Speak, Pray, Cook – Day 2 (The First Day of School)

Monday, July 21, 2014

I got up at 6:30 this morning after only six hours of sleep. Then I had the fun adventure of trying to figure out how my landlady’s shower works. No major problems, thankfully, but I do have to hit the button for the toilet with a bit of force.

Marcella made me coffee this morning. Despite my general dislike for coffee, I wasn’t about to turn down a free drink. She gave me a little espresso cup and then asked if I wanted milk (latte). Yes, please. There was a sugar bowl (zucchero), so I helped myself to that, too. Anything to help the coffee go down.

The walk to school takes me about twenty-five minutes and includes a beautiful view of St. Peter’s (as I cross Via di Conciliazione) and then a nice shot of Castel Sant’Angelo. The school doesn’t open until 8:30, and I arrived a bit early, so I had to spend 15 minutes out in the piazza with the other students. I think we were all wondering what other languages everyone else spoke, but none of us had the guts to approach anyone.

Once inside, they asked if I spoke Italian. I responded, “Soltanto un po.” (Only a bit.) Then they asked if I wanted to take the test. For a split second, I almost chickened out and just told them to put me in the beginner class. Luckily, curiosity won out over potential embarrassment, and I said I’d take the test.

The test had two parts. First, a written part that started off easy with questions about where you’re from and what’s your mother tongue. Then they got into harder questions that involved advanced grammar. By pages 3 and 4, I was completely lost.

After that, we were called for brief one-to-one conversational tests. Again, they used some basic questions to assess our speaking abilities. I felt I did okay because they were really normal get-to-know-you sort of questions. When the conversation test was finished, I was told to return to Room A (where the written test was given) at 10:30. That gave me a little over an hour of free time.

The school had given us coupons for a free cappuccino and croissant from a nearby cafe. So believe it or not, I had my second cup of coffee for the day. Hey, when in Rome . . . (besides, it was free!).

When in Rome . . .

When in Rome . . .

With still a half hour to spare, I headed next door to Chiesa Nuova, a church I didn’t get to visit on my pilgrimage in April. It’s a beautiful church, and a few minutes of prayer was exactly what I needed. After I’d been in my pew for a bit, I looked to my left and realized that I had seated myself near a painting of the Annunciation. At this point, I didn’t yet know what level Italian class I’d be put in, so the painting was a beautiful reminder to just “Let it be.” (Cue the Beatles song.)

The Annunciation (Let it be)

The Annunciation (Let it be)

When I returned to school, all of us new students were handed different books and sent to different classrooms. I looked down at my book and read the words “Livello 2.” Level 2? They’d actually put me in level 2? Well, I guess a full year’s worth of Rosetta Stone got me somewhere!

image

The class was hard. I won’t lie. I think I only understood about one-third of what the teacher said. However, I could understand most of what was written in the book. Hopefully, this means I’ll survive.

There are seven other students in the class. They are all from different countries: a man from Korea, a 40-something woman from Austria, a 30-something woman from Germany, 20?-something man from England, a man from France (30?) who seems to know more Italian than the rest of us, a 40-ish woman from Switzerland, and a 20-something girl from Australia. I’m the only American.

Class got out at 12:15, so I headed out to visit a few other churches I didn’t get to see on my pilgrimage: Santa Maria Sopra Minerva (where St. Catherine of Siena’s body is kept) and the Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits (and since I’m Jesuit-educated, that was pretty cool). Oh, and I also stopped for a little gelato for lunch. (Cherry gelato is a healthy lunch, right?)

St. Catherine of Siena at Santa Maria Sopra Minera

St. Catherine of Siena at Santa Maria Sopra Minera

The interior of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva

The interior of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva

By 3:30, I was exhausted. A half-hour walk brought me back to the apartment, where Marceella tried to chat me up some more. I asked her where I could find a “supermercato,” so I could buy a few groceries. We tried to use my map app on my iPad, but she was having some difficulty. In the end, she just walked me out to the balcony and began pointing down streets to different stores.

