Eileen Cook Author, Writing Consultant, Editor

Wisdom Gained

A listing of some random things I learned while traveling:

Business Opportunity: At every place we stayed in Italy we found a cord in the shower. No label, just a cord leading to a switch. You, like me, may assume that this is a cord that will turn on the vent to clear the steam. Nope. It’s an emergency cord. If you fall in the shower you pull this cord and the hotel dispatches someone to make sure you are still alive. I learned this early, but found it interesting that every hotel had this feature. This means that Europeans randomly falling over in the shower is a big problem. If someone were to start a business where you sell those rubber/grippy daisies that stick to the bottom of the tub you’d make a fortune.

Heat Exhaustion: Every hotel we were in had the heat cranked up to sauna like levels. This may explain why they are passing out in the shower. At one place, where the heat was set to 23 C (that’s around 74F), we begged for them to turn it down. It is was quite clear they thought we were insane. No wonder Europeans are so thin- they sweat off a few pounds every night.

European Old People are Hardier than Ours: In Tuscany we spent a lot of time in the small hill towns. There is a LOT of “up” in these places. The kind of “up” where you think there may need to be repelling ropes to get down. DH and I are fairly fit and we would still pretend to want to pause to take in the view so in reality we could suck in more air. Meanwhile an elderly person (often bent in half with arthritis and appearing to be roughly 110 years old) would pass us, walking uphill at a good clip. These old people could crush walnuts with their thigh muscles. Apparently if you survive the dangers of the shower you live a long healthy life.

Experiences Are Worth It: DH and I were in agreement that our number one goal in Italy was to enjoy it, at times this meant spending money on something for the experience. For example, one thing on my list is that I wanted to have a drink at Caffe Florian. This place in Venice has been open since the early 1700’s and I was enamoured of its glamour – it has an orchestra that plays in St. Mark’s Square! Fancy painted walls! Marble tables! The history of literary elite who hung out there included Lord Byron, Charles Dickens, Marcel Proust etc. I wanted to go so I could daydream that some day on their website they’d list that famous author, Eileen Cook, also visited. This experience does not come cheap. A cup of tea is going to cost you around $10.00 The grilled cheese was around $15.00. It was still worth it to sit there, soak in the great art, the waiters in their white coats, and the feeling of being there. We also went to Harry’s Bar which charged us a near obscene amount for a cocktail. On the other hand, this is the same bar that DH’s grandparents raved about in their 1966 travel diary to Italy. We felt honoured to follow in those footsteps. Sometimes the experience is worth the cost.

Experience Doesn’t Have to Be Expensive: Some of my favourite memories of our trip didn’t cost a cent. We had glorious weather and sitting on the steps of the Uffizi gallery in Florence or in St. Mark’s Square and watching the people go by will always stick in my memory. It can be tempting to run around and see as much as you can, but at times the best thing you can do is slow down and just let the experience happen.

Italians Loved the 1980’s: A remarkable number of places play 1980’s music. I heard more Madonna and Wham than I have since my hair was big and my butt small. It was also common that these tunes would be redone into almost a soft jazz number. We called these “ancient Florentine ballads.” It’s also very disconcerting to find yourself swaying slightly to the music and then realize it is a bastardized version of Pretty in Pink.

I’ve Figured Out Why Church Attendance Has Dropped Off: Several times on our trip we would enter a church and I would lose my breath for a beat. They are stunning. Huge vaulted ceilings, gold mosaics, stunning statues and art, and detailed marble work. I would find myself staring up and having a sense of wonder. I can only imagine the impact these churches must have had hundreds of years ago when most buildings were only a couple of stories tall and the average person’s idea of luxury was having more than one tunic and both of those not infested with fleas. No wonder no one wants to go to church now when most of them look so completely boring.

Most of all what I learned is that every so often it’s a good idea to slow down and experience life. Go out of your comfort zone, take time to have real discussions (because hey- none of the TV is in English anyway), try a food you haven’t had before, drink more wine, walk further, chat with people you don’t know and sleep late.

Now it’s time to get back to work.

Still on the road

Random things learned this trip:

– The cliche is that Americans will speak English louder when someone doesn’t understand them. The truth is that Italians will speak longer. We have had full 40 minute discussions with people in Italian where we occasionally remind them that we have no idea what they are saying and they just keep talking. We spent at least a half an hour with this great guy who made copper pans who I believe told us all about how he made them. Or he talked about politics or his favourite movies- I actually have no idea.

