The two Paintings of the Santa Maria delle Grazie

Milan, Italy

Thursday, October 3rd, 2019

The cobblestone Piazza in front of the famous church buzzed with small clusters of tourists and a singular postcard seller. The air was brisk, the jacket of my five-year-old sister flapping as she twirled; impatient, filled with boundless energy. The great bricked arches of the church soared above us. The church Santa Maria Delle Grazie; Holy Mary of Grace.

Our tickets carried us through quiet corridors inside, windows peering out into the gardens beyond until at last the automated doors deposited us into a long dark room with a vaulted ceiling. Lingerings of paint whispered over the walls, echos of further work, once great, now gone to the call of time.

The air was hushed as footsteps turn away to the right side of the room, drawn to the painting on the far wall like pins to a magnet. You need not read the plaque below it to know its name.

The Last Supper, by Leonardo da Vinci, covered the entire wall from end to end. The illusion of its angles seeming to extend the room into an even longer hall, ending with a trio of windows looking out over a hillside. Soft shades warmed the faces of the almost life-size people, their expressions ranging from distraught and confused to angry and accusing. It was the moment when Jesus revealed to the disciples that one of them would betray him, reimaged by Leonardo, captured with lifelike grace in careful brushstrokes of fresco paint.

Such fame, such talent, such lovely art portrayed before the silently awed crowd below.

But turn away, turn away if you can, from the household name that finds itself in history books, textbooks, novels, and essays beyond what it’s painter had ever imagined.

Down the long, dim hall of Santa Maria Delle Grazie, far on the other end, you will find another work of art.

There is no crowd flashing cell-phone cameras clustered below this painting, resting a mere hundred feet away from its companion.

I see only one person paused before it as I approach. They study it for a moment, glance at the plaque, and then turn away, leaving me the solitary onlooker.

Crucifixion, painted by Giovanni Donato da Montorfano in fresco, the plaque reads.

While the last supper gives off an air of simplicity, Crucifixion is crowded with the figures of many people. Horses, soldiers, men, and women. They seem a confused sea about the base of the three crosses that rise above the scene. The cross in the middle of the scene holds Jesus, going through the event he foretold in the painting on the opposite wall. From his figure, one’s gaze is drawn downwards, to where Mary kneels at the base of the cross, her arms wrapped around it.

It’s strange that this painting is so much lesser known than the Last Supper; it is just as impressive. Outside of this, however, the Last Supper only tells half the story that this hall portrays. Two different moments from the fulfillment of God’s plan, two different paragraphs from the same chapter of history.

Indeed, although they were both painted by different artists, I wonder if they were not meant to be one piece of art. You can still see, after all, the relics of paint on the walls and ceiling of this hall, that likely connected the two paintings at one time.

Two paintings, in the same place, the same size, painted in the same medium, each focusing on the same man.

Yet one is world-famous, and the other many people likely never hear of until they are standing in the room with it. I wonder what Leonardo and Giovanni Donato would think of it.

The success of art, it seems, is not something that can always be apprehended or controlled.

docendo disco, scribendo cogito,
– Millie Florence

Deleted Scene from Lydia Green of Mulberry Glen – Memories and Rain

I wrote this scene in the first draft, mostly, I recall, to reach my word count for the day. It ended up being a lovely beautiful scene that gave you a deeper look into life in Mulberry Glen, but it didn’t add much to the story as a whole and conflicted in some ways with Lydia’s character arc at that point, so I cut it later in the writing process. However, I thought that some of my readers might enjoy a look into some of what Lydia Green was before the final version.

This scene was meant to be placed right after Lydia’s second visit to Terra’s cottage. Note that in the earliest drafts Terra’s name was Pina, so that’s who Lydia is referring to in this scene. The scene is also very raw, and almost word for word what I first wrote, as a result, there are probably some typos.

Explanations aside though; enjoy!


Lydia stood in the entrance to the lone tower, wind sweeping her hair and cloak about, flying through the air. If she had needed to talk to someone, she would have had to raise her voice to be heard, but luckily there was no one with whom she would need to attempt a conversation anywhere nearby, and she could hear her thoughts perfectly well.

Lydia had needed some time to herself, to think about what Pina had said, and about the harvest festival, the next day when she could meet with the ranger to had met with the Zs
so she had taken a detour from the road back to Miss Castra’s cottage up the side of the valley wall to the lone tower. The quiet solemn stone rising against the pale sky. Back in Mulberry Glen time to herself had been bountiful, but now every spare moment seemed to be filled, and every moment that wasn’t she spent worrying about what would come next.

