Getting to blog about books and travel is like getting to snack on both gelato and milk chocolate salted caramel squares… For me, it doesn’t get any better! So, first of all, many thanks to Andrea for inviting me to visit Great Thoughts today. It’s truly a pleasure.
Being that I wrote a novel called A Summer in Europe and did, in fact, spend several summers abroad (back in those more carefree, pre-parenthood days), it’s no surprise to anyone who knows me that I love to travel. I always have. My family would be the first to tell you that my wanderlust predated even my love of writing. I got my first passport when I was two, and I haven’t been without once since, even when I couldn’t afford to travel any further than the borders of my home state—Wisconsin.
But, while writers must typically go through years of apprenticeship to get to a place where they know their craft and have gained
enough skill to juggle the elements of storytelling reasonably well, almost every novelist I know spent several decades simply observing. Seeing as a fiction writer…long before they acquired the narrative mastery of one.
So, it’s been quite interesting for me, personally, to field questions about the writing of this new book. Many readers assumed I was in Europe recently or had actually done research for the novel while overseas. Oh, I wish that were the case! But, no. I haven’t been to Europe in almost 15 years. As I was working on some of the book’s chapters, I would invariably come upon a detail I needed that I either didn’t know or couldn’t remember. Wikipedia is an excellent tool in such instances! There are scores of European details that can be looked up online—from the floor plan of the Louvre Museum to the specific times hovercrafts travel between Sorrento and the Isle of Capri to the lyrics of an Andrew Lloyd Webber song and where, exactly, you can hear it performed live in London. At some point or other, I hunted for all of these and many more.
But the part that couldn’t be Googled was my emotional reaction to the places I’d once visited in Europe, or the immense relief I felt at finally being able to do something creative with the images, sounds and sensations I’d perceived while I was there. For years, they’d been lingering in my mind. Haunting me, like the mocking ghosts of journeys’ past. I’d attempted a number of other forms of creative expression, hoping I might feel that I’d put these experiences abroad to some good use. I tried photographing major landmarks (the result was mediocre and frequently grainy), painting canvases of Venetian bridges and canals (I should not be allowed near oils), baking English scones (oh-so-dry…) and playing piano (my rendition of Mozart’s “Alla Turca” truly exemplifies the full meaning of “dreadful”).
Instead, and at long last, I poured my love of Europe into a story, crossing fingers and hoping it would express what I couldn’t seem to say otherwise: That the Eiffel Tower sparkles in the darkness like a giant nightlight bringing glowing comfort to the city. That music fills the air in Vienna and Salzburg and inspires in passersby a desire to dance on street corners. That warm scones with jam and butter might just be the food of the gods. And that Venice is so magical my breath catches every time I think of it. Every time. I have to pause, just remembering.
Wishing you all the joys of the season and many happy memories to warm the winter nights!
What are you reading and where are you going?