Head to Goodreads for a chance to win one of 10 advance reader's copies of FEAST OF SORROW, the delicious historical fiction debut by Crystal King! Hurry! It ends on February 28th.
Another year nearly gone by. A time for reflection and a time for resolutions. The end of this year feels fraught with anxiety for me, for a variety of reasons. I know I'm not alone in this regard. There seems to be a collective UGH that the people around me are saying. 2016 can't go away fast enough, for me, and for many others out there.
The year began with the loss of David Bowie. I had been telling my friends how I thought Black Star was one of the best albums he had ever released, not knowing all along the travesty that awaited for us on January 10th. Now I have a hard time listening to it because when he recorded it, it was clear he knew he was going to die. It was his last message and last gift to millions. For the first time, I felt truly wrecked about a celebrity death. Even now as I write this I find myself with tears in my eyes.
So many other horrible and baffling things have happened this year: terrorist attacks across Europe, the war in Syria and the devastating ruins of Aleppo with the subsequent refugee crisis that so many nations now face, the Zika virus, police shootings, Brexit, the Pulse nightclub deaths, Russian hackers, fake news, the deaths of many inspiring and influential people, and the election of most thin-skinned, orangest narcissist that ever lived. It's no wonder there is a collective cry to bury 2016 deep deep in the past.
There were some other personal things in my life toward the end of this year that have added to his big pile of excrement, some of which I won't talk about, but other things like some of my dearest friends moving away didn't help either.
That said, there were many good things that did happen. As I move into 2017, which is going to ROCK, l want to look back at the good things.
- I edited FEAST OF SORROW, met the Touchstone team, got my ARCs back and in general realized that this is really happening! I am publishing a book!
- Became part of the Debutante Ball team which has turned out to be one of the brightest blessings in my entire year. What an incredible group of women!
- I also joined the '17 Scribes, another group for debut adult novelists. I can't begin to tell you how many wonderful writers I've met and how many great books I have read!
- I spoke at Grub Street's Muse & the Marketplace in front of 500 people about my upcoming novel, FEAST OF SORROW. It was an incredible opportunity after over a decade of attending the conference as a writer, then an instructor and finally, a novelist.
- I went with my writing group, the Salt + Radish Writers, on our annual retreat to Maine and yet again, we had an amazing time, wrote a lot of things and bonded even more. I love and appreciate these women more than they will ever know.
- I went to Rome again for a week of research on my second novel. Escaping to Italy is never a bad thing.
- I wrote big chunks of book 2 and I hope to finish that off early in 2017. And Benjamino at Casa Dei Coronari gave me a huge idea for something big that happens in the book.
- I've been living vicariously through some of my best friends, Melissa and Phil, who are on their Wiggly Path traveling the world for a year..maybe more.
- I far surpassed my goal of reading 75 books this year, locking down 88 (and may be 89 before tomorrow). I'm not going to do a big post on the last chunk of them but instead you can head to Goodreads and see them all.
- I finally got to see Vanessa Peters play live, when she was here in Boston a few weeks ago. YAY! Her new album, The Burden of Unshakeable Proof is wonderful.
- One of my childhood and still best friends, Leanna, continued to commiserate with me and share her love of unicorns and monkey babies. For that, I'll be forever grateful. :-)
- My husband and I celebrated 16 years together. YAY!
- I had the chance to meet one of my biggest Rome inspirations, Katie Parla, and sample delicious dishes from her new cookbook, Tasting Rome, when she was in Boston doing a dinner at Stir.
- Through the magic of Twitter, I met classicist Emily Hauser, whose gorgeous book, For the Most Beautiful, about the women of ancient Troy, comes out in January. She gave me some great help on my own book, correcting the Latin and pointing out some weird historical things she noticed. Whew!
I'm sure there are more things I could add to this list. There are more people that inspired me, affected me, helped build me up. We often don't remind ourselves of the good things, and that's important.
Goodbye 2016. Here's to an incredible 2017 ahead!
I'm part of a wonderful group of other authors debuting in 2017, The '17 Scribes. Nine of us are doing a joint giveaway this holiday season! If you want a chance to score nine not-yet-released novels (including my historical fiction novel, FEAST OF SORROW, check out below for your chance to win!
Touchstone Books, an imprint of Simon and Schuster, is publishing my debut novel, FEAST OF SORROW, on April 25, 2017. FEAST OF SORROW is an imagined retelling of the story of Marcus Gavius Apicius, a wealthy Roman who was a real person that lived in the first century during the time of Caesar August and Tiberius. He was a celebrated gourmand whose name graces the oldest known cookbook. Many of the recipes and techniques in that 2,000+-year-old book still live on today. FEAST OF SORROW is full of food and feasts, love and loss and the glamour and grit of ancient Rome.
