye to my cousins in Europe, I returned to Kent State University as a senior with a one-cup Bialetti and a penchant for homemade red wine. I wanted to take Italy back home with me. These pieces I could shove in my suitcase, but the memories and the transformation in my heart stayed alive as well. I insisted on experiencing life as vividly as people do in Italy, that I would live filter free and straight-up, not just rolling with the tide of ups and downs but celebrating all of it.
It was easier when I was single and in college. Harder now with a family of five, being a part of the super-sized, super-scheduled American society in which we live. We try to balance. I try to summon the donna every day. In my kitchen, she is always with me, insisting on flavors of fresh basil and earthy Extra virgin olive oil in my dishes. I squeeze time from no time for dinners with my aunts, uncles and cousins here, ensuring that the value I place on family ties is evident in the way I live my life.

One of my favorite lines in my book, Beautiful Secret is – “For Italians, blood is more important than breathing.” Family first is a way of life for us. And, close friends become family, so they are woven into our fold of loudness, boldness, honesty, and loyalty.

I’ve taken my kids to Calabria so that they can understand our family values more deeply, so that they perhaps will feel the pull at a young age and never have to ask why we do things differently or wonder exactly where they fit or who they are. As young children, they experienced the energy too. They express it every time their eyes shine with longing to go back to Calabria. Every time, they describe their first gelato, I can taste the heady awe of their first time in Italy.

So, to answer the question – when do I feel most alive?

I’m most alive when I am sitting on my favorite Italian beach, Saline, where the pebbles dig gently into my skin, leaving a trail of pink marks and the rocks rise up from the sea just daring me to use them as a springboard into freedom.  I saunter easily into the clear blue water, my cousins at my sides, playful as first friends. I never feel the chill of the water or the sun’s late summer singe or the scary sting of what may happen tomorrow. I’m alive in the moment.

I’m most alive in all of the moments I spend at that beach and on that mountain and in the company of strangers who became family after just two kisses.

And even though this intensity can’t translate to every moment of my life, it’s okay. The memory residue of these exponentially concentrated moments splices into my day-to-day. In fragments, in shadows, in full-blown gut-punches of nostalgia.

They shake me to life again. The donna whispers an Italian love song and laughs as the words take shape on my lips.

And I remember, for the moment, who I am. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Birth Of Inspiration - What Moved Me to Write Beautiful Secret.

~For those of you who have read Beautiful Secret and for those of you who are obsessed with the characters and settings...  here is a snapshot of why my first trip to Europe was the birth of my inspiration to write this book. This was originally published on the Pandamoon Publishing website.

This morning I was going through pictures to use for marketing of my upcoming book, Beautiful Secret. Parts of the story are set in Revin, France, which lies in the Meuse River Valley in the Ardennes, just west of the Belgian border.  Quaint Revin is nestled between slate gray mountains and blanketed by thick forest, which gives it a storybook feel. My uncle and aunt – Zia and Zio, as I refer to them, built their home and family there. This month marks twenty-two years since the first time I visited my family in Revin and went on to Italy with them. It seems like an eternity ago. It seems like yesterday.

It was the summer before my senior year of college. Boarding the plane at Pittsburgh International Airport, I felt a sense of dread at leaving my then-boyfriend and college life to go away for three weeks with my parents. My mind was full of all the things I’d miss. I had no idea. No. Idea.
My first few hours in France were a blur of exhaustion. I was so jet-lagged, I slept the morning away along the scenic riverboat cruise of the Seine.

The Seine!

I slept past Notre Dame, for goodness sake!

When I think back to those first moments, I’m not surprised, actually. Although I adore Paris, sight-seeing was never my thing. I didn’t fall for Europe until its people claimed my heart and shocked it to life. My cousin, Nicole, who still teases me about how Paris put me to sleep, was the first person who captured me. Her laughter is like bubbles of champagne, which she refers to as French Coca Cola. She has a breezy way about her that all at once makes you feel confused but totally relaxed about it. She picked up my parents and me in Paris and drove us the three hours to the family home in Revin, all the way preparing us for the people we would meet and the places we would see.

I had five years of French under my belt, so I was confident I would be able to chat up the locals. That was until they started actually conversing. The French speak quickly, and, at first I had a hard time following. My cousins were patient with me, though, and they were happy that I spoke some French, even if I wasn’t as fluent as I thought I was. Nicole, spoke good English, so she helped. My Zia and Zio and all of my cousins spoke Italian, so my father could understand and speak pretty well. He was raised by his broken-English speaking mom and a father who never totally assimilated to American life. Even though he was rusty, he caught most of the Italian.

