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This month I am celebrating the one year anniversary of my book launch for Any Color but Beige. It’s been an amazing year filled with

The Little Red Suitcase

lots of new experiences, including television interviews, coverage in major dailies, book signings, book club readings, but best of all was all the heartwarming feedback from readers who found a little bit of themselves in my book.

It was also a very busy year because I managed all of the sales, marketing and public relations activities myself. Maintaining awareness for the book and increasing sales was an ongoing full-time job. Between the book and my day job, I’ve been “Up in the Air.” more often George Clooney.

So I am going to kick off this year’s sales and marketing efforts through the Café Girl Chronicles. Over the last year, readership and subscriptions have increased dramatically. I hope that by giving my new readers a preview of the book I can entice them to buy it, read it and recommend it to their friends.

The book is closely linked to my career as an international color marketing expert. As such, I wrote the book according to my life’s personal color spectrum. The book itself is divided into four colorful sections: Primary Colors, Color Blind, True Colors and Exotic Colors. And so, for the next four consecutive Tuesdays, I will publish one chapter from each section. I hope to pique your curiosity enough to want to read more.

Today, I’ll start with a chapter from Primary Colors, a section that focuses on my colorful childhood growing up in an Italian/Irish family. This chapter reveals the secret of the little red suitcase depicted on the book’s cover.

The following Tuesday, Color Blind will feature a chapter on how easily we can lose sight of all of the color in our lives by playing it safe.

The True Colors chapter in week three is all about rediscovering myself and adding color back into my life in ways I could never have imagined. This gave me the book’s subtitle – Living Life in Color.

Finally, in the last installment you will read all about the Exotic Color that was the genesis of this book.

And so, let’s begin at the beginning: Chapter 1 – The Little Red Suitcase

Chapter 1

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I have always prided myself on the fact that, when in a relationship of any kind, I have never sacrificed a friend for a man. I have never cancelled a night out with the girls in favor of a last-minute date. I have never responded to text messages during dinner and interrupted the smooth flow of a conversation. Nor have I ever disappeared for weeks or months at a time to lavish all my time and attention on a man – I am not that kind of girl.

That kind of girl…

Or so I thought…

For several months now, instead of writing this blog, I spent those precious hours in a daily and dedicated correspondence to a long-distance (and distant) lover. A lover who, I might add, also has some literary aspirations. Aspiration is a good word, because I could literally feel his aspirations sucking the creativity and life out of my own writing and observations. As I channeled my time and creative energy over to him I had less to spend on myself. In addition, as his “editor,” I spent a great deal of time propping up his ego. This is essential in a vocation that is riddled with insecurity and angst. Just ask my editor.

So, in a sense, I abandoned both my readers and my muse for him. And having done so, I was afraid I had lost both. I was afraid that my readers, tired of waiting around for a new post, had gone off to read other writers’ blogs and that my muse had gone to whisper words into other writers’ ears.

But after a week of steadily blogging and receiving a warm “welcome back,” I have learned that this is not so. And, as I sit in my hotel room in Paris, I am reading all of your wonderful comments and feeling my muse pacing the floor, pausing every few minutes in search of a perfect word to place on the page.

After such a long absence I was also afraid I had lost my rhythm, my words, and that panicky pleasure I get when I write regularly. The same doubts plague the actor, musician, or athlete who, after a long absence, returns to the public stage and asks herself, Can I do it again? Will I be as good? What if I choke?

Writing is, like most things, a profession you have to practice – a lot – if you want to be good at it. The less I practiced, the farther away I got from writing this blog and the closer I came to shutting it down.

That was, until I had a conversation with my editor, Melva McLean, who reminded me that I was still writing every day, just a different kind of writing but writing none the less. It was to an audience of one – my lover. At the same time I was writing to him I was able to see  the tentative first steps it takes for someone else to tell a story.

I could see myself in him and how I too started with the easy stuff. It was the expository, the superficial, the description and the reportage of daily life. Not bad if you wanted to be a working journalist but dull as dirt if you want to tell a story.

I remember when I started writing Any Color but Beige how I rested on the surface of my experience and feelings. I was afraid to go any deeper to plumb the emotional depths that gave my story its joy and sadness – its life. The thought of sharing that part of me with strangers caused my heart to race. I suppose that’s why it took two years.

Over dinner one night Melva said something about great writing that haunts me. She said, “The best stories break your heart.” And she’s right.

My book was born out of heartbreak. The story broke my heart, and writing it as truthfully as possible, with all of the messy wonderful emotions that went with it, helped to heal that heart.

