Archive for Travel

Three weeks on the road—or in the air. And now I am home.

Home, where I sleep in my own bed, eat the food I’ve prepared, Purple with yellow throat and greet the daylilies still blooming in the yard.

I can enjoy the view from the chaise in our bedroom while I write and revel in the silences and the stillness as my body returns to East Coast time and recovers from the stresses of different routines and beds and being constantly with other people.

The Romance Writers of America conference is an opportunity for me to be inspired by, educated by, and connected to any of the 2000 women (and a few men) who attend. I love that I can meet a woman from Australia, another from England, another from New Zealand, and yet another from Canada while riding the elevator to and from my room or walking to workshops. We talk about finding an agent, writing a synopsis, book promotion, the challenges of social media, and on and on, my brain whirring at top speed.

I love all that social energy after weeks and months pretty much in isolation at our home in the country…until I don’t have the energy for it anymore.

By then, I am thirsting for, starving for my solitude. Returning home where I am surrounded by trees and marsh and birds, restores my sense of grounding, of peace. I love the privacy and the quiet. And then there are the views. For me, the view outside my windows is all green at this time of year, green leaves of trees and grass and wild things. The view here changes with the seasons. That is part of its magic and nourishment.

But you may not be like me. You may prefer the hustle and bustle of city living, where a short walk brings you to your favorite coffee shop or bookstore. Or you may prefer the in-between world of the suburbs. A little more quiet than the city but still with that coffee shop not too far away.

What is home for you?

Do you need the hustle and bustle of the people around you or do you need silence and solitude? What do you need to see outside your windows?

How often do you need to leave home in order to get the stimulation and connection you need?

And how long can you travel before you hear the call, feel the pull to return home?

Categories Travel, Writing

One evening, Bob and I were on our way into town for a rare dinner out on a major two-lane state road. Spring driving here in the Northeast often means the asphalt version of corduroy, or a deteriorated and crumbled version of sinkholes.

Bob, ever the skilled driver, approached these rough patches in a variety of ways and I had to laugh because here was an obvious and active metaphor for dealing with the challenges, the rough roads and bumps, in our lives and our creative work.

You’ve experienced this. Blonde Girl Driving You are moving smoothly ahead, writing your book, building your portfolios or resume or business. The sun is out and it’s a beautiful day for a ride. Then, often without warning, you hit a pothole or a rough patch in the road. There should have been signs but often, there aren’t. And hitting those rough patches can result in a slowing or loss of progress, or even a breakdown.

Where is the road crew? Why don’t they get out here and patch these potholes, repave that stretch of road? Don’t they see how hazardous this is?

Unfortunately, if you want to get to the other side of those rough patches, if you want to continue on your creative journeys (unless you can pay to have someone airlift you over them!), you have to decide how you will get past those bumps, dips, and jagged edges.

Here are three ways to move through these rough patches:

1. Tighten the seat belt, grip the wheel, and put the pedal to the metal. Sometimes, if you can move forward over that rough road as quickly as possible you won’t feel the rattling and shaking in your bones as badly or as long. This is often not the best solution because, if the potholes are deep or the patches exceedingly rough, you’ll come out the other side with internal damage that isn’t discovered until later and can take more work and time to repair.

2. Check for oncoming traffic, and finesse your way around the rough road and bumps by moving into the other lane. This approach works on secondary roads but not so well on heavily trafficked roads where you’ll risk more pain and problems by moving out of your path to avoid the pain and problems in front of you. This technique requires a degree of risk and an ability to see farther down the road, otherwise you may never get where you want to go.

3. Slow down to move carefully through the bumps and rough patches. This is often the approach that most would rather not have to take, not with a fast-paced, get-me-there-yesterday agenda. Surely there must be a faster, easier way? Nope. And complaining about the unfairness of it all, of the government who won’t keep the roads maintained or the darned weather, just isn’t going to make the rough patches go away. The rough patches must be traversed slowly, with awareness, in order come out the other side, still whole if a little rattled.

I’m not wild about dealing with those rough patches either. But neither you nor I are going to get away with only smooth, open highways. Instead, you get to make choices about how you’ll respond and move through them, always keeping in mind where you want to go. And, believe it or not, sometimes there is something to be learned in traversing those potholes and that rough road.

