Come Explore Orvieto with Me

The Reactionary, the final book in The Rogues trilogy, releases in 4 days! As I anticipate launch day and entrusting the last part of Portia’s story to you, I want to share some more snippets from my own journey to the Italian settings she encounters.

Portia’s mission to secure communications with a possible international ally takes her to Orvieto, a cliff-top Italian city with more charm and beauty than one visit can capture. My friend Maria and I decided we could live in our Air B&B indefinitely and never soak in everything this city has to offer. However, because I didn’t want my novel to be the length of War and Peace, I chose to highlight some of the city’s main attractions and tie them into the plot.

Exploring the streets of Orvieto with Maria

Orvieto Forever

The Orvieto 4Ever celebration is the reason I chose this setting for my story in the first place. It lauds the American ideals of independence and liberty on an international level, not just a national one. Moreover, it recognizes the Italian influence on the United States, including the contribution of Italian Phillip Mazzei, a friend and correspondent of Thomas Jefferson. Mazzei actually influenced some of the wording of our Declaration of Independence.

I so much enjoyed weaving this historic information into my fictional dystopian tale of a futuristic world trying to recapture the ideal of liberty for all. Though my Rogues (rebel forces) are fiercely independent and even proud to a fault, they must realize that the fight isn’t just theirs. The world, not just the ASU, needs to overthrow the Rosh League and its minions who are determined to uproot the last strongholds of freedom.

Duomo di Orvieto

The city’s centerpiece is a breathtaking cathedral that serves as the backdrop for the Orvieto 4Ever celebration. Getting to visit this beautiful cathedral in person was one of my most-anticipated moments of the trip! The outside itself is stunning and even more imposing in person than in pictures.

Purchasing our ticket to go inside was a must. The massive, pillared space has a sacred, quiet mood that invites reflection and reverence. I found a seat, closed my eyes, and envisioned how Portia would have felt inside this space while waiting for … Well, I’m not going to spoil the story.

Maria snapped this picture of me inside the cathedral.

The cathedral was everything I imagined and more. I hope as you read The Reactionary and Portia’s encounter with it that you can glimpse the beauty and my appreciation for the Duomo di Orvieto.

Orvieto Underground

What’s not to love about a city that has an underground cave system? During our last full day in Orvieto, I squeezed in a tour of the underground cave network. I didn’t realize almost every house has a cave! (It made me want to take the floor-length mirror off the wall in our Air B&B to see if there was a secret passageway behind it, but Maria wisely advised against this.)

Although the caves have served different purposes, the most common was storing livestock, drinking water, and food. They also served as bomb shelters or hiding places during war times.

One interesting feature of these caves are hundreds of little holes in the wall. What do you think these were used to store? Join my friends and me for The Reactionary Launch Party on February 19 on Facebook to find out!

I hope you’ve enjoyed getting to explore a little of Orvieto with me, and I look forward to sharing more of my Italian adventure with you during the virtual launch party next week.

~ Kristen

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The Beautiful Doors of Civita di Bagnoregio

A few weeks back, I had a little heart-to-heart with  you about closed doors and open doors in my life. As we count down to book release day for The Reactionary, it seems only fitting to have a little fun with doors today!

When I traveled to Italy to do book research, one of my favorite places to visit was Civita di Bagnoregio. Aside from the pizza there, which was amazing, I also fell in love with all the architecture, namely, doors. In fact, my friend Maria snapped my back cover author picture in front of a vine-framed door I wouldn’t stop raving about.

Here are a few more of the imagination-inspiring doors we encountered, and all the photo credits go to Maria. (For more of her Italian stories and photos, visit her awesome website.)

Fictionalize It!

In The Reactionary, Portia doesn’t have a chance to explore this town like I did, but she does get to witness the city’s morning beauty from a distance. Here’s an excerpt from her point-of-view, inspired by my own:

The general and guard talk in hushed tones but at a rapid-fire pace. I turn away from them to watch the golden sun pierce through low-lying clouds. The hazy sky turns shades of purple and peach, forming the backdrop canvas to the sprawling landscape before us. It looks like a child scrawled a marker across the page, and nothing was left even, least of all that ragged remnant of a city.

How had I not seen it sooner? But I had been too intent on just taking my next step and learning to trust my stiff legs again.

I want to tell those two to stop talking. Silence seems more fitting for the tragic beauty of this dying place. Buildings jut out along the edges and top of an eroded mountain, now bathed in the dawn’s warm glow.

