NOTE: The following article appeared in the Chatham Courier and on-line at both the Chatham Courier and the Hudson-Catskill Register Star.
By Karrie Allen
Sunday, February 27, 2011 2:08 AM EST -- SPENCERTOWN — The same day Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Huffington Post, announced AOL’s takeover of the news website, which would revolutionize both media giants, the website also started serializing the book, “Seeing Red,” written by Spencertown resident Claudia Ricci. When the Huffington Post published the prologue of her book the first week of February, it was a first for Ricci and the news website.
Ricci, who has actually been writing for the Huffington Post since April 2008, approached Nico Pitney, national editor for the Huffington Post, and suggested serializing her novel, which had just been published in early January.
“He loved the idea and had me work with a book editor at the Huff Post,” said Ricci. She posts her novel, chapter by chapter, three times weekly — Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday — and will continue posting until her entire book is online.
While serializing her book is a new venture for Ricci, writing is not. After graduating with a master’s degree in journalism from U.C. Berkeley, she started her career at the Chicago Sun-Times, where she covered environmental issues. “My team project on toxic waste disposal was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize,” she noted.
She then went to the Wall Street Journal and worked as a staff writer in the New York bureau. She left when her oldest daughter, Jocelyn, was born. In 1996, she got her Ph.D. in English from the University at Albany, where she has been teaching English, creative writing and journalism since 1998.
In January 2009, she and her husband, Richard Kirsch, moved for a year to Washington, DC, where she taught English and journalism (on sabbatical) at Georgetown (while her husband worked on national health care reform). They moved back to Spencertown a year later and she resumed teaching full time at UAlbany.
Ricci and her husband moved from New Jersey to Spencertown full time in October 1985 and have raised their three children here. “We have just celebrated 25 years in our Spencertown home. … We have considered this home for a very long time!” commented Ricci.
So what inspired Ricci to write this book and where did the title come from? A growing passion for flamenco music — and her “patient” flamenco teacher.
Ricci and her husband saw their first live performance of flamenco in Scottsdale, Arizona many years ago and then they saw Maria Zemantauski play flamenco guitar at a Spanish restaurant in Albany. In 1999, Ricci approached the Troy-based virtuoso guitarist about taking lessons and so Ricci has been learning how to play flamenco music from Zemantauski ever since.
Her music teacher was not only an inspiration for her book, but also for her life. In 2002, Ricci was undergoing chemotherapy to treat her lymphoma and one day, against her doctor’s wishes for her to “give it a rest,” she decided to go to her music lesson anyway — but she was unable to play; her arms hurt. Zemantauski told her to just hold her guitar and after a while, Ricci actually began to strum the guitar.
“The next thing I knew, I was playing and the pain had receded,” she said. And she is now, “thank God, very healthy.”
Ricci also found inspiration for her book after a trip she and her husband made to southern Spain. They visited Andalucia, to an “extraordinarily beautiful little town called Ronda, perched on a 300-foot cliff; it was very dramatic and stuck with me,” said Ricci. “At some point, I had an image of a woman dancing flamenco while standing under the stars,” so she originally called the book “Eyes on Orion.”
But about a year ago, Ricci asked Zemantauski if she could rename her book after her music teacher’s CD. “I listened to Maria’s music writing each and every chapter of ‘Seeing Red.’ My ritual was simple: I would turn on the music, slip the headphones on, sit down and follow Ronda Cari [the main character in her book] through her wild adventures across Andalucia,” said Ricci. “I want to say that without [Zemantauski], and her music, this book would not be.”
The music, noted Ricci, “inspired the character and the mood and it opened up a creative space in which I was able to write the book.”
Ricci described the premise of the book on Huffington Post in this way: “Protagonist Ronda Cari is married and the mother of two and, oh yes, she also dances flamenco! Pretty soon she has a Spanish guitarist lover named Jesus and he’s got eyes — what else, the color of melted chocolate!”
She noted that while the book has plenty of romance and some decidedly hot encounters, it is definitely not a romance novel. “It’s a story about a woman’s passion for her dancing and her discovery that art — and friends who do art — can help us heal from the worst of heartbreaks,” she said.