Before I could go shopping, however, I had another event at school, an “orientation” meeting. It was, like everything else at the school, almost entirely in Italian. I really don’t know how an absolute beginner would be able to get by. The teacher went over how to take the bus, where some major sites where, and the extra-curricular activities the school does at night. For example, tomorrow night, you can pay to go out for an Italian meal with other students from the school. I think I’ll do that, but I’m kind of dreading how much Italian I’ll have to keep trying to translate in my head. Auditory skills have never been my strong point.

After the meeting, I got pizza and a Coke. (I know, I know, how American! But I didn’t have any the last time I was here, and I needed a bit of caffeine.)

Before returning to the apartment for the night, I found one of Marcella’s supermarkets. Okay, I’ll admit I haven’t done any cooking so far here in my Speak, Pray, Cook adventure, but things are a little different than I first imagined since I’m in an actual Roman woman’s home. If I’d been in an apartment with other students, I’d just say,
“Hey, roomies, I’m cooking dinner tonight. Anybody want some?” But I feel like I’m intruding a bit in this woman’s home.

At least, I was able to do a little shopping, and I made only one grocery shopping faux pas. I had read that when purchasing produce in Italy to use the supplied gloves for picking up fruit lest a little old Italian woman come out and yell at you. So I managed to find the gloves and the bags. What I missed was that I was supposed to weigh the fruit and print out a little sticker with the price to put on the bag. The cashier guy had to run back to the produce section to do it for me. Oops! Guess it was obvious I was a foreigner. Oh no shopping bags there either, so I just jammed all my stuff into my tote bag.

What did I buy?
-two bottles of fruit juice
-four cartons of yogurt
-two nectarines
-some cookies
-a bag of pre-popped popcorn

That’s a well-balanced diet, right? I figured for my first try at grocery shopping, it was enough to handle.

When I returned home, Marcella wanted to chat some more, but I had a terrible time understanding her. All I wanted to do was finish my homework and rest. Basta italiano (enough Italian) for tonight!

A domani! (Until tomorrow!)

The interior of the Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola

The interior of the Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola

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Speak, Pray, Cook – Day 1 (Benvenuti a Roma!)

Sunday, July 20, 2014

I arrived in Rome at 9:00 a.m., about a half hour ahead of schedule. Thankfully, my lucky luggage also arrived. I had arranged for a taxi ahead of time, so I wouldn’t have to worry about trying to figure out public transportation while sleep deprived.

Since I was ahead of schedule, my driver wasn’t at the designated meeting spot (and it’s actually a sign in English that says “Meeting Point”). However, that gave me a minute to make sure my phone was working and I had internet service. Thanks be to God, I had both!

My driver was a pleasant man who told me right away he didn’t speak much English. I chickened out from saying I speak a little Italian. I was happy just to enjoy the quiet drive.

My apartment is in the very residential Prati neighborhood, north and a smidge east of Vatican City. According to one of my tour books, it’s where the “real” Romans live, so I guess I’m getting a taste of authentic Roman living.

My landlady, who is also my roommate, is a real Roman woman named Marcella. I’d guess she’s in her 50s. One of the first things she said to me is “Non parlo inglese.” (I don’t speak English.) Oh boy! And thus the fun began of trying to communicate with Marcella. She showed me around the apartment. I have a lovely little room with a twin bed, a wardrobe, and a desk. The best part is that I had prayed God would send me to an apartment with a balcony and look at what’s right off my room!
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At 11:45, I headed down the street to St. Peter’s and arrived just in time for Pope Francis to appear at the window for his Sunday Angelus. It was broiling hot in the piazza, temps in the 90s and the sun beating down mercilessly on us. Some of the brighter spectators had brought umbrellas with them to shield them from the sun. I was not one of those bright ones, and the sweat just rolled down my back.

Pope Francis is there, I swear! Just look carefully.

