A Giveaway Follows The Author InterviewBook Spotlight (provided by Italy Book Tours)
Dreaming Sophia is a magical look into Italy, language, art, and culture. It is a story about turning dreams into reality and learning to walk the fine line between fact and fantasy. When tragedy strikes, Sophia finds herself alone in the world, without direction and fearful of loving again. With only her vivid imagination to guide her, she begins a journey that will take her from the vineyards in Sonoma, California to a grad school in Philadelphia and, eventually, to Italy: Florence, Lucca, Rome, Verona, Venice, and Val d’Orcia.
Through dreamlike encounters, Sophia meets Italian personalities—princes, poets, duchesses, artists, and film stars— who give her advice to help put her life back together. Following a path that takes her from grief to joy, she discovers the source of her creativity and learns to love again, turning her dreams into reality.
About the author:
Melissa Muldoon is the Studentessa Matta-the crazy linguist! In Italian, "matta" means "crazy" or "impassioned". Melissa has a B.A. in fine arts, art history and European history from Knox College, a liberal arts college in Galesburg, Illinois, as well as a master's degree in art history from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. She has also studied painting and art history in Florence.
Melissa promotes the study of Italian language and culture through her dual-language blog, Studentessa Matta (studentessamatta.com). Melissa began the Matta blog to improve her command of the language and to connect with other language learners. It has since grown to include a podcast, "Tutti Matti per l'Italiano" and the Studentessa Matta YouTube channel. Melissa also created Matta Italian Language Immersion Tours, which she co-leads with Italian partners in Italy.
Dreaming Sophia is Melissa's first novel. It is a fanciful look at art history and Italian language and culture, but it is also the culmination of personal stories and insights resulting from her experiences living in Italy, as well as her involvement and familiarity with the Italian language, painting, and art history.
As a student, Melissa lived in Florence with an Italian family. She studied art history and painting and took beginner Italian classes. When she returned home, she threw away her Italian dictionary, assuming she'd never need it again but after launching a successful design career and starting a family, she realized something was missing in her life. That "thing" was the connection she had made with Italy and the friends who live there. Living in Florence was indeed a life-changing event! Wanting to reconnect with Italy, she decided to start learning the language again from scratch. As if indeed possessed by an Italian muse, she bought a new Italian dictionary and began her journey to fluency-a path that has led her back to Italy many times and enriched her life in countless ways.
Now, many dictionaries and grammar books later, she dedicates her time to promoting Italian language studies, further travels in Italy, and sharing her stories and insights about Italy with others. When Melissa is not traveling in Italy, she lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is married and has three boys and two beagles.
Melissa designed and illustrated the cover art for Dreaming Sophia. She also designed the Dreaming Sophia website and created the character illustrations that can be found in the book and on the Dreaming Sophia websites.
Visit the website here
Interview with the author...
How exciting to have written your debut novel! If you can tell us what was the most exciting part of actually seeing that finished product?
Thank you Sherry! It is very exciting to have finished my first novel. Thank you also for previewing Dreaming Sophia and highlighting it on your blog.
My novel, published at the end of August, took about two years to write. But if truth be told it has been thirty years in the making! It weaves together many strands of Italian culture in a mixture of fantasy, romance, art, and history. It is as diverse and complex as Italy herself. From start to finish readers are taken on a journey from the vineyards of Sonoma California to Florence, Fiesole, Lucca, Rome, Verona, and Venice. Along the way, they will discover more about Italy, popular legends and illuminating anecdotes, film, music, and food. They will also learn a bit of Italian to boot! The story begins with tragedy, with the main character, named after La Loren, being blindsided by fate. But, “Dreaming Sophia” is also a joyful story. It is a story about turning dreams into reality.
So, in answer to your question as to what it felt like when I completed the story and finally held the printed book in my hands… I have to admit I was quite overwhelmed with joy. I also felt proud and satisfied. I realized I had finally captured on paper a story that I had been keeping inside me for a long time…one that in many ways explains my own journey to learn Italian and my fascination with the country.
