Wednesday, August 7, 2013


To see today's new post, which is about an embarrassing moment I had in Spain, please visit my new blog site at

There you can also sign up to follow me--I promise that it's much easier than it was on this blog site. For details, take a look at the "Contact Me" page.

Looking forward to hearing what you think of the new site!! Thank you!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Santiago--a tribute

          As I mentioned in my last post, my son was born on July 24th. It was late afternoon when I finally “gave to light” as they say in Spanish, which is really quite a beautiful, metaphorical way to put it, but because of how late it was, and how tired I was,  the first real meal I had in the hospital was on the morning of July 25th—and what a meal it was! It was a meal fit for a king: several types of sweet breads, thick Spanish hot chocolate, fruit, cheese, ham…it was more like a feast than anything I would have imagined eating in a hospital. When I saw the bounteous tray laid before me, I looked over at the friendly woman in the other bed in my room, who had given birth to preemies a few weeks earlier and was recovering from her C-section, and she said, “Now don’t get used to it. It’s not like this every day.”
          I must have shaken my head in question, even though I had already been living in Spain for five years and should have known what she was talking about. But I was (understandably) still groggy, still overwhelmed and awed by the tiny creature sleeping in a little drawer by my bedside, and she was kind and patient and knew that I was a foreigner, so she elaborated, “It’s Spain’s birthday! It’s Santiago, the patron saint of Spain.” And then it clicked! July 25th is one of the largest holidays of the year, outside of Christmas and Easter. It’s a day of festivities, with lots of dancing and parades.  Of all days to be in a hospital, when the rest of the country was celebrating!
         A very long time ago, some time in the ninth century CE, the remains of Santiago, (St. James, in English,) are said to have been brought from France, following the starry path of the Milky Way, which is also known as the Camino de Santiago or Way of St. James, to be buried in the city of Santiago de Compostela. This city is now the capital of the province of Galicia, in the northwestern corner of the country, just above Portugal, and the gorgeous old part downtown is actually a UNESCO world heritage site.
        I first went to this mystical city in 1987 and can still clearly remember its impressive cathedral, with its steps, nearly 1000 years old, worn in grooves where pilgrims had flocked over them, often on their hands and knees, paying homage. Inside the cavernous walls of this holy place, a myriad of statues and carvings, many of them seemingly not very religious and certainly quirky and remarkable, grace the walls and impossibly tall columns. The rest of the city was also fascinating and humbling to roam: so much history, so much stone, so much passion, devotion and love.
        All year long, but especially in the summer, people of all ages, ranging from devout to aficionados, and coming from all over the world, make the trek westward across northern Spain, following the Camino de Santiago to end up in Santiago de Compostela. And as you probably can guess by now, July 25th, is especially important here, where there is a HUGE celebration, drawing in thousands of people.
        It was on the eve of this major national holiday, and just outside this enchanting city that is so emblematic, that tragedy struck last week.  I’ve refrained from looking at the graphic and gruesome images that are circulating after the terrible train crash, preferring instead to cast my mind back to the times I’ve visited and admired Santiago.  My deepest sympathy, most heart-felt thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims of last week’s unfortunate accident.
I took this picture of my husband, in front of the entrance to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. It was on our honeymoon, ten years ago.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A good life

