Italy travelogue, part I: Arrival Day

Nora, her husband Bruce, son Jason and daughter-in-law Kat are in Italy for two weeks and she’s sharing the experience with us all.  So sit back and enjoy!
We arrived in Florence this morning after a long, and for this  reluctant flyer, far too bumpy flight. A lot of stretches that felt like–in  Jason’s words–riding on cobblestones.
But we’re here, BW and me and Jason and Kat.
Zipped through Customs and there was our van and driver. Loaded up  the luggage and whisked off for a much, much shorter journey.
It’s been years since I’ve been here, one of my favorite cities,  and my first true glimpse of it was the dome and part of the gorgeous wall of  the amazing Santa Croce. It’s as beautiful as I remember, filled the windshield  for one gasping moment before we wound around, onto the narrow streets between  the wonderful old buildings. All the shops and restaurants, the people, another  view of the church. We zip right along, and even in the night-flight daze, it’s  all so incredible.
We’re delivered to the door of our hotel, greeted by the smiling  doorman who takes us through a lobby washed with light, up wide stone stairs,  and to reception. We’re greeted again, warmly, by the concierge. She speaks  perfect English, and when we go by later to ask a question, she’s speaking easy,  conversational Russian with another guest. This always amazes me, how so many  Europeans are multi-lingual. It’s a skill Americans sorely  lack. 
We’ve booked two suites that can be closed off from the outside  into one massive space. Only one is ready, but that’s no problem as immediate  unpacking doesn’t appeal.
The concierge takes us up, giving us a little tour as we go–the  pretty, sunny courtyard with its flowers and tables, the bar, the dining room,  through to what’s called the music room as in the 16th century this building  belonged to the pope’s treasurer, and this room was for music. She pointed out a  series of panels on the wall, explains that the top three open, and there  musicians would play for the people gathered below.
It’s a beautiful hotel that has the feel of a huge, wealthy house,  beautifully appointed, full of charm and light and art.
The first suite opens to a large lounge with beautiful wood floors,  richly colored sofas and chairs, old tables, pretty details and an awesome high,  painted ceiling. From there you have a spacious parlor/office–yet another  beautifully painted ceiling, then the bedroom with a HUGE bath.
I love me a huge bath.
We sort ourselves out a little, hydrate, then go out to walk, get  some sun and air–and as it turns out shop.
We’re minutes from the piazza Santa Croche with the marvelous  church, the big space, the crowds of people. And the leather. There’s nothing  like the leather goods in Florence, and it doesn’t take long for me to snag a  gorgeous bag–and enjoy the charm and conversation of the proprietor. 
There are street vendors–soft, silky, colorful scarves, silly  novelties, more bags or belts. In another few minutes, I have a couple Christmas  presents and Kat has a pretty new skirt.
It’s lovely just to walk, so we aim for the river, just taking it  all in. Shops, restaurants where people already sit at sidewalk tables, tempting  displays of creamy gelato, crowds of people, so many languages, people zipping  and winding through the pedestrians in tiny cars or motorbikes.
We get to the Arno, walk along the bridge, pass lines for various  museums–those are for another day–and wander in the warm breezes to Ponte Vecchio.
This is very full of tourists, but worth the stroll along the shops  with the sparkle of gold in the windows. Gold and leather–two must haves in  Florence. We make our way down the sloping street, spot the gelato shop BW and I  made good use of our last trip. That’s for after lunch, so we find a little  trattoria. BW gets the biggest pilsner of beer I’ve ever seen. Kat gets a glass  of red, I get a glass of white. Jason sticks with water. It’s pizza for me, and  the first bite reminds me how fresh and gorgeous the food is here–everywhere  here. We keep it light because there’s gelato coming.
It’s nice to just sit, watch Florence go by, drink wine, eat lovely  food. Recharge before we start back, with that stop for gelato. Lemon for  me–wonderfully tart, soft, fresh. It’s like eating chilled sunshine.
Back along the narrow streets, through the crowds. I see a man  navigating through those crowds on a bicycle with his drycleaning slung over his  shoulder.
Another shop, more presents off my Christmas list, then back where the other suite’s ready. It’s just lovely, just as beautifully appointed. We  have a shared foyer, the big lounge we’ll also share, and our own personal  spaces.
Time to unpack and take a much deserved nap.
Everyone’s still sleeping. I expect we’ll do very casual for dinner  tonight as we’ve accomplished a whole bunch of a lot on this travel day. I  believe I’m going to pop the cork on the complimentary bottle of champagne and  not think about what we’ll do tomorrow until tomorrow.

