On not taking pictures of extravagantly beautiful things, or Florence: Day 3

Is it the restraint of love? Is it reverence? Amid the effervescent joy of buildings that look like music; the muscular formality of a 50-foot-high gate on an ancient wall; the fleeting intoxication of wafting jasmine: Why, exactly, amid these things, do I feel the contrary impulses to stop and snap an iPhoto yet  not snap an iPhoto?

It’s reverence is what it is, no? Reverential surrender so deep snapping a photo would be like naming a nameless God or stealing a soul.

You just plain want the beauty of Florence and that’s enough. Forget the illusion that it can be taken home in a doggy bag. Just want to be here among the Hard Rock Cafe and New York City T-shirts worn by Italians that make sense when worn by Italians. Just want to be here in the shadows of the Italianate style. Just want to stand in the shadow of a medieval gate and imagine its closing in an evening.

Outside our window at the Pensione Crocini a bone-colored awning shimmers in the breeze through ancient wavy glass, looking like nothing so much as a pixellated screen momentarily frozen: emblem of colliding worlds.

OK and lemme say this, too, vis a vis distilling rules from beauty: three stories is the right number of stories for a building and its windows. Three three three three three. All up and down the Arno, buildings face the river and they all have three stories: It’s a river of architectural rules that could be spelled out like this: If you have a river, put some buildings along it. Make the buildings similar enough that there is harmony on the river, yet different enough that there is variation. Color them in shades of earthy amber, sandstone, mustard and salmon; place clay tiles on the roofs; make pale bone and white awnings that ruffle in the breeze off the river. In the distance place a tower with a crenelated wall at the top from which cannons might be shot. Put the whole thing in early spring and make the temperature between 68 and 74 degrees F. Put puffy white cumulus clouds in a blue sky and add the sound of children playing and Vespas whizzing over the Ponte Vecchio.

Tomorrow: to Le Santucce to meet folks and for three weeks spend time dreaming aloud.

p.s. I didn’t take any pictures for the aforementioned reasons i.e. some kind of scrupulosity born of profound reverence. Tomorrow however before we leave it may be different. I said to Norma on our walk today that I’m not taking pictures because you’re just going to have to take my word for it: We were here, it was beautiful beyond all imaginings and beyond all iPhoto renderings and we will leave it behind tomorrow but it will be here for you later, should you come, any time at all, until the inevitable catastrophe of time erases it all but we’ll be gone then too, all of us, won’t we?

In Florence. Italianate facades. Espresso on Magenta and Corso Italia and a boy with a harmonica

Kids are beautiful in cities. They ain’t been ground up yet. There’s harmonicas. After grueling San Francisco-Paris-Florence flight we ride the tiny Pensione Crocini elevator to the tall windows on the courtyard, wash, nap, then espresso at the cafe and luxuriating in the beautiful visual rhythm of the Italianate style, the beautiful rhythm of spring on the Arno, which is rushing past the American Consulate now with the heavy spring rains (spotty snow still on the Alps as we flew from Paris), art students in retro ’80s T-shirts and Deloitte employees in white shirts and black ties on motos, and the carabarini with their carbines guarding the embassy down Corso Italia a block from the Arno, golden buildings in blue light, our tiny cage elevator with the seat where the operator used to sit, our courtyard with the magnolia tree in flower, the salmon-colored apartment block sprouting satellite antennas and bedsheets drying in the warm May air and laundry and awnings and the ubiquitous shutters. A city like a painting, pretty in its particulars, well composed, holding together, yielding up its treasure as long as one cares to keep looking, flowing past on bicycles and Maseratis and scooters. Three euros for two espressos at a red metal table under an awning in the breeze off the river. High walls. High fashion. Mysteries behind towering doors.

Saturday we meet Janet Shepard and Joya Cory and her husband Richard here at the Crocini and Sunday we take the train south from Florence to Castiglion Fiorentino and start the first of two nine-day writing workshops at the Le Santucce residence, looking forward to seeing our hosts Alfeo and Miranda and Luisella and Luca .

Easy ways to get to Le Chateau du Pin

Would you like to come to the Chateau du Pin writing retreat with a well-planned route that is easy to follow? My wife Norma is a great planner, plus she reads French, German and Italian, so she has figured it all out for you.

First: Would you like to fly into Paris, or into Nantes? The advantage of flying into Paris is that it’s Paris. Paris is an amazing, life-changing city. Nothing can describe Paris. If you haven’t been there, you owe it to yourself to come a couple of days early and see Paris. The advantage of flying into Nantes is that it is easier to get to the chateau from Nantes than from Paris.

