Saturday, August 26, 2006

Holy Scooter Gangs, Batman!

Scooter gangs rule the streets in Italy. They seemed to travel in packs and appeared fearless when nearing any car. It was like a game: cars vs. scooters. And they’d get bonus points when a pedestrian screamed and jumped back onto the sidewalk.

Yes, I added to the bonus points total over and over again. Every time I stepped out onto the street I had to keep my eyes peeled for scooter gangs. I swear, they’d materialize out of nowhere. I’d start to cross when there wasn’t any traffic, but then PRESTO, there they were…aiming for me. Does that sound paranoid? I tend to think that way. A lot.

But what struck me most was that we never knew if it was going to be a student with tattoos, a scooter chick dressed in Italian chic, or a business man in what my family and I liked to call a “scooter suit” (seen in photo above). But we learned to look out for one another, so when someone shouted, “Watch out--Scooter suit!” or “Careful--Scooter chick!” we knew exactly who was aiming for us. And that, my friends, is how we survived the mean streets of Firenze and Roma.

We also turned the noun “scooter” into a verb while driving the roads. We had walkie-talkies in each car as we caravanned from town to town and more than once someone in one of the cars would declare into their handset, “We’ve been SCOOTERED!” This meant that a scooter gang had darted out in front of the car and separated it from the other two cars in our party. I’m not sure why they felt the need to do this…Perhaps to weaken us. But it never worked, as we managed to reunite and become more seasoned, aggressive drivers, like the Italians.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? Hmm. That can also be applied to the life of a writer…

Take care,


Friday, August 18, 2006

Harry Potter's Hedwig Has Nothing on Duke

For three nights, we stayed in the famous Dalhousie Castle, outside Edinburgh (pictured below). Built in the 13th Century, Edward I stayed there just before he defeated William Wallace, Oliver Cromwell laid siege to the castle and the nearby Rosslyn Chapel (ring any bells, Da Vinci Code fans?), Queen Victoria had tea there with one of the Ramseys of Dalhousie, and yes, it is haunted as well. What more could you ask for in a castle?

Well, how about a falconry? Okay! My family and I had the fabulous opportunity to meet and help feed a falcon and owl--up close and personal. We couldn't pass up the chance to do this at a non-Disney built castle, as the United States is sorely lacking in medievalness.

The owl in the picture above is Duke, who would swoop down to snatch his meat, and then he'd hang out on my arm until my muscles burned from holding up his weight. Man, he was heavy! Originally, I wanted to fly the itty-bitty screech owl in the picture below. He was so cute...I could've put him in my pocket and walked around! But as you can tell by my windblown hair above, it was a blustery day and it would’ve been torture for the tiny owl to have to fly just then. However, I fell in love with the majesty and strength of Duke, who could probably carry a Nimbus 2001 wizard's broom without faltering.

An hour and a half didn’t seem like nearly enough time to spend with the fascinating birds—we could’ve stayed for hours and hours, but we did have other places to go that day, including Rosslyn Chapel (only a few minutes from Dalhousie Castle).

Okay, I have to tell you that visiting the chapel was quite surreal. In 1996, the chapel had a total of 6000 visitors that year, but this year, they expect to reach 150,000. And the residents of the town are still a bit stunned by the amount of buses and tourists that ramble down the streets of their once sleepy hollow. Once inside the chapel, I felt as if I had entered Disneyland. People everywhere. But the chapel personnel are charging visitors to enter, so they've been raising the money needed to restore the building, inside and out. And they thank Tom Hanks for that.

Oh, and we were told by the gentleman working registration at the castle that a few months ago the chapel's vicar (or priest?) became fed up with the crowds, as he could no longer hold prayer and services there. So he packed up and left. A definite downside to the fame.

So what about you? Have you ever visited a place that has changed because of a work of fiction? Or even just looked at a place in a different way because of something you've read in a work of fiction?