TTP Weekend

As we gear up for Nora’s travelogues from Florence, here’s a belated recap of the Turn the Page 18th Anniversary Weekend — a busy three days that led directly to the RWA annual conference for Nora (and me).

The weekend started with Nora’s final first pitch for the Hagerstown Suns who will be moving to Virginia next year.  We have a great shot of Nora on the mound, courtesy of Bruce Wilder’s friend, Richard Dougan.

Photo by Richard Dougan

The first order of business on Saturday was a sit down in the courtyard of Inn BoonsBoro for a radio interview with Jane Cowan of the Australian Broadcast Company that aired on July 23 (click here for the interview).  Some readers on Facebook asked why they sat so far apart and it was because Nora sat by the microphone and they filmed the interview.

IMG_1199Then it was onto the signing.  The line was around the corner when the staff at Turn the Page opened the door at 10.  The stellar lineup of authors included Kristan Higgins, Deanna Raybourn, Mary Blayney, Laura Kaye and Kathryn O’Sullivan.  They chatted with readers, signed books and had a fabulous time during the four-hour event, including the corporate entertainment photo shoot.IMG_1200

One of my jobs during a signing is to take photos of anyone who would like to pose with Nora.  Here are a couple from Saturday:

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Amanda (with Nora) is a regular at TTP events.  She’s currently battling colon cancer and reads a Nora book at every treatment.  Her nurses now know to ask about which Nora she’s reading!

photo Donna

Donna (left) and Neva (right) are another set of pals who love to come to the events.  I’ll probably take their photo in September too!

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Stacey (below with Nora and then Kristan) is another regular at the signings, but this time she brought work along with her and promoted the Howard County Library System.IMG_20130713_124508_826

Lora comes to nearly every Turn the Page event and this time she won a door prize (signed by JD herself).


Jessie (right) brought her mom Becky (who was thrilled to meet Nora!) for the weekend.

Sunday was the first Fall Into A Brunch with Nora event at Dan’s Restaurant & Taphouse.  Seventy readers took up every available seat to enjoy a delicious meal and great conversations about books.  They also raised over $1000 for the Discovery Station in Hagerstown by vying for one of the four gift baskets on display.

Nora and I stopped at every table to chat and for photos, then everyone went out on Main Street for the official group shot.


The Fall Into A Brunch with Nora gathering at Dan's Restaurant and Taphouse.



3QQ for Mary Blayney

Three Quick Questions (3QQ) is an ongoing feature at Fall Into the Story that highlights some of the authors scheduled to join Nora at a Turn the Page signing.  This week, we’ll meet three authors who will be at the Turn the Page’s 18th Anniversary signing on July 13 from noon – 2 pm.

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Mary Blayney recently completed her Pennistan series for Bantam with One More Kiss, the fifth story about the Duke Meryon’s unconventional siblings.  After writing two books for Silhouette in the late 1980s, Mary has focused on one of her favorite times in history — England’s Regency.   She’s even brought the Regency to the novellas she writes for the annual anthologies with JD Robb.  Her six novellas have the continuing element of Poppy’s Coin, a magic coin that changes the lives of everyone who wishes on it, whether they know they are wishing on a magic coin or not.

When she’s not writing, Mary is an experienced and inveterate traveler.  Next week she’ll travel to Atlanta with Nora for the 2013 Romance Writers of America conference where they will join over 450 writers at the annual Readers for Life Literacy signing.  But one of Mary’s favorite places to visit is Inn Boonsboro where she’s been frequent and welcome guest since 2009.

Onto the questions:

1. One More Kiss is the last book in a long line of stories about the Pennistan family. Each book needs it’s own particular type of research, but overall what was it like to return to the world and characters you created.? And was there something new you learned as you wrote about Jess and Beatrice?


After five books going back to Derbyshire to see the Pennistans is like checking in with old friends.  I love the chance to think about and explore how their marriages have changed them and how the three brothers and one sister appear to the newcomer, Beatrice. But there was a long road to that final epilogue. Along the way it was tremendous fun to do my version of a Regency house party where more than one relationship is explored and where that perennial secondary character William Bendasbrook finally found his own happily ever after.

Something new I learned? No doubt about it.  The secret behind the brilliance of Rembrandt’s drawings fascinated me and the way Jess used it to explain his love for Beatrice was like icing on the cake, an idea that came out as though I was channeling his thoughts.

2. This fall you are reteaming with JD Robb, Ruth Ryan Langan, Mary Kay McComas and newcomer Elaine Fox for the Mirror, Mirror anthology coming in late September. The stories all take their cues from fairy tales — what can you tell us about yours?