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Charles de Gaulle airport

Getting to the Chateau du Pin from Paris

To get to the chateau from Paris, you will need to take the TGV from Gare Montparnasse to the city of Angers. To get to the Gare Montparnasse directly from Charles de Gaulle Airport, take the Les Cars Air France shuttle (16.60€) to Gare Montparnasse. (If you are spending a few days in Paris, take a taxi or other form of transport to Gare Montparnasse.) From Gare Montparnasse take the one-hour and forty-minute TGV ride to the city of Angers (book via Raileurope.com: $88 U.S. and up. Trains travel at speeds up to 200mph. They depart every one to two hours.) Then from the train station in Angers, take a fifteen-minute local train ride to the village of Champtocé-sur-Loire. Trains depart from Angers to Champtocé-sur-Loire at 12:30 pm arriving 12:45 pm; 3:37 pm arriving 4:00 pm; and 6:05 pm arriving 6:30 pm. Depending on which train you take, we can pick you up at the Champtocé-sur-Loire train station at 1:00 pm, 4:00 pm, or 6:30pm. If you arrive and have not made prior plans to be picked up, or you don’t see anyone there waiting for you, call or text Norma at 415 317-4460. We are here to help!

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Nantes Atlantique airport, Hall 1

Getting to the Chateau du Pin from Nantes

It’s easier and quicker to get to the village of Champtocé-sur-Loire if you fly into Nantes, and the total prices are comparable, once you add up all the train travel. In Nantes Airport, Hall 1, buy a 7.00€ shuttle ticket  for Gare de Nantes. At Gare de Nantes, buy a ticket to Champtocé-sur-Loire, 17.00€. Take train from Nantes to Champtocé-sur-Loire (7:41 am arrive 8:30, 12:11 pm arrive 12:58 , and 5:35 pm arrive 6:30 pm).  (You can also buy this ticket in advance through RailEurope.) We can pick you up at the train station at Champtocé-sur-Loire at 8:45 am, 1:00 pm, or 6:30 pm. Or call or text Norma at 415 317-4460. If you have any questions please let us know–we are here to help!

Surely, true inspiration comes from within

But writing in a magnificent French château surrounded by 300 acres of topiary, formal gardens, parks, woodland trails and vineyards can’t hurt.

Maybe you’re perfectly content writing by yourself day after day in your kitchen on that old table, or at your cramped desk in the spare bedroom. Fine. À chacun son goût. You can find us this September at Le Château du Pin, a private French château in the Loire Valley which the French government has officially classified as a “Monument Historique.” We’ll be writing together in daily Amherst Writers and Artists workshops, using the power of the group to keep us from the many devilish maladies endemic to the literary calling.

Now look. I’m not a rich guy. I don’t come from money. I wouldn’t know how to get up on my high horse even if I could afford one. I’m as proletarian as the next lug.

But who doesn’t like a well-appointed Louis XIV drawing room?  I mean, even a person of modest means has choices. We could do our workshops in a nice Ramada Inn conference room in Fremont, or Watertown, or Atlanta. Or we could go to France. What’s it gonna be?

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Maybe our writing will get an extra boost from Le Pin’s gardens and grounds, which the Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication has designated “Des Jardins Remarquables.” Or maybe we’ll just enjoy that for its own sake and let our writing take care of itself. All I know is—and I’ve been  a professional writer for about 30 years—this stuff gets old. Writing, or trying to learn to write, or looking for inspiration in the same old postage stamp of land, well, it worked for William Faulkner, but he was an odd duck. He liked to get so drunk he couldn’t get out of bed and then write from there. So, like I said. À chacun son goût. Or, in English: What’s wrong with getting out of the house now and then? I like to at least put my slippers on. Anyway …

You have to hand it to my wife, Norma, she of the many languages spoken and the intrepid traveler’s spirit. She found this place. She did all the work. We’ll just go and sleep in big French beds and come down in the mornings and eat croissants and then languish in the glory of our own collective unconscious.

So here’s the program, basically the same as the program at the Marconi Conference Center, and at Guest House in Chester, Connecticut, and in Tuscany and Amsterdam:

Mornings and most afternoons will be devoted to writing workshops. Workshops at Le Château du Pin will take place in the Grand Salon on the ground floor. When workshops are not taking place, the entire ground floor, including the tower library, Grand Salon, Petit Salon, and dining room are at your disposal for reading, writing, dreaming, and relaxing throughout the day. Feel free to wander into a secluded nook in the gardens to write, walk the trails of Le Pin, relax by the pond in the formal garden, or venture into the charming small town of Champtocé-sur-Loire. Angers is the nearest major town (about 15 miles away) and is also a beautiful place to visit. Nantes is also in easy reach. Check out this page to get more information on getting to and from Château du Pin.