     “Isn’t life better here than anywhere else in the world?”
        I was frequently asked this question when I first moved to Spain in the mid 1980’s, often by older folks, parents of my fellow graduate students. Having been raised in the U.S., proudly saying the pledge of allegiance to my flag every day, and so thankful to have been born in the best country in the world, it was jarring to hear this rhetorical question about a different land.
        Wait a minute, I wanted to say, we’re in Spain. America is the best place in the world. Doesn’t everyone know that? But I would hold my peace and nod insincerely; sure, it’s a great place, yeah. The haughty American in me knew better—these poor people just didn’t understand how unfortunate they were not to have been born and raised in the US of A.
        Then I got some good scholarships , decided to stay in Spain indefinitely and a strange thing happened: I was immersed in their culture, their food, their heritage, their language, their landscapes…and something in me began to shift. I began to question the foundation of what I’d been taught from infancy, and found that, hey, people who had never set foot in America led happy, comfortable, meaningful and fulfilling lives. They lacked nothing from having never been Americans. It was astounding to me.  
          And slowly I too became Spanishified. It helped that I had black hair, (I was frequently asked if I was sure that I was American—weren’t they all blond?) and although I was darker complected than most Spaniards, I had learned to speak Spanish as a child and my accent was good. I had to work on acquiring the Castilian intonation, but being the only foreigner in the small city of León, I had an endless supply of eager teachers. I thought in Spanish, dreamt in Spanish,  became passionate about Spanish issues, and wrote and defended my dissertation in Spanish. Over the years the questions people asked about my home country changed from, “Where in Latin America were you raised?” to “What part of Spain do you call home?”
        Just as the main character in my novel, Harvey Jones, falls in love with northern Spain, so did I. I married a Spaniard from Bilbao and had a little boy, born in a Spanish hospital, twenty two years ago today. And then my world changed again: as a parent I did not want to deprive my son of being American, but neither did I want him to miss the opportunity of being Spanish. We decided to raise him bilingually, a true challenge when you are fluent in the host country language but are resolved to teach him your home country language. We lived in Spain until he turned 8 years old, and there were many times when it would have been so much easier to speak to him in Spanish, to avoid standing out as foreigners, and to not separate ourselves from family members who spoke no English, but I knew it was a slippery slope and that the only way to make sure my son would speak perfect American English was to speak it to him 100% of the time.
        Fast forward twenty two years and I now have a perfectly bilingual adult son who is proud of both of his heritages, and is comfortable on both sides of the ocean. And I can’t help but wonder if the world wouldn’t be a better place if everyone had the chance to become immersed in another culture and grow to realize how imperative it is for us all to see each other as fellow citizens of this small planet. The really huge issues like poverty, the global climate crisis, and pandemics will only be solved when we can all look each other in the eye and say, “Isn’t this the best world to live in?”

 Image: my son, sixteen years ago, by an old castle in Spain.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Spain is Different

           In the 1960’s, a young politician named Manuel Fraga, who would serve both during the dictatorship and later when the country became a democracy, only retiring in 2011, coined the phrase “Spain is Different.” It’s a phrase that was quoted to me over and over during the years I lived in Spain, whenever I would remark on the myriad of differences between our countries. To this day, when I stop to think of the differences, I still shake my head in wonder.
          Differences in money (the fact that the bills were all different colors and sizes), foods (another blog post will be about the first time I inadvertently ate octopus and bull testicles, good and ick, respectively), names (like one of the characters in my book, Pilar, which comes from “pillar” because it is said that a virgin once appeared on a pillar, or the name, Mar which means “sea” for another virginal appearance,) and clothing styles were not difficult to anticipate.