But if you are lucky, you won't have to wait until April 25th! Here's your chance to win!
I'm a voracious consumer of information, especially about il mio posto preferito sulla terra (my favorite place on earth), Italia. Why not share all those fun tidbits with my readers? I'm going to start doing these roundups more often. We can dream about la bella vita together.
- Isabella Dalla Ragione is on a mission to preserve antique and forgotten fruits from going extinct. I had so many people mention this article to me after I posted it. I think that we are very curious about what foods of the past may have looked and tasted like and to know that there are still some of these varieties in existence is rather fascinating.
- Trajan's Market in Rome has an exhibit that I'm looking forward to checking out on our upcoming trip. It's called Made in Rome. "Romans of some 2,000 years ago took to branding with zeal, putting names, trademarks and other identifying details with meticulous care on items including tableware, plumbing pipes and lead ammunition for slingshots." I'll write more about the show after I go this fall.
- I love this article by Natalie, An American in Rome, about my favorite street, La Via Dei Coronari. We stay on that street, at Casa Dei Coronari, whenever we go to Rome. Here are some of my favorite photos of that street. I didn't know about Essenzialmente Laura, so when we're there in a few weeks I will definitely check that shop out!
- And finally, the area around Amatrice has been rocked by multiple aftershocks from the terrible earthquake that devastated the region several weeks ago. They still need your help and here's how you can make a difference.
Or at least that's what she says about herself. "I don't think I'm a food writer any more than I am a love writer or a fish writer or a fowl writer. I just write about life." And yet her view on life was very much driven by taste and pleasure and food:
It was then that I discovered little dried sections of tangerine. My pleasure in them is subtle and voluptuous and quite inexplicable. I can only write how they are prepared.
In the morning, in the soft sultry chamber, sit in the window peeling tangerines, three or four. Peel them gently; do not bruise them, as you watch soldiers pour past and past the corner and over the canal towards the watched Rhine. Separate each plump little pregnant crescent. If you find the Kiss, the secret section, save it for Al...
...After you have put the pieces of tangerine on the paper on the hot radiator, it is best to forget about them. Al comes home, you go to a long noon dinner in the brown dining-room, afterwards maybe you have a little nip of quetsch from the bottle on the armoire. Finally he goes. You are sorry, but -
On the radiator the sections of tangerines have grown even plumper, hot and full. You carry them to the window, pull it open, and leave them for a few minutes on the packed snow of the sill. They are ready...
...The sections of the tangerine are gone, and I cannot tell you why they are so magical. Perhaps it is that little shell, thin as one layer of enamel on a Chinese bowl, that crackles so tinily, so ultimately under your teeth. Or the rush of cold pulp just after it. Or the perfume. I cannot tell.
There must be someone, though, who understands what I mean. Probably everyone does, because of his own secret eatings.
M.F.K. Fisher is one of my writing heroes. I think she's the number one influence on my decision to write my novels about chefs. Food is such a universal topic, it is sustenance, it is conviviality, it is even power.
I came across this video interview of the famous writer, which contains a zillion little soundbites from M.F.K. Fisher, not just on food but also about writing and publishing. I love when she talks about how she goes to London to meet her new publishers and they were shocked to find out she was a woman. Her publisher hated her because of it. She tells a wonderful story about how she refuses to let him sit next to her on a train. Her advice on writing in this interview is truly wonderful.
I think I need to re-read The Art of Eating again soon. When I'm writing my novels I don't want to read too much fiction that is set in those timeframes because I don't want to be unduly influenced, but M.F.K.'s writing is the perfect accompaniment to my stories. Her descriptions of flavor, taste, and the nuances of food are unparalleled.
These are in no particular order but I swear, I did read them all in the last three months. :-)
44. Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson: Tiffany is one of my fellow Debutante Ball partners (look for another post from me on this next week). As a result, I was lucky enough to read an advance copy of this haunting novel. Her book will be available in January, but you can pre-order at the link above. Mary is a teenager in a violent and scary group home where she is finishing out her punishment for allegedly killing a baby when she was nine years old. It's shocking to imagine a young child in jail at all and Tiffany takes you right into the heart of that madness. I read the book in two nights--one of them leaving me with only five hours of sleep--but it was worth it! This was definitely my most unexpected read of the year. I can't wait till it is out in January so the rest of you can dig in!
