Sicily 

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The water bleeds into the sky; it’s impossible to tell the difference. Out the window, all I see is a piercingly incredible blue. The streets wind wilder than anything I’ve ever seen. It’s like God randomly decorated the ground with rocky roads and then decided a town should accompany them.

In five minutes, I’m entranced. In ten, I’m in love. Although we have an insanely busy week ahead of us, the effects of the town are not lost on the other girls in my program. The light reaches people’s eyes, lifts their shoulders and spirits.

I expect the air to be cold when I step into the city, but instead it greets me with a reassuring warmth. Everything will be okay.

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How to Overcome FOMO as an Independent Author

A great article and reminder for independent publishers.

A Writer's Path

by Kate Colby

How Indie Authors Get FOMO

If you choose the path of independent publishing, you’ll quickly learn that you have a lot of responsibilities. You’ll need to write your book, manage the editing, cover design, and formatting, and handle the publishing and marketing. While you can (and should!) hire professional help, in the end, you’re the one who makes the big decisions. This pressure alone can make you feel like you have to be a super human to make it as an author.

The good news? There are thousands of books, podcasts, blogs, and other resources ready to help you in your journey. The bad news? Each one exalts a different method of writing, publishing, and/or marketing – and new tactics emerge almost daily.

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Florence Fiction Friday (10)

Alissa and I went for a run the next morning. The constant carbs were detrimental to the jeans we packed, and we decided to finally do something about it. Alissa was a good companion: friendly enough and not too nosy. When we stopped my the Duomo for tea at the American coffee shop, I was drenched in sweat and embarrassed to be around so many attractive Italians with their Gucci handbags and Prada shoes.

Tea in my hand, laughing at something Alissa said, I didn’t notice a figure step in front of me.

Fred.

With one of the guys we saw outside our apartment.

Alissa stopped in her tracks. I dropped my tea, heart thudding from the irresistible attraction and intrigue I felt for Fred, but terrified all the same. Fred hit on American women; he knew exactly how to talk to me to make me fall for him. He knew how to make me forget what they did.

I glanced around. The Italian guards in berets did their rounds, walking slowly about the plaza. They paid us only the briefest attention.

“Hi, Fred,” I said.

“Beautiful day, isn’t it?” He smiled. He put a hand on the small of my back and started walking, giving me no choice but to follow his steps. Slowly, his friend did the same to Alissa. We locked eyes, glanced at the guards.

“What are you guys up to?”

“Nothing anyone needs to ever find out about.”

“I see.” I tried to get more from him. “Nothing illegal though, I’m sure?”

I moved closer to the Duomo, where the guards and most civilians were. Surely he couldn’t kill us in front of all of them?

I felt Fred’s hand on my back, felt his breath on my neck. I bit my lip so hard it hurt; I had to stop visions of our kiss from coming back. I longed to turn around and steal another, but I fought the idiotic urge and inched closer to the nearest guard.

The guard locked eyes and smiled at me. They never smiled. Like, ever—I was pretty sure that their guard training involved always looking angry. That fact that Fred let me get so close warned me:

“Impossible, you’re in on this too? Is no one safe?” I exclaimed.

“Hmm?” he asked, paying full attention to me now.

Fred yanked on my arm. I fell back into him and reached towards the guard. “Please, help us. These men are trying to hurt us.”

Fred’s laugh vibrated my body. “Hurt? Oh, my dear. That’s a little dramatic. I just wanted to take you somewhere to eat.”

“Leave Alissa out of this, then!”

“Who is Alissa?” the guard asked. I thanked God he spoke English.

I whipped around.

Alissa was gone.

I glanced through the plaza, looking for her electric yellow running tank. “There!” I turned to the guard. “Please, please help me. That man is taking my friend.”

With a sharp kick behind me, while Fred was distracted with the guard, I broke free and chased after them.

Duomo Florence
Two weeks later, Fred and his group were convicted of murder. Apparently there’d been multiple that year and they found 15 more linked to them. Italy called Alissa and I heroes. I called myself a naïve study abroad student. 

To take my mind off of things, I went to Scotland for a week. I found myself in Edinburgh. I stopped crying in the shower. I started living.

Places to see in Florence

In honor of Florence Fiction Friday coming up, I thought it’d be appropriate to list some of the best places to visit if you find yourself abroad.

Piazza Della Rebbuplica

Esp. at night people, seriously. This place always has performers, musicians, singers, magicians, painters… you name it, someone does it. And the carousal plopped in the middle is straight from a dream. It’s incredible. Right next to it is a bookstore called Red that sells primarily Italian books but is a very authentic place if you want to soak in the atmosphere.