          But there are a ton of other more subtle differences that amused and surprised me: little things like the fact that when there is only one light switch in a room, the “down” position is “on”, or the fact that most bathrooms have the light outside the room, not inside. The Spanish strongly believe that if you lie down for nap after a meal, even if it very hot in the room, you MUST cover your belly with a blanket, and people of all ages, up into their 80's, love walking every day. Since everyone else is also walking, there are plenty of people to greet with the customary two kisses every time they meet. (I remember thinking I'd never kissed so many people in my life!) I also love to walk, and was baffled as I tried to make my way around town and couldn't find street signs. Then I learned that I should not look for them on metal poles on street corners, but rather up on the walls of the buildings, usually between the first floor and the second, which they call the ground floor and the first, and there I'd find the street name, often on a ceramic plaque.  Trees are kept cut very short, and while walking, I often looked down at the sidewalks, which are not boring cement, but rather tiled in different patterns in every city. And I always found it amusing to see shop keepers mopping the sidewalk outside their stores, though now I understand the logic.
          Other differences are that egg yolks are a very different shade of yellow, there is only one salad dressing (no one ever asks if you want dressing or which kind), milk is rarely ever bought fresh but rather in Tetra-Brik cartons that last for months unopened, however, bread MUST be bought daily, (it’s just a fact of life) and oranges are commonly peeled and eaten with a fork and knife—i.e. without ever touching them with your hands. Napkins are often little tissue paper squares, cereal is not a common breakfast food, and sandwiches made with crusty Spanish bread and chunks of chocolate are a typical snack for kids. Pumpkin pie is unheard of (a cute chapter in my book tells of the characters on a quest to find orange pumpkins!) though everyone who tasted it when I made it, loved it. Peanut butter, however, is looked on rather as we see marmite—as one of those exotic and not so pleasant foods that some foreigners eat. Oh, and ALL Spaniards, young and old, hate the taste of Dr. Pepper, which they say tastes like bitter almonds. How is it that everyone knows what bitter almonds taste like?
           Language expressions are a huge source of entertainment to me (yes, an author, amused by words, no stretch there). For instance, if you would say in English “It’s a good thing that…” in Spanish the phrase is “It’s a less bad thing that…” And I was surprised by the number of expressions using the word “milk”: for instance, a friend might say of someone who is in a bad mood, “What bad milk he has!” and a mother might scold a child, “If you do that again, I’ll give you a milk!”  (meaning a slap, not a treat!) Noses aren’t picked, but rather touched, and were you to walk into a room, say, a kitchen, and hear a Spaniard saying to someone, “Oh, the milk! Don’t touch my eggs!” you would know that he is very angry and it’s better not to mess with him.
          Church vocabulary is also commonly used in expressions, so if you’ve just finished the final version of a report, you might say, “This one goes to mass,” and rather than losing your train of thought, you say, “My saint went to heaven.” When you do a favor for a stranger, they always say “God will repay you for this.” And the most common forms of swearing involve things from mass, such as the host, as in “Host! I forgot I had to…” And of course the chalice is also employed in all sorts of creative ways.
           Another common swear phrase involves, well, taking a dump on things as in, “I poop on the ocean”, or, not surprisingly, “I poop on the milk” is a pretty strong one.
          But for all the differences in language, foods and customs, you can’t help but fall in love with Spain when you go there. I know I did! And so did the characters in my book, which I’m sure you will enjoy reading. As a matter of fact, as you read about the life there and enjoy the narrative, I bet you’ll soon be scheduling your trip to go see for yourself how “Spain is different!”