Ricci’s collaboration with her guitar teacher has led to a collaborARTive group of women artists — musicians, painters, writers, photographers — all of whom would support each other’s work. “We have teamed up with artist Kellie Meisl from Pittsfield, whose art is on the cover of the novel.” The cover art is actually one of her pieces, titled “Shattered Cups,” which was created for the 2009 Think Pink Breast Cancer Awareness Art Exhibit. (Meisl’s explanation behind the piece can be found in the back of the book.)
“Seeing Red” is not Ricci’s first book, though. Her first book, “Dreaming Maples,” was published in 2002. The mother-daughter novel takes place in a Vermont sugarbush and pits young Candace Burdett, an artist, against her mother, Eileen, who abandons Candace as an infant and returns to claim her daughter 10 years later. The book weaves around the diaries Eileen kept while pregnant with Candace.
Her first novel earned Ricci a nomination from a large New York publisher for a Pushcart Prize, which rewards a book that an editor feels is highly deserving of publication.
When Ricci’s not writing books, which she loves, or blogging, which she also loves, she enjoys writing columns and all sorts of feature articles for the Huffington Post. In addition, she has published several short stories in literary magazines around the country and actually has a third novel she finished, but is yet \unpublished.
She is also in the process of writing two other books, both on blogs and both connected. One is called “Sister Mysteries” (www.renata1883.blogspot.com) and the other is “Castenata” (www.castenata.blogspot.com).
“Blogs make it possible to do hyperlinks and also to accompany text with lovely images (I take photos and load them into the books). I am hoping to package these books at some point for an iPad format.”
This idea has inspired her to contact a company that is designing “apps” for the iPhone and iPad to see what it would cost.
“I would be very interested in publishing other novelists in this serialized format and I am exploring how it might be done in a cost-effective way,” said Ricci. “I believe heart and soul in publishing and in seeing stories told,” which is why she has her own community writing blog, My Story Lives (www.mystorylives.blogspot.com).
When asked about the future of serialization at Huffington Post, she said she certainly hopes they will start a fiction section and serialize other novels. But so far, she noted, they haven’t said anything about doing that.
However, Ricci has already been approached by another novelist from Missouri (who already has four books in print by major publishers) about serializing her book, “Spiritkeeper,” on Ricci’s blog.
“I plan to start publishing her book as soon as she is ready to begin sending chapters,” she said. “She has commissioned a dust jacket (cover image) precisely for this purpose!” Ricci’s also very interested in publishing other novelists in this format.
When asked about the future of print, especially for books, she said, “I believe that serialization, online and on phone apps are definitely a major part of the future of publishing. It’s been very common in Japan for some time now for people to read novels on their cell phones.
“I really really hate to think we will lose print books entirely. After all, print books are fabulous and wonderful. However, the publishing industry certainly seems to be moving quickly toward digital and electronic formats.”
As if Ricci hasn’t accomplished enough, she was also behind the success of a children’s book about the Sept. 11, 2001 tragedy. She has had a small publishing company, Star Root Press, for 10 years and back in 2001, this children’s book fell into her hands at her synagogue in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. She published the book, “On That Day” by Andrea Patel, and in six months, the book sold 3,000 copies.
“Many many adults bought it as it was an amazing book,” said Ricci.
In January 2002, “Reading Rainbow” named it one of the most successful children’s books about the tragedy. Later that year, they sold the book to a larger publisher and you can now find the book at Amazon.com.
When Ricci teaches, she focuses a lot on storytelling, since she is, after all, a storyteller herself. “I tell my students that we may lose paper newspapers and we may lose books in paper form, but we will never stop telling stories. Storytelling is wired into the human brain; we make sense of the world by telling stories.”
To read the serialized version of her book, go to www.huffingtonpost.com, click on BOOKS, and look in featured posts.
To read previous chapters of the novel, go to http://www.seeingredhuffpost.blogspot.com. To read the current installment, go to the Huff Post. Get regular email alerts on new installments, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, by clicking on "BECOME A FAN."