La Milkeria 

The most amazing crepes, cheap coffee, and gelato that anyone could ask for – locals and foreigners alike. The free wifi is just an added bonus.. you’ll be so focused on the food you won’t even think about Instagramming it.


Le Campagne 

Any tourist will go to Gusta Pizza. It’s one of the best-known places in Florence. But try out this hidden gem instead. Hands down my favorite pizza in all of Italy.. and in all of the world.

La Gelateria Trinita

It was a blessing and a curse to have this on my walk to school. But hey, YOLIIO (You Only Live In Italy Once).


Pino’s Sandwiches

Delicious, low-key place with incredibly friendly workers – something you can’t take for granted in Italy. (Also, at some point go to a restaurant and try pesto gnocchi. Anywhere. Really. Just order it.)

Baboli Gardens

Finding alone time and nature in Florence proved to be my greatest challenge. For the price of 3 euros, you can explore the most beautiful gardens in the world.

Boboli Garden
Bargello

This prized piece was right down the street from my apartment. Priceless artwork from the Medici family era is located here. Many many scultpures and paintings and much less of a line. I recommend this over Uffizi Gallery if on a time crunch.

Pro tip: don’t only do the most well known things just because you feel like you should do them. It’s a waste of time. Find things from my list and online that really interest you. Do the research, you will be rewarded. 

Florence Fiction Friday (9)

From making new friends in classes to Fred, I finally felt like myself. Greg even commented one week that I had a certain glow about me.

“I just showered,” I answered.

“Nah, that’s not it.”

Matt came in from a run. His athletic body didn’t interest me at all anymore. “What’s up,” he said rather than asked. 

“Eh.” Greg took another swig of his beer.

Alissa perked up from the couch behind us. “You know it’s ten in the morning, right?”

“You know it’s Friday, right? Want one?”

Alissa shrugged and accepted. “Lauren, are you coming to the soccer game with us tonight?”

“I was going to hang out with Fred, but let me ask him.”

I pulled out my phone but Alissa was over in seconds to swat it from my hands. “What are you doing? You’re lucky enough to have your guy right across the street. Leave the texting for long-distance.”

I ran my fingers through my short hair and marched out the door, heart thrumming at the idea of seeing Fred in his apron that somehow made him look even hotter. I glanced inside the bakery, seeing that darn apron and loving how it complemented his tan skin and dark hair.

Seconds before I shoved the door open, I heard American girls—you can always hear them, we’re so loud and obvious—approach  from behind me. Something one of them said halted me in my tracks: “Fred told me to visit him.”

I didn’t turn around, didn’t want to see them or acknowledge how much it hurt my heart. Yet I couldn’t stop listening.

“You’re obsessed with this dude.”

“Whatever, look at him. He’s so hot. What would you do if the perfect Italian asked you out?”

Invisible as usual, they didn’t notice me as they pushed into the store. Fred looked up and locked eyes on the girl, not even seeing me.

I should’ve known, no one ever chose the quiet girl, the awkward one. I’d been fooling myself.

I couldn’t get home fast enough.

I whipped open the door and hit something: Matt. The last person I wanted to see. He’d wrapped a towel around himself and had that all-American boy look about him. The type of guy I’d never get back home, but would also never want.

His light eyes met mine and almost softened when he saw me. Was my pain that obvious? Matt moved out of the way and welcomed me into the apartment. With that, he walked away.

I ignored Alissa and rushed to the shower where I could ugly cry and sulk for thirty minutes. The shower water piled under my feet and I sat in my own filth, not even noticing the water raining on my head from above.

Fred tricked me. Been nice to keep me quiet about what I saw weeks before.

How had I fallen for that?

Florence Fiction Friday (8)

After noticing the man in the Loggia, I decided that toughening up was my only option. If I was going to make it here, I couldn’t look like the type of person one took advantage of. I could remain myself while making some improvements.

People littered the streets. Whereas I once would’ve grinned and stepped out of the way, I pushed past anyone in my path. I paid no mind to them, which is why I didn’t notice when I shoved Fred out of the way.

“Having a bad day?” he asked, eyebrows furled.

“Nice has no place here,” I retorted.

“Come, let’s cheer you up.”

“You just assume I’m free to hang out with you?”

“Well, you think you’re integrating into our culture so wonderfully. Prove it by being spontaneous with me. Ignore your responsibilities.”

I met his eyes. Last weekend, he’d waited for me to return from Paris. And when I returned, Florence finally felt like home. For some reason, I felt less afraid of him and more mystified. I knew nothing about him… his personality ranged from moody to cheery and I had yet to locate an in-between.

When he grabbed my hand, I let him lead me. The night approached and the carousel lit up the plaza as we grew nearer.

“Have you been?” he asked.

“Once, it was too short though.”