Picture credit:

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Una cerveza, por favor

     So, you’ve decided that it’s finally time to make the trek across the Atlantic, and Spain is part of your destination. Yay! You’re in for a real treat—you’re finally going to get to use your high school Spanish! Perhaps it’s a bit rusty, but you’ve polished a few choice phrases, and one that you are looking forward to saying with gusto is “Una cerveza, por favor.” You’ll walk into a bar, look the waiter in the eye, and order your beer, feeling quite proud. There is a reason why you suffered through those long, boring worksheets filled with endless verb conjugations. And all those flashcards with strange words like “biblioteca”, well, they are all going to be worth something now.
     Perhaps you’ve even done a bit more studying and realized that the Spanish  people in Spain (as opposed to the Latin American Spanish speakers) only use the liquid “s” sound for words that actually contain  an “s” like “” and “Señor”, and that words that have a soft “c” or “z”, like “cerveza” are pronounced with a “th” sound. Perhaps it doesn’t immediately roll off your tongue, but you practice “Una thervetha, por favor” until you are no longer spitting as you pronounce it.
       The magical day arrives, jet lag is still slowing you down, but you are excited to use your phrase. You leave your bags in the hotel and begin to wander the streets of, say, Madrid, Barcelona, or maybe Santander, (which you read about in a wonderful novel that’s just been published!) You are a bit surprised and intrigued that there are so many bars around, seemingly on every corner, but you are pleased, nonetheless, that you will have ample opportunities to practice. It’s a nice, warm day, and a cool beer is just what you want. You enter the closest bar, find the waiter behind the counter, and your request rolls quite naturally off your tongue.
     The guy drapes the white towel he’s been using to wipe the counter over his left shoulder, gives a nod and asks, “¿Corto ó caña?”
      Damn! That wasn’t in the lesson! But, let’s see here, let’s not panic, “corto” means…oh yeah, it means “short”. And “caña”, well, that’s more of a stretch, but you were looking at quite a bit of vocabulary and from somewhere in the depths of your subconscious you manage to remember that it means “cane.” Okay, short or cane. Short or cane? Cane what? Cane sugar? Cane liquor? The Brazilians have cane liquor in their caipirinhas, don’t they? (Where the heck did that come from?) Well, better not take a chance with the cane. Short whatever would be safer.
     “Corto,” you say, after too long of a pause.
     “Vale,” he answers, which by now, after dealing with all the other Spaniards you’ve met since you landed, you know means “okay.”
     He gets out a small, juice-sized glass and fills it about two thirds full of beer. You’re a bit disappointed, but before you can protest, he follows up with another question, “¿Alguna tapa?”
     Ah! That’s easy. Everyone knows “tapas” are the little appetizers they serve. A nice little something would go well with your two sips of beer. You now begin to suspect that “caña” didn’t mean “cane” after all, but rather had something to do with the size of the beer, especially since the dude next to you walked in and, skipping the una cerveza por favor part entirely, jumped right to “una caña, por favor” and he got a glass of beer easily twice the size of yours.  That’s also when you look back and see that the patient waiter is still looking at you, eyebrows raised in expectation.
     You sheepishly nod. At least it’s not India, where, your colleague at work told you, an up and down nod means “no.” How difficult would that be, always inadvertently nodding no when you meant yes?
     “Pues, tenemos boquerones, croquetas, patatas bravas, pulpo a la gallega…”
     Greek, you think, this man isn’t speaking Spanish, he must be speaking Greek! You remember looking at the chapter with all the names of Spanish foods before you got on the plane. Arroz. Pan. Leche. Cerveza. Jamon. Paella. Manzana.  The words he’s spouting were most definitely not in any of your books! You get a bit frazzled and then notice that, bless his heart, the kind man is actually pointing to nice little plates of tapas arranged neatly behind a glass cover. You point to a yellow shaped wedge—kind of like a piece of pie, but you know that it’s not a slice of pie. He nods again, takes it from the counter and heats it for a few seconds in the microwave, then places a tiny fork in the middle of the wedge, leaving it standing like a flagpole in the middle of the yellow triangle, and adds a thick slice of crusty Spanish bread next to it.
     You take a small bite, hoping for the best, and are pleasantly surprised—an omelet, made with potatoes. It’s really quite nice. You arm yourself with courage and ask, “¿Qué es?” hoping the waiter will figure out what you mean.
     “Tortilla española,” he says, smiling. What a nice guy. You polish it off, swallow the second (and last) gulp of beer in your tiny cup, pay the waiter and leave. Then you walk into the bar across the street, still thirsty but now armed with new knowledge.
     “Una caña y una tapa de tortilla española,” you say confidently, and smile a little too broadly as the waiter hands you a large glass of beer and a delicious, steaming hot, appetizer. Now you’re happy! Isn’t Spain is a great place?!

Photo used with permission from, a very cool Spanish blog about beer: You can also find them on FaceBook at Cervecearte.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Fiestas in Spain

         It’s July, and the summer months in Spain are a time of celebration. As the American characters in my book soon discover, Spain is a great place for fiestas, large city-wide parties, lasting from a few days to an entire week, held on or around the patron saint day of that particular city or pueblo (small town) across the country. If you happen to be travelling in Spain this summer, check out when the local fiestas are, and go watch the pueblo light up with music, dancing, special foods, bright decorations, parades and, often, bulls.
           One of questions I’m asked most frequently about the many years I lived in Spain is whether I ever made it to see a bull fight. No, I did not, and neither have most of my Spanish friends, however, every morning from July 1st to the 7th, the TV had to be on to watch the bulls running through the streets of Pamplona, in preparation for the week’s festivities. It’s an amazing site which takes place just after dawn, with large numbers of men, young and old, running through the streets, closely followed by the horned bovine mob. Yes, there are ambulances on the side streets, waiting to whisk anyone who is pierced in the leg (or, ouch, elsewhere) to a hospital. And, perhaps you won’t be surprised to learn that most of the people hurt every year are: a) drunk and b) foreigners. The secret to not getting hurt, a friend explained to me many years ago, is to not try to run for very long in front of the bulls; the Spaniards know that they should only run for just a few seconds, and then dodge out of the way, while the foreigners, predominantly British, Germans and Americans who have been up partying all night, try to run the entire track through the city in front of the cows, and thus, unfortunately, every year there are those who have more than just good memories to show for their fun times in Spain.
           But back to Pamplona: there is a song which every Spaniard learns as a small child, which I taught my students in Spanish class, and which is the theme song for one of Spain’s most famous fiestas: San Fermin . It’s a great way to learn the first seven months of the year and their corresponding numbers, and it commemorates the fact that the fiestas of Pamplona, are the first seven days of July. It goes:

Uno de enero, dos de febrero,
                                                   tres de marzo, cuatro de abril.
                                                                  cinco de mayo, seis de junio,
                                                                      siete de julio, San Fermin.

