by Libby Hellmann
It’s summer and today is my birthday and I can’t think of a better present to myself than to travel to far away places, at least virtually. So please welcome Guest Blogger and Friend-of-the-Outfit Laura Caldwell. A Chicago trial attorney, law professor, and a wonderful romantic suspense author, Laura is amazingly talented, but her greatest talent might well have been snagging a month long trip to Rome. Be sure to check out her most recent book -- THE GOOD LIAR-- a real page-turner-- and her website.
And now, from a sidewalk café in Rome, heeerrre’s Laura. Saluti!
Ciao from Roma!
How lucky am I? I’ve spent the last few weeks teaching at the Rome campus of my alma mater, Loyola University, and now I get to step in and blog for the wonderful Libby Hellman. Happy Birthday, lady! And thanks to Sara, Barb, Michael, Marcus, Sean and Kevin for letting me hang with you guys.
I had great designs on writing lots while in Rome. But another professor who arrived before me had emailed, telling me that things still take a long time in Italy and cautioning me not to count on too many hours at the writing desk.
So I decided to try and get my words done while still enjoying la dolce vita. One day I wrote at the Piazza Barberini, a glass of Greco de Tufo wine in front of me on a yellow linened table.
The Italians don’t sit at cafes or coffee shops working on laptops the way we do, so I went back to my roots—good, old fashioned paper. I wrote my first book, Burning the Map, a book set partially in Rome, on a raft of yellow pads, then dictated it and had it typed. Now, I’m a straight-into-the-computer kind of girl and usually only scribble notes when my laptop isn’t around. Marcus Sakey, who I was lucky enough to tour with a few months ago, said that he sometimes breaks out the Mont Blanc when he’s a little stuck, and I agree—actual pen to paper can be motivating, inspiring something off the beaten path.
The ristorante I wrote at that day faced Via Veneto, a wide, stately avenue with regal apartamentos decorated with stone balconies and potted plants. At the Piazza Barberini, a hotel sat to one side. Its unimaginative brick front looked more like an American hotel, but around it were stuccoed buildings painted ochre and mustard, their windows and shutters thrown open. Taxis and scooters and the tiniest of cars zipped around the circular piazza and the fountain in the middle that looked like a large naked man on his knees. Perfecto!
For the first hour, I kept neglecting my notebook, gazing instead at the foot traffic. Rome is the perfect city for people-watching. The Roman women are gorgeous, and the men are strutting peacocks, masculine and yet dressed to perfection. And it’s always comforting to see another tourist pointing, wearing befuddled books, turning a map one way, then another and another.
I thought about the last two times I was in Rome—signing Italian versions of my books, Burning the Map and A Clean Slate. Reminding myself that there would be no more book signings, not with Sakey, not in Rome or anyplace else, if I didn’t get down to work, I dropped my attention to my notebook and started to write.
But then I ran out of wine. Somehow, in my pathetic, meager Italian, I managed to have a twenty minute conversation with the waiter about Italian whites. When he delivered my much debated glass, I finally got back to work.
My first mystery series—what we’re calling the Red Hot series—will be released in the summer of 2009. It features a sassy, red-headed lawyer named Izzy McNeil who keeps finding herself in loads of trouble. The first book, Red Hot Lies, is done. Ditto for the second, Red Blooded. But the third (anyone have a sizzling, suspenseful ‘red’ title?) needs to be done by the end of this year. Why not, I thought, send Izzy to Rome, at least for a little while?
I was a few paragraphs into a scene when I heard my name called. I looked up to see a Loyola alum and his wife, a couple who have recently moved from Chicago to Paris and have been spending time at Loyola of Rome. The Italian way requires inviting people you bump into for a glass of wine. Far be it from to ignore cultural tradition. They sat down, we talked, we watched the pedestrians, the waiter brought more wine.
I had recently read Sara Paretsky’s post about the fairly alarming trend of corruption (okay, I’m a lawyer, I’ll say alleged corruption) amongst Illinois governors), and I mentioned this to my friends. We began comparing and contrasting Italian politics with those in Chicago and Illinois.
Two and a half hours after I arrived, those few paragraphs were the only thing to show for my “writing time”. I said Ciao, Ciao, to my friends. I strolled over to Palazzo Barberini and gazed at the frescoed ceiling for the rest of the afternoon. I hadn’t scored a lot of pages, but at least I got the la dolce vita part right.