– You don’t know fear until your GPS conks out while doing 130 down an Italian highway. Its last words, in 200 meters you will….. Thankfully it eventually kicked back on and we were back in business.

– You know in driver’s ed when they said to leave a few car lengths between you and the car in front of you? In Italy if you don’t fill that space someone will fill it for you. At great speed.

– Returning a rental car was actually the hardest part about driving. The place where we returned it had an address that the building backed onto, but there was no actual entry. Also no sign. Technically, there was a sign, but it was behind a bush and fence, thus making finding the car rental place… an adventure.

– Venice is almost beyond description. Today we went to a bar that DH’s grandparents went to in 1966. I doubt it has changed much- minus the prices.

– Last night we went on a pub crawl. One place has been business since 1462. Not even making that up.

– Today we had lasagna that made me realize I’ve been making it wrong all these years. There may have been moaning while at dinner.

On the road again….

There are times in a marriage when you know why you married the person you did. When you are reminded of how you swooned when you first met them. Yesterday was one of those days.

We drove in Italy.

By we, I mean Bob drove while I watched. I am a nervous driver at the best of times and I tend to get anxious when I don’t know where I’m going. I’m fairly sure driving here would kill me. Yet, DH remained calm and in good spirits as our GPS gleefully called out things like stay to the left, now right, now left, and we wove in and out of traffic that seemed to pay no attention to speed limits, lanes, or generally understood traffic laws.

Then my impression hit new levels when we hit a smaller town. We came to the end of a very narrow road on a very steep hill with our GPS advising we turn right. Clutch squealing from the incline we roar around the corner and find ourselves- on what I was 99.9% sure was a sidewalk.

I based this sidewalk guess on the fact that there were no street signs, the width of the area was roughly that of our car (had I rolled down the window I could have reached into the shops and selected items), and the area was completely covered with pedestrians.

Me: Are we on a sidewalk?

DH: I don’t think so. (pauses) maybe.

Unlike me who was horrified to find ourselves in this situation, DH cruised merrily along looking for a place to turn off smiling at the locals as we bumped down the cobbles. We determined this was a road as no one seemed appalled to see us there, and in fact you practically had to nudge them out of the way with your bumper (a bit like sheep) to get them to clear a path.

Then we came to a stoplight. However, it was a stoplight in the middle of a street (no cross street.) We waited for a second and then determined it must not mean anything.

HA! What it means is that the road up ahead is so narrow that it allows only one car traveling each way at a time. We pulled out into a driveway while the passing driver indicated his displeasure at us with an angry toot of the horn, until we got the green light and went on our way. Lesson learned- the lights always mean something.

Then we got to our hotel. A Palazzo cut into the city walls with commanding views of the valley below. And there was wine. And the drive was worth it. And I remembered that I married him for many good reasons.

While I am otherwise engaged, enjoy this…

Having an amazing time and will share all the details eventually, but until then enjoy this as I did.

Quote from Children’s Books Every Adult Should Know

Welcome Contemporary Scavenger Hunt!

I’m super excited to be a part of the Contemporary YA Scavenger Hunt and be hosting Jayne Robin Brown and her fabulous new book NO PLACE TO FALL. Be sure to read the interview and then check out the giveaway!
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Interview:

1) Tell us a behind the scenes story of your book,  No Place To Fall.  (This could be how you came up with the idea, something interesting you discovered while writing it, a funny story of the publication process etc.)

Hmmm. Hard to pick just one. But I’ll tell you, the genesis of the opening scenes at the hiker barn were a direct result of me eavesdropping on two students. Though I will say that loosely, because they were telling this NSFW story in a decidedly non-whisper. So loud in fact I had to fuss at them to be more discrete as there were freshmen in the class that didn’t need to be hearing about their mess. This story kind of morphed from a known party cabin for local high school students into a barn used by through hikers on the Appalachian Trail as an overnight shelter. Now I tell my students to be careful what they say out loud because it might end up in a novel!

2) The book is about “good girl” Amber.  Were you a good girl growing up?

I was a pretty good girl. Like Amber I really wanted to do the right thing for the people I loved and often acted as a peacemaker among my friends. But I also had a bit of a wild streak toward the end of high school. Luckily, I was blessed with an innocent face and a high level of self-protectiveness so never really got in trouble for my lapses in solid judgment.

3) Do you think it is easier to be the good girl or the bad girl?