Bilbao, a larger city which some of my characters explore, lies hugging the coast, just east of Santander. Since most of its residents are on vacation in August, the city pretty much empties out, and it’s a wonderful time to be there, sipping a glass of Rioja wine at an outdoor terrace. But in mid-August the fiestas begin, and you can hear the drums beating, smell the lovely foods cooking and see the bright flags all over the city. I especially love to watch the regional Basque dancing which is centuries old and not at all related to the flamenco dancing that we usually attribute to Spain. The men, wearing white pants and a white shirt, a red sash across their waist, and a red scarf around their necks, perform complicated jumps while knocking long sticks together to the beat of the music. The women wear black, longish skirts and white shirts, and they often dance forming large circles which spin in one direction for a few steps, and then turn the other way, while the dancers hold their arms aloft and perform complicated patterns with their feet.
           So off you go, have fun at the fiestas and if you have too much to drink, please don’t try to run in front of the bulls!!
Link to You tube San Fermin song song:

Links to typical Basque dancing. First some women:  Then some men with small sticks  Followed by some nice dancing with arches

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Gaudi's Capricho

It was good to see that Google’s home page on Tuesday, June 25th was in homage to a great Spanish architect, Antoni Gaudí, who lived from the mid 1800’s to the first quarter of the 20th century. He resided and did most of his work in the eastern part of Spain, in the province know as Catalonia. Many of you have been to Spain and seen his wonderfully colorful and almost silly creations which make cement, iron and stone seem to flow nonsensically and blossom and grow into bright botanical creations. His monuments are so imaginative and innovative that seven of them were inscribed in UNESCO’s World Heritage in 1984, (see link below.) The guy was a genius and definitely broke the mold and opened up a whole new territory for architects the world over to explore.

If you have visited Barcelona and seen his beautiful cathedral, La Sagrada Familia, which is still under construction, or his fantastically bright Parque Güell, or walked downtown and looked up at the facades of many apartment buildings he designed, you know what a surreal experience it is to see his work. But many people do not know that he also designed buildings in other parts of Spain, including a whimsical palace in Astorga, (close to León, where I lived for 5 years) complete with spires, turrets and flying buttresses, and on which Walt Disney’s castle was based.   He also did work on the Cathedral of Mallorca.

But what does this have to do with my novel, you may be asking? It turns out that Gaudí also designed a cute leisure villa called “El Capricho” (The Caprice) in the coastal village of Comillas, very close to Santander. And yes, this work of Gaudí’s is in my novel. As a matter of fact, two of my characters take a day trip to Comillas, which is less than an hour’s drive from Santander, and walk around the small palace, taking in the striking effects that Gaudí produced using different colors (red and green bricks and tiles, and yellow ceramic sunflowers). Besides taking in Gaudí’s creation, they see the other sites in the small town before finally stopping for lunch, which is when…oh! I almost spoiled it. Something important happens to my characters in Comillas, something very nice, but you’ll have to read my novel to find out what! Meanwhile, please enjoy the links to his works which I've placed below the picture. Also, this is my 7th post, so if you've missed the prior ones, please be sure to read them while you're on my blog site.