So, as snows melt, and rains fall this spring, keep your mind on where you want to go, but your eyes on the road in front of you. Be prepared for the rough patches. Safe journeys!

I’m going out on my own bumpy road here to offer a customized coaching program based on your needs and budget. As with a consultant, after we talk about what you need and want, I will offer you a proposed program that will both serve you and meet your time and monetary budgets. Areas for mentoring might include getting that book written; learning the use of tools such as dream work, tarot, and rituals to enhance your creative or spiritual journey; and support and encouragement for a new venture or challenge. If you are interested in talking with me about your customized program, then email me and we’ll schedule a time to talk.

I like writing to be more portable and flexible. I like writing to be something that fits into cracks and crannies. I don’t like it to dominate my life. I like it to fill my life. There is a big difference.

~ Julia Cameron, The Right to Write

I do a lot of traveling, for both business and pleasure.

Just last month, Bob and I were in Pittsburgh, Los Angeles and Arizona to spend time with family. This month, I travel to Syracuse and Philadelphia. Next month, I’ll be at the Romance Writers of America conference in New York City.

I love traveling but I don’t like traveling with a lot of stuff. Last year, when Bob and I traveled to Italy for three weeks, a young friend of ours was astonished when she picked us up at the Florence train station and discovered we each only had a small suitcase and a tote (and my small crossover purse). Because we were going to be traveling by plane, train and bus, and hauling our stuff up and down station stairways and lodging steps, we packed as efficiently as we could. Everything had to be light and portable. For my writing, all I carried was a blank notebook, a pen, and a few printed pages of the last few scenes I’d written. 20150614_160647

When I travel, I usually carry at least a notebook and pen so I can write when the opportunity or mood arises. But just before our trip to LA, I discovered two mobile apps, Dropbox and Jotterpad, that allowed me to access my complete manuscript and type up new scenes on the plane, on my dad’s patio and in a coffee shop. Those two apps and a bluetooth keyboard for my Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 and I was good to go.

How portable are you? If you are traveling this summer to sit on a beach, go hiking in the mountains, or to visit family and friends, can you take your writing with you and fit it into the cracks and crannies?

Whether it is over hot chocolate and croissant, or while squeezed into the middle seat of long airplane ride, or just when you need a break from the noise and loving chaos of family get-togethers, being portable means you won’t lose touch with your Muse or your story.

What will make you and your writing portable? The story is already packed away in your mind and heart. All you need are simple tools to keep moving it from there onto paper and screen.

So you can keep writing this summer.

Categories Travel, Writing

Believe in your own identity and your own opinions. Writing is an act of ego, and you might as well admit it.

~ William Zinsser

Author William Zinsser died last week. He wrote the book On Writing Well.

I love the idea that to be a writer, I must first believe in my own identity and my own opinions. Isn’t that, after all, where voice emerges? Because who I am determines what I write, how I write, even my word choice and rhythms.
How do you write well if you don’t believe enough in your story and your ability to convey it? Perhaps that is where blocks arise. When you and I lose that sense of self and a belief, an ego strong enough to believe, that the story we want to tell is worth telling.

Bob and I are visiting Los Angeles this month, the land of many stories. I know I’ll hear them from

Jason & Chris

Jason & Chris

our two younger sons, Christopher and Jason, and from their friends. We continue to be impressed by the creative directions and lives that Christopher and Jason manage to chisel out of an environment that could so easily overwhelm them with the false or egotistical stories of “it’s all about me” and “I’ll be anything you want.”

Without a strong ego, it is too easy to become everyone or no one.

A strong ego in your creative work does not mean being egotistical. It means being well-grounded in who you are, where you come from, where you are going, and what your story is. Each of our sons has a distinct voice and story.

So Bob and I expect to be well-entertained during our time with them as we sit around soaking up our their stories and those of their friends.

I’ll also find the time in LA story-land inspiring and motivating for my own work.

If you’re feeling blocked or hesitant about your writing, ask yourself if you believe enough in yourself and your story.

Really believe. Do you?

Copy of Travel & Writing- Flights of theThis is my tenth post in this special series by Beth Barany and I on Travel and Writing. In this post, we talk about the value of those nighttime experiences for your stories. Also, get information on our retreats, Beth’s in Paris, and my VIW (Very Important Writer) retreats here in the Catskills.