Pope Francis is there, I swear! Just look carefully.

As soon as it was over, I made a beeline for the entrance to St. Peter’s. Of course, I was not the only one with this idea, so the wait took about 15 minutes. Once inside, I had a little while to visit some old friends (Mary and Jesus in the Pieta and Saints John Paul II and John XXIII). Then I sat down at the Altar of St. Joseph for 1:00 p.m. mass. Although it was cooler in the church than in the piazza, it was still too hot for me to concentrate much on the priest’s homily in Italian.

The last time I was in St. Peter's, this tomb read "Blessed John Paul II." Now it says, "Saint John Paul II."

The last time I was in St. Peter’s, this tomb read “Blessed John Paul II.” Now it says, “Saint John Paul II.”

After mass, I walked around a bit and picked up a panino that became both a late lunch and an early dinner. This conversation I had mostly in Italian. The place was nearly deserted, and I think they were closing up for the night.

Me (looking pathetic and hungry and pointing): Un panino?
Guy at the counter (in perfect English): You want it toasted?
Me (refusing to give into English): Si.
(Guy throws the sandwich into a panini press.)
Me (still determined to stick with Italian): Quanto costa?
Guy (finally giving in to my Italian): Quattro cinquanta. (4.50)

Back at the apartment, I read through the first chapter of Father James Martin’s The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, which I think will be my spiritual reading for this trip (a.k.a. the “pray” part of Speak, Pray, Cook). I had to fight off sleep late in the afternoon, but I managed to stay awake.

Sadly, when it was actually time to sleep, I found myself wide awake! Ack! I hate jet leg. I finally fell asleep after midnight, but then woke up again due to the rainstorm outside.

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Plan E, Or How I Ended up in Rome Twice in One Year

When I first came to Rome in 2001, I thought it would probably be my only trip here. I figured that in a few years I’d get married, have kids, and thus have no time for cross-Atlantic travel. So how did I end up in Rome twice in one year? Well, besides the no husband and kids business, there’s still a long story behind my journey. As it often goes in life, this isn’t the way I planned it. But you know what they say: If you want to make God laugh, make plans, and at the rate I’m going, I’m keeping Him in stitches.

It all started out in the spring of 2013. I’d been at my current school district for six years, and apparently the seven-year itch had decided to settle in a year early. I wasn’t looking to change jobs entirely. I just needed a chance of pace. Enter . . .

PLAN A

I was going to live in Italy for a whole year! It would be great. I would finally master the Italian language, which I only knew a tiny bit of, and it would be totally different from the same old, same old. I’d live like a real Italian and savor “la dolce vita.”

According to my teaching contract, I’d be eligible to apply for a leave of absence after my seventh year. That meant that this coming school year (2014-2015) could be spent in Italy if my leave of absence were approved. I started looking into options for working/teaching in Italy for a year, but my enthusiasm quickly faded as I remembered my mother’s on-again-off-again health issues, which seemed to be more “on” than “off” lately. A year would be too long to be away. If something happened to her, and I couldn’t make it back in time, well . . . let’s just say that it was time for . . .

PLAN B

I’d go to Italy for the summer! Despite most people’s imaginings of teachers lolling around in the sun all summer, I’ve worked every single summer I’ve been a teacher. At first, it was out of complete necessity as I was working for peanuts in the Catholic schools. Now it’s more to fund my travel habit. And to be honest, teaching summer school still leaves me with afternoons for sun consumption and half the summer for travel.

For Plan B, I decided I would take the whole summer off and spend it in Italy. I started investigating cheap places to stay. Convents seemed the most likely option. I could definitely spend lots of time contemplating the next phase of my life. But then . . . would I end up speaking much Italian if I was shut up with the nuns in the convent praying? I started bouncing my plan off other people to get their thoughts, and the response I kept getting was, Why not take classes while you’re there? And that led me to . . .