Join in the Fun!

I’m so glad you can share in my real life and fictional adventures! You’re invited to join my book launch party on release day, February 19, from 7-8:30 pm EST. It’s a virtual party on Facebook, so you can join right from your home! Even if you can’t stay the whole time, please pop in and say hello. We’ll have Italy trivia, book trivia, and maybe even talk about a little fictional and real-life romance … You won’t want to miss it. Click here to join.

One day, I would love to return to Italy to explore even more places (and doors), but for now, I’m content to enjoy my current setting. I hope you are too. Wherever we are, may we appreciate what we have while welcoming the possibilities God opens.

~ Kristen

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Where Do You Find Inspiration?

Photo Credit: Kristen Hogrefe, Orvieto, Italy

A common question people ask writers is where we find our inspiration. Regardless of your trade or career, you find inspiration for your craft somewhere or from something. However, the source isn’t always remarkable and doesn’t have to be. Today, I’d like to share some places I find inspiration to help encourage you to seek out your own.

From Creation

The Genesis record of creation repeats the words “And God saw that it was good” multiple times. Although man’s sin corrupted God’s flawless design, we still see the intentional purpose God crafted into His creation.

No wonder when I run, hike, or otherwise adventure in this world, I constantly find beauty that stimulates the imagination. When I visited Italy last year and explored several settings in my upcoming novel, I was overwhelmed with the the colors, sounds, architecture, culture, and cuisine (including pizza and gelato)! As I said before, the experience doesn’t have to be international or exotic to provide inspiration. Wherever we go, God’s nature provides boundless possibilities for subject matters and settings.

From Conviction

This February, the final novel in young adult, dystopian trilogy publishes. Some people have asked why I decided to write dystopian since it can sometimes be a controversial genre.

The reason is that I felt convicted to write a dystopian thriller from a Christian worldview with an overarching message of hope. So many dystopian books are dark with bleak outcomes, and while mine still includes many common characteristics of the genre, it offers a twist. It suggests that for a futuristic society to survive and thrive, its people need to rediscover heritage and the Source of true hope. As a result of my convictions, this theme underpins an otherwise classic dystopian tale.

From Conversation

I’m not the only person who likes to people watch at airports or tune in to random conversations, am I? Sometimes, a mere word or phrase catches my ear and suggests perhaps a title, a unique character name, a nugget of truth about human nature, or a humorous story to tuck away for later.

Even if those snippets never find their way into my writing, they certainly make me a better observer, conversationalist, and listener–all of which are necessary for being a good writer.

Where do you find your inspiration? Please leave a comment and share!

~ Kristen

This post first appeared on DailyPS.com. For more inspirational posts, visit DailyPS.com.

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Making the Manger Personal

Last September, I had the opportunity to travel to Italy with a colleague, work remotely, and research my next novel. During one of our day-tripping adventures, we visited a place called Civita di Bagnoregio, a place sometimes called “the dying town.” This city rests atop a hill that is slowly eroding, and the place itself is breathtaking.

As my friend Maria and I explored the city, I suddenly stopped short. There, to my right, were the remains of a manger.

A manger. The scene seemed taken right out of a nativity story set in Bethlehem, and yet here we were in Italy. As I soaked in the moment, a few realizations struck me. Though perhaps I’d already known them, I hadn’t taken them to heart before. Maybe you can relate.

The manger was a common place chosen for an anything-but-common Christ.

Jesus could have been born anywhere else. People expected that the Messiah would come as king and break Rome’s oppression. They expected a palatial birth with pomp and circumstance. As a result, they couldn’t even recognize His birth in a stable, among animals and dirt, to a simple girl and her carpenter-husband.

I get caught up in my expectations sometimes, too. I expect God to provide a certain way, and when He doesn’t, I feel confused and frustrated. Yet God’s uncommon methods are the very means He uses to accomplish His will back then and today.

The manger stands as a challenge for simplicity and personal humility.

For introverts like me, Christmastime can overwhelm the senses with programs, white-elephant gift exchanges, Sunday school parties, special services, shopping, and everything that we’ve come to expect. Granted, those things may all have a time and place, but they often distract from the main reason we celebrate.

When I looked at the manger, all I saw was a rickety feeding trough that did double-duty as the Messiah’s crib. Its bare simplicity reminded me what a humble birthplace Christ accepted. It reminded me of these verses from Philippians where the Apostle Paul challenged his writers to adopt the mindset of Christ:

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:5-7 NKJV).