Fred paid four euros for us, said something to the man working, and chivalrously helped me onto a horse. He stood next to me, arm around the saddle of the horse.

“Saddle up,” I told him.

“I like being next to you.”

“It’s your lucky day, there’s a horse right next to me.”

He grinned and pulled my face down to kiss me. It was light, innocent, and unexpectedly perfect. When the ride started moving, I was in a daze. It took me a few minutes to realize how long the caurosal had been going. We were the only people on it.

“Crap, did I forget to get off?” I asked. 

“No, the guy in the booth in a buddy of mine. He’s letting us stay on for the hour.”

I commanded my heart to calm down. I commanded myself to maintain calm as Fred dismounted his horse and came over to me. I tried to remind myself that I didn’t really know him.

In the end, none of it mattered. I hopped off my horse. Fred drew closer until my lower back was pushed against the base of the horse. His mouth found mine again. This time, nothing about it was short or sweet or innocent. His tongue probed mine and made it hard to stand. When we stopped, I couldn’t tell if the kiss or the ride made me dizzy.

I grinned like an idiot the entire way home and hated myself for it.

Florence Fiction (7)

“Do you like your donut?”

The baker’s eyes pierced me, and I didn’t know if he meant anything sinister by his question. Then he smiled, but not the normal smile: this one only used half of his face and didn’t come close to reaching his eyes. Since I said nothing, he raised his hands over his head and yawned while he stretched.

I scanned the room, worried this action was a sign to his Italian mob. Just the lady behind the counter and a woman browsing the croissants. And the baker, who’s shirt inched up a little—before you assume I was excited to see the skin under his shirt, think again. Something metal in the waistband of his jeans reflected off the light.

I choked.

“That bad, huh?” he laughed easily. “I haven’t told you my name! Federico. I suppose the Americans would say Fred.”

I stared at his outstretched hand. Suddenly, the walls of the bakery closed in. The woman behind the counter watched me. Was she a sister, lover, or someone dangerous? I tried to find somewhere else to place my eyes, but they kept returning to the deepness of Fred’s. Warm and inviting, mysterious and terrifying and harsh.

“You don’t have to be afraid,” he said.

“What?” I finally spoke.

“Of my hand. It’s clean, I wash them a lot when I’m working. Otherwise, not so much.” Fred winked at the end.

I wondered if he knew how close to fainting I was.

“Hah.”

“You’re shy, aren’t you?”

“You’re forward, aren’t you?”

A light chuckle. “Haven’t you just figured me out.” Fred reached over and I almost screamed, but one of his strong fingers tapped my forehead. “I think you think too much.”

My mind flashed to them below my window, the carelessness that lead to a murder. “I think some people don’t think enough.”

“I like you.”

“Excuse me?”

“Molta bella.”

“Yeah, I’m not very far in my Italian lessons but thanks I guess.”

“I said you’re very beautiful.”

One of his hands reached up to stroke my hair. I flinched, hating how affectionate and open Italian men were. Well, okay, maybe I wouldn’t have hated it so much if I didn’t suspect I was being held captive in this conversation. Or think he had the capacity to kill.

Fred smiled, seemingly genuine this time. “Don’t be so uptight. You’re studying abroad in my country. Perhaps you should learn more about where you’re staying.”

More about why you killed that man? More about Italian violence? “What do you mean?”

“I mean, go out with me tonight.”

“Uh.”

“Here’s my number.”

Fred’s easy smile and dark coloring made every part of me want to say yes, but I promised him nothing. He was dangerous, which sent a thrill through my body, and I didn’t want him to have access to contacting me.

“Give me yours,” he prompted.

Is that a threat? Do I have an option?

“I have to get to work, call me okay?”

I ran out the door as soon as he turned his back. This time, my feet were not stuck to the cement. I booked it to the Loggia and plopped down on the stairs. Behind me sat so many timeless pieces of art, reminders of why I chose Florence. A few men walked by and said things to me in Italian, but I ignored them. In America, I never got this much attention, it made me feel impossibly more awkward and uncertain of the world around me.

I needed to toughen up, not be frightened of everything, but that went against who I was. I wanted to grow as a person but not change myself.

A flash went off to my right. Knowing it’d be a tourist, I paid no attention. But when I casually turned my head a few minutes later, I saw a shadow around the corner, watching me.

In-Flight Playlist

When you travel a lot, it’s natural to have certain songs you come back to over and over. Here are some of my ironic airplane songs:

  1. Right Above it (Lil Wayne)
  2. Up There (Post Malone)
  3. Hamilton Soundtrack (makes me feel classy)
  4. In the Air Tonight (Phil Collins)

They give me good vibes for my travels. What do you guys listen to when you walk/drive/fly/transport yourself?