I tried to explain this concept to my lover. I gave him some examples of great writers who bared their souls and risked opening themselves up to ridicule and judgment in the name of great writing, who paid a price but created great works in the process. But he prefers to go through life skimming the surface.

He certainly skimmed the surface of my life. Our relationship had all of the depth of a puddle. The up side to this is that although he may have nicked my heart he certainly didn’t break it. So I must be getting better at this relationship thing. On the other hand ours was not the kind that breaks your heart. It was more like reportage. And I will leave him to write that, since he’s so good at it.

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Spring is coming and I’ve decided to take a little break.    I’ll be back in April with the Daffodils.  photo: © istockphoto.com/marilyna

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As part of my 2011 book promotion / marketing efforts, I participated in WOW!’s Blog Tour. For those of you who are new to The Chronicles, WOW! stands for Women on Writing and it offers genre-specific blog tours to authors via its extensive blogger network.

The tour took place in November / December 2011 and included guest posts on participating blogs, interviews, one podcast and a book giveaway contest. It offered one free copy of Any Color but Beige to individual readers and an opportunity for one lucky book club to win ten copies of the book. All international winners received an eBook or Kindle format of the book. To be eligible, the blogs required readers to tweet about the book and that increased my exposure in cyberspace.

Here’s what I liked about the tour:

It was well organized. Participating blogs posted topics well enough in advance of the tour, so I could prepare just the right posts to help promote the book.

It gave me a list of topics to write about. Sometimes writing about a particular subject is a lot easier than coming up with a topic on your own.

Once the guest posts were published, I could use them on my own blog. This bought me some much needed time off in the month of December.

Some blogs reviewed the books. It was good to get different viewpoints from people who knew nothing about me, my blog or my story. Objective reviews help a writer see things in a different light. Or consider things they wouldn’t have previously thought of.

The tour was international and that was perfect because it’s in keeping with who I am and what I do. I was a guest on blogs in Estonia and Finland. And some of the contest winners were as far away as Australia and Malaysia. The winning book club was from Madrid, Spain. I will be participating in the Madrid book club discussion via Skype in the spring.

The one drawback to the tour was that the tour could not provide any real quantitative data analysis. However, my own analytical conclusion is that my fourth quarter 2011 blog views were up a whopping 60%. How much of that is attributable to the blog tour I can’t say for sure. I can say that, post for post, the only thing I have done differently between 2010 and 2011 is take part in the tour.

The bigger question is did it lead to an increase in book sales? And here I would have to say I don’t know. I have no basis of comparison because sales are similar across the three months since the book’s release in September.

Were the dollars I spent worth it? I would say yes they were. I consider the dollars spent an investment in the Café Girl brand and my ongoing stories.

photo: © istockphoto.com/scanrail

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Anyone who has ever stared down a blank page and blinked first knows how devastating writer’s block can be. I’ve read several articles

on the causes of it, but the best reason I’ve heard to date is actually the simplest to cure – the cause of writer’s block is a lack of fresh ideas, and the best source of new ideas that I know of is travel.

My favorite place to stay in Trieste

You don’t have to travel to the ends of the earth either to be inspired. A jaunt across town to a new neighborhood is just as inspiring as jetting off to Japan, and a lot more economical for those of us on a budget.

Let’s take a look at all of the potential ways local and long distance travel can inspire us.

First and foremost, it’s all about the place. First impressions can be quite powerful when you’re visiting a place for the very first time. For frequent travelers like me, who have been so many places, the challenge is to see a familiar place with fresh eyes. Armed with a seek-and-you-shall-find attitude, I’m always amazed at how many new things I can discover.

The most fascinating thing to write about is people and the cast of characters that make up the place you’re visiting. You can write about their physical appearances, perhaps so very different from your own. You can capture their mannerisms and customs, or you can dig a little deeper and find the commonalities. One of my favorite things to do is recreate conversations with the colloquialisms of unconstrained everyday conversation. It makes us feel like we’re eavesdropping.

Another thing you can do is take us on a tour of some of your favorite places and tell us why they’re your favorites. For example I’m a WWII history buff, and on almost every visit I make to London, I always go to the British War Museum. I become a time traveler. I can feel the sense of urgency, the life and death struggle of nations as the fate of democracy hangs in the balance.

Why not make up stories about your favorite places. I’m often fascinated as I walk the winding back streets and alleyways of old cities like Venice or Barcelona for example. I try to imagine the everyday life of the inhabitants of these ancient dwellings. What happens behind closed shutters, on bougainvillea-covered balconies or in local shops? I look at the laundry hanging on the balconies and try to guess, from the articles of clothing, who lives in that household. What they do for a living?