There is something very atavistic about stories told in the dark, whether or not they are told around the fire.

Those stories often touch something deep within us, arouse emotions, and keep us turning pages.

So, when you travel, remember to explore the night life of wherever you are.

When Bob and I traveled to Italy last year, we discovered that nighttime and after dark was when everyone came out to socialize, to eat, to tell stories, listen to music, and otherwise be entertained, whether you were in the smaller towns like Pistoia or the bigger cities like Florence and Sienna.

At night, in the light of a full moon or sparkling stars, it is easy to believe in magic and that possibility of “Once upon a time…” Mystery lies in the shadows, and darkness conveys an intimacy that isn’t present in the full light of the sun.

At night, stories lie clasped between the hands of lovers crossing the Ponte Vecchio bridge in Florence, or float above giggling teenage girls striding down the streets of Sienna in search of gelato and boys, or circle families gathered around an outdoor table at a restaurant.

Nighttime creates imaginative settings, ones of deep shadows broken by spots of light, candle or electric. These settings are perfect backdrops for romance, fantasy, mystery, and even, in the darkest shadows, horror, murder and suspense.

I’ll never forget the town center of Lucca, Italy.

Evening shadows of Lucca

Evening shadows of Lucca

Lined on one side with great tall trees and behind them a row of restaurants and outdoor cafes, it was a hub of nighttime activity. Small children drifted to the sparkling lights and bright music of an old-fashioned merry-go-round that stood at one end of the plaza. Old and young rode bikes through its center. It was an ideal location for watching the world pass by and for gathering up story ideas, all enhanced by the intimacy and mystery of the night.

Bob and I stayed several nights at an agriturismo (a working farm that hosts tourists) in the eastern part of Tuscany. At night, we could sit out on our balcony and watch the Fresca Rosa, Italy’s high speed train, pass by in the valley below. We could watch the moonlight reflect on the farm’s small pool and watch the stars move through the sky as we listened to the night sounds of this working olive grove.

A different kind of environment from Lucca, but a great place to hide if your hero and heroine are on the run. What if they made a quick escape down the hill through the olive trees at night?

So many possibilities.

When you travel, whether in your own country or abroad, whether in a city or in the country, don’t forget to explore the nighttime and night life. So many stories, settings and characters are to be found in the dark.

Under the Tuscan Sun was a great book and film, but I think Under the Tuscan Moon holds a lot of potential, don’t you?

And check out Beth Barany’s post here.

VIW (Very Important Writer) Retreat Days: These days are for intense, focused planning and problem-solving, and can be done via phone or Skype ($397 for a half day) or in-person ($597 for a half day). Full day retreats are also available. Email me for more information or to schedule your retreat.

Categories Travel, Writing

Copy of Travel & Writing- Flights of the For this post in this special series by Beth Barany and I on Travel and Writing, we share about the importance of following the bread crumbs of curiosity when you travel in order to discover new stories, settings and information. Look for more posts from us every other Wednesday. And get information on Beth’s Paris retreat, and my VIW (Very Important Writer) retreats here in the Catskills.

When Dorothy set off on her journey through the land of Oz, she was kindly instructed by Glenda, the good witch of the North, to “follow the yellow brick road.” She had one destination in mind, Oz, and so she stayed on that yellow brick road. She did have adventures, true, kind of in spite of herself, but she seldom strayed from that clearly defined yellow brick road.

For me, traveling is all about the opportunity to get away from the usual and expected, the known and the routine. Some of the best experiences, discoveries and stories are found on the byways and side roads.

So when Bob and I traveled to Tuscany, Italy, almost a year ago, we researched and laid out our own rough itinerary instead of signing up with a tour group. We didn’t want to be locked into others’ schedules or destinations.

On a recommendation, we made a last minute decision to drive to Assisi from Arrezo. After parking outside the town, we walked up steep streets, stopping to look at whatever caught our interest, including most of the churches.
Then we walked into the tiny church, Santa Marie delle Rose, expecting to see the usual paintings, tile work, and gilding.

Instead, we halted in surprise and awe.