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Mary signing The Unquiet anthology with Ruth Ryan Langan and Nora at RWA 2012

If Wishes Were Horses” in the MIRROR MIRROR anthology is a riff on Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Yes, set in the Regency and yes the magic coin is an essential part of the story as it has been in all my novellas. Goldi is the maid Martha Stepp and the “Three Bears” is Sgt Jack Tresbere, a soon to retire infantry aid looking for someone with whom to share life’s next adventure. Jack and Martha get off to a rocky start when he realizes that she is the woman sleeping in his major’s bed the night he and the major arrive at Craig’s Castle

3. You’ve been a frequent guest at Inn Boonsboro since it opened in January 2009. Do you have a favorite room? And what is the ONE thing you recommend a first-time guest do while they are at the Inn?


It’s hard to pick a favorite room. All the beds are fabulous so it’s impossible to pick using that as criteria. I love Eve and Roarke. I do believe it has the best bathroom configuration. And I love the lighting, the covered grey button and the Galahad pillow. Of all of them it’s the one where I feel like Eve and Roarke are in the room next door. But then Elizabeth and Darcy has access to the fabulous front balcony where you can watch Boonsboro pass by and the most comfortable of reading chairs. No, I have never seen the ghost, not any of them. I think they understand that while I totally accept their existence I have no need to actually meet any of them.

My biggest recommendation is to treat the Inn like home. To ask for anything you need or want and not to miss the chance to talk with other guest at the wine and cheese service You’ll be amazed at how much you have in common. Yes I’m aware that’s TWO things and not ONE.

If you would like a signed copy of Mary’s books, just click on one of the links to Turn the Page, place an order and the fabulous TTP staff will make sure Mary signs them before she finishes up on Saturday.

And if you have any questions for Mary, post them here and I’ll be sure to ask her, then post the answers in the recap of the signing weekend (scheduled for the evening of July 14).

Three Quick Questions (3QQ) for Deanna Raybourn

Three Quick Questions (3QQ) is a new, ongoing feature at Fall Into the Story that highlights some of the authors scheduled to join Nora at a Turn the Page signing.  This week, we’ll meet three authors who will be at the July 13 signing (Turn the Page’s 18th anniversary signing) from noon – 2 pm.

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Deanna Raybourn at RWA 2012

Deanna Raybourn is a New York Times best-selling author whose Lady Julia Grey series tells the stories of Victorian sleuth Lady Julia and her enigmatic partner, private enquiry agent Nicholas Brisbane. The series has been a reader favorite since the first book, Silent in the Grave, was released in late 2007.  (You can include one Nora Roberts among those readers!)  Silent in the Grave won the 2008 RITA for Best Novel with Strong Romantic Elements

A Spear of Summer Grass, Deanna’s latest book, is set in 1923 Kenya where (after the uproar brought on by her latest exploits in Paris), Delilah Drummond is exiled to her favorite stepfather’s savannah manor house until gossip subsides.

This is Deanna’s third visit to a TTP signing and we are delighted to welcome her back.  Now, onto the questions.

1. You had a long career writing before you were first published.  Then your first book, Silent in the Grave, won the 2008 RITA for Best Novel with Strong Romantic Elements, beating one Nora Roberts’ High Noon.  How did you feel when you heard that Nora said if she had to lose, she was delighted that Silent in the Grave was the winner because she loved that book?

It was honestly one of the most phenomenal compliments I’ve ever received. I wrote for fourteen years before I got published, and I collected a lot of rejection letters. To go from that little bubble of isolation to someone like Nora Roberts knowing my name was surreal. I was shocked and delighted that she’d read the book, and even more excited that she liked it. She was just so enthusiastic and so gracious about my work—I realized she was not just a wildly successful writer but also a fabulous role model. To cheerlead newcomers in your field shows tremendous grace. I joke that I want to be her when I grow up, but it’s not really a joke!

2. When you go back to add another story to a series such as the Lady Julia Grey books do you immediately feel welcomed back into her world or do you have to take the time to re-transition?

At this point I’ve written more than half a million words in the Julia series, so it’s always like coming home to pick up her story again. It is an absolute luxury to be able to spend so much time with the same core group of characters—especially characters I’m so fond of. It took me two years to write the first book in the series, years I happily spent researching and world-building. The effort I put in at the beginning means I can just supplement with additional reading as I go along, adding even more detail and color to their late-Victorian world. Of course, the difficulty now is in making sure I don’t contradict myself throughout the series. It would be disastrously easy to forget a character’s eye color or how I killed them off!