Is that mind in me? Is it in you? If I’m honest, it often isn’t. I prefer things my way, on my schedule, for my convenience. Yet Jesus exercised humility even though He was equal to God! How much more should humility characterize my thoughts and actions?

Back in Italy that day, I felt reluctant to leave this manger-like scene. However, I don’t have to relegate the manger to once-a-year Christmas stories and pageants. I can strive to apply the truths it represents every day of the year. So can you.

May you experience the joy of God’s unexpected blessings this Christmas and always!

~Kristen

Thanks to DailyPS.com for hosting this week’s post on their blog. 

 

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Italy in 10 Snapshots

Hello, friends! Thanks for joining me on my Italian adventure. Over the next several months, I’ll unpack more of this trip and its correlation to my upcoming novel, but for now, I’m limiting myself to 10 top moments, one for each day I was in Italy.

Day 1: The Streets of Orvieto

After an eventful rental car experience in Rome and finally finding our Air B&B in Orvieto, my colleague and I enjoyed a few moments roaming the cobbled streets before settling into our adorable apartment. After all, this was a working trip as well as an adventure.

Day 2: The Duomo in Orvieto

This breathtaking cathedral is a centerpiece of what might be the most charming, authentic city in Italy. Of course, I’m biased and haven’t even scratched the surface of Italy’s hidden gems, but there was nothing fake or superficial about this place. It was consistently the same whether I was visiting a back street or main attraction.

Day 3: Pizza in Civita di Bagnoregio

This place is a literal city on a hill. The views are breathtaking, and I should probably choose one of my landscape shots as my featured image, but you guys!! This was also the place I experienced my first Italian pizza. Enough said. (For actual pictures of this beautiful town, visit my Facebook page.)

Day 4: Walking Tour of Rome

I will never forget the day my colleague and I walked fifteen miles on a self-guided tour of Rome. The trek started at the Colosseum, so this picture seems appropriate.

Day 5: Fort Michelangelo at the Port of Civitavecchia

Nicknamed “The port of Rome,” Civitavecchia is a hub for cruise ships and tourists entering Italy. I gushed over it for a similar reason, because it is the point of entry into Italy (and the international scene) for my heroine Portia in The Reactionary (Coming 2019).

Day 6: Gelato in Palermo

Italian gelato is all it’s promised to be and more. My go-to flavor was fragola or strawberry. Delish!

Day 7: The Beach at Palermo

Naturally, the Florida girl in me feels at home on any beach, and Palermo’s was stunning! The water was a refreshing temperature and oh so very blue.

Day 8: Prickly Pear in Valguarnera

Have you ever eaten the prickly pear fruit? I never had, but it tastes as sweet as candy! Note: The locals eat the seeds, so just chew them and pretend to be Italian.

Day 9: Scala dei Turchi

My friend Maria promised me that the cliffs and beach in Agrigento would fast become my favorite place. How right she was! These pearly white cliffs and the sparkling blue waters of the Mediterranean were like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

Day 10: Cappuccino in Valguarnera

Before we returned to Palermo, we spent the morning with Maria’s family. Like many other days, breakfast consisted of a chocolate or cream brioche and a cappuccino. Yes, I’m basically in withdrawal at the moment.

Thanks for sharing in this adventure with me!

~ Kristen

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Italy Adventures: Choose Joy and Enjoy the Journey

Ciao from Italy! I’m so thankful to be here, visiting some settings in my next novel, exploring this beautiful country with my colleague, and working remotely.

However, lest you think the writer’s life and remote work life are purely magical (and oftentimes, they are), keep reading. Here’s what this trip has taught me so far.

#1: You can’t plan for everything.

Perhaps you’re wondering, Wasn’t Kristen going to blog while she’s traveling abroad? The answer is that yes, I was.

However, when I turned on my laptop in Orvieto, I discovered that it would not charge. My colleague and I tried everything from reinstalling battery drivers and various other online suggestions with no success.

Here I thought I had everything I needed! I had an adapter, and my colleague had one too, and yet for some reason, my charging cord was not compatible with European power.

I don’t like feeling helpless to solve my problems, but there wasn’t much I could do about the situation. So, as my brother says: improvise, adapt, and overcome!

#2: You can’t control or fix everything.

I had two choices when this hard reality hit. I could be miserable for the rest of the trip, or I could make the best of the situation. Though the frustration was real, my friend, I chose the latter. As a result, I’ve been waking up at five o’clock in the morning each day to grade, so that I can use my friend’s laptop when she doesn’t have to work. Is it ideal? Of course not. But I’m able to still grade, help my students, and do my job. (However, I sadly have not had much time for my lovely blog.)