In the nave of the small church was a unique art installation, simply titled, “Maria,” created by Italian artist, Guido Dettoni della Grazia. The artist had shaped a form that fit his hands and represented the different aspects of Mary such as Mary at prayer, Mary pregnant, Mary holding her child. Not the just the Catholic Mary, according to the artist, but the universal Mary. The form was then replicated 33 times, signifying the number of years that Jesus lived in the world, each time in a different wood. The forms looked like they were floating in their individually-lit six-foot plexiglass tubes mounted in and around a large omega on the floor with an equally large alpha suspended overhead.

A docent explained the exhibition to us as Bob and I walked through it, caught by the play of light and shape. I knew that Bob would enjoy looking at the varieties of woods, being a woodworker. But I was caught in the magic and spirit of the place, in a sense of mystery and the mystical, and in the stories represented in the exhibit…the archetypal and spiritual ones and the artistic and individual ones. I found myself, at one point, moved to tears.

At the end of our time there—I had to force myself to leave—we bought a melamine reproduction of the form. It is the only thing I brought back from our trip to Italy to memorialize our time there when we decided to follow the bread crumbs of curiosity. It is the reminder of the reward for not taking the well-marked, well-defined yellow brick road.

The best stories are most often found when you follow the bread crumbs. Trust yourself and your instincts and you’ll be rewarded with unique experiences and stories that continue to resonate.

If you’d like to take a trip into the exhibit at the Santa Maria delle Rose in Assisi, Italy, then click here.

And wherever you travel, follow the bread crumbs.

And check out Beth Barany’s post on following the breadcrumbs here.

VIW (Very Important Writer) Retreat Days: These days are for intense, focused planning and problem-solving, and can be done via phone or Skype ($397 for a half day) or in-person ($597 for a half day). Full day retreats are also available. Email me for more information or to schedule your retreat.

Bob and I live out in the country on a wooded five acres. The only Starbucks is about 20+ miles into Albany or its suburbs.

When Bob and I travel, one of our traveling treats is to stop at a Starbucks for his coffee and my chai latte. Oh, and chocolate croissants.Cafes and Beaches Travel and Writing

Recently, I had a fragment of a dream—you know, one of those very, very short dreams, the kind you are tempted to dismiss as unimportant or not having enough to work with.

I call this dream fragment, of course, “Looking for Chocolate Croissants.”

In the dream, I am walking around a supermarket much like Wegmans, in an aisle where I expect to find chocolate croissants. I know I’ve looked around. I walk around people, looking a little more.

There are no chocolate croissants to be found. I feel frustrated. End of dream.

Okay, you may say, what’s the big deal? Maybe I’m just craving a chocolate croissant.

But, as I tell clients and students, like that chocolate croissant, dreams are many-layered.

Perhaps one layer, the waking reality layer, is that I really need a croissant fix and can’t easily get one where I live. But, in waking reality, when Bob and I head to Maine a few days later, we stop to get our treat, chocolate croissants et al.

So, then, on another layer, what is this dream about?

Well, what is a chocolate croissant to me? How would I describe it to someone?

It’s a flaky, delicate, delicious, many-layered pastry or baked good made of flour and butter with dark chocolate inside. Eating one is a delight for my mouth and my soul and makes me smile, especially when I have one with a chai latte. It’s treat and reward, one I get to enjoy usually when I travel away from home to visit other places, friends and family.

Thinking about that, here is at least one level of meaning and message I think the dream has for me.

That a familiar source of pleasure, my usual way of treating or rewarding myself to something yummy and delightful, is not currently available to me. Or, that looking for that treat in the usual places will not get me what I want. I need to ask myself, what am I not able to reward myself with in the usual way? What delight or treat is unavailable to me at this time? What is many-layered with a delicious dark center in my life, especially my creative work, that I can’t get right now?

Pretty intense message for such a short dream. And a good example of why you want to pay attention to your dreams, no matter how short or long, no matter how silly or irrelevant they might seem.

So, what is your chocolate croissant? And are you finding it? Are you looking for it in the right places?

And maybe more importantly, are you treating yourself to it too infrequently?

Categories Creativity, Dreams, Travel

Copy of Travel & Writing- Flights of theFor this seventh post in this special series by Beth Barany and me on Travel and Writing, we share our personal experiences with how body language can communicate culture and country, and how you can use your experience of it to add dimension and detail to characters and setting. Look for more posts from us every other Wednesday. And get information on our destination retreats, Beth’s in Paris, and mine near Delphi, Greece.