3. Your current book, A Spear of Summer Grass, is positively modern as it’s set in 1923, compared the Victorian era of the Lady Julia Grey books.  What were the most interesting differences in writing about a woman living in the small British community in Africa during the roaring 20s compared to a woman like Lady Julia who had to wear a heck of a lot more clothes?  Or were there more similarities than one might think?

There was tremendous freedom in writing about Delilah Drummond, not only because she’s a woman of the 1920s but also because she is a particularly liberated sort of woman. Julia pushes the boundaries of acceptable behavior for 1890 at times, but she gets away with it because she is wealthy, titled, and from a notoriously eccentric family. (And if you are at all familiar with historical eccentrics of the English aristocracy, you know Julia is actually quite tame!) Delilah is a cat of an entirely different color. She has also had a privileged upbringing, but while Julia was the petted darling of a large family, Delilah has been essentially rootless. Her mother is dotingly neglectful, her father dead. In part to remedy the lack of a structured family life, Delilah lives large, doing exactly as she pleases—with whomever she pleases. She is a force of nature, damaged and self-absorbed, but also vital and dynamic and incredibly courageous. What they have in common is that they are both women pushing against the restrictions and expectations of their times—it just so happens that their times were very different.

Where else can you find Deanna other than Turn the Page this Saturday?  Take your pick of fun: on her delectably delicious blog, on her Facebook page or on Twitter, where she waxes eloquent about many, many things from style, to research to the Tour de France.

If you would like a signed copy of Deanna’s books, just click on one of the links to Turn the Page, place an order and the fabulous TTP staff will make sure Deanna finishes up on Saturday.

And if you have any questions for Deanna, post them here and I’ll be sure to ask her, then post the answers in the recap of the signing weekend (scheduled for the evening of July 14).


Three quick questions for Kristan Higgins

Three Quick Questions is a new, ongoing feature at Fall Into the Story that will highlight some of the authors scheduled to join Nora at a Turn the Page signing.  This week, we’ll meet three authors who will be at the July 13 signing (Turn the Page’s 18th anniversary signing) from noon – 2 pm.

TTP manager Janeen Solberg and Kristan Higgins

Kristan Higgins is a New York Times best-selling author of contemporary romances.  She won the RITA for best contemporary romance in 2008 for Catch of the Day and again in 2010 for It Had To Be You.  Her current book The Best Man was named one of Amazon’s top 10 Romances for the first half of 2013.


BTW, Kristan is performing feats of great endurance by flying in for the signing early Saturday morning, driving out to the bookstore, chatting with everyone on line, signing books, then driving back to the airport to fly to Atlanta that night.  I bow in awe because after chatting with all the lovely readers who come to the signings, snapping photos when necessary and lending a hand to the TTP staff, all I want to do is be served food and drink.

Here are Kristan’s three questions:

  1. After the signing at Turn the Page, you head down to Atlanta where you are the RWA Awards Luncheon speaker on Friday, July 19, do you remember the speakers at your very first RWA conference?

I sure do! It was Lisa Kleypas, and she was magnificent! Very down-to-earth and funny…and she made me cry, which I love for some masochistic reason. I also heard Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Suzanne Brockman speak, and at the time, I could barely even look at them directly, because they were just so fabulous. I didn’t know any published authors and was too busy being in awe to have very clear memories of that conference. My first book had just come out; it was my first National conference, and I alternated between embarrassing fan-girl moments and hiding in my room.

2. The RWA conference is the place where romance writers mix business with pleasure — meeting with editors and agents and hanging out with pals.  What’s your favorite (non-RITA award winning) memory of the conferences you’ve attended?

I love the big signing (Kristan will join Nora at the Readers for Life Literacy signing on July 17). It’s a little terrifying; you think, “Please, please let just a few people come to my table” and then holy heck-o-rama, there’s a whole bunch! It’s so thrilling and fun, and it makes all those hours hunched over the keyboard in stretched-out yoga pants and stained t-shirts completely worth it.

3. You’re known for writing witty, award-winning contemporary romances.  In your current book, The Best Man, you write in third person rather than the first person, which you’ve used successfully in other books.  What prompts that change? Is it harder or easier to write?

The first time I made the switch, it was for the simple reason that the hero (Liam from UNTIL THERE WAS YOU) had too much to say. Same with James in SOMEBODY TO LOVE, and yes, definitely with Levi in THE BEST MAN.