Above is a picture of El Capricho, located in Comillas, Spain, and featured in my novel.  Isn't it marvelous! Photo credit:
Link to Gaudi’s works in UNESCO:
Link to List of Gaudi’s works with pictures of them: (be sure to look for the Astorga castle)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

My favorite Spanish authors

           Reading is not only enjoyable, but it is one of the most wonderful exercises you can do for your brain. I love summer time because that’s when I have more time to devote to reading. When my kids were younger, they had enforced reading time daily, with longer reading periods in the summer (they could choose whatever they wanted to read and we took frequent trips to the library, but no outside playing until their reading was done) and now that I see how successful all four are, I’m very happy I did that.
          My novel is set in Spain, and thus today’s blog is dedicated to my favorite contemporary authors from there: Laura Gallego, Toti Martinez de Lezea and Maria Dueñas. In reverse order, Maria Dueñas’ The Time in Between, which I read with my book club, is a lovely novel set during and immediately after the Spanish civil war, which took place from 1936-1939.  The narrative occurs in both Madrid and Northern Africa, and is an entertaining story about a young woman who is an unworldly and inexperienced seamstress who does a lot of growing up just to survive during that difficult time period. There are spies, interesting plot twists, lovers, and you get a close look at how Spain struggled between being drawn into World War II on the German side or remaining neutral and perhaps a bit friendly with the allies. Maria is a debut author, and this novel put her on the bestsellers lists in Spain. It’s a long book, and she does get a little carried away sometimes with her musings, but overall it’s a very good read.
          A good friend of mine in the Basque Country, who lives close to where my own novel is set, introduced me to the works of Toti Martinez de Lezea, a Basque writer whose books predominantly take place in the 1400’s-1600’s, many in northern Spain. I’ve read 5 of her books so far, and I plan to read another one this summer. Her pace is slower, and if you like learning about life in the medieval times, she’s a good one to read. She does extensive research for all of her novels, and you feel like you are learning so much as well as being entertained when you read them. La Calle de la Juderia, for example, follows the life of a Jewish family in the mid 1400’s, and we learn about how Spanish society functioned with Jews, Arabs and Christians all getting along before the Inquisitors began their notorious crusades. It’s an excellent story. La Herbolera, which I also loved, follows the life of a young woman who trained and worked as a midwife, and whose people still followed the pre-Christian beliefs which involved respecting nature and worshipping the goddess, Mari. It is based on a true story that led to 13 women being burned alive for witchcraft. And then there’s El Jardin de la Oca, where the Camino de Santiago, that famous pilgrimage across the northern part of Spain, all the way to Santiago de Compostela,  is traced by the main characters, a Jewish doctor and a Muslim pharmacist who become close friends while running from a deranged persecutor, a monk who has been ousted from the Catholic church for his barbaric actions, but who has evaded capture and is on a rampage to rid the world of non-believers. Toti’s books have been translated to many languages, but I haven’t found them in English yet. Good news is that you can get them on Amazon, and the kindle versions are less than $10 each.
          I’m most passionate about the books of this last author. If you like fantasy, you will love Laura Gallego’s trilogy Memorias de Idhun set primarily on two planets, Idhun and Earth. This series is on my list of top ten favorite books I’ve ever read--it’s a very cool story full of adventure, romance, intrigue, wars, and magic. I don’t want to give any of the plot away, so I’ll just say the story is like Harry Potter meets Star Wars. Unfortunately, these books have not yet been translated into English either, but if you know some Spanish—you don’t have to be fluent—I heartily encourage you to try to read her books. The story is fascinating, enchanting, thrilling—I’m sure they will be on the New York Times Best Sellers List once they get translated, and they have been immensely popular all over Europe and are now hitting Asia. I work as a translator and it is my dream to translate these books. I’ve even written to the publisher who’s translated some of her other books here in the U.S., but they have not responded. Americans (at least the ones who don’t read in Spanish) are missing out on this great story—what a shame!
         So, happy reading! Feel free to comment on your favorite authors, and in future blogs, I’ll write more about my favorite ones too. People who know me well know that I could talk about authors for hours!
Here are links to these authors:
Toti Martinez de Lezea: (and there is a link to her blog too, including some entries in Euskera, the Basque language.)
Laura Gallego’s Memorias de Idhun:

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

What do eating corn on the cob, doing puzzles and writing novels have in common?