Monday, August 14, 2006

Visiting Story Settings

In a post a few months ago, several of us discussed places that resonated deeply with us. You know, the kind of place that feels as if you'd been there before? This is what I felt in certain areas of London, especially Hyde Park and Chelsea. In the top photo, I'm on Rotten Row. You have no idea how excited I was to finally see that infamous road! My family thought the heat had stewed my brain because I wanted my husband to take my picture on it. My husband kept asking, "You really want a photo of this dirt road?" But it wasn't just ANY dirt road--it was Rotten Row! As you can see, he's not quite the history buff that I am. That's all right...I've forgiven him. ;-)

In the story that I'm currently writing, Rotten Row makes an appearance, so it was pretty cool to be standing in the same place where I'd set my characters.

And in the bottom photo, I'm standing on Cheyne Walk in Chelsea, next to the Thames. Several of my characters live there in books one and two of my series, and while walking along that particular street, I realized it looked EXACTLY as I had imagined it! Exactly. Even down to the where the trees were planted. I felt as if I had strolled down Cheyne Walk more times than I can count, yet it was the first time I'd ever been there.

So what about you? Have you ever visited a place that you'd used as a setting? Did you get the details right? Or terribly wrong?

Tell me, tell me!

Happy Writing,


P.S. Did any of my friends notice that I am NOT wearing black in those photos? Just checking... :-)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Views of Wildlife in Hyde Park (scroll down for pix)

Thought I'd show you some of the wildlife we found while wandering Hyde Park one evening. We set out on our walk with the intention of researching the park for my current story and this is what we discovered...Yes, I am a brave, brave soul and will go to great lengths to get the details just right for my art. ;-)

One is of a squirrel eating an ice cream on a stick. Yep, even the British animals know how to eat without dirtying their hands. I bet they eat their pizza with a knife and fork, too. It's just plain wrong that they should have better table manners than most Americans. Sheesh.

Another is of a swan gliding along the Serpentine, which was one of what seemed like a hundred or so swans and their signets. Absolutely peaceful--well, except for the geese that kept honking and begging us for food.

Then there's one of a DOGGY! Ahem, I mean an adorable Terrier prancing along a path near Kensington Palace. There didn't seem to be a leash law in the park because a multitude of dogs enjoyed racing through the tall grass as they chased one another, the water fowl, and the squirrels.

And the last is of a wild and free-spirited couple enjoying each other's company in the unkempt grass near the Italian Fountains. Relax, the man was wearing a pair of shorts...I think. Maybe not. Oh, well, they seemed to fit in with the other animals.

Happy writing,


Beauty in a Scary World

In light of the news this morning, I thought I'd post two photos of beauty. (And thank God that my family left the U.K and Italy a few weeks ago, rather than this week.)

The sunflower field grew just down the hill from the villa where we stayed. Every few kilometers or so, we came upon such a breathtaking view of happiness.

As hot and humid as Tuscany was, we didn't complain because we knew we'd be treated to an amazing sunset, a gift. Although, we did joke that according to the weather reports, it was hotter in Florence than in Tel Aviv and Cairo. That's pretty darn hot for a beach girl from Southern California! But just look at the colors that blanketed the hills and valleys every night.

Is there a particular setting, book, memory, ect. that brings you a bit of happiness when things get a bit scary or rough?

Take Care,

Michele Cwiertny

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

A New Photos Page

I finally have a Photos page set up on my website. Yay!

Most of the pictures are from the RWA conference in Atlanta and there are a few of my friends and writing buddies as well. You can check them out by clicking the link in the sidebar or by typing in

As a preview, I've posted the photo of me with bestselling author Christina Dodd, whose writing hooked me once I read her historical romance THE RUNAWAY PRINCESS several years ago. She's absolutely gracious and charming, and she didn't even bolt when she saw me eagerly heading in her direction with my camera in hand. Thanks, Christina! :-)

Oh, and by the way, Christina's keynote speech in Atlanta ROCKED!