PLAN C

I would take summer classes at Loyola University’s Rome campus! Now this was sounding like a plan. Their second summer session lasts for four weeks (basically all of July). You are required to take two classes, so I could take Italian and then an education-related class. Several of my coworkers had taken an educational philosophy class there and said that the professor did a great job of using Rome as a classroom. This sounded perfect. It was too late to sign up for classes for summer 2013, so I began to make plans for summer 2014. I went out and purchased the entire Rosetta Stone course in Italian with a goal of knowing enough Italian that they’d let me bypass Italian I and go right into Italian II.

Every day for six months I spent about an hour studying Italian. I announced to people that I would not be teaching summer school. I would be going to school in Italy instead!

And then December rolled around. And Loyola posted its summer courses. And educational philosophy was not listed. In fact, no education classes were listed. There weren’t even any Greek and Roman Mythology classes or literature classes, except for Introduction to Fiction (and considering I’ve had several short stories and articles published, and my first book comes out next year, I didn’t think this was the right fit for me).

I was convinced God was really, really laughing at my plans. It was one off those “Why do you hate me, God?” moments, even though you know He doesn’t really hate you. But then a week later, I received a shocking email that restored my faith in God’s love for me and brought me to . . .

PLAN D

I would go on pilgrimage to Rome for the Canonization Mass for John Paul II and John XXIII! I had entered a lottery for the chance to go with this very popular pilgrimage group. Out of over 800 people who submitted their names, I was one of 30 whose name was pulled out of a hat. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. After a few tense weeks of waiting for approval from my school to take time off in April (and listen, getting that approval from my school was John XXIII’s second miracle), I readjusted my travel plans.

OK, forget the summer travel. I would teach summer school after all and just do my traveling earlier. What had started out as a year-long trip was now going to be a nine-day pilgrimage. I sped up my Rosetta Stone lessons. I had planned to finish them all by June. Now I needed to finish by April!

Time flew by. Before I knew it, I was on the pilgrimage, and it was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. However, it quickly became clear that I wasn’t getting the kind of experience I had wanted all along. I had very few opportunities to speak Italian other than to ask where the bathroom was (Scusi, dov’e il bagno?) or to ask how much a small gelato cost (Quanto costa un piccolo?).

So I came home from the pilgrimage feeling a little bit cheated. Mind you, the pilgrimage still had many, many wonderful moments, but I had strayed so far from my original plans to speak Italian, to live like an Italian, and to spend some time in prayer figuring out the next phase in my life. Although we spent a good amount of time during our pilgrimage visiting churches, I always felt a bit rushed and like I had to keep an eye out for when our group was moving on.

So it didn’t take long after returning home to devise . . .

PLAN E

A little thing I’m calling “Speak, Pray, Cook.” My plans may have downsized from a year to just a few weeks, but I’m back to the original goals. Starting tomorrow, I’ll be taking Italian immersion classes. When I’m not in class, I’ll be visiting a few sites and doing some very quiet, non-rushed praying in churches. Then on Saturday, I’m taking an Italian cooking class.

As I type this, it’s 5:00 p.m. in Rome. I’d like to tell you about my first day here, but I’m exhausted. Maybe if I get up early tomorrow (because I’m definitely going to bed early tonight!), I’ll write a post about my first day. In the meantime, I’m going to finish this panino I bought for dinner, and then chase it with about a gallon of water to replace all the fluids I’m sweating out in this 90 degree heat! Ciao!

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My Writing Process: A Blog Hop

Last Monday, Cynthia Toney tagged my in the writing process blog tour (or blog hop, if you prefer). For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a blog hop is a chance for one author to “tag” another author in order to keep a particular discussion running around the blogosphere while encouraging us to get to know other writers out there.

Cynthia Toney is the author of Bird Face, a young adult novel about bullying. She kindly tagged me to answer the four questions being passed around in this blog hop, so here goes . . .