Eventually, my Zia’s basement kitchen – where we shared every amazing meal -  was flooded with smoke from the ever-lit cigarettes and brick oven and also with shouting and laughter in all three languages. We ate, we drank, and we did whatever we needed to do to understand each other. The funny thing was, that before I even understood the words that they were speaking, I had already fallen in love with my family. There was something deeply instinctual about this love, totally unprompted and unexpected. These were my people. Their blood was my blood. Their history – all of the joys and sorrows that had graced their fates - was part of me. It was like I could feel all of it the first time my Zio slid his sneaky grin my way.

My memories of my first time in Revin are touchy and feely and totally vivid. Winding streets, lined with sturdy stone homes. Flowers everywhere. Cracked sidewalks and crooked storefront signs. The streets smell of baking bread and river moss, with the occasional waft of strong perfume from an impeccably dressed woman – complete with fashionable scarf at the neck (no matter what the temperature is outside.) Every morning, I would wake up and go for a run through the town. Sometimes, I would cross the old stone bridge that straddles the Meuse river. Other mornings I would traipse deep into the neighborhoods where flower baskets greeted me from shuttered windows and old men in fedoras tended their gardens and took little notice of the crazy American runner. No one else in the town seemed to be concerned about the amount of bread they were eating. Maybe I was the only one who seemed to down an entire baguette with every meal.

The bread was crazy good.

And, speaking of gardens, I was completely taken with my Zio’s backyard garden. The door from the basement kitchen led outside and into Eden, as far as I was concerned. My Zio didn’t hide the pride he felt about his work. This little man, with his wrinkled bronze face, his up-to-something smile, and tiny sandaled feet, spent hours outside with his plants. Flowers, yes, but vegetables and fruit too. The pungent bite of almost-ripe tomatoes, lettuces, fava beans, hot peppers, cassis berries. The garden was its own little microcosm, complete with chicken-house, a.k.a. grappa factory, where Zio prepared his famous liquor.

After one week in Revin, our French family accompanied us on my first trip to Italy, to the town where my father was born.  The voyage was life-changing, because of the people who shared it with me. Yes, it was amazing to walk through my grandmother’s memories and to see my ancestors’ homes. Yes, France and Italy were unlike any place I’d ever been, both in their lush natural beauty and in their rawness. But, without a doubt, the trip was special because of the people.

 If it weren’t for my sweet Zia and her amazing gift of gab, I would never know the stories she shared with me over hours of espresso and talk at her basement kitchen table – stories about my grandmother as a young woman and mother.  My cousins, Benoit and Nino, became like brothers to me on this trip, one at each side at every church, beach, or family dinner. They took great joy in playing tricks on me – scaring the heck out of me by driving like maniacs on curving mountain roads that can’t possibly be meant for even one car to drive upon, let alone two. They gave me my first shot of grappa and laughed their heads off when I shot it as if it were a vodka lemon-drop, rather than sipping it slowly as I was supposed to. My throat was on fire for hours after that. They held me when I cried after the first time I met my cherished late Nana’s brother, whose sea-blue eyes were unmistakably hers.

It was impossible to say goodbye.

I didn’t sleep a wink on the plane ride home. I cried the entire eight hours from Rome to Pittsburgh and then slept for days afterwards. I was afraid I would never see my family again. Little did I realize - love like that is undeterred by distance. The following summer, my two soul brothers came to Pittsburgh, where my American family introduced them to burgers, supersize, and, I’m embarrassed to admit, Hooters.  We continue to visit back and forth, and now, with Facebook, it is so easy to stay in touch.  It’s important to me to keep these family bonds alive, to pass this virtue on to my children so that they instill it into their own children someday. Beautiful Secret is fiction, but many of Tate’s stories are my stories. Some people scrapbook to remember. I write novels.

That fall, after my first life-altering trip to Europe,  I returned to Kent State University with a bottle of my cousin Nicole’s crème de cassis. She and my uncle had made it from their very own berries and had wrapped it carefully so that it wouldn’t break inside my luggage. The syrupy wine was sweet and tart with just the slightest bite of alcohol. At night, in the heartland of Ohio, I’d sip it and remember my walks through the garden with Zio in Revin. Even now, twenty years later, I can smell the peppery sweet berries that would burst into the air with a snap every time I opened the bottle.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

An Interview with Inspiring YA author - Nadette Rae Rogers

One thing I really love about being a writer is that it allows me alone time during which to express myself through the written word. I'm the kind of person who needs that.

Being an author also allows me to connect with readers through my books. Since I am a strong believer that life is all about connecting with people and developing relationships, I feel really lucky that writing allows me to do this. A few years ago, I met a young lady who read Whisper and was inspired by it. As we got to know each other, she confided in me that she was working on a book of her own. 

