Dreaming Sophia is a magical look into Italy, language, art, and culture. It is a story about turning dreams into reality and learning to walk the fine line between fact and fantasy. When tragedy strikes, Sophia finds herself alone in the world, without direction and fearful of loving again. With only her vivid imagination to guide her, she begins a journey that will take her from the vineyards in Sonoma, California to a grad school in Philadelphia and, eventually, to Italy: Florence, Lucca, Rome, Verona, Venice, and Val d’Orcia.
Through dreamlike encounters, Sophia meets Italian personalities—princes, poets, duchesses, artists, and film stars— who give her advice to help put her life back together. Following a path that takes her from grief to joy, she discovers the source of her creativity and learns to love again, turning her dreams into reality.
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Melissa Muldoon is the Studentessa Matta-the crazy linguist! In Italian, "matta" means "crazy" or "impassioned". Melissa has a B.A. in fine arts, art history and European history from Knox College, a liberal arts college in Galesburg, Illinois, as well as a master's degree in art history from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. She has also studied painting and art history in Florence.
Melissa promotes the study of Italian language and culture through her dual-language blog, Studentessa Matta (studentessamatta.com). Melissa began the Matta blog to improve her command of the language and to connect with other language learners. It has since grown to include a podcast, "Tutti Matti per l'Italiano" and the Studentessa Matta YouTube channel. Melissa also created Matta Italian Language Immersion Tours, which she co-leads with Italian partners in Italy.
Dreaming Sophia is Melissa's first novel. It is a fanciful look at art history and Italian language and culture, but it is also the culmination of personal stories and insights resulting from her experiences living in Italy, as well as her involvement and familiarity with the Italian language, painting, and art history.
As a student, Melissa lived in Florence with an Italian family. She studied art history and painting and took beginner Italian classes. When she returned home, she threw away her Italian dictionary, assuming she'd never need it again but after launching a successful design career and starting a family, she realized something was missing in her life. That "thing" was the connection she had made with Italy and the friends who live there. Living in Florence was indeed a life-changing event! Wanting to reconnect with Italy, she decided to start learning the language again from scratch. As if indeed possessed by an Italian muse, she bought a new Italian dictionary and began her journey to fluency-a path that has led her back to Italy many times and enriched her life in countless ways.
Now, many dictionaries and grammar books later, she dedicates her time to promoting Italian language studies, further travels in Italy, and sharing her stories and insights about Italy with others. When Melissa is not traveling in Italy, she lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is married and has three boys and two beagles.
Melissa designed and illustrated the cover art for Dreaming Sophia. She also designed the Dreaming Sophia website and created the character illustrations that can be found in the book and on the Dreaming Sophia websites.
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Q&A by Melissa Muldoon, author of “Dreaming Sophia”
- Where did the idea come from for writing this novel?
One of the greatest reasons for writing this book “Dreaming Sophia” was to weave together fact and fiction in a fanciful creative way, to bring to life the titans of Italian culture, language, and art. The stories flow from posts I write for my dual Italian and English blog "Studentessa Matta. For six years I have published stories about Italy, my travels and living in Italy as well as my experiences learning the language. I was also inspired, by other talented friends and published authors, to try my hand at writing a novel. I have always believed if you can dream it you can do it!
A beautiful dress also inspired me. To be more specific the black and white pomegranate patterned brocade dress embroidered with silver and gold thread that Eleonora de’ Medici wears in the portrait of her painted in 1545 by Agostino Bronzino. I have always been fascinated by the Medici Duchess and have imagined what it must have been like to wear such a beautiful article of clothing. Being an artist and art historian, I have also fantasized about being able to talk with the images in paintings that I have seen in books and museums. If Eleonora de’ Medici, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Simonetta Vespucci, Lucrezia Borgia, Garibaldi and even the Prince himself Lorenzo de’ Medici could speak to me, what would they say to me? What could they tell me about their lives and the times?
2. Do you have another profession?
I began my career as an Art Historian and studio artist. I have a Masters degree in Art History from the University of Illinois in Champaign. I originally intended to teach art. But, after graduation I changed my mind, deciding to “make” art instead. I moved to Chicago and become a graphic designer, working in a small and large design studios where I also learned computer design. After several years I branched out on my own and began my design firm: Melissa Design. I have worked independently as a graphic designer for over twenty years, creating logos, websites, package design, illustration and marketing campaigns. In fact, I created the cover illustration for Dreaming Sophia and the interior character illustrations, as well as the internal book and type design of my novel.