1. What am I working on now?

Last week, I revised a short story that I had originally written in college in order to enter it into a short story contest. Now that I’m finished with that, I need to return to revising a middle grade mystery that I wrote two summers ago. I’ve got a lot of work to do on it, and quite frankly the Fourth of July activities this weekend have caused a bit of procrastination. :)

2. How does my work differ from others in its genre?

I guess I should first explain what it’s similar to. The mystery is sort of like The 39 Clues series in that my main character must solve a series of riddles in order to inherit a fortune. However, unlike¬†The 39 Clues series, my main character is a selective mute. He can’t talk to adults outside his own home, which makes the scavenger-hunt-style riddle solving a bit difficult. Also, he’s not trying to inherit the money to save the world. He’s just trying to save his little Catholic school from closing.

The book is also a little like The DaVinci Code in that the clues require my protagonist to decipher clues in the artwork in Catholic churches. It is, of course, different from The DaVinci Code in that there are no church conspiracy theories. :)

3. Why do I write what I do?

I write middle grade and YA literature because . . . well, that’s simply my thing. I’m a middle grade reading teacher, so I’m always reading and discussing middle grade and YA books with my students. Junior high was also the time I began to dream about becoming a writer. In fact, in my eighth grade yearbook, each graduate had a page in which their responses to a series of questions were printed. For future career, I put down “author of teen novels.” I wonder how many of my classmates followed through on their eighth grade dreams.

4. How does your writing process work?

In fits and starts. Sometimes I’m consumed by an idea, and I simply have to write it out out. One spring break, I became obsessed with the idea of L.M. Montgomery’s book The Blue Castle becoming a movie. So just for fun (!) I wrote out the screenplay. I finished it in a week. It sits in a drawer.

My debut novel, Angelhood (available April 2015), was like that, too. The idea struck me on Saturday, October 29, 2011. In three days, I sketched out the main characters and the basic story arc. I had been planning on spending NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) drafting the aforementioned middle grade mystery, which I’d been researching for months. However, I was so consumed with the idea of Angelhood that I put away the notes for the middle grade mystery and wrote all of the draft for Angelhood during November as part of NaNo.

Other times my writing is exceedingly slow and laborious, or downright non-existent.

When I am writing, I definitely follow the Save the Cat strategy for basic plotting. If you’re a fiction writer and not familiar with Save the Cat, definitely check it out!

That’s it for my share of the writing process blog tour. Now it’s time to tag the next writer!

Margaret Reveira was away from the Church for 16 years, but returned, at the Lord’s directive, in September 2011. Her blog was designed to express her passion for Christ as well as to make people aware of His promises and covenant blessings. You can find her at www.exuberantcatholic.com.

 

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Monday Book Review: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

The One and Only Ivan has been on my To-Be-Read pile for about two years now. I kept hearing how wonderful it was but never really found the time to read it. It’s a lovely story that deserves the recognition it’s received (Newbery Medal Winner).

IvanTitle: The One and Only Ivan

Author: Katherine Applegate

Genre: animal story

Age group: middle grade

Synopsis: Ivan is a silverback gorilla who was spent nearly his entire life in the company of humans, and most of that within the Big Top Mall and Video Arcade at Exit 8, where he has been the main attraction for years. It’s been a pleasant enough existence for Ivan who doesn’t remember much. His memory is nothing like that of his elephant friend Stella, who also lives at the Big Top Mall, and can remember all sorts of things before life at the mall. One day a new baby elephant arrives. Her name is Ruby, and when changes come to the mall, Ivan decides he must find a better existence for her.

This is the kind of book that fits right in with Charlotte’s Web, so if you’re a fan of that, you’ll like The One and Only Ivan, too. The best part of this story for me was Ivan’s voice. The whole book is told from Ivan’s perspective, and Applegate creates such a persona for this giant ape that you can’t help but love him. If you like animal stories or stories of touching (and somewhat unlikely) friendships, you’ll really enjoy this one.

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Win a rosary blessed by Pope Francis!

