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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

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First of all, many thanks to Maria Grazia for inviting me to visit Fly High!! It’s wonderful to be here today!

As some of you may know, I’ve been celebrating the release of my third women's fiction book, A Summer in Europe (, by taking a journey around the web and talking about some of my favorite European sites, specifically the ones that appear in the story. I’d hoped to share a few personal memories of places I loved. Places that left their mark, not only on my heart and soul, but also inspired my writing.

This novel is about a character named Gwendolyn Reese, who gets a month-long tour through Europe as a 30th birthday gift from her eccentric Aunt Bea and her aunt's Sudoku-and-Mahjongg Club. She's hesitant to leave Iowa and her insurance-agent boyfriend behind for the summer, but she's never had an adventure overseas before and is soon convinced to go. Before long, she finds herself in Italy, and the adventure begins!

You all should know, there are so many places in Italy that I love…and I am, in no small way, envious of Maria Grazia and anybody that has the pleasure of living there! My husband is half Italian and one of the places we visited in the country was the Liguria region (on the Italian Riviera) where his mother’s side of the family came from originally. It’s actually not far from the city of Pisa so, while we were touring through Italy, my hubby and I visited Florence, zipped over to Pisa, then headed northward along the scenic/coastal Cinque Terra, saw the area where my husband’s grandmother was born and, finally, caught a train northward toward Genoa.

In the book, my characters visit the city of Pisa and, of course, the impressive and very well known landmark, The Leaning Tower. It was a structure I grew up hearing about from my dad because he spent a summer working odd jobs in Europe before starting college and The Leaning Tower was a site he recollected fondly. He passed his keen interest in it to me, and I couldn’t wait to see it with my own eyes!

In my novel, one of the elderly tour-group members gets the idea to start writing a thriller in the vein of J.D. Robb, and she’s speculating with another tour member in the story about how best to kill off one of her characters. In real life, I didn’t do that! (But only because I write comedies, not thrillers, LOL.) I didn’t even get to go to the top of the tower because, at the time we were there, restorations were in progress. So, my hubby and I spent at least an hour trying to take the perfect picture of this cool landmark—either pretending to “push” it or in some way call attention to the fact that it was leaning. The photo I included here is actually one of my favorite shots of him in Europe. He’s mastered the look of touristy cluelessness and, really, every time I see it I can’t help but laugh aloud.

Below is an excerpt from the chapter where my characters visit Pisa. Gwen, my main character, is listening with amusement as the math-minded members of the tour group discuss the tower from their perspective. I hope you’ll enjoy it:

Upon arriving in Pisa, Davis, Dr. Louie, Kamesh and Ani immediately began debating the Leaning Tower’s degree of tilt from the ninety-degree perpendicular.

“It looks to be about a five-degree angle,” Dr. Louie guestimated.
Davis whipped out his pocket protractor—yes, he actually carried one with him!—and held it up so he could gauge the correct angle from a distance.
“We learned in school that it was a little less than four degrees,” Ani said.
“Used to be five and a half back in the seventies,” his father contributed. “But they did all those renovations in the nineties to stabilize it, and they straightened it by eighteen inches.”
“Ja,” their tour guide Hans-Josef said, overhearing them. “It now leans three point nine meters to the southwest from where it would be if it were perfectly vertical, and it stands about fifty-six meters high. Who wants to go up to the top?”
Emerson shot Gwen a mischievous glance and mouthed, “More stairs.”
There were 294 steps on one side and 296 on the other, to be precise. She smiled back at him but waved him off. She didn’t feel like racing against anyone that day, not even herself. Instead, she hung around the grassy square, strolling past Pisa’s Cathedral and the Baptistery, drinking in the site of the famous landmark and the sunshine.
And she observed.
She watched and, yes, eavesdropped on two married couples this time—Connie Sue and Alex, Sally and Peter—as they sat on a shady bench on the edges of the square and discussed the date the tower was built, who was in political and religious power at the time, what the history surrounding the construction and reconstruction was like and so on. Aside from their professed delight in finally seeing such wonders in person, there was also a constant search for meaning within the numbers and patterns that made Gwen pause.
“It took 177 years to build in 3 stages and work was first begun in 1173…all 1s, 3s and 7s!” Sally exclaimed.
“And the same pope, Alexander III, that led the Church when they were breaking ground on the Leaning Tower also laid the foundation stone for Notre Dame in Paris,” Alex added enthusiastically.
On one level, Gwen found it funny—this incessant DaVinci Coding of Europe—but it also made her wonder what the point was of all the analysis. Like a game of Sudoku, wasn’t the puzzle merely an intellectual exercise? Even if a pattern could be found based on the scant clues given, it wasn’t as though it was the cornerstone to anything important…to any profound truth…was it?
If you’re a travel lover like me and would like to join me on my book tour/grand European adventure, the itinerary includes:

Friday 11/25: Rome at Magical Musings
Monday 11/28: Pompeii at
SOS Aloha

Tuesday 11/29: Isle of Capri at The Stiletto Gang
Wednesday 11/30: Venice at Girlfriends Book Club
Thursday 12/1: Budapest at
Women's Fiction Writers
Friday 12/2: Florence at
Writer Unboxed
Monday 12/5: London at
Austen Authors
Tuesday 12/6: Salzburg at
Robin Bielman's Blog
Wednesday 12/7: Lake Como at
Brant Flakes
Monday 12/12: French Riviera at
Get Lost in a Story
Wednesday 12/15: Pisa at
Fly High
Wednesday 12/21: Vienna at
What Women Write
Monday 1/9: Brussels at
Tuesday 1/10: Paris at
Chick Lit Central

Any updates to the travel stops or new sites where there are interviews or giveaways can be found on my website. I hope you'll join me for a few other cities on the tour!! And if you'd like to read a longer excerpt from A Summer in Europe, which is a Literary Guild, BOMC2 and Rhapsody Book Club featured alternate selection for December 2011, you can find one HERE  

"Brant's newest...distinguishes itself with a charismatic leading man and very funny supporting cast, especially the wonderful elderly characters with their resonant message about living life to the fullest."  ~Publishers Weekly

Do you have a favorite landmark from anywhere in the world? I’d love to hear about that! I’ll give away one print copy of A Summer in Europe (open internationally) to one commenter, winner to be drawn randomly on December 21st. Many thanks to Maria Grazia and to all of you for the visit!

Marilyn Brant

Marilyn Brant  is the award-winning women's fiction author of ACCORDING TO JANE (2009), FRIDAY MORNINGS AT NINE (2010) and  A SUMMER IN EUROPE all from Kensington Books.
As a former teacher, library staff member, freelance magazine writer and national book reviewer, Marilyn has spent much of her life lost in literature. She's been told -- and not always with the intent to flatter -- that she's "insatiably curious" and "a travel addict." She admits to combining these two passions by taking classes in foreign countries whenever possible and, consequently, she's been able to learn lots of fascinating things in Australia, in England, in Italy and in universities across the United States.
She studied the works of Austen at Oxford University and is an active member of the Jane Austen Society of North America. Her debut novel featuring "Jane" won the Romance Writers of America's prestigious GoldenHeart® Award.
Marilyn has travelled to 45 states and over 30 countries (so far -- she's not done yet!), but she now lives in the Chicago suburbs with her family. When she isn't rereading Jane's books or enjoying the latest releases by her writer friends, she's working on her next novel, eating chocolate indiscriminately and hiding from the laundry.


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