43. The City Baker's Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller: Oh how I adored this book! Louise is a baker herself and she knows how to serve up deliciousness in her prose as well as in real life. This is a wonderful, romantic, funny story that makes me desperate for autumn, warm cups of coffee and cookies, fall leaves and bucolic Vermont views. Yum, yum, yum. A must read.
42. Il Cuoco Segreto Dei Papi by June di Schino: I began translating this book from Italian last year but finished it up this year. This is one of the books that has been crucial to my research on my second novel, THE SECRET CHEF.
41. Food and Knowledge in Renaissance Italy: The Paper Kitchens of Bartolomeo Scappi by Deborah L. Krohn: I love social media. In a Facebook group that I'm in for food writers, a woman connected me with food historian Ken Albala, who then recommended this fantastic book to me. It's an in depth look at Scappi's cookbook and it's already given me several new possibilities for where I could run with my next novel.
40. Venice and Food by Sally Specter: This book is one of the most wonderful cookbooks I own. If you love Venice, you must seek this book out. It's beautifully illustrated and the history of the food and culture of Venice described within has made this book an invaluable resource for the parts of THE SECRET CHEF that are set in Venice. Laura Morelli (whose books I also highly recommend) told me about this book.
40. What to Do Before Your Book Launch by M.J. Rose and Randy Susan Meyers: Not a pleasure book, but valuable for me all the same. With FEAST OF SORROW coming out next April, this was good timing to read. In particular it gave me a lot of eye-opening advice on the world of traditional publishing so hopefully I won't be blindsided by things that may happen.
39. The Chef's Apprentice by Elle Newmark: A lovely novel set in Renaissance Florence about a young thief who is caught in the act and given a second chance working for a very special cook who has a very unique role in life--to preserve knowledge within a secret society. It's a novel full of food, love and intrigue. I was sad to hear that Newmark had passed away from cancer as it means I won't have the chance to see what she'll write next.
38. Buon Appetito, Your Holiness by Mariangela Rinaldi and Mariangela Vicini: I liked this little book, full of recipes paired with the Popes that might have eaten them. It was full of great description and the recipes are historical enough but I was disappointed in that much of the pairings were pure conjecture on the part of the authors. For example, a little bit more research would have shown they could have paired several more dishes by Scappi with several different popes, so that was a bit frustrating to see.
37. The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore: Moore is a master of humor and this was clearly evident in this fabulous tale, a curious and fun reworking of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, Othello and Poe's The Cask of Amontillado with a randy serpent thrown in for good measure. I had a few actual LOL's during this book. If you love British humor and historical fiction, this is a perfect pairing for you.
36. The Venetian's Wife by Nick Bantock: I didn't find this to be the best of Bantock's books. It didn't have the same sort of charm that Griffin and Sabine had. I picked it up for the title, which is rather misleading considering the story is about a ghost who directs a woman on a quest to find long lost statues including one of Shiva. The ending felt like a cop-out, like he just got bored with the story and wrapped it up, argh.
35. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Marukami: This is often hailed as one of Marukami's best novels and while it was enjoyable, I would not categorize it above 1Q84, Wind Up Bird Chronicle or Kafka on the Shore. It's a coming of age love story between Toru and Naoko, two very odd people in an odd, mostly doomed relationship. I liked it, but not my favorite of his.
32. The Giant's House: A Romance by Elizabeth McCracken: What a strange book! I follow Elizabeth on twitter and love her quick wit so thought I'd check out one of her novels. This is the oddest love story I've read in quite some time (odder than Norwegian Wood, even). In 1950, a librarian falls in love with a young boy but not just any young boy, but one destined to become a giant. Their friendship turns to a strange romance as he grows and he ages. It is set in Cape Cod and I confess that I did a lot of Googling to see if it was real--she paints such a fantastic picture. I'll remember this book for a long time.
32. The Fifth Gospel by Ian Caldwell: My editor at Touchstone sent me Ian's book when she learned that I was working on a book set in the Vatican (albeit several years earlier). I dove right in and was not disappointed. This is a psychological thriller with incredible historical research fueling every aspect of the story. I highly recommend you pick this one up! Later I reached out to Ian for some advice on Vatican research and he pointed me in the direction of some excellent resources including Paul Letarouilley's Vatican, which I think is now one of the most beautiful books that I own--AND it's already proved super helpful for my work on THE SECRET CHEF. I am indebted!