Lydia stood with one hand caressing the stone archway, worn smooth by time. The tower seemed a great sturdy friend, silent, tall, unspeaking. Only there for her to lean upon. Stretching out below her was the valley itself. The colorful leaves of the treetops simmering in the wind like a pot of mallow tea. Here and there houses and clearings and pavilions doting the swathes of natural color that bathed the valley with brilliance.

Lydia let her head slid to one side and lean upon the empty stone doorway, the hollow sweeping of the wind inside carrying a mournful tune.

Darkness chased her thoughts like the wind chased the leaves.

Omnis Res Mundi, Tenebrae, the Zs, Livy, Pit, and Garder, they all floated in and out of her thoughts.

Lydia closed her eyes and in her memory, she saw snowflakes.

Her hands were clod and her cheeks were red and the wind was blowing as now. Snow fell thick and fast like when Livy dusted pies with sugar. She was in the middle of a laugh, cold and rosy and filled with joy.

A ball of snow pummeled into her from behind, and she whirled on her feet to see the Zs swooping from tree to tree like acrobats and diving into white piles of cold fluff. Laughing all the while.

“Watch out! You’re no match for us!” Yelled Livy. He was standing next to her, packing another snowball.

“Are you quite sure about that?” She asked him, still laughing. “I don’t think we can swing from trees like that.”

“Oh hush!” She gave her a playful shove in a snowdrift.

“Now you had better watch out!” She said, flinging a handful of snow at him.

“Everyone for themselves!” Zale shrieked and pushed Zamilla out of her tree.

“Excuse me.” Garder voice came from the doorway. “Livy, I do believe that your pie is the precise shade of brown you asked me to keep watch for. So I’m taking it out, if you do not wish to come in, at least I beg you not to let your snow clumps bang against the window.”

A small smiling figure appeared above his head, shaking her own good-naturedly.

“In other words.” Called Pit “The pie is ready!”

“Everyone for themselves!” Zale shrieked, and all of them flew to the door in a fluttery of laughter and snow and the smell of mincemeat pie.

The memory melted slowly away from Lydia’s senses, leaving barely it’s sweetness lingering on her tongue, and dancing in her ears and eyes like distorted specks of starlight. She opened her eyes, back in the present world, looking over the windswept valley, gray clouds clustering overhead, her hair whipping about her face. Her heart ached, and she let it go on so. She missed Pit’s soft touch on her head and the Zs laughing shrieks and merry faces. She missed Livy’s good-natured grin and teasing eyes, not to mention his cooking. And she missed Garder and the stories he would launch into after a bit of pleading, and his ironically funny responses to the Zs behavior. The even the Glen itself she missed, from her sun, warmed patches of herbs that she knew like that back of her hand to that one twisted tree that she had found only recently and had never truly had time to explore yet.

But yet still she could not return until her journey was completed.

The stone around her was becoming spotted with little dark blots; rain. She looked up and watched the tiny drops hurtling down.

It came, the rain came, brought along by the breeze. A soft rain, a silky breeze. It tickled and kissed the leaves of the trees far below. It laughed on the rocks of the tower, it giggled in the grass. It sang and danced on Lydia’s head, drenching her hair with its song.

What do you think? Was I right to cut it or do you disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

docendo disco, scribendo cogito,
– Millie Florence

My Readers interview ME about Lydia Green of Mulberry Glen

(WARNING mild Lydia Green spoilers ahead.)

I recently opened questioning on Instagram for my readers to learn more about my upcoming book Lydia Green of Mulberry Glen. They were very happy to help me out and I received some excellent questions!

In this blog post, I plan to answer those questions and share my excitement for this magical novel!

So, without further ado…

What’s the Plot?
Lydia Glacier Green never had reason to worry much before.

She lived in a timeless Glen on the edge of the Valleylands with her mismatched family of fairies, philosophers, and two troublemakers known as the Zs.

But now, at age eleven, her world is turned upside down when rumors reach Mulberry Glen about a mysterious Darkness that dwells in the forest Tenebrae.

Lydia knows it is nothing to be trifled with, but, fiery and headstrong, the Zs have other ideas. A foolish choice puts their lives in danger, and although she is no hero, Lydia realizes that family is something she is willing to fight for.