If it’s a gondolier, does he sing because he is happy? Is it a bank president having an affair with his secretary behind his wife’s back? Or is he madly in love with his wife and rushes home each night to plant a kiss on the back of her neck? Are the children bored with their over stimulated digital lives? Do they still play outdoors? Is a woman sick and dying behind shuttered window? Does she still have a burden of regret weighing heavily on her soul, pinning her to this earth like an insect in one of those shadow boxes. What was the regret and what could she have done differently?

Local culture, cuisine and customs also yield a rich harvest of stories, observations and ideas. Engage all your senses: taste, touch, hear, see and smell what the place and its people have to offer. Participate. Go out of your comfort zone and learn something new, something indigenous to the place. Mush a dog sled in Alaska, dance Flamenco in Barcelona or dive the Great Barrier Reef. Or be a tourist in your own city.

And, finally, never leave the house or hotel without a notepad and pen because Inspiration can strike at any time, curing your writer’s block in an instant.

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In every writer’s life there are two stumbling blocks to overcome. On second thought, make them stone walls to surmount: writer’s bloc and writer’s resistance. Writer’s bloc, as I learned from a Robert McKee Story seminar, occurs when you run out of ideas. Writer’s resistance is a lack of dedication to your craft. Lately, I’ve been suffering from both.

“How is that possible?” you may ask. “She’s been posting content consistently all through December.”

Well, I have a confession to make. I’ve been coasting. Yes, that’s right. For my December postings, I’ve mined content already created for my WOW blog tour back in October and November. Regular readers of just “The Chronicles” may not have noticed this, but crossover readers between it and the WOW tour found at least one familiar post.

This strategy gave me a much-need rest, but now I’ve run out of content just as I’ve fallen out of the habit of writing every night. Of course this would happen just when my blog took a significant uptick in readership and e-mail subscriptions – for which I am amazed and incredibly grateful. In fact, all of this new interest, new subscriptions, increase in comments and “likes” has given me a new sense of purpose. I am now accountable to a new and growing invisible group of friends who drop by the Café regularly to catch up on the latest happenings.

Realizing that I might find it tough sledding in December I also promised my readers a chapter (one with a surprise ending) of my second book by the end of December. Many of you have also been kind enough to ask me about a sequel, and both things have motivated me to sit down and write.

I’m happy to report that although it doesn’t quite have the surprise ending I had in mind, I do have a chapter ready for you to read. It’s a Destination Chapter. Those of you who are familiar with the structure of my book Any Color but Beige will recognize that this chapter picks up the story where my first book leaves off. Where we go from here remains a mystery.

I’m superstitious so I decided to post it the first day of 2012 rather than the last day of 2011: a new chapter equals a renewed sense of purpose.

I’d also like to wish all of you a very Happy New Year. Whatever your projects are this year, may they bring you the satisfaction and joy of doing something you love.

Back Behind the Computer

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The Color Purple

photos: ©iStockphoto.com/photodjo

Color has a profound psychological impact on our lives. It’s used every day to stimulate our senses, excite us, calm us and, yes, induce us to buy products. Each color family has its own set of characteristics that trigger certain responses in us. With that in mind we should tread carefully when adding color to our space, especially our writing space.

There are trend colors, those colors du jour that we fall “in like” with. Be careful here because this relationship is a bit like infatuation. Color fatigue sets in quickly with trend colors. And before your know it, it’s time to move on to something else.

Then there are colors that last a lifetime – those are your favorite colors, the colors your intuition chooses. These are the colors that you feel close to and comfortable with. These are the colors that already appear in your closet and in the most comfortable rooms of your house.

When it comes to choosing color for any room, keep in mind that you don’t have to have an all red or all green room. Sometimes a dash of color is just enough to stimulate your creativity or get you in writing mode.

What follows is my take as a color marketer on color and how it can affect us as writers. Keep in mind that if you’re seriously engaged in the writing process, you’re focused and so you don’t see any color – it’s actually the absence of color, i.e. black type on a white page.

Red is a very stimulating color; it is the color of heat, passion and warning. It’s used a lot in fast food restaurants to move people in and out quickly.  Use a dash of red to jump start your project.

Purple is a mystical color. It promotes healing and meditation. Leonardo da Vinci said that the color purple can increase meditative powers tenfold.  A purple room is good for contemplating plot and structure.

Blue is a very relaxing and calming color. If you’ve put yourself under the pressure of deadlines, then blue is the color for you.

