Write What You Know
Agents and publishers worth their salt will always tell aspiring authors to "write what they know." When I first heard this phrase I recall sitting in a classroom at a writers' conference reflecting on my very vanilla life. At the time, I was a young mother of two children with a third in the oven. I had very limited time to accomplish anything beyond seeing to the needs of my people. I remember thinking, "If I need to write what I know, then I will never be able to write anything epic." This is not a dig on motherhood. Moms are the true heroines of the human race. Straight up. I just didn't see my contribution to humanity as compelling reading material. "She reached for the diaper rash cream and the tiny contortionist on the ground rolled..." Yeah... I was in trouble.
To make it as a writer, I needed to write something epic. I knew this in my bones. And while it wasn't realistic for me to hop on a plane and chill with some Tibetan monks one week and dive into the thermal pools of Iceland the next, I could create experiences in my very vanilla life that enriched my writing and expanded my little "what I [don't] know" problem.
The "Birth" of The Bucket List Writer Project
Good characters act instead of allowing outside forces to determine their lives for them. Challenging the expected path has led to some pretty extraordinary moments that have informed my writing and enriched my life. The Bucket List Writer Project has been my attempt at living an epic life and documenting some of the incredible experiences I've had along the way.
These experiences extend to spending an afternoon with some pretty cool blacksmiths, learning to sail on the Great Salt Lake, sleeping in a remote treehouse in the middle of a Costa Rican jungle, and beyond.
To kick things off....
Italy: Inspiration for the The Lingering Sea Novels
While surfing the web one day, I stumbled across a picture of Manarola, Italy. I remember looking at the beautiful coastline and saying, "A story happens here." I instantly started researching vineyards of the region, trying to understand how people lived, their food, their history, superstitions, and culture. I had a loose story concept in mind, and the more I researched, the more excited I became. I spent a solid month on Google Earth. I sketched pictures of the San Lorenzo Cathedral, and drew a map of the bay protected by a natural barrier of rock. I wanted to immerse myself in all of it.
Despite my efforts, I would never really know how the waves sounded as they crashed into those rocks in my map. I couldn't feel the spray of the sea or the taste a ripe grape plucked directly from the vine. I could imagine those experiences, but I didn't know them.
Thanks to some amazing family support at home and capitalizing on the perks of being a Delta Airline pilot's daughter, a few friends and I decided to take a girls trip to research the places that inspired my trilogy.
Day 1- Milan
After a very long flight to Milan, we stepped off the plane like a trio of zombies. We didn't have big plans for Milan aside from the Duomo di Milan, but enjoyed bumming around the famous shopping districts and doing our best to keep our eyes open before catching an afternoon train to our first destination city: Vicenza.
Day 2- Vicenza
We arrived in Vicenza at dusk and crashed at a friend's home. The next morning our friend showed us around the quaint city. Dressed in our bright colors, we stuck out like a sore thumb! Highlights of the day included walking in the shadow of the Basilica Palladiana in the Piazza dei Signori where we enjoyed the best hot chocolate known to man. We also explored the Teatro Olympico and a fun farmers market with artisan chocolate painted to look like metal tools. My friend, Tahsha, climbed the 192 steps to the Santuario--a trek that is guaranteed to bring about fertility (she is the new mother of twins, btw). In the evening, we decided to attend vespers at the historic Monte Berico Catholic church.
Day 3- Venice
We took a train to Venice and a water taxi on the Grand Canal to Piazza San Marco. Venice is the Disneyland of Italy, and while crowded with plenty of tourists, I absolutely fell in love with the tiny canals and historic buildings. Near the piazza was the mask shop that made an appearance in To Kill a Curse. The Bridge of Sighs also makes an appearance in the book.
Day 4- Olives and Shakespeare
We spent the morning at Bonamini touring the process of making cold-pressed olive oil and shipped boxes of pesto and oil home after a luxurious olive oil tasting. After our time in the olive orchards of northwest Italy, we spent the afternoon in a the quaint city of Verona that inspired Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. How can you not rub Juliet's boob for luck in love? It was in Verona that we first experienced passeggiata--the Italian tradition of taking an evening stroll. This custom also plays an important role in To Kill a Curse.
Days 5-6- Florence
We said goodbye to the northeast and took a train toward the tuscan heart of the country. I fell in love with Florence in a way that took me by surprise. I loved hiking to the top of the duomo, exploring the Ponte Vecchio bridge, and walking the cobblestone streets. We needed a week in Florence to truly appreciate all of the museums, but did our best with two days. I'd studied the works of Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Boccaccio, Botticelli in college, but seeing them in person was next level. The David, in particular, changed me. I recommend doing Rick Steve's walking tour in each of these cities, but his tour of Florence was one of my favorites.
Days 7-8- Manarola and the Cinque Terre
Finally, the trek to the western coast and the Ligurian Sea, the namesake for my fictitious "Lingering Sea" novels. We rented a small Bn'B in Manarola surrounded by the very vineyards and hills I'd spent months researching. We hiked through vineyards and waterfalls connecting the small towns of the Cinque Terre, toured the old church I'd sketched (poorly) in my writing notebooks back home, and waded in the waters that brought Fina and Antonio together inTo Kill a Curse. I couldn't stop smiling the entire time we were there.
Days 9-10 Rome and the Vatican
You can't visit Italy without visiting Rome, and again, two days was not nearly enough to see everything. When I think about Rome, I think about running... to the churches, the Forum, the Colosseum, the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, St. Peters Basilica, the bath houses, and all through the Vatican. We did tour after tour and didn't stop until we literally sat down on the plane to come home. The historian in me is desperate to go back to Rome and take my time. Still, it was an awe-inspiring experience I will always remember.
My travel tips for Italy:
Plan ahead. Museum tickets, trains, tours, etc are all much cheaper if you book them in advance. My girlfriends and I divided up the cities and handled the itinerary and reservations for our assigned days.
Don't rent a car. Ride the rails instead.
Requirement: You must get gelato in every city you visit. This is non-negotiable.
I'm not a huge shopper, but I do recommend purchasing something leather in Florence, something glass in Venice, and all the olive oil you can afford to ship home.
Scarves!!!! The climate is humid and at nights the damp chill can set into your bones. We traveled during the last week of October and into the first week of November and found we relied heavily on scarves. If you plan to buy an Italian scarf on the trip, read the label and make sure it's not made in China, for heavens sake!
Watch out for pick-pockets! We kept our money and passports in a belt pouch that tucked into the front of our pants. Very handy.
Book an experience! Museums are nice, but I do recommend attending an opera, taking a cooking class, etc to give variety to your vacation.
Stay longer! I really think you need about four days to properly experience Rome (three days for Rome and one full day for the Vatican). I also recommend giving Florence three days and if you have the chance, I'd try to include a trip to Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast. I've also heard amazing things about Lake Como on the border of Switzerland, but I think that could be an entirely different trip.
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