But among the shifting library shelves and lonely stone towers of her quest, Lydia is chased with more questions than answers. The Darkness of the forest lurks within her own mind, and how can you fight something which is all in your head?

You’ll have to read the book to find out any more than that. 😉

How many words?
65,000+. More than twice as long as Honey Butter.

Tell us about your protagonist!!
The protagonist is (surprise!) Lydia Green.
She’s eleven years old and has lived her whole life in a magical, timeless place called Mulberry Glen.
She’s deeply thoughtful, often quiet, and considers the forest her home. She loves every aspect of nature and is an aspiring herbalist.

What is the world of Lydia Green Like?
Lydia Green lives in the Valleylands. I drew a lot of inspiration from my trips to England to create the Valleylands, especially from the food and culture. I also borrowed the Latin language and architecture from Ancient Rome. Plus a bit of my own imagination.

Tell us a bit about your villain.
The villain is an invisible force called the Darkness. The Darkness manifests itself in the forest Tenebrae, a place from which no one has ever returned.
The darkness starts to take over Lydia’s mind throughout the book, and it represents a lot metaphorically.

What inspired you to go from contemporary to fantasy?
Well, I was more of a fantasy girl, to begin with.
It’s kind of ironic actually because I’d only ever written contemporary once before Honey Butter when I was about five! Other than that, all my work was sci-fi and fantasy.
But when inspiration strikes, I follow! The genre usually chooses me, rather than vice versa.

What was the hardest part to write/hardest part of the writing process for LGMG?
Chapter 17.
1. A lot of personal emotion went into it.
2. There’s a ton of metaphorical meaning.
3. All the plot points converge.

Is there romance?
1. I do not have the life experience for that yet.
2. My characters are way too young.
3. They’re also a little preoccupied with this whole darkness-taking-over-the-world thing.
In general, I’m not a big fan of romance.

How big is the world of LGMG?
Lydia lives in a part of her world called the Valleylands, but there’s also the Highlands, Flatlands, Icelands,  etc.

Will we see any magical creatures and/or spells?
There aren’t any spells per-say, but there are fairies, Hobgoblins, and Elves.
Magic, in this book, is a natural force like wind or rain, people can’t control it.

Sometimes books or certain times in history make me want to create a certain world. What’s your inspiration?
– My trips overseas
– L. M. Montgomery and Elizabeth Goudge’s prose
– The forest behind my house
– My own faults and strengths
– The little details of everyday life

Is there any chance it will be available in hardcover?
Honey Butter has too few pages for me to feel like making a hardcover was worthwhile. But Lydia Green is more than twice as long as Honey Butter, so most likely, yes!

What’s your favorite setting in the book?
Ooo! It’s got to be the Libraries!
The Libraries are huge and beautiful. But besides that… They’re magical. The shelves ‘shift’ to fit the mood of each section and the person who goes there. It’s ridiculously easy to get lost int eh endless shelves, and you might not find your way out for weeks.

Who is the Character that you connect with most?
A cheesy answer maybe, but I love and connect with all my characters in different ways.
That said, Lydia’s struggles are written from some of my own personal experiences, and I connect a lot with her emotionally, even though our personalities are almost opposites.

Well, that’s all for now. If you want to find out more about Lydia Green of Mulberry Glen, you can subscribe to my newsletter for future sneak peeks, or check out the book’s page here.

docendo disco, scribendo cogito,
– Millie Florence

Write What You Know

Ah, that one simple sentence which is the bane of every fantasy writer’s existence.

“Write what you know.”

“But how then?” The fantasy writer argues, frowning and leaning forward in his chair, “am I to write about dragons? Fairy balls? Death-defying rescues?”

The answer is simpler than you may believe.

Fiction is Truth’s elder sister,” Rudyard Kipling once said. “Obviously. No one in the world knew what truth was until someone had told a story.”

Many a creme-colored page has explored the subject of truth within fiction, of fantasy within reality.

The question, when it comes to writing, is always the same: Should you write what you know? Or should you not?

Strangely, however, as far as my reading has taken me at least, no one has ever questioned what that phrase actually means.

Write what you know means that you should write about real things in the real world because it makes the story more real.

It is assumed to mean the story in its entirety.

But what if that’s not its definition at all?

Have you ever been afraid? Felt your heart pounding in your chest? Felt your hands go numb with fear as adrenaline thunders in your ears?