        Well, for me, a lot. Let’s begin with corn on the cob. On a warm fall day, my second year at college, sitting at the dining hall table eating rice—just kidding—eating corn on the cob, a friend turned to me and said, “Christy, I have never seen anyone eat corn on the cob the way you do!” (My husband said the same thing twenty years later, so I know this is still true about me.)
        “What do you mean?” I asked my friend, genuinely surprised.
        “I’ve been watching people eat corn on the cob all my life,” he said, (which is really not that surprising if you consider that we were in Ohio, where there are many, many corn fields. In Columbus there is even a huge monument to corn, which consists of 6 foot high white cement statues of corn ears, all standing at attention in long, even rows, in a giant grassy field. )
        I nodded.
        “And what I’ve seen is that the vast majority of people either eat corn in rows across the cob,” he continued, “or they eat around the cob, circling and progressing from one end to the other.”
        I looked down at my ear of corn. In light of what he had just said, I could clearly see I was in the category of “none of the above.” I glanced guiltily around the table and, sure enough, everyone was eating their corn either across the cob or around it. Mine looked like a patchwork quilt, with bites here and there, leaving bare spots scattered haphazardly. It’s the way I eat corn on the cob: kind of all over the place. When I finish, my cob is as clean as anyone else’s, but my process is not orderly and sequential.
        When I work on puzzles, my husband is also always surprised; he’s one of those people who sets the box cover up so he can use it as a guide, and then works on an area, say, a house or a field of corn, and then an adjoining one and then another and quickly links them together. Me? I would rather work on the puzzle with no box to guide me, working on areas with similar colors and not worrying about what joins to where, allowing serendipity to rule. My favorite way to do a puzzle when I was younger was upside-down, working to fit the brown cardboard pieces together with no clues at all.
        And with writing, it’s the same thing. I would love to be like one of my author idols,  J.K. Rowling, who outlined all 7 of her Harry Potter books before she began writing so that she would know how to set up the characters, whom to keep and whom to kill off  and when, and thus, things that happened in the first books would still have relevancy in the 6th and 7th books. Brilliant. I wish I could do it that way too. When I write, it’s like biting into that juicy, fresh corn on the cob, or trying to fit together puzzle pieces with minimal clues as to their placement. For this novel, I wrote the prologue, the end and three or four middle chapters, creating really nice individual islands, and then labored for 4 ½ years to fill in the rest, make the characters and plot coherent and the story a good one. My novel now has 3 parts with about 20 chapters in each, so in the end it worked, even if it probably wasn’t the best way.  But it’s my way. And ultimately, that’s the great beauty in writing and all art forms—you get to discover more about yourself and create something worthwhile, even if you go about it unconventionally.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Santander in the news!

     This is really cool—my novel is set in Santander, and this city was just featured on NPR. I first went to Santander in 1986 to visit my roommate over winter break. Blanca was a small framed girl who wore large glasses and smoked too much, and she hailed from this city. We were studying in León, about a 3 hour drive away, and it was her first time away from home. She spoke of Santander constantly, and I was excited when she extended an invitation to me to come stay at her house just before New Year’s Eve. As we walked the cobblestone streets, I was fascinated with this ancient port city, its neat little beaches, majestic mountains and quaint streets, and thus when I had to think of where to set my novel, Santander was an easy choice. Blanca also took me to visit some of the neighboring villages, which the characters in my novel also visit.  One village that did not make it into my book is Santillana del Mar, otherwise known as the city of three lies: it is neither Santi (holy) llana (flat) or del mar (on the coast.) But it’s definitely worth seeing the next time you are in the neighborhood of Santander.

     Santander has a university which has academic exchange programs with several American universities, including The University of Texas at Austin, an excellent school that is the alma mater to 3 of my children (and hopefully the 4th one in another year!) One of the largest Eurozone and Spanish banks, Banco Santander, was also founded in this lovely city.

     My husband remembers Santander as the city where he first tasted sidra, that wonderful apple wine that my characters love and I miss, and where he bought a lot of underwear. (It was our honeymoon, and when we landed in Santander, we realized that we had forgotten to pack enough underwear for him!)

     On my last visit to Spain a few months ago, I did not make it back up to Santander. However, Chema, the husband of my dear friend, Carmen, is from there, and he was a wonderful source of information. At his behest, his mother sent me recipes of typical dishes and sweets from Santander, and he told me about fun restaurants and mountain hikes which made it into my novel. Thanks, Chema!

      It’s fascinating to me to now see Santander all decked out with brand-spanking new devices which are environmentally friendly and will help the city government, and ultimately the tax payers, to save money.  The devices are mostly hidden so that the stately and romantic old city does not betray its smart undergarments! Here’s a link to the story:

     I hope you can visit there some day, and if you’re still not sure you want to, reading my novel will convince you!