Even before I met my husband who is 100% Italian, people used to ask me if I was Italian. Most of the time, they were kidding because with a last name like Chaffee it wasn’t likely. But they would comment.

Why? Because, I use my hands a lot in conversation. I wave and gesture and point.

It’s a cliché, isn’t it? And yet, like many clichés, one with some truth behind it.

For example, on the third day of our trip in Tuscany, Italy last May, Bob, my husband, and I settled into the back seat of a limo for a tour through Chianti country. The driver, Andrea, was taking us to tour three small boutique wineries in the region.

He picked us up at our small apartment in Florence, then drove onto the Autostrade A1 (the Italian equivalent of an interstate highway that connects Milan to Naples). We were speeding along when a car started to pass us and “bump”!

Andrea applied the brakes, rolled down his window and shouted at the car’s driver, who also slowed down. Both cars were pulled over to the side of the highway.

Andrea, with his dark hair and eyes and his neatly trimmed beard, looking very Italian, stepped from the car muttering in his native language. As I leaned over to watch him from my window, he turned to look back at the other car parked behind us, chin jutted out, and he…

Flicked the back of his fingers of his right hand beneath his chin.

As tense as the moment might have been, I had to laugh. The gesture was so Italian! No translation needed.

If the driver of the other car didn’t know that Andrea was angry, there was something wrong with him. That gesture said it all…”I’m angry. I think you are an idiot (polite version) and you know what you can do…”

Andrea could have done any number of other things and I wouldn’t have remembered the event so clearly but that gesture anchored me in Andrea’s world.

A simple gesture like that from one of your characters can do the same for your reader.

Because long before there were words there were gestures—a reaching hand, a cupped hand, a hand with palm out, a fisted hand.

And that is just the hand. There are so many ways to communicate with the body that numerous books have been written about it. In fact, there are almost 100,000 entries in Amazon on body language.

Yet, as writers, it is easy to forget that non-verbal language when we are busy being verbal.

That is why traveling to other countries, even other parts of this country, can be so beneficial. Watching how the locals communicate—or don’t—with their bodies can give you an immediate sense of place and culture. That stiff upper lip of the English tells you as much about culture and expected behavior there as Andrea’s did about Italy.

So whether you are in England or Italy, New York City or New Orleans, pay attention to the body language.

What do the gestures tell you about the people and the culture of the place? How can you use that to add dimension to character and setting in your writing?

Your best way to find out? Travel…and write.

And for more on the benefits of travel and language, check out Beth’s post this week. And, if you love writing on a beach or writing looking out over water or mountains, then check out my Greece writing retreat at

Categories Travel, Writing

Copy of Travel & Writing- Flights of theWelcome to the sixth installment in this special series by Beth Barany and I on Travel and Writing. We are offering information, tips, techniques and tools for writers who are traveling for business, pleasure or on retreat. Look for more posts from us every other Wednesday. And get information on our destination retreats, Beth’s in Paris, mine near Delphi, Greece.This week, Beth and I share insights on the impact of other languages on our brains and our writing.

The first time I heard a foreign language or knew there was such a thing was when I was about seven years old. Watching a program on television, probably a children’s program, I heard a character on the show teach another a few words in French. I was fascinated by the new words and sounds…and the idea that there were other languages.

Suddenly, my world was larger.

Any wonder then that I eagerly walked into my very first day of French in seventh grade. Six years later, I graduated from high school with four years of French and two years of Spanish. Obviously, I loved languages. My first year of college, I even considered majoring in French, but finally decided to major in my first love, Creative Writing. Still, I held onto my French books. Who knew when I might want to brush up?

My love for language came roaring back last spring when my husband and I took a three-week trip to Tuscany, Italy. Even though we had a digital language course for study, Bob and I never quite made the time for it. So we set off to Italy with only a few words in our lexicon and a small English-Italian dictionary tucked in my purse.

Even though the first few days were full of stumbles and quick searches through the dictionary, by the beginning of the second week, we were feeling more confident about our ability to navigate restaurants, shops, and museums with our limited but growing vocabulary.

Savoring and listening with Bob at a cafe in Siena, Italy

Savoring and listening with Bob at a cafe in Siena, Italy

Listening to others speak Italian with its fluid syllables was like listening to the opera singers at the Puccini Festival in Lucca—lovely, musical and very much part of the place and the environment. The language was woven right into the bruschetta, the pasta and the gelato. The up and down of the language was very much a part of lingering over wine, sharing stories, and people-watching from our table at the sidewalk café.