TopiaryPondPrices range from $1699 to $1999. Some of the rooms are small singles and others are large with king- or queen-sized beds. Bathrooms are shared with no more than one other person. If you choose one of the smaller rooms, rest assured that there is plenty of room in the château and on the property in which to escape for peace, relaxation, and a beautiful view. All workshops, breakfast, nightly family-style dinners, and a private conference with Cary are included in the price of registration. $975 saves any room. For more information about rooms and reservations check out our online store. If you have further questions or would like to talk to Cary about your writing goals, give him a call at 415.308.5685 or email us at info@carytennis.com. Allez, on y va!

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Thanks to Amherst Writers and Artists Folks in the Northeast!

A super-big thanks! to all the Amherst Writers and Artists workshop leaders, friends and fans who have spread the word about our upcoming four-day AWA workshop/retreat at the Guest House in Chester, Connecticut! (And if you know somebody who might like to know, please feel free to pass this along.)

Big thanks go to Jan Nielsen of the  Universalist Church in West Hartford, Ct., Patricia Bender of Rutgers University, author, teacher and workshop leader Annecy Baez, author and teacher Grace Farrell who can be found at the Carolina Fiber and Fiction Center, and Beth Goren, practitioner of Body-Mind Centering, and Marcia Gomes, and Maureen Ciara, and Jill Quist, and  Robert Haydon Jones, and the Westport Writers’ Workshop and Valerie Ann Leff.

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And a special thanks to Patricia Chaffee for alerting Connecticut writer Sherri Daley of Moffly Media, whose May 1 roundup will highlight not just my Chester retreat but Sandi Shelton’s “Words at Play” workshops, Lisa Saunders and the Mystic Writers Colony,  and mystery writer Roberta Isleib’s Seascape “Escape to Write” Writers Retreat taking place at the Guest House in September. And of course Pat Schneider, Maureen Buchanan Jones and all those who make Amherst Writers and Artists the amazing organization that it is today. You are all making my upcoming visit to Connecticut a special treat!

Did I leave anyone out? If so, contact me. Just wanted to say thanks. With your help this thing will come off and we’ll be able to come back in 2015.–CT

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Cary on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence

Cary on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence

Cary Tennis

415 308-5685

www.carytennis.com

https://www.facebook.com/cary.tennis

 

New column today? Hmmm …

Write for Advice

Dear Reader,

Well, I’m in Monterey this morning, here to help some writers. Also here to write on my own.

When I was writing the Since You Asked column for Salon.com, which I did for nearly 12 years, every day I wrote it I wanted to be proud. It was an extraordinary opportunity for a writer, for someone who really doesn’t know how to do much else and so has had to find jobs writing and editing and weather the uncertainties and deprivations of such jobs. Having had writing jobs and lost writing jobs I knew also that it would eventually end. That had been my experience and my observation, that writing jobs end. They live at the most 15 or so years, like dogs. So I was ready for it to end.

But every day until it ended I wanted it to be something I could be proud of. So I never slacked. I never dashed anything off. It may have seemed at times that I did but when the column was sloppy or not well thought out it was just because I reached the limits of my own personal ability. Because I knew it would end and I wanted to serve in that strange army with whatever strange distinction I could muster.

So when I left Salon, when that job ended, I thought at first that the noble and fine thing to do would be to end it. I did not want it to have a sloppy, drawn-out death of half-starts. So if I were to continue, I would have to give it the same effort as before. This I continue to hold to. So if I cannot give it the same attention and care and desperate effort as before, I do not think I should do it.

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This raises a problem, because the one reason I was able to throw myself into it every day was that I knew it was paying the bills. I knew that as long as it was a salaried occupation, I could give it everything and be exhausted and unable to do much else for the rest of the day, and that was OK because the nut had been secured.

The nut is now not secured. So when I write the column I must somehow again reach that fevered certainty that what I am doing is vital.

I am going to try to reach that condition by placing “Donate” buttons at the end of the column. I will see if that works. I figure on some days, if the column reaches a person, truly reaches them, changes their life for the moment, as I have been told these columns occasionally do, then it would not be unreasonable to say that such a column might be worth $25, or $50, or more. Not every day of course, but I would like to present that option, that when a column truly moves someone, they can express that, and by doing so, they can keep me writing it. And of course it would also be possible to donate $1, or $5, or nothing. The column would be free. The donation would be like an expression, a statement: Yes, Cary, I want you to keep doing this. Do that again. Here’s some vital inducement to do that again.