Have you ever been happy? Felt your smiles stretch over the corners of your lips? Felt your heart expand with warmth and your eyes dance with joy?

Have you ever been in love? Felt a rush of pride to your loved one praised? Felt a flood of relief after they experience a moment of danger?

Those emotions are real. More real than anything ever could be in this world.

You know what it’s like to gaze up at a night sky. You know what it’s like to wonder. You know what it’s like to pull socks onto your feet. You know what it’s like to try and catch the sound of a whisper. You know what it’s like to strike a match and light a candle. You know what baking cookies smell like. You know what it’s like to awake from the land of dreams.

Those details are real. They are all just little things, perhaps, but details are what this world is made of.

Tiny, real details, like grains of sand, make up the shore of your story. Those overwhelming waves of emotion make up its endless sea. Your imagination does the rest, encasing your story in a vast blue dome of the sky.

No. You’ve never fought a dragon. But you know what fear is, don’t you? And what a burn feels like.

No. You’ve never received an invitation to a fairy ball. But you know what happiness is, don’t you? And what it’s like to dance.

No. You’ve never lept over the edge of a cliff to save someone. But you know what love is, don’t you? And what fearful eyes look like.

Write what you know.

docendo disco, scribendo cogito,
– Millie Florence

Still A Masterpiece

The National Gallery
London, England, February 2018

The room was crowded with tourists and art enthusiasts. The melody of different languages touched my ears. A thousand different smells. A thousand different voices. People clustered about the painting, and between the crush of somber colored coats, here and there, a flicker of yellow met my eyes.

My father and I moved through the crowd, keeping close together. And as we reached the surface of the hubbub, I saw the masterpiece.

Van Gogh’s sunflowers.

I’m a connoisseur of literature, not art, but Van Gogh’s Sunflowers have always been a favorite of mine among masterpieces of that sort. Owing, in some way, although not only, to the fact that it is entirely my favorite color.

But there’s something beautiful and new in seeing any piece of art in person, no matter how many pictures you might see of it online or in books.

Paintings are flat pictures, yet it seemed to move out towards me in a way that it never could in a photograph. I could see each brushstroke of bright color where it rose from the canvas. And suddenly it was real. Not a name in a history book, or a still image on my screen, but a real thing that a real person had created.

A masterpiece.

Now in my mind, I see the people coming and going.

Watch as they raise their cameras and smartphones, join the crowd for a few moments, before moving on to the unfinished painting of Leonardo Davinci.

The bells of Saint Paul call out the hour, once, and then again, and again. Visitors come and go. The sun rises and then begins to fall.

Lights come on in the streets outside, the crowds dwindle, disperse, evaporate. Amber rays of the setting sun sweep patterns over the gallery’s staircases through their few small windows.

The doors are locked, the museum closes, night casts its cloak over the rooftops and tosses its glittering stars into the sky. The windows of houses and apartments become small squares of gold in the velvet dusk.

Inside the gallery, those bright yellow flowers are alone. Where once there was a babble of voices, now there are only the silver whispers of silence. Where once the bright overhead lights glowed, now there is gentle darkness. Where once there was a sea of onlookers, now there is nothing.

Those bright golden blossoms are alone.

Likely, few think of them.

And yet still they hang upon the wall, with all the pride and beauty as they did before. Their value does not dim simply because the lights do. Their loveliness does not decrease simply because the crowds do.

“A masterpiece is still a masterpiece when the lights are off and the room is empty.” – Charlotte Geier

At the Realm Makers Conference, which I attended last July, the leader of our continuing session asked a question which I will never forget.

“Would you rather,” he asked, “sell your book to millions of people who would forget about it as soon as they finished it? Or would you rather sell your book to only one person, but a person whose life would be changed forever by it?”

The room elapsed into half thoughtful, half stubborn silence.

“Which do you pick?” he asked. “The first option or the second option?”

There were scattered mummers of “second option” around the room.

“Right.” He nodded and smiled. “We all say that we’d pick the second option. But what if that one person…was you?”

Contrary to what society will tell you, attention does not equal value. Value is something that is determined personally within your own heart and mind. Something that only you can decide.

So now, here I sit, as ripe January sunshine pours over my keyboard, as the theme music from my younger sibling’s TV show drifts up from the basement, I write on.

Perhaps this book will be a roaring success, perhaps it will be a complete flop.

But to me, it will always be a masterpiece, long after the cover is closed.

docendo disco, scribendo cogito,
– Millie Florence