The month of March is a special time for me. I’ve heard that this March was very special for you. Can you tell us about it.
Yes, March is a special month for me. Not only is it a month long celebration of my birthday (my birthday is the 28th!) but I will always remember it as the month in which I met Sophia Loren!
It is my belief if you can envision something, you can make it happen. One of the themes Dreaming Sophia is the belief in positive thinking and making dreams comes true. Writing this book is an example of this. Not only did I take a pile of notes and blog posts and envision an end novel, but because of “Dreaming Sophia” I had the opportunity to meet Miss Loren after her one-woman show in Las Vegas last March. I was able to kiss her on both cheeks in the proper Italian fashion and tell her about my novel. What a thrill it was to see her smile at me and say to me: I believe in dreams, dreams become reality.
Now, I’m curious about what makes March for you?
Obviously you love Italy. Are there other places that you’ve traveled that could possibly be a good setting for a book?
My love of traveling began at a very young age, fueled by my parents. My family hosted foreign exchanged students from Chile and Japan. As a family, we traveled to both those countries to visit the families of the students we had hosted. As a teenager I also lived in Hawaii for six months with my parents while my father, a college professor was on sabbatical. My senior year in college I traveled for the first time abroad to Italy all by myself. I choose Florence because of my love for Art History and Painting. At the time lived with an Italian family and traveled around il Bel Paese, visiting Siena, Rome and Venice and other small hill towns sprinkled around Tuscany. During holiday breaks I also went to France - Mont Saint Michel, Chartres, and Paris as well as a few cities in Germany and Austria.
I have visited many places around the globe, and there are other places I’d like to go, but for now I seem to keep returning to Italy twice a year now, where I can use the language that I’ve worked so hard to learn. Italy itself is such a diverse country and every city and every region is unique and offers special and unusual things. For me, it is an adventure traveling to new places within Italy itself learning about new legends, customs, and practices. Italy continues to fire my imagination, and currently, I am working on a new novel concept that will take place in Arezzo, a charming town in southern Tuscany.
I think the location of Italy is obvious but can you tell us how did the story line evolve?
The decision to write a novel came to me gradually, fueled by my years of working on the Studentessa Matta website - a dual language blog I write in Italian and English. I wanted to try my hand at fiction and weave together many of the stories I write about on my blog. I was also inspired by several published women author friends.
When I sat down to develop a fictional story, I tossed around several ideas, but as I glanced up at a picture of Eleonora de' Medici painted by the Renaissance artist Bronzino pinned to my idea board next to my computer, the original draft of Dreaming Sophia began to flow out of me. I was a little surprised at first by the direction the story took right from the beginning and was immediately captivated by the characters of Sophia and her mother.
As I continued to write and began developing the conversations between Sophia her Italian muses—Eleonora de’ Medici and her encounters with Leonardo and Michelangelo and Prince Lorenzo I was thoroughly hooked. I wanted to continue exploring the theme of a young girl rising out of tragedy, learning how to cope with her grief who eventually finds the confidence to create a new life and artistic career for herself in Italy. I also wanted to tie in the many personalities from Italian art and history and have my character “meet” them through her daydreams. Although the story begins with tragedy, ultimately it ends joyfully. It is about falling in love with one’s self and finding inner confidence, as well as falling in love with a country and its culture.
Your book is filled with fanciful characters. Is the book based on fantasy or on reality?
"Dreaming Sophia" is based on a contemporary reality. But there are elements of fantasy and at times a blending of fact with fiction. An important aspect of the book was to explore the reality of living in Italy, its customs, language and current events. But, being somewhat of an imaginative daydreamer myself I also wanted to tell a story in which my character Sophia could talk to famous Italian personalities from past eras—the titans of Italian history and culture—through her creative thought processes.