The privilege of working remotely means sacrificing whatever is needed, in this case sleep, to make a work-around possible. But the reward is worth it! After putting in those early hours, my friend and I get to spend the rest of the morning and early afternoon adventuring before she logs in for her own job.

Maria and me at the Duomo (cathedral) in Orvieto (Photo cred: Maria Constantine, thepotentialofyouth.com)

#3: You can choose to live in the moment.

The planner in me is dying to know if my laptop will work fine once I return home or what repair work will be needed, but again, I choose not to worry. Philippians 4:6-7 has been a go-to for me on this trip:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

God’s peace goes with me, regardless if I haven’t slept much, am under-caffeinated, and don’t know how I’m going to solve some of my circumstantial challenges. However, I can enjoy the gift of this moment and this incredible opportunity, choosing not to let inconveniences steal the beauty of this adventure.

Exploring the streets of Orvieto, we found these fun metal horses, designed for the young and young at heart. (Photo cred: Maria Constantine)

#4: You can both prepare and be spontaneous.

When Maria and I were in Orvieto, we planned one day at a time. Of course, we had some ideas ahead of time of where we could go and what we could do, but the key to working remotely and adventuring is not to try to do everything. You do have to sleep sometime, although the extent of that sleep is clearly debatable.

As it was, we decided to visit Civita di Bagnoregio, nicknamed “the Dying Town” because it looks like an elevated island in the middle of a mountainous region. As a result, its inhabitants have to carefully guard against erosion.

But oh, the place is stunning! It’s like a city on a hill, and yes, it is a short trek to get there but so worth it. This spontaneous day-trip might just be my favorite yet.

(Photo cred: Maria Constantine)

#5: Take time for gratitude moments.

Even in the “ugly” moments of travel and working remotely, we can still find something to be grateful for. For starters, I’m grateful to be traveling with someone who’s willing to share her laptop when she’s not using it. I’m grateful for the kind lady who helped us get a taxi when we literally lost our car and the friendly construction workers who helped us get back to the road we were supposed to be on.

The moral is this: Anything worthwhile is going to be both wonderful and likely challenging. Whether we’re home or abroad, we get to choose our attitudes even if we can’t choose our circumstances.

Choose joy, my friends. Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.

Ciao!

Kristen

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Come Adventure with Me! Italy in Real Life and Fiction

Starting next week, I’m traveling to Italy with my friend and colleague. Among other mouth-watering destinations, we’ll be exploring some of the settings for the final book in The Rogues trilogy, which include Orvieto and the Port of Civitavecchia. I can’t wait to share these places in real life with you and then take you into my heroine’s fictional story where she experiences them in her dystopian world.

Can you believe we’ve been on this trilogy adventure together since 2016 when I first signed my contract with Write Integrity Press? The cover reveal for The Reactionary will be coming soon, but for now, you can preview Portia’s climactic adventure.

Maybe you haven’t dived into Portia’s story yet. No worries. You have a few months before book three releases to catch up on the action. And this month, if you read and share your review about The Revisionary or The Revolutionary on Amazon and tag me in a social media post about it, I’ll enter you into my summer book challenge giveaway. (Maybe I’m in denial, but I’m not counting summer as over until the end of this month.) Bonus points if you review both or participate in the original summer book challenge.

Oh, what’s the giveaway? So glad you asked. It’s an autographed paperback copy of The Reactionary once it releases next year. (A winner outside the U.S. will receive a Kindle copy.)

Wherever We Go

As I’m hustling through all the last-minute trip preparation, I need to pause and remember: This trip isn’t about me. Yes, it’s a huge blessing and opportunity that has me antsy with anticipation. But at the end of the day, whatever I do and wherever I go, I want to shine God’s love and light.

No, this isn’t a mission trip by any means, but are we not always to represent Christ? Who knows whose paths I’m going to cross. My hope is that I’ll represent Christ well even if I’m tired, anxious, or inconvenienced.

Bottom Line: I’d appreciate your prayers during this trip and would love for you to share in this European adventure with me. I’ll be updating my Instagram stories @kristenhogrefeauthor and on Facebook, and you’re invited to follow me there.

Happy reading, safe travels, and adventure on!

~ Kristen

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Whatever I do and wherever I go, I want to shine God’s love and light. – @kjhogrefe (Click to Tweet)