Green is Mother Nature’s favorite color. And just look how creative she is.

Yellow is a high-energy color that stimulates the mental process of thinking and activates memory. If you’re writing a memoir a little yellow will go a long way.

Orange is a color you either love or hate. It’s also a high-energy color and encourages socialization. It might be a good color to use in a room where writers convene to discuss their work.

Whatever color you choose for your writing room it should be a color that enhances and promotes your personal well-being – as you feel it. Color like everything else in a room should disappear after a while as you engross yourself in your story. At that point your story’s own color will jump off of the page.

©iStockphoto.com/RuslanDashinsky

Pick a Color, Any Color

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Many years ago, a friend, mentor, teacher and author gave me a T-shirt that said: So many books, so little time.

That phrase has been burned into my brain ever since. When it comes to books and book stores, I’m like a kid in a candy store. I borrow way more books than I can ever hope to read from the local library and incur enough late fees to add a second wing to the building. I didn’t think it was possible but I swear I’m about to overload my Kindle with dozens of titles in as many genres, all unread. I also bookmark more blogs than I have time to absorb and enjoy, and then there are the magazines and newspapers that I buy because I still like the feel of them. They are piled at the foot of my couch.

I’m also guilty of being a multiple book/media reader. When I was younger I used to be able to get away with it. I could remember the various plot lines of novels, biographies or thrillers not to mention the anecdotes and statistics of business books. Lately less so. I blame it on this new age of information overload rather than my own advancing age. And so I’ve had to grudgingly limit myself to two books at a time and a few periodicals. That way, there’s a chance I might get to enjoy them.

I have further diminished my normally good reading habits by enhancing another good habit – that of writing regularly. Whoever says you can have it all never had to balance reading, writing and working a full-time job (or raising a family.)

I’ve been writing a blog for two years now and I recently published my first book, a memoir entitled Any Color but Beige: Living Life in Color. And while writing the blog and the book has been a real labor of love, it has ultimately cut into my reading habits. Instead of reading before bed, I’m busy taking notes. Instead of reading on the plane, I’m turning those notes into posts or pages. And therein lies the dilemma because reading is the ultimate resource for new ideas and a sure cure for writer’s block. But reading is not only about work, it’s also about pleasure. So here’s my own personal list of why I read. It’s a mix of reasons as eclectic as the books I read.

Photo: © iStockphoto.com/

1)    Reading enriches my vocabulary.

2)    Reading good prose inspires me to be a better writer.

3)    Reading transports me to new places without ever having to pack a bag.

4)    Reading gives me insight into myself and others.

5)    Reading gives meaning to my life.

6)    Reading allows me to appreciate the beauty of a well-turned phrase or line.

7)    Reading relaxes me.

8)    Reading teaches me like nothing else can. I read therefore I learn.

And finally, reading adds color to my life. Without books it would indeed be a beige world.

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Thank you.

I am grateful to two fellow bloggers who have nominated me for a Versatile Blogger Award – and it’s not just about the recognition and exposure for The Chronicles, although that’s a huge part of it. It’s about more than that. It’s about helping me define exactly what my blog is. In other words, I no longer have an identity crisis; I have a category, and that category has a name: Versatile Blogger.

Several months ago, as I wrote and rewrote the description for my Facebook fan page, the best I could come up with was a kitchen sink kind of blog. I was a little slow on the uptake because the word versatile more than covers what I do, and in a much more elegant way.

One of my nominators, Jacqui Murray − WordDreams − and I met nearly a year ago when WordPress featured one of her posts on “Freshly Pressed.” We entered into a cyber-conversation that continues to this day. Jacqui is now my go-to person for all things writing / publishing. If she doesn’t know it, she knows someone who does.

My other nominator is Divya Srikanth, (aka Dee Shrek) − of Literally Challenged – who is from Chennai, India and writes with a very wicked wit.  I suspect that if she ever wanted to swap writing for stand up she’d pack the house.

My thanks to these two very talented bloggers for nominating me. I’m honored. Their blogs are well worth checking out.

There’s more to this award than this cool graphic. I’m also supposed to share seven things about myself and pass along this award to 15 blogs I’ve discovered. So here goes:

Seven Secrets 

  1. I’ve always wanted to own a steel mill.
  2. I cry when I hear the “American National Anthem” and France’s “La Marseillaise.” I think it’s because I actually pay attention to the words when I hear them. People at sporting events must think I’m crazy.
  3. If I didn’t sell color, and couldn’t own a steel mill, I’d be a private investigator.
  4. My favorite food is donuts, the sickly sweet kind filled with frosting inside and out.
  5. I’ve memorized all of the lines in Casablanca.
  6. I want to take a freighter cruise around the world.
  7. I hate shopping.