When I started publishing the Studentessa Matta Italian Blog, my career changed again. I became a full-time writer, as well as a producer of Youtube videos and podcasts. My have also applied my writing skills to penning the lyrics for the Matta Youtube channel's theme song. Because of my love for Italy and passion for learning the Italian language, I now co-lead with Italian partners "Learn Italian in Italy programs" twice a year in Lucca and Arezzo as well as organize Italian Homestays for people who want to live and learn in the home of an Italian teacher.
3. If you could go back in time where would you go?
I would travel back to Renaissance Florence. I would like to meet Lorenzo de’ Medici and be a part of his inner circle. It would also be a delight to watch Leonardo and Michelangelo paint side by side in the Palazzo Vecchio in the Salone dei Cinquecento or witness Florence’s magnificent Duomo before it had a completed cupola. How extraordinary to be present in the room when the master architect Brunelleschi explained for the first time his ideas of how to build the largest free-standing dome since antiquity. I would like to dress in a Renaissance gown and take a stroll through Florence to stand in front of Orsanmichele, the granary in the center of town. There I'd watch as the statues representing Florence’s fourteen trade guilds are placed in their niches. What a thrill to then turn the corner and knock on Botticelli's studio and be invited in to observe the elegant master putting the final touches of color to his Birth of Venus. How exhilarating to witness so many changes in society as Medieval man’s view of the world took a step backward and that of a new breed of Renaissance men—embracing new philosophies and humanism—rushed forward.
4. What is your writing process?
I write all the time but find my most productive hours to be when the house is quiet, late at night or the early morning hours before dawn. I am a prolific writer, self-driven and very focused. I write, re-write, and then re-write some more. I am always refining ideas and then just when I think I'm done—I get a new idea. It feels like a never ending process. Inspiration comes during down times when I walk my two beagles, listen to Italian music or when I am at the gym exercising. Often I replay the entire story in my head over and over again when I am lying in bed. Inevitably something pops into my head, and I jump up and turn on my computer and let myself be taken away once again by the story. Sometimes when the writing is going well, I’m not sure where the ideas originate. It is as if muses, similar to Sophia’s are whispering into my ear and guiding my pen.
5. What is your next project?
At the moment I am working on several interesting projects. Since publishing Dreaming Sophia, I have been asked to speak at the Istituto Italiano in San Francisco and several other venues in the city. I also plan to take part in the Italian Christmas market in Fort Mason in the city offering signed copies of my book.
In addition to continuing to write for the Italian-English Matta website, Youtube channel, and Podcast I have created a Dreaming Sophia website and Pinterest boards. On the Dreaming Sophia blog site, I plan to post and write more stories about Italy and art history. Through the site, I also offer fun items I have created and designed, such as Dreaming Sophia book bags, t-shirts, mugs, and calendars. In 2017 I am also organizing a “Dreaming Sophia Tour” in Florence in September. It will be a 5-6 day program, and we will visit all the places that Sophia goes in the book, as well as a day trip to Lucca.
I am also developing an idea for a new novel that will take place in Arezzo in Tuscany. It will have something to do with Arezzo’s famous Antique Market and jousting festival. It will be contemporary with a parallel story that takes you back in time to when Arezzo jealously guarded its gates to keep the Medici at bay.
Dreaming Sophia is now available on Amazon in print and e-pub versions. The e-pub book has links to art, music and film clips mentioned in the book so you can experience the book visually and aurally. You can also find Dreaming Sophia on Facebook, Pinterest and the web at DreamingSophiaBook.com where the author will be posting more stories about Florence, Italy, and art.
Melissa Muldoon writes the dual language blog StudentessaMatta.com in Italian and English. She also produces Matta Youtube videos in Italian and Podcasts and co-leads Italian Language Immersion programs in Lucca and Arezzo as well as organizes Homestays with Italian teachers improve language skills and learn more about Italian customs and culture.
Prizes: Win a copy of Dreaming Sophia (print open to USA & Can, ebook int’l) One winner will get the grand prize package that includes a copy of the book, calendar, mug and tote bag (USA & CAN only) 7 winners total