Photo courtesy of:

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A rose by any other name…

I’m trying to come up with a good name for my novel, and maybe you can help me. It’s a futile task as the editor/publisher will probably choose a different title in the end. However, agents always want to know the title when I make a submission, and since this is a subject which I avoided thinking about during the 4 ½ years I spent writing the book, I’m now stuck. 
Book titles are important. My middle son says that the all-time, best-ever title for a book is To Kill A Mockingbird.  And I have read very good books with bad titles, like I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith. This is a delightful book and yet I almost did not even pick it up based on its unfortunate name. And the opposite can also be true. Who hasn’t been lured into reading a book, based on its title, (or cover), and then regretted it?
So back to my book: as you’ve no doubt figured out from the other information on this blog, it is about the lives of the teachers and administrators in an American International School, set in Cantabria, Spain, concretely, Santander. As with any group of people, there is gossip, adventure, secrets and interesting food. Some become friends, others become sworn enemies. There are love intrigues and there are some trouble makers who can be rather nasty people. You’ll have to read it when it comes out, it’s really quite good. 
 At the moment I’m using Bueno, but I’m still not sure it’s right. Here are some other ideas (in no particular order):
1.       We’ll Fall Off That Bridge When We Get There  (on the plus side,  it’s original and it’s something a character says toward the end of the book, but on the negative side, it tells you nothing about the book.)
2.       Mr. Harvey Jones, Headmaster
3.       What We Didn’t Learn in Kindergarten
4.       A Tenure in Spain
5.       That’s Not How Things Are Done In Spain (this is something the main character runs into a lot in the story)
6.       Teaching in Spain
7.       There Are Brujas In This School (apt, but perhaps suggests fantasy and that is not what this book is about)
8.       After the Students Have Left (since the book has relatively little to do with the students, though it does involve them a little bit)
9.       The Cantabria American School (this is the name of my fictitious school. I had thought of naming it The American School of Santander, but the acronym wouldn’t work)
10.   Bueno (short and sweet and conveys the Spanish part. It’s actually an apt title, which you’ll see once you read the book, though it doesn’t give much away.)
So, what shall I call this little novel? I welcome your comments!


Friday, May 24, 2013

Big Dreams for this little novel

Every time I hear the e-mail chime I think “Oh that must be an agent, saying that she loves my manuscript and she’s interested in representing this book to an editorial company.” And then I look, and it isn’t, but I know that with each day that passes, I’m one step closer. The good news I’ve had so far: the Chairman of the Creative Writing Department at Miami University, my undergraduate alma mater, read the first 20 pages of my novel and said that the characters were “convincing and sympathetic.” He also said that I had employed a circular plot structure, which is difficult to pull off without a good hook, but that I had done it as I had a good one.

My friend, Angie, whose “whole life is about creative writing and literature” and is herself a former Creative Writing Professor at the University of Northern Kentucky, read the entire manuscript, bless her, and said, “you have a marvelous, truth-telling, and incredibly well-written novel.”  And my mother, who does love me, but was prepared to be completely underwhelmed when I asked her to read the manuscript said that it was a “page-turner” and that she was “surprised and very proud” because it was one of the best novels she’d read in a while and “I didn’t know you could write so well!”  This from a woman who drains the library shelves with her voracious appetite for reading!

And thus, my dreams for this little novel are that:

1)      I find an agent very soon.

2)      S/he finds a publisher soon after that.

3)      My friends and family all buy copies of the novel and love it too and write great comments about it, and then tell all their friends and family to buy it too, and so on, and so forth.

4)      It wins some sort of literary prize and that gives it even more popularity.

5)      It hits the New York Times Best Sellers List.

6)      A Hollywood producer buys the film rights and decides to create a major motion picture.

7)      The movie is a big hit too and more people go out and buy my book and love it.

One step at a time. Oh, there went the chime! I’d better check to see if it’s an agent!

Image credit: McLachlan, Sean. Santander, Spain. Nov. 30 2011 from his blog post: PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS IS NOT THE COVER OF MY NOVEL, MERELY A SUGGESTION. MY NOVEL HAS NOT YET BEEN PUBLISHED.