Because I really am going to have to figure out how to make a living.

So for today, because I do not feel I can give it everything I have, because I am in Monterey and have to go to breakfast and see if I can be of service to some other writers, because the day is uncertain and I am in a strange hotel, because I never want to rush it or short-change it or cut corners, I do not think I am going to write a column today. Besides, I have to figure out how to work those “Donate” buttons.

Thanks for being there.

CT

p.s. Oh, one other thing. I find that I miss the daily writing for an audience. I have never acquired the habit of blogging about whatever, because that seemed pointless and self-indulgent and also because I had the column as a perfect outlet for my daily writing obsession. But now that I don’t have the column, and I can’t afford, mentally, spiritually and economically, to write the column every day, I may just adopt the habit of blogging every day about just whatever. It would at least give me the illusion of being in touch with others. And the bar would be a bit lower, so that if I had nothing of any consequence to say, I could still meander a bit, like a morning walk with friends, not saying much of anything, just mumbling, but being there.

Anyway, that’s it for today, from me, for real this time, down here in Monterey in the fog, by the beautiful, beautiful sea.

Write for Advice

Extraordinary Friends

Over the past six years of writing workshops and retreats we have met so many extraordinary people with extraordinary stories to tell that Cary and I decided to feature a person every week and share their writing or other creative project with rest of our writing community. My pick for this first column is Archana Kalegaonkar. We first met Archana at our 2013 writing retreat in Tuscany. After this adventure she started a blog in which she paints beautifully rendered, intimate portraits of life in India. Here is a link to her site. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

—Norma

Acclamations, accolades, encomiums, commendations, panegyrics and nice things people say

Even from as far away as Australia, I could feel the relaxed, open atmosphere he created among us and found it surprisingly easy to get writing.

Alice Allan, Melbourne, Australia

I was writing descriptions without events, like jokes without punch-lines. The workshops led me to try more active, engaging and complex storytelling. I gave up some fixed ideas about what kinds of writing I do and what kinds of writing are worth doing. After a while a novel erupted.

Anonymous

I avoid workshops because of the damage they can do to writers. Cary’s workshops are nothing but helpful, quietly and subtly leading writers to do their best in an open and welcoming environment.

Randy Osborne, Author of Big Pinch World, Made of This, and a forthcoming memoir

It was a cozy place with all of us talking across borders. I felt charged, and my imagination took me to various lands. I could be myself.  I had thought I was a certain kind of a writer and then suddenly I wrote about a Pterodactyl and I was like “Whoa… who wrote that?”

 — Geetanjali Dighe, Mumbai

I hadn’t done any real creative writing in years. If only I could find a workshop where my writing wouldn’t get ripped to shreds and I wouldn’t feel like a loser idiot. Cary’s approach is flexible and supportive. The prompts take the work in interesting and unexpected directions.

Lorri Leon, Pacifica, California

Nobody waits with a red pencil, nobody judges. The comments are limited to what rings true, what strikes your imagination. After a while I noticed I was writing to feel that ring of truth for myself.

Leslie Ingham, Palo Alto

We write together. We’re all in the same boat. Now I’m a writer, because here I am, writing. I wouldn’t take a class from anyone else.  I wouldn’t let anyone else see inside my head.

Judy Evans, Los Angeles

The rules protect the often fragile and sensitive nature of writing.  Cary is the ultimate host and leader. I’ve been in writing workshops for over twenty years. This one, by far, is the best. Norma almost always bakes amazing snacks, and the dogs provide a little levity. I would urge anyone to attend a series of these workshops and feel your soul begin to expand.

Julia Penrose, Half Moon Bay, California

The structure is creative and supportive; I like it so much that I’ve been back every week. Writing is part of my life now. I look forward to those two hours of group writing each week, both to spark my own creativity and to hear the amazing things others write.

 — Molly Mudick, Phoenix, Arizona

We write in warm surrounds of vibrant voices from far away places in an intimate cyber-circle. We write of things, ideas and stories that lure and propel. Cary guides us to ways of knowing each other and remembering ourselves. It’s where I breathe deeply and write.

Treva Stose, Annapolis, Maryland

“A writer is someone who writes.” Hearing that line every week and reading my writing aloud, without fear, made it come true. I write. I am a writer. I want to be a surfer… A surfer is someone who surfs. I’ve been surfing since May 2010. I dance harder and smile while I’m moving and twisting my body, because that is what dancers do. I am a dancer. I took pieces of wood from the basement and painted them and hung them on a fence. It’s my gallery. Open studio is tonight. Or tomorrow. Or whenever anyone passes by. … I am an artist.