In celebration of my upcoming YA novel Angelhood (due out April 2015), I’ll be giving away several items purchased last April while I was in Rome for the Canonization Mass of St. John Paul II and St. John XXIII.

First up is a rosary blessed by Pope Francis during the Canonization Mass! It’s made from pressed rose petals, so it smells really nice, too!

There are three requirements to be entered to win:

  1. Like my author Facebook page. You can do so here.
  2. Comment on any of my Facebook posts with this picture:Rosary blessed by Pope Francis3. For shipping purposes, please live in the U.S. or Canada. :)

Hurry! You must be entered by midnight central time on Monday, June 30.

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Monday Book Review: The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

Feeling dystopian withdrawal after The Hunger Games and Divergent series ended? Look now further than The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau.

The TestingTitle: The Testing

Author: Joelle Charbonneau

Genre: dystopia

Age group: young adult

Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Cia Vale wants nothing more than to qualify for The Testing, a series of tests that allow only a chosen few to study at the University. Those who pass will study to be the leaders for the United Commonwealth. They must revitalize the planet after much of it was destroyed during the Seven Stages War. However, finding out she’s qualified for the Testing turns out to be not such great news. Cia’s father (who had also passed the Testing and studied at the University) reveals that being chosen for the Testing isn’t such a great honor after all. In fact, it’s the last thing he would have wished for his only daughter.

Fans of The Hunger Games and Divergent will really like this book. It’s the first in a trilogy. (The last book just came out so you can read right through them if you want.) Like the other two series, there is definitely some violence in the book, but the main character tries to live by the morals she was taught as a child. Cia isn’t interested in “taking out” her competition during the Testing, but other candidates aren’t as morally attuned. Like Katniss in The Hunger Games, we see Cia care for a fallen comrade. Ms. Charbonneau did a nice job making Cia a character we can empathize with as she struggles with making ethical choices.

In terms of plot, Ms. Charbonneau hits all the right notes for this dystopian. The tension is great. It’s not as full-on tense as The Hunger Games (which I was thankful for because too much constant tension is tiring to me as a reader), yet there was enough tension that the plot is driven forward (I felt Divergent didn’t always keep the plot moving forward as much as it could have). This book hit the right mix.

I have a lot on my summer reading list, but I do look forward to reading the rest of the series in the near future.

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How Matt Maher Impacted My Upcoming YA Novel

Wednesday night I had the extreme pleasure of seeing Matt Maher in concert, and it got me thinking about how I first became a Matt Maher fan and how his music played a role in my upcoming YA novel, Angelhood.

I can tell you almost the exact date I became a Matt Maher fan. It was late November of 2011. As part of National Novel Writing Month, I was working on my first draft of Angelhood. The beginning of the book had come very easily, but the ending was proving a bit more difficult. I knew basically how the story needed to end, but I didn’t know how to make all the pieces fit together.

On my drive to work one morning, I was mulling over the climatic scene and absentmindedly listening to K-Love on the radio. Suddenly, a line from a song struck me:

“‘Cause even in the dark, you can still see the light.”

And I thought, “Yes, that’s it! That’s exactly what I’m trying to say in my book!” I forgot about my plotting problems for a moment and focused in on the song:

“This is the first day
Of the rest of your life.
This is the first day
Of the rest of your life.
‘Cause even in the dark
You can still see the light.
It’s going to be alright.
It’s going to be alright.
 
And love will hold us together
Make us a shelter
To weather the storm
And I’ll be my brother’s keeper
So the whole world will know
That we’re not alone.”

 

I nearly started weeping in my car. This was exactly what I wanted the end of my story to say. If my book were a movie, this would be the song I’d want playing over the closing credits. Rather quickly, the ending of the story crystallized for me. I knew now how to make the pieces fit together. In fact, the whole idea of being able to see the light in the darkness made me add a new scene earlier in the book so that the ending would fit even better.