31. Uprooted by Naomi Novik: This book won the Nebula award and is a finalist for the Hugo, so of course it must be amazing, and it was. It's an unusual stand-alone fantasy tale with a Dragon that's not a dragon and a forest that is not what it seems. I stayed up super late devouring this novel. One of my favorite reads this year.
30. Dark Matter by Blake Crouch: I heard they are already going to make a movie of this and I was pleased to hear it. This book is a serious mind-fuck, a Schrödinger's cat experiment come to life with terrifying consequences. There were some weak spots in it where I wondered why the characters didn't question some of the actions/inactions of others, but the pacing was good enough that it didn't matter. I had to know what was going to happen. It will be crazy to see how Sony takes this book to life on the big screen.
29. Interference by Amélie Antoine: This was one of my freebies from having Kindle Unlimited. It was another book that rocketed the reader through it at a quick pace. It has a bit of a Gone Girl sort of beginning where you are wondering what happened to the missing wife. The narrator is suitably unreliable for the first half of the book and then there is a monster twist that left me saying, WTF? I am not sure I buy the twist...it seemed somewhat contrived (and possibly illegal), and yet, there is a part of me that wonders why no one had thought of it yet.
Feeling hungry? Wishing you were in Italy? Now you can marry the best of both of these yearning feelings by entering into my Italian Cookbook giveaway. I'm extra excited to be able to include a signed copy of Katie Parla's fantastic cookbook, Tasting Rome. I've made several of Katie's recipes and can attest personally to their deliciousness. Plus, I'm throwing in Stanely Tucci's cookbook (he helped write and direct the delicious movie Big Night and he also played Julia Child's husband in Julia and Julia), as well as Marcella Hazan's manual to selecting the best ingredients. And what would a cookbook giveaway be without a companion apron? Wrap yourself up in an adorable Ciao Bella apron while you cook from these wonderful cookbooks.
There are many ways to enter! Click the arrows below to see the prizes and follow the instructions for your chance to win all four items:
Note: This blog was originally shared on March 21, 2013, but updated today, August 11, 2016
In a blog post three years ago, I shared some of the things that I love about learning Italian. I've come a long way since then and even though I still have a long way to go, I feel confident about the language in a way that I hadn't in the past. When we were in Italy last fall I was able to carry on a conversation without switching to English. Apparently I was so good that another American that was staying at our hotel overheard me on the phone making a reservation at a restaurant in Florence and she came over to commend me on my language skills! I used to be so nervous on the phone and I still am a bit, but I can power through and that's so exciting for me, to be at that point on my journey.
Learning a language isn't easy. If you are serous about learning another language, perhaps you too might benefit from some of these tools that have helped me to study, memorize and move further along the path toward fluency (and yes, it's a long path). Note that all these services offer the ability to learn languages other than Italian.
1. Take a class or find a tutor.
While there are a million tools out there to help you learn, there is no substitution for talking to someone regularly. I've been meeting with a tutor or a tutored group every week for the last seven years and it's one of the main things that has helped to keep me engaged and always learning. There are also a bunch of Italian tutors who will teach over Skype or through the Net on italki, so that could be a possibility for you.
Byki is an amazing flashcard system that allows you to practice both the verbal and written aspects of the language. Byki is free for the flashcard portion only, and there is a deluxe version for $69.95 that comes with enhanced features, vocabulary lists and games to help you learn. I have Byki Deluxe but what I primarily use is the portion that is actually free, the flashcards. What I love is that you can create your own lists or you can use their community to download lists that others have created. Hands down this is the tool that has helped me the most when learning Italian on my own. It employs a great refresher system too that I love.
One of the best online language dictionaries on the Net, WordReference also has forums that enable language learners to ask questions and find answers. The forums are fantastic and are excellent for helping you understand idioms or things like how to write a formal letter, or how to translate a certain phrase. What I love about the dictionary is that it gives examples, and helps you determine which version of the word you want. For example, here is a section for the word "vado" which means in its most simple form, "I go." You can choose the WordReference dictionary or the Collins. I've chosen Collins in this example:
Forvo is a site for pronunciation, which may seem a bit odd, but when you are trying to learn a language and are practicing on your own, it's common to run across words that you aren't sure how they sound. That's where Forvo comes in. Search the database for a word and voila, you can click a button to listen, and if you want to know more about the dialect or region the speaker is from you can click through to see. For example:
You can also vote Forvo pronunciations as good or bad. If you can't find a pronunciation, you can add it into the Forvo database and usually within 24 hours someone will have pronounced it for you. You can also choose to help pronounce words in your own language and add to the database. I've found this tool incredibly useful, especially as I was just getting started and trying to understand the nuances of how the language is pronounced.