It was hard to make the switch at first; my men kept waxing poetic and talking, dropping flowery descriptions of sunsets and food. Then I’d look over at McIrish, my sainted husband, and think, “Does he even know what ‘cerulean’ means? Would he use it in a sentence? Would I respect him if he did?”

The harder part came from having to cut back on what I could show the heroine doing. In first person, you know everything about a character. In third, you only get half as much space, so it was a little tricky. But I love it! That being said, I imagine I’ll write another book in first person, just because sometimes the story is better from one person’s point of view.

BTW, Thanks for having me at TTP! It’s a tremendous honor.

Where else can you find Kristan other than Turn the Page this Saturday?  Take your pick of fun: on her blog, on her Facebook page where she has deliciously fun Man Wars with her pal Jill Shalvis or as a regular contributor at The SIsterhood of the Jaunty Quills.

If you would like a signed copy of Kristan’s books, just click on the link to Turn the Page, place an order and the fabulous TTP staff will make sure Kristan signs it before she jets off into the night.

And if you have any questions for Kristan, post them here and I’ll be sure to ask her, then post the answers in the recap of the signing weekend (scheduled for the evening of July 14).



A summer pastime

Nora was selected to Quirk Books’ Literary Baseball All-Star Team!  She’s playing the hot corner, just like her favorite baseball player, Brooks Robinson.

This got me to thinking:  who would I vote onto a Romance All-Start Baseball team?

I’m not going to choose positions, but for me, Nora would captain a team of Romance vets including Jane Austen, Mary Stewart, Georgette Heyer, Linda Howard, Mary Balogh, Nalini Singh, Jill Shalvis and Sarah Morgan.

Who would play on your Romance All-Star team?



The name game

We’re having a quick discussion about the Dream trilogy on Nora’s Facebook page.  This is probably my most favorite of all the trilogies — I love those women and their friendship and generosity toward each other.

Or it could be that a Laura is the heroine of Finding the Dream.

Once I actually suggested to Nora that it might be simple and elegant to just name all her heroines Laura forever more.

She — rather unsympathetically — told me no.  I’ve slowly accepted that decision over the past decade and have instead enjoyed the variety of names of characters over the years.  My favorites?  Brooks (The Witness) and Cilla (Tribute).  I love Ford as a hero’s name too!

Readers have shared stories about the names they love in Nora’s books.  Some people have named their babies after a beloved character and send lovely photos.

How do you feel about character’s names?  Do you have a favorite?  ~Laura

Fall into a Brunch with Nora

How would you like to have brunch with Nora?

Now’s your chance as we begin taking reservations for our “Fall into a Brunch with Nora”. The brunch will be held at 11:00 AM on Sunday, July 14th at Dan’s Restaurant & Tap House. The price of the Brunch will be $30 per person. This price includes your meal, drinks (non-alcoholic), dessert and gratuity for the wait staff.  Due to limited seating, we ask that you refrain from purchasing tickets for spouses or family members who are not Nora Fans.

Payment for the Brunch will only be accepted in “cash” format, i.e. cash, check or money order. Payments through PayPal can NOT be accepted.

We will also be holding a raffle for a chance to sit with Nora!! Three very lucky people will be chosen to sit at Nora’s table. These tickets can be purchased for an additional fee ($5.00 each) and all proceeds will go towards The Nora Roberts Foundation. Right before the Brunch, Nora will draw the names of those who will sit at her table. We will not be selling these tickets the day of the brunch, so please get yours early.

The final cut-off date for the purchase of tickets (Brunch and Raffle), or for reimbursements of ANY kind is June 28, 2013.

If you purchase a ticket and then find that you will not be able to attend, please contact me before this date. I will NOT be able to issue any refunds after the June 28th deadline.

If you would like to attend the Brunch, please email me at: I will send you a reply email with all the needed information so that you may purchase your tickets.

Hope to see you there!

~ Jeannie

Summer reading survival

Nora and I love to spend time at home though she seems to achieve that a little more consistently than I do these days.  She’s at her desk writing (next year’s hardcover — no title yet) while I’m heading out on a tour of the Mid-Atlantic states that will go from New Jersey to Virginia over the next week.

Guess where I’d rather be?

It’s taken a while but I’ve learned the beauty of driving to an audiobook soundtrack.  And instead of the usual 10 books (you know, 2 to read, 8 just in case) in my extra bag I’ve now got a kindle loaded up for reading when I get to the next stop.  (This time I’m driving, but when I fly I do carry at least one take off and landing book)

What are your tricks for keeping up with your favorite authors while you travel?  And who do you plan to read this summer? ~Laura

The official blog for Nora Roberts and J.D. Robb readers