Language reflects not just the people and the culture but also the physical environment. You’ve probably heard that the Inuit have numerous words for snow, an important environmental element in their lives. But did you know that certain languages of Norway, Finland and Sweden have numerous words for reindeer or that there are many words for wind in Hawaiian?

Learning or listening to a new language increases your awareness of cultural idiosyncrasies, relational dynamics and environmental influences.

Being aware of the structure of other languages, even regional uses of the same language, adds authenticity to the setting of your story and affects how you think about the language of your characters.

The next time you travel, even in this country, listen to conversations. Listen to different accents, to the pacing of words, and to accompanying gestures and body stance. How would your characters convey the same message?

And the next time you travel out of this country, really listen to the music of the language and what it tells you about the place and people.

And for more on the benefits of travel and language, check out Beth’s post later this week.

And, if you love writing on a beach or writing looking out over water or mountains, then check out my Greece writing retreat at

Categories Travel, Writing

Copy of Travel & Writing- Flights of thePart of the holiday season usually involves travel, to family and friends or on a getaway, which makes this the perfect time for the fifth installment of this series by Beth Barany and I on Travel and Writing. Whatever you write, we offer information, tips, techniques and tools for writing while traveling or on retreat. Look for posts from us every other Wednesday. And get information on our destination retreats, Beth’s in Paris, mine near Delphi, Greece. This week, Beth and I share some of our favorite cafes and other places to write while traveling.

I live in the country, far from coffee shops and other gathering places for writers. So, when I travel, I enjoy the opportunity to write in places unlike my usual Catskill Mountains environment. Here are two of my favorite away-from-home writing places.

Cafes and Coffeehouses

These have grown in popularity in the US over the last 20 years. In Europe, they’ve always been a place for artists and writers to gather to talk about their work, to debate trends in literature and art, and to enjoy a break from creative isolation.

In fact, writers like Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Ibsen, Simone de Beauvoir, and Gertrude Stein wrote in cafes from Paris to Rome, from Florence to Vienna, and elsewhere across the European continent.

Maybe it’s the caffeine stimulation or the bonhomie of people coming and going with their favorite beverage and perhaps a pastry or two, but cafes and coffeehouses encourage storytelling and writing.

A café I fell in love with when Bob and I toured Cafes and Beaches Travel and WritingTuscany last May, was the Caffe’ Dei Costanti in Arrezo, Italy. There I was served a huge cup of hot chocolate along with the lightest and most decadent chocolate croissant. Though I didn’t get much writing done since our time there was short, I did manage to make some scene notes while licking the whipped cream from my lips. I would love to return with notebook and fountain pen someday.

In the US, one of my favorite cafes for writing is the Café Carmel Coffee House in Carmel-by-the-Sea in California where my aunt lives. I usually visit her at least once a year and this coffee house is the place I go early in the morning. There, I sip on my chai latte and get in some writing before a busy day of visiting with my aunt and helping her to accomplish tasks.

My other favorite café to write at is also in California but in Los Angeles. It’s my favorite because it is the one where my son, Chris often goes to write. Last winter, when I visited him, we went to Figaro, a French eatery and sidewalk café a couple of mornings for breakfast and to write. The food was delicious and the companioned writing with my son was special. I can’t wait to do it again.

On the Beach

As I said, I live in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains. No sea here. So, one of my other favorite spots to write is the beach. For me, there is something so soothing and centering about sitting on a beach listening to the susurration of the waves. My mind often takes wing in the most amazing and energetic ways. I get inspired, find solutions to story problems and just enjoy the writing.

My favorite beach for writing is near Wailea, Maui. The sand is white, there is a lovely tree for shade, and if I get there early enough almost no one is there, so I can pick my favorite spot and write for a couple of hours before the beach gets crowded. And while I enjoy writing on other beaches, none for me compare to the experience of Maui.

What are your favorite places to write? Is one of them a café? Where is it?

And for more great writing spots, particularly in Paris, check out Beth’s post this week.

And, if you love writing on a beach or writing looking out over water or mountains, then check out my Greece writing retreat here.

Categories Travel, Writing