I know it's kind of nerdy, but I get really excited to talk with teens who write! Nadette entrusted her then-partial manuscript to me. I read it, and I encouraged her to continue writing. During her senior year of high school, one of her teachers made it a graded project that her students publish their writing. What a phenomenal idea! Now, a year later, Nadette's young adult novel - Illusion - sits on my nightstand, and I am anxious for a sequel!

Not only did Nadette complete her graded project - write and publish a book, but she took it a step further. Nadette has jumped in to the twitter and Facebook writing communities. She is networking with other Pittsburgh authors and working hard to get her book out there. She is learning how to brand and market herself as a YA author on sites like goodreads, and she consistently writes for her blog. 

So, young writers - you can do this! Be inspired and motivated by this eighteen-year-old author whose book is just amazing!

Nadette was kind enough to answer some questions for me. See below. Check her out on her website, and read Illusion! It is a paranormal romance that will keep you turning pages and begging for more at the end!

1. Tell me a little about yourself and when you started to write. I'm eighteen years old and a recent high school graduate. I love reading, writing, and dancing. I've been writing pretty much since I learned to read. I remember writing little stories in kindergarten and bringing them in to show my teachers. In the second grade I wrote my first "book" and ever since then have writing more and more. My debut novel I actually wrote my freshman year of high school. Then, this past year I had a creative writing class at school and the teacher inspired me to get the book back out and work on it again. 

2. Tell me about your book. What inspired you to write the story? My book is called Illusion, and it is about a girl named Addison who has very strange dreams. Soon, the dreams start blending with her waking life and she can't tell what is real and what is just a dream- an illusion in her mind. I wanted to write this book because I find dreams fascinating! Ever since I was a little kid, I would tell my mom dreams that were really weighing on me and she would be able to tell me what they meant and it instantly made me feel better about whatever situation I was dreaming about. Now, my friends call me when they have a weird dream and I'll analyze it for them. I just think dreams are our mind's way of telling us how we really feel about a situation and I think they are important to look into. I wanted to write a book centered on dreams so people could relate to it, but I wanted a story that had a fantastical dream world that people could lose themselves in at the same time. 

3. Are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you outline? I actually wrote Illusion with no plot at all. All I knew was the ending I wanted to get to. I prefer to write what comes to me or what feels right for the character and scene at the time. Once I wrote the first draft though, I went through and outlined the whole book down to all the little details. For my next book, I'm trying to plot it out first to see how that goes. 

4. What are your currently working on? Currently I am working on promoting Illusion and writing the second book in the Illusion Trilogy! I'm really excited to dig deeper into each of the characters in the second book. 

5. You write a lot about dreams on your blog. Tell me about your most vivid dream? Actually, this is a funny, but sad story: at my senior dance recital, I was in a lot of dances and didn't have much time to change in between. Because of that, a friend and I missed the call to go backstage for our dance and ended up missing the whole first half of the song. We made it on for the end of the dance, a part I was featured in, and everyone was staring at us like "Where have you been?" I've never done that before, so it was very embarrassing. Since then, I've been having very vivid dreams where I missed my other dances too or forgot to show up to the recital entirely! 

6. What are your top 5 favorite books or authors who have influenced your writing?
I've read so many books that's a tough question! 
1. Stephen King- I like scary movies, so I started reading some of his work. I'm amazed at how many books he has written in his career and they are all unique and really good. I've read his memoir about writing, and it inspired me to finish my book and put it out there. I have pages in the memoir highlighted and bookmarked so I can read it any time I'm struggling with something writing-wise.  
2.  The Scarlet Letter- It's a classic book that I had to read for school and ended up loving. The book has so much symbolism and irony and depth, and I am always inspired by the story and writing. The book actually had some influence in my book for the antagonist. 
3. Ally Carter- I have been reading her books for years and really admire the way she creates such interesting characters that are still relatable. She has three very different types of series and I love them all! I loved it too when she wrote a novella combining two of her series; the story was so good! 
4. I'm a fan of Veronica Roth because she was young when she wrote, Divergent. It is inspiring too to see how far the book has gone and how it has turned into a movie franchise, and she wasn't much older than I am now. 
5. J.K. Rowling- I am amazed at the world she created- it even has it's own representation in a theme park. I think it's incredible that a story that was rejected multiple times has grown into such an incredible franchise. Everyone knows Rowling's name and everyone knows about Harry Potter, and I think that is so cool. She has helped so many people too, and I find that inspiring as well. 

Noelle's social links are below. Unfortunately, they are hard to see, but they are there! Blogger is being a jerk today, so just click on the white space next to the description, and it will take you to said website! 

where to purchase paperback or kindle:

Nadette Rae Rodgers lives in Pennsylvania. Her passion for writing developed at a very young age. Her interest in dream analysis was the basis for this book. She hopes this book will inspire others to achieve their goals in life.

Illusion is her first published work. It is the first book of the Illusion Trilogy.