So tell me...Who among your favorite authors, heros, mentors, movie stars, or anyone have you always wanted to meet and take a picture with? Have you had the opportunity to do so?

Can't wait to hear your stories...


Friday, August 04, 2006

Doing My Happy Dance

Oh my gosh, you guys! I'm so thrilled to announce that my historical romantic suspense manuscript, TO REIGN EDEN, has been named a finalist in the Georgia Romance Writers 2006 Maggie Award of Excellence for unpublished writers! A huge THANK YOU to the published authors who judged the contest. I am so honored to be a finalist. ::hugs and kisses::

Okay, back to writing... :-)


Thursday, August 03, 2006

Italy: The Land that Loves Arnold

When we were up late one night (Or was it early one morning? I don't know...All I can remember is that it was dark outside), a few members of our party, who were still adjusting to the time change, discovered that Italian television is a bit different than American TV. Several channels were titled Sex TV and tucked in between those channels was a channel with a catholic priest broadcasting mass. Yes, you read that right.

So, we found ourselves flipping through the channels quickly, trying to find something we could comfortably watch with family members of all ages. We all breathed a sigh of relief when a young Gary Coleman popped up on the screen. Different Strokes! Yay! None of us had seen that show since the 80s.

It was an episode I hadn't seen before, but the character Arnold was the entire show. I jokingly asked my husband if they had cut out the rest of the characters because Arnold really was the best part. Then the credits rolled and we started to crack up because it was now title "Arnold" and had a montage of that character and ONLY that character.

Later that day, my family and I were walking back to the train station in Florence and spotted the picture shown above in an alley. Guess the Italians really do love Arnold! I think it's sweet. And as warm, friendly, and incredibly giving as the Italians are to everyone, even American tourists, it doesn't surprise me too much that they love Arnold.

Have you ever been in a place where you're surprised about who is famous there? And if you write a story that is set in that place, does it change the way you write about the people who live there?

Tell me, tell me!


Tuesday, August 01, 2006

What the Heck is That?!

During our first full day at the villa in Tuscany, several members of our party rested in the shade of an umbrella while soaking in the amazing view of the valley and the Chianti vineyards below. We were all in this serene state of mind, sipping iced tea that tasted remarkably like a peach Jolly Rancher, when we spotted what appeared to be a baby hummingbird darting about the flowers. How cute! A baby hummingbird. I've never seen one before. Have you? It finally flew away to where we all imagined its mother to be, waiting for it to return home. Sigh. Sweet.

A few hours later, another member of our party, who had stayed at the villa the week before as well, asked us if we'd seen the flying bug that sports a snail's head., thank god. I immediately imagined something out of the Jurassic era, something with a snail's shell attached to the head as it flew around, bombarding unsuspecting viewers of the Chianti vineyards. Gross. I don't WANT to see that. At this point, I was ready to sprint inside and shut the doors and windows, as well as zip up our luggage so the freaky insect couldn't hitch a ride home with us--or worse, lay snail head eggs in my clothing. ::shudder::

A few days later, the baby hummingbird appeared to us again. My husband grabbed his camera and captured an image of it as it hovered near a flower bed. When he looked at the photo on the screen. His eyebrows furrowed and he zoomed in on the image. "What the heck is that?!"

Yep, all of our little fantasies about the baby hummingbird vanished. It was the freaky snail head insect, but fortunately, no snail shell to be found. Later, we were thumbing through a guide book and found a picture of our friend, the Tuscan Hummingbird Moth. If only we had actually looked at the guide books we'd spent a fortune on before our trip. Sheesh.

And if that wasn't enough, just before we turned in for the night, my husband and I discovered a millipede climbing the wall in our room and another one making its WAY to our room. They were huge! Boy, that did cause me to keep our luggage zipped up tight. I even entertained the thought about putting the locks back on...just in case the insects were savvy enough to figure out how to unzip baggage. I didn't want to take any chances. lol