— Shannon Weber, San Francisco

Links for Writers–Books, Blogs, Lists, Etc.

Here are some of the links I mentioned in the Santa Barbara Novel Mentor workshop in February 2013, about dialog, pitches, queries and beginnings of novels.

dialog

Writing Dialog by Tom Chiarella. I lent this book to somebody and have to get it back. It’s a good book. Useful. Interesting.

“Are we still doing the dishes?” This is the page I took that dialog exercise from that we did in the workshop together. I suspect that it’s something Mr. Butler might use on occasion, as it’s on the FSU site. I liked doing that. I liked the suppressed tension that many of our writings had. And then if you recall I thought, now let’s raise the stakes, and so suggested that we write a dialog between two characters, one of whom asks the other, “What do you want more than anything else in the world … and what are you not willing to do to get it?” That last bit, expressed in the negative, is hard to grasp at first but it’s basically saying, “Would you stop at nothing?”

12 Exercises for improving dialog by John Hewitt. Some of these are pretty good. You can’t go wrong trying things out. The more you do, the more you learn.

And how can you go wrong with dialog advice from Stephen J. Cannell, right?

pitches

Here is former agent Nathan Bransford on the one-sentence pitch.

This from writer Hilari Bell on writing a pitch I find useful because it takes us through several iterations of a hypothetical pitch.

Now, of course, this is all in addition to all the things that Michael Neff has to say and all the resources that are on the Algonkian site.

queries

I thought this query letter madlib idea from Nathan Bransford was funny. And it could be useful. As long as what you build on it sounds reasonably like it was written by a human.

openings

I love this long list of novel openings, as well as these 5 ways it can go wrong, both from DarcyPattison.com. Forgive me if I didn’t really know who Darcy Pattison was … I’m not your ideal student of contemporary fiction.

I guess it couldn’t hurt to read this list from the American Book Review of 100 best opening lines, but somehow it leave me flat. I think because there’s no analysis. We don’t really know if those are the best opening lines or they just happen to be the opening lines of some really great novels. Worth thinking about: Would they be in there if the novels that came after them sucked? For instance a couple of them might stop an agent cold. Like No. 65, “You better not never tell nobody but God,” from Alice Walker’s The Color Purple (1982). Or Saul Bellow’s No. 69, “If I am out of my mind, it’s all right with me, thought Moses Herzog.” If it wasn’t a famous and great novel by a famous and great novelist, would it get recommended as a great first line? I dunno. I’m just saying. Saul Bellow, Herzog (1964). And there are among them, of course, lines I like a whole lot, like: 67. It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York. —Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar (1963) and 75. In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. —Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms (1929). And here is an appropriately doubting and irreverent take on those same 100 first lines.

OK, so that’s it for now. I just promised at the Santa Barbara conference that I’d get back to you on those links and stuff. You could look forever on the Web for such stuff. I’m not saying all of it is great. I also have some favorite books about writing. Maybe I’ll put some of that together too.

Best

Cary T.

 

 

 

Tuscan memories

Cary’s first-ever Tuscan writing retreat went better than we could ever have imagined. First of all, we’d like to thank all of our participants who travelled from all over the world to attend. After years of putting on writing retreats, we’ve noticed that those who participate in Cary’s events are a very special breed: talented, creative, intelligent, adventurous, fun-loving and kind are the qualities that immediately come to mind. Without such a wonderful, open-hearted group of people, our retreat wouldn’t have been half the success it turned out to be.
In addition to many productive writing workshops, there were wonderful hours composing and enjoying delicious pot-luck meals, fascinating and amusing conversations by the pool, amazing local food discoveries and adventurous treks to Cortona,

View beyone Pari's city wall.

View beyone Pari’s city wall.

Florence, Siena and Beyond (“Beyond” being the obscure and utterly charming medieval town of Pari to which our good friend,

Linda, introduced a small group of us).
After Tuscany we made our way to Amsterdam where we stayed at the ultra-modern, state-of-the-art Citizen M hotel and put on a two-day writing workshop at the American Book Center‘s Treehouse. I was amazed by how many non-Americans attended this event. I was most impressed by our German, French and Dutch attendees who chose to write in English rather than their native languages, which, no doubt, added a layer of challenge.
Both the Amsterdam and Tuscany workshops turned out to be so successful that we are indeed planning on doing this again next year. Stay tuned for more information!

On a quiet Cortona street

On a quiet Cortona street

In Florence

In Florence

An areal of our lunch after our writing workshop in Amsterdam

An areal of our lunch after our writing workshop in Amsterdam

Cary on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence

Cary on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence