Saturday, January 19, 2019


Navigating Life's Obstacles, by James Aschbacher
Fate does not like to be tempted. Just when you dare to think you’ve got it all under control, she’s ready to smack you with some new, unforeseen obstacle. So it’s wise to never indulge in platitudes like, “Well, at least the worst is over.”

Remember the trash compactor scene in Star Wars? It can always get worse.

I thought the worst thing that could ever happen to me was losing my Art Boy. And that’s still number one at the top of the list, edging out the Trump administration and the zombie apocalypse. (Wait, aren’t those last two the same thing?)

But that doesn’t mean that Fate is done with me. She still has a few nasty tricks up her sleeve, as I discovered about two weeks ago when I woke up in the middle of the night and I couldn’t stand up. Now, diagnosed with MS about 4 years ago, I’ve been getting accustomed to mobility issues — mostly in walking distances, or standing up for too long. But to stand up at bedside, only to sink immediately to the floor and have to start crawling around? That’s new.

True, my flavor of MS is called Progressive, but I expected the progress to be a little more gradual than overnight!

Thus began my 51/2 day sojourn at Dominican. I confess, for months, I’ve been hoping for some kind of time-out, to to take a break from bill-paying, and banking, and taxes, and, you know, sorrow. I longed for time to just be still, take a few deep yoga breaths, and get a grip. But lying prone on a hospital bed was not what I had in mind.

Truth be told, there were many times in the dark days after losing James that I was ready to go too. In the old ’70s sitcom, Sanford and Son, when things didn’t go right for the rascally widower played by Redd Foxx, he’d grasp his heart and cry to the heavens, “I’m comin’ Elizabeth!” There were moments at Dominican when I started to feel like that. Is it my turn next?

Who doesn't crave a little time-out? Let someone else do the caring.
And for the first two days, overnight in ER and then in a room upstairs the next day, when I mostly slept, I was okay with that.

My best friend was feeding my cat, and texting me daily updates. (“Here’s a picture of Bella just before she hissed at me!”) And all the post-James business piling up on my actual desktop at home, most of it requiring my immediate attention, like, yesterday? I was ready to let it all go. My brain had left the building.

But, dimly, I began to perceive that nothing makes a person feel more helpless than an extended stay in a hospital. No matter how doting and caring and attentive the staff is — and the staff at Dominican was great — or perhaps because of all that doting attention, it becomes too easy to let that secret part of you that just wants to be taken care of all the time take over. To lie there and just say yes — to everything.

So at some point, I began to rally. Maybe it was when I was able to get in and out of bed unassisted, or when I discovered a bathroom around the corner in my room (who knew?) that I could use like a grown-up. Maybe it was when I asked them to bring a chair into my room so I could eat meals sitting up, not reclining on the bed like some kind of debauched Roman senator.
An urgent message from my Spirit Guide!
Maybe it was when one of the physical therapists brought me a walker (and unplugged my IV unit from the wall) so I could start navigating around the corridors outside my room, visit the nurses’ station to recycle a pile of newspapers brought by my friends, and get to the shower room where I could — finally!!! — wash my hair!

But mostly, it was James, my Spirit Guide, giving me a stern talking-to. He would have battled like a Klingon to hold onto this life, if only he’d had the chance. “Don’t even think about letting go!” he warned me. I shuddered at the amount of ’splaining I’d have to do if I opted for the easy way out, the path of least resistance.

Heartbroken is one thing. But losing heart is a choice I decided not to make.

The upshot is, they couldn’t find anything wrong with me to explain what happened. After a CT scan, EKGs, ultrasound, two days of MRIs, and monitoring my vitals every 2.8 seconds, their collective best guess was a random MS episode. A glitch.

They intended to keep trying until they found something. Another four days in acute rehab was recommended, but I’m with Amy Winehouse on that one. Home is the best place to remember how to be me again.

Thursday, January 3, 2019


"Moving On," by James Aschbacher

I recently found this lovely tribute on James Aschbacher’s memorial page online:

“Reading about James, I see this whimsical art came from his soul. Although I didn't know him, I love him through his art. I know he is creating beautiful art on the Other Side.”

That