After work that day, I went home and, with only a few lyrics in memory, looked up the song. That’s when I learned the song was called “Hold Us Together” and was by Catholic musician Matt Maher. I was an instant fan.

Two years later, I got to see Matt in concert at a local church. The concert was fantastic. My friend and I got to sit in the fourth row. When the show was over, I was wondering if he’d come out for photos and autographs, but after hanging around for a bit and buying another CD, it didn’t seem like it was going to happen.

When I heard he was coming back in town, I gathered up a whole crew of friends to go. This time I decided to be a bit more proactive in my attempt to get a photo with him. After all, I’d just come back from pilgrimage in Rome and had my picture taken with four celebrities from the Catholic Channel (Lino Rulli, Fr. Rob, Fr. Dave, and Brett Siddell). I figured 2014 must be the year of the Catholic celeb photo for me. :)

So I tweeted Matt Maher to see if he might be willing to take photos after the concert. Here’s our Twitter exchange:

IMG_1166

Yeah, you can imagine my fangirl squeal when I got his response.

The night of the concert finally rolled around. It was a crazy busy day: summer school teaching, a meeting with my spiritual director, and then dashing across numerous suburbs to meet up with my friends.

After a quick dinner, we arrived at the church. The place was packed. The concert was awesome. I mean, blow-the-roof-off-the-place awesome. I mean, shake-your-soul-to-its-spiritual-core awesome.

IMG_1210When the encore ended, my friends turned to me. “So now what? Is he coming out?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. He just tweeted me a thumbs up.”

So we milled around the church for a bit, and then decided to take a photo of the five of us near the front. Slowly, the crowd began to thin out. A bunch of teens still milled around, and in the narthex, people were heading into a room where Matt’s CDs and t-shirts were being sold. After a while, my friend Katie decided to be brave and asked one of the roadies if he knew whether or not Matt was coming out. The roadie said to ask Kyle.

“Kyle?” my friend responded.

“Yeah, the guy who’s about to be a priest.”

Oh right. The seminarian who opened the concert with a prayer and by orchestrating the wave. So Katie and I head over to Almost-Father Kyle, and Katie repeated her question.

“Oh no, I don’t think he’s coming out,” said Almost-Father Kyle. “I think he’s getting right on his trailer.”

“But . . . ” I stammered. “But he tweeted me!” I held up my phone in proof.

Almost-Father Kyle shrugged. “Sorry. But I did get a hug from him before the show!” And with that, Almost-Father Kyle walked away before I had a chance to say, “Well, way to rub that in, Almost-Father Kyle! All I want is a photo and you got a hug!”

I was crestfallen. So that was it? No photo with Matt Maher???

“That was a good try, Amy,” my friends said.

“Yeah, you made a really good effort.”

What was I going to tell my spiritual director? She had made me promise I’d show her the picture of me and Matt next time I saw her.

My friends and I started to head out, but before we left, Katie said, “I want to buy a CD,” so we headed to the room where they were selling merchandise. Before we could even step up to the table, Katie nudged me and said, “Um, Amy, isn’t that him over there?”

Matt had just walked out of a side door, and a bunch of kids had rushed up to get his autograph. Well, I totally got my fangirl on then. While I’m pretty sure I didn’t knock over any old ladies to get in line, I wouldn’t entirely have put it past me. Only one adult guy got to Matt before I did. As the guy was talking to Matt, Katie offered to take the photo with my phone. The other friends and I set our purses down to the side as a long line quickly formed behind us.

When the other guy finally stopped talking and Matt turned to us, I got about as tongue-tied as my pilgrimage pal Lino Rulli gets whenever he meets a pope.

I was so excited that the whole thing’s a little fuzzy now, but I think I said, “Hi, can we get a picture? I’m the girl who tweeted you.”

Matt graciously obliged, and this photo was taken.

IMG_1222

I look just a tad bit happy in this photo.

I know I thanked Matt for the photo, but it was one of my friends who had the good sense to say, “The concert was great.”