I think that has a lot to do with your parents. If you have super strict parents, I think it would be harder to be a good girl than a bad girl. Personality no doubt factors in as well. Are your rebellious by nature? Or easy going? Some people really don’t like getting in trouble. Some people love to stir the pot. I don’t think there’s one easy answer.

4) Amber is a singer, which given that when I sing it sounds like someone standing on a hamster this is a skill that really impresses me.   Do you have talent in this area?  Any other artist talent?  Just how do you spend your time when you aren’t writing?

LOL. Standing on a hamster. That’s excellent :).
A dear friend hit the nail on the head when he said, “This book is really about you wishing you could sing.” And it’s so true. When I first heard about reincarnation, my immediate reaction was “next life I’m getting a great voice.” I can carry a tune but my range is about an inch long. What I did get this go round was a fair amount of creativity. I’ve worked full-time as a contemporary metal jewelry artist and I now teach high school art. My favorite mediums, besides silver and gold, are clay, printmaking, and photography. I love to silk-screen Tshirts which is the art I’m making most of these days.

The rest of my non-writing/teaching time, of which there’s not much, is spent hiking with my dogs or riding one of my four Morgan horses. Though my riding time is so limited these days my horses think they’re retired!

5) What do you like best about writing? What do you like least?

Best – getting to know my characters and finding the true heart of my stories. Least – the murkly middles of a first draft.

6) What are you working on next?

I’m currently working on a contemporary that is loosely based on an old novel and more recent movie called Cold Comfort Farm with a bit of Dreamer thrown in. It’s about Charlotte Bouchard, a teenager who’s spent her life shuttling from high profile executive apartment to apartment with her successful globe-trotting mother, but Charlotte longs to experience a taste of real American high school life. So she moves to her mother’s childhood home in Kentucky to live with extended family on a failing Thoroughbred breeding farm. It’s not quite what she’s imagined it would be. More manure, less apple pie, including the one thing she’s known to avoid her entire life, a sweet-talking Cajun boy. So far it’s been a bunch of fun to write!

Giveaway Click the link below to be entered:
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Book Summary:
Amber Vaughn is a good girl. She sings solos at church, babysits her nephew after school, and spends every Friday night hanging out at her best friend Devon’s house. It’s only when Amber goes exploring in the woods near her home, singing camp songs with the hikers she meets on the Appalachian Trail, that she feels free—and when the bigger world feels just a little bit more in reach.

When Amber learns about an audition at the North Carolina School of the Arts, she decides that her dream—to sing on bigger stages—could also be her ticket to a new life. Devon’s older (and unavailable) brother, Will, helps Amber prepare for her one chance to try out for the hypercompetitive arts school. But the more time Will and Amber spend together, the more complicated their relationship becomes . . . and Amber starts to wonder if she’s such a good girl, after all.

Then, in an afternoon, the bottom drops out of her family’s world—and Amber is faced with an impossible choice between her promise as an artist and the people she loves. Amber always thought she knew what a good girl would do. But between “right” and “wrong,” there’s a whole world of possibilities.

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The Surrey Conference!

One of my favourite events of the year is almost here! I’ll be at the Surrey International Writer’s Conference this week. If you are there be sure to stop me and say hello. Here’s to a week filled with good books, lots of writing talk and good friends (old and new.)

Is there anything better than talking books? I think not.

Here’s to taking time for gratitude

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GCC Monday- welcome Denise Jaden

FOREIGN EXCHANGE is out TODAY!

Denise Jaden’s new young adult novel, FOREIGN EXCHANGE, is officially
available to the world today! It is an Editor’s Pick and for a limited time,
it is available on the Evernight Teen website for only $4.49!

Here’s a little more about the book:


Jamie Monroe
has always played it safe. That is, until her live-for-the-moment best
friend, Tristan, jets off to Italy on a student exchange program. Left alone
with her part-time mother and her disabled brother, Jamie discovers that she
is quite capable of taking her own risks, starting with her best friend’s
hotter-than-hot older brother, Sawyer. Sawyer and Tristan have been
neighbors for years, but as Jamie grows closer to the family she thought she
knew, she discovers some pretty big secrets.


As she sinks
deeper into their web of pretense, she suspects that her best friend may not
be on a safe exchange program at all. Jamie sets off to Europe on a class
trip with plans to meet up with Tristan, but when Tristan stops all
communication, suddenly no one seems trustworthy, least of all the one
person she was starting to trust-Sawyer.  

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