How to write a book: Part four

Chapter openings are important because they need to draw the reader in with a promise of an interesting time. The opening scene of October just up and presented itself to me on Via Roma, right outside our apartment, when we spotted Jean Chretien meandering along. Despite the fact we’d never before met, he knew we must be Canadians because we were grinning foolishly at him in the shock of recognition. The former prime minister chatted easily and filled us in on why he was carrying two shopping bags from Tod’s, the luxury leather goods store. Ecco! I had my chapter opening.

Just as chapter openings are important, so too are endings. They must wrap up what the reader has just read and yet urge her onward at the same time. This particular chapter ending is unusual because it’s mythical. I moved from describing the pageant celebrating the 150th anniversary of the municipal police backward in time to the fifteenth century. Well, surrounded by Renaissance art, architecture and costumes, it didn’t seem like such a stretch to me. What do you think? Does it work?

In a personal journal like Fantasy in Florence, it’s always good to poke a little fun at yourself, so that’s why I recounted my experiences trying to learn Italian in the November chapter. People always say, ‘Oh, if you know French, you’ll be able to pick up Italian easily.’ Nonsense! What French I know, I’ve learned during a lifetime. As for a new language, think how long it takes to learn your mother tongue. Parlo Italiano? I got better over time but nowhere near conversational.

In September, readers met waiter Antonio Belvedere. In these two chapters, some of the locals I describe include a couple of expats, one American and one Canadian, who are succeeding in Italy in espresso and food, two national pastimes. As well, I describe climbing the 463 steps to the top of the Duomo, something that many tourists do, and watching the making of olive oil, which is not so commonplace among travelers. That event also gave me an opportunity to write about the creativity and care Italians use in making items. That’s what I tried to do with this book: describe a scene and find a deeper meaning, something more than mere observation. That often required getting in touch with my feelings. That’s a tough act for a Presbyterian boy like myself – but in Italy, I discovered, anything is possible.

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