Christina Varrasso, 43, of Hampton, has been writing short stories for herself since she was 9 and more recently "morning pages" but never thought of writing for anyone else for 30 years. During her years at Duquesne University where she graduated in 1995, she didn't take any writing courses.
Then a recurring dream led her to write her delightful novel "Running for Yellow," which she self-published in April, four months after she finished it.
"Running for Yellow" is about Chiara Lazzaro, a young woman from an immigrant Italian family who tries to balance going to medical school in Pittsburgh with a new marriage to Adrian Peruviso, a Dallas-based, but always traveling baseball pitcher.
Chiara's father had opposed the marriage but died of a heart attack hours she got engaged. Adrian was a Pittsburgh Pirate when he and Chiara, whose name is Italian for "enlightened" Ms. Varrasso said, fell in love. He was traded to the Texas Rangers before they were married.
Chiara ends up flying a lot to spend weekends with Adrian on the road and in Dallas. She's also an active equestrian competitor with one of her three horses.
Asked where the idea for the novel came from, Ms. Varrasso said, "It's funny because I had a recurring dream where I was always arriving in class without a due term paper, and I shared the dream with my mother.
"She said I was always a strong writer, and I should try writing a novel or something, and I thought 'I don't know about that.' "
But then one day when she was writing her usual morning pages -- three pages about anything on her mind when she wakes up -- she almost wrote an apology to her late father about the way her life had turned out.
Ms. Varrasso learned to write morning pages from Julia Cameron's book "The Artist's Way." The morning spent almost writing to her late father gave Ms. Varrasso the idea about Chiara and her father Gian Carlo, who with her mother Isabella owned and ran a chain of Italian restaurants.
Ms. Varrasso is a strong writer and adept at describing even minor characters in memorable detail. For example, Valerie, the oldest of the Lazzaros' three daughters, grows up to be an attorney married to an attorney with whom she shares an office while they try desperately to get her pregnant. The other daughter, Sylvia, is an accountant who waits years to tell her mother she is gay.
Once married, Chiara befriends Alicia Patterson, the wife of one of Adrian's teammates. The reader gets to know Alicia fast, too, with a couple of crisp sentences: "Alicia was Chiara's age but much shorter, with black spiked hair and fair skin. Chiara wondered if she'd once been a rebellious teenage rocker who dressed in black and colored her hair pink."
The book chronicles Chiara and Adrian from their wedding through the ups and downs of their troubled marriage. Chiara eventually graduates from medical school, and at a sunflower gardening party thrown by her family a few days later, a neighbor she's known for years kisses her.
It's a happy ending for Chiara and the reader.
It took Ms. Varrasso three years to write "Running for Yellow" while working "about 30 to 35 hours a week" for her mother, Catherine, and younger sister, Sunny. The two own several rental properties in Pittsburgh.
She finished the book last December and published it with the help of CreateSpace.
Now, Ms. Varrasso is getting ready to write her next book.
"I'm actually just putting together some ideas for a second novel. I'm not going to tell you what it's about because it's too early," she said. "I hope it's better than this one. It was painful, but I'm glad I did it."
"Running for Yellow" is $15.99 at Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble.com, Createspace.com and her websites ChristinaVarrasso.com and RunningforYellow.com. The Kindle version is $9.99.