5. Online tools to learn Italian: Duolingo, Memrise and Live Mocha
Memrise is a free, fun site that lets you to plant the "seeds" of learning and then "water" them to refresh and grow your understanding. The site toys with using memory triggers to help you remember a word (see image below). You can use other mems that users create or you can easily create your own. On Memrise you can also connect with Facebook and see which of your friends are learning too. There are courses that you can choose from--the one I'm working on is 501 verbs. It employs a similar approach to Byki when it comes to refreshing your understanding of what you are learning. I'm also starting their "Hacking Italian" course, which uses some interesting techniques from lifehacker master Tim Ferris. I love Memrises's simple approach and easy way of learning.
Duolingo has risen in popularity over the last couple of years because of its fun, slick interface and easy way of learning. It tests and retests you on particular items and you can earn "lingots" for completing learning streaks, translating text and helping others. I also really love their mobile app. And yes, I know that my translation below is incorrect (off by one letter)! It's definitely a beginner's site, however, and it wouldn't take more than a couple of months to reach what they call "fluency." You can purchase lingots if you aren't earning them fast enough. Lingots help you buy new courses and freeze your progress so you don't lose learning streaks.
I blogged all about Yabla last year, so head here to find out more. I love Yabla! I wish I could Yabla-ize all my television shows!
I love being able to learn Italian on my commute and News In Slow Italian is a wonderful audio way to learn the language. It's not inexpensive but it's such a great way to really hear the language at a pace that is understandable. The online site and mobile app serve as a companion to the audio and I love turning to it after I've listened to the week's news to figure out the words I didn't know.
8. Dual Language Resources
I try to read primarily in Italian and use the dictionary to figure out words I don't know (if you read Italian books on Kindle you can buy an Italian dictionary and load that to look up words as you read!). But every once in awhile it's nice to try and read material side by side to understand a translation. ITALY magazine has a great dual language section. Bilinguis has a couple classics such as Alice in Wonderland and the Hound of the Baskervilles.
I also greatly loved Jhumpa Lahiri's latest book which details her decision to move to Italy and write a book. She wrote the book in Italian and had a translator render it back into English, which you can read side by side.
Having all these tools at your fingertips is really only the tip of the iceberg though. Not a single one of these sites will help you unless you first make the time to practice. Fifteen minutes a day will go far toward helping you absorb as much of the language as you can. Watching Italian movies or television and reading Italian magazines and newspapers are great additions to the above tools. But again, it goes back to taking the time to practice. Make it a priority and be prepared to make it a priority for years to come, unless you have the extreme fortune of living for a time in the place of the language you are learning to speak--then it may come a bit faster!
In the fall of 2007, I took a novel-in-progress class at Grub Street with instructor and author, Lisa Borders. It was the first time I was showing anyone the novel I was working on, which turned out to be the early drafts of FEAST OF SORROW. It was there that I met Anjali Mitter Duva, who was workshopping the early drafts of her beautiful novel about 16th century devadasi dancers in India, FAINT PROMISE OF RAIN.
That class, and meeting those women, quite literally changed the course of my life. Anjali and I started meeting up to talk about writing and read each other's work, and then, after taking another novel in progress course with Lisa, I met Jennifer Dupee, who I invited to join us. Over the course of the next few years, we had a few other women come and go, each of them making their mark on our manuscripts along the way. Then Kelly Robertson joined us in 2011 and we've been together as a writing team ever since.
We have a schedule, meeting every two weeks at a local restaurant that we love. We hack apart each other's chapters, we talk about the craft of writing, the business of publishing and over the years, we've become dear friends. We named ourselves the Salt + Radish writers for a few reasons. One, we love the French snack and share it every summer on our writing retreat. Salt is a foundation, it is sustenance, and we give that to each other nearly daily. Radishes represent flavor and conviviality--we have had hundreds of meals together. Together they are a recipe for unexpected deliciousness. I'm sure that Anjali, Jen and Kelly have their own color they could add to that explanation, too.
Today Google photos served up this montage of wonderfulness. These were photos taken on our yearly retreat in Maine, where we write, on a strict schedule, for 3-4 glorious days. I thought this video was perfect. It represents a lot to me--happiness, in my writing, my partnership with these fantastic women and ongoing progress in my writing life.
Thank you, my dear Salt + Radish writers, for being awesome.