Originally I thought about calling the book “Sognare ad occhi aperti”. In Italian, this means to daydream. So even though there are fanciful sequences, Sophia’s dreams are very real to her. They are a way for her to process the information she has heard previously from her parents and her teachers. As she heals and grows stronger, she can accept the “advice” and the “gifts” each Muse gives to her, to move on with her life and make positive changes.
Sophia’s journey is about turning her dreams into reality, but it is also about finding a balance between fantasy and reality. Sophia Loren the actress also knew the importance of finding this balance. She grew up in a time of war, famine and poverty to become a famous movie star. La Loren knew how to imagine and visualize a better life for herself. She knew that a fairy tale loses its magic without real life and that the opposite is also true. The most beautiful thing in life is to learn how to walk between the two.
My character learns to walk this fine line between fantasy and fiction and does indeed move to Italy to pursue a career as an artist. It seems her dreams have come true. But once she arrives in Italy, she is faced with a new set of realities. Sophia must adapt to a new culture, a new language and life with an Italian family. She also must navigate the complexities of a new social network as she also starts to date, Italian men. More perplexing than that, she must learn how to survive the labyrinth that is Italian bureaucracy as well as succeed as an artist in a foreign country. In Italian, there is another idiom: Hai voluto la bicicletta, adesso pedala! You wanted the bike now learn to pedal! You wanted this, now learn to deal with it. And this is exactly what Sophia learns to do.
Where is your favorite place to write?
I write in various places. I begin writing on my big desktop Mac in the privacy of my home office. I have two large monitors for my graphic design work so that I can have multiple windows open with all my notes and drafts. I am a prolific writer and every day I save my current draft to my iCloud. When I go to the gym, I re-read what I have written on my iPad and take additional notes while I’m on the treadmill. I also often find secluded corners of the house and sit with my lap top and write on that device as well. Every time I read the story on a different screen - big or small, or read it in a new setting I see it in a new way.
I work best early in the morning and very late at night. But, I am always thinking about the story line throughout the day, when I’m shopping, listening to Italian music, or making dinner. Some of my best ideas come to me when I am relaxing or out for a walk with my two beagles. I am also prone to replaying the entire story in my head as I’m trying to fall sleep which often prompts me to get out of bed and fire up my computer and start writing in the middle of the night.
I am a graphic designer and a very visual person, so it helps my creative process to illustrate my characters and have a vision board of all the places the story takes me. It is during the times that I am illustrating my characters additional ideas come to me. You can visit the Dreaming Sophia Pinterest Boards to see my character illustrations as well as all the lovely places in Italy that I write about.
And one last question. Now that the book is finished are you taking a little vacation?
I have just returned from Italy where I spent a month in Tuscany with my fall Arezzo Italian language immersion group. I am home again in San Francisco Bay Area and am now getting ready for the holidays and spending time with my family. I am staying put for a couple of months and will be busy posting new articles about Italy on the Studentessa Matta blog and Youtube channel. I am fortunate, because for me, writing about Italy is like taking a vacation there every day.
You can also find me on a new website I have created a Dreaming Sophia. On the Dreaming Sophia website, Facebook Page and Pinterest Boards, I plan to post more stories about Italy and art history. Through the website, I offer items I have designed, such as Dreaming Sophia book bags, t-shirts, mugs, and calendars.
In 2017 I am organizing two new Italian Language programs in Lucca in June and Arezzo September, as well as a “Dreaming Sophia Tour” in Florence in September. It will be a 5-6 day program, and we will visit all the places that Sophia goes in the book, as well as a day trip to Lucca. More information about these programs is available on the Studentessa Matta Blog. (www.studentessamatta.com)
As I said, writing about Italy is like taking a vacation for me and so I am also developing an idea for a new novel and plan to start writing soon! Stay tuned!
Thank you Sherry for featuring Dreaming Sophia on your blog “My Journey Back”. I have enjoyed my “journey” of bringing Dreaming Sophia to life. I hope you too will enjoy your travels with Sophia! Non smettere mai di sognare—never stop dreaming!
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