Oh, duh, yeah, I should say something about how great the show was. So I quickly spit out, “Yeah, it was awesome!” And then I was very conscious of the long line behind us and got out of the way without saying anything further to him!

Hello? How about telling him how much his music has meant to me? How about commiserating over trying to get into St. Peter’s Square for the Canonization Mass? (Lino had told me Matt ended up at the Colosseum. I ended up at Castel Sant’Angelo.)

So, Matt Maher, you may never find this little blog post of mine, but if you do, please know that your music has meant a great deal to me. This is the public thank you I wasn’t quite able to spit out when I met you. Call me star struck! ;)

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The Story Behind the Headshot

As my writing career has progressed and I’ve watched more and more author buddies get their headshots taken, I’ve enjoyed hearing about how their headshots came to be. I always assumed most writers had their headshots taken by professional photographers in a studio, like most actors do.

You can imagine my surprise by the number of authors I’ve met who have had theirs taken at parks, at writing conferences, or even in their own homes. While a good number have used professional photographers, I’ve learned that quite a few have used their husbands or siblings for photographers. And some brave souls have even done selfies!

When my book Angelhood was accepted this spring, I knew I’d need a real headshot. Not one for selfies, I figured I’d use a professional photographer; however, I signed my contract just before leaving for a pilgrimage to Rome. Things got busy with last minute packing, and I realized finding a photographer would have to wait until after Rome.

As part of the pilgrimage group I was on, we made an overnight trip to Assisi. As a few of us rambled through the tiny hillside town, my roommate (who had a really nice camera with her) stopped to take a photo of a very picturesque little street. It was really more of a narrow alley with a beautiful view of the valley below.

On my pilgrimage group was a guy we’ll call Armando (not sure if he wants his real name used). Armando enjoyed stealing borrowing my roommate’s camera to take pictures. He decided to “borrow” her camera and take her photo in front of this picturesque street. In fact, he ended up taking pictures of several of us in front of that beautiful view, and it turns out Armando’s a good photographer!

Headshot 3Unfortunately, I had my sunglasses on for the photo. Not really the look you’re going for in an author headshot. When I mentioned my regret about leaving the sunglasses on a couple days later, Armando told me we’d try again.

The chance came the next day. We were waiting outside the Scala Santa in Rome across the street from St. John Lateran Church. Armando recognized an opportunity, and he fired off a couple more shots.

Headshot 1Headshot 2

After sharing these three choices on Facebook and asking for people’s votes, I went with the one on the left. It might not be my all-time favorite photo of me, but there are several things about it I like.

  1. The coloring’s nice. Not quite as pretty as the Assisi one, but still nice.
  2. It’s in front of a church, and not just any church. Engraved in Latin on the front of the church is the phrase “The Mother of all churches.” It is the home church for the Bishop of Rome (a.k.a. the Pope).
  3. If you look closely, you’ll see I’m wearing two necklaces of importance to me. One is a cross that I received as a gift from my students at my last Catholic school. The other is a guardian angel necklace that I bought in Rome on the day of the Canonization Mass of St. John Paul II and St. John XXIII. Engraved on the necklace in tiny script is the Italian version of the guardian angel prayer. Pretty appropriate since my upcoming YA book is about guardian angels!

Have you ever had a headshot taken? Where was it done? Did you hire a professional?

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Updates on Angelhood

In case you don’t follow me on Facebook and Twitter (and why wouldn’t you?), here’s the latest news on my upcoming debut novel!

  • Angelhood is set to be published on April 30, 2015. Mark your calendars!
  • My publisher (Vinspire Publishing) has updated its website. I love the new look! Check it out here.
  • The new website also has my author bio and my new head shot. You can see them here. I’ve got to admit it’s pretty exciting to have my own “author page” on a publisher’s website. :)
  • Last but not least, I’ve always loved hearing about how authors get their head shots, so I’ll tell you the story of mine in an upcoming post. Stay tuned!

Headshot 1

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