Twelve Terrific Blogs 

Okay I’m a wee bit short of 15 but I promise you’ll love the one’s I’ve listed here.  In addition to Jacqui and Divya’s blogs I also follow these fabulous blogs.

Arlene’s New Beginnings – Observations on Life, People and the Universe.  Arlene is a gifted writer, artist and photographer with a great sense of personal style.

Savvy Savings Bytes – If you want to really love NYC on a shoestring then this is a must read.

Gal About the Globe – This blog is the perfect travel companion.  It covers lots of ground from global happenings, fashion, and profiles of successful up-and-coming Gals about the Globe. And you don’t even need a passport! Pay it a visit.

Three Great Tango blogs – Since I’ve been too busy writing to dance lately but my spirit dances to the beat of these blogs.

Passionate about prose? Then visit Nissi’s blog Plantain Periodicals. 

Get Inspired at Clicking50.  Sonia’s blog is a visual feast. See the world through her eyes it will give you a fresh perspective.

If you want to nourish the poet in your soul, read Carolyn Donnell’s blog Deeper Colors. 

Under the writer’s category and a second time winner is Nicole Basaraba’s Uni-Verse-City. You’ll love this forum for words on writing.

Meet Gracie, the magnifi-cat of the Tiniest Tiger.  She’s a celebri-cat and is passionate about saving her cousins in Africa through the Conservation Cub Club. You gotta love her!

Okay fellow bloggers now it’s your turn to pass it on.

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I’ve had a lot of Carrie Bradshaw moments over the last few years: walking away from the wrong man at the right time, falling for the wrong man at the right time and an amazing rescue by my Café Girls when I returned home from a disastrous foreign love affair – on Valentine’s Day with nothing but the clothes in my suitcase. They were there with food, shelter and friendship. What more could a girl ask for?

Carrie and I have the great good fortune to live in magical cities that we love – she in New York, me in Montreal. Writing is our shared passion. Carrie writes a column and I write regular posts on a variety of topics including sex in a few cities, travel, relationships, careers and cultural commentary for this blog which has steadily grown in readership over the last year.

And now I too have my own book, Any Color but Beige: Living Life in Color. In season five, Carrie agonizes over her image on the book’s front cover appropriately titled Sex and the City. It was all about what she should wear, how she should dress. For me it was about the shoes, and the challenge of securing permission to use the beautiful red soled Christian Louboutin shoes on my cover. We both succeeded in creating memorable book covers.

We each attended our respective book launches solo – but in my case, one was the luckiest number and not the loneliest number. While an eleventh hour rescue by Jack Burger gives her the plus one she’s been looking for. Stuff like that only happens in TV.

We’re both lucky to have loyal readers who support our efforts and show up at launches and public readings. Last week, I gave my first public reading at a The Munich Readery which is run by Lisa Yarger and her husband John. It was an especially fitting place for my first reading because I had read a few chapters of the then untitled and unfinished manuscript to some of the same people the year before.

An intimate group of friends and fans of the book and the blog attended. This official first reading ranked right up there with my book launch and my recent Girls’ Nights In cocktails moments pressed into the scrapbook of my memory. 

Lisa did a thorough job publicizing the event through the store’s e-mailing list and the local English speaking online publications. She laid out a colorful counter of fancy cheeses, figs, beautiful German breads and jam and a variety wines. It’s times like this I like to step back and take in the scene as an observer of my own life. Sometimes I just have to pinch myself just to make sure I’m not dreaming. Friends and family have been enjoying the process as much as I have it seems.

Tucked in between floor to ceiling bookshelves (I thought I’d died and gone to heaven), I sat in an oversized chair surrounded by my own books, amidst the small group who listened attentively to two selections that Lisa had selected “Destination Paris” and “Chapter 12: Unfinished Business.”

I read Any Color but Beige aloud dozens of times during the proofreading process but this was the first time I “played” all of the people in each of the chapters. I had fun taking on different roles changing my voice, my accents and my tone to reflect the individuals in question. As I looked from face to face, I could see my audience as lost in my story as I was, laughing at the funny bits and growing quiet in the sad ones.

Moments like these made me feel like Carrie Bradshaw, with one huge difference for which I will always be grateful: all of my memorable moments are real.

Photo: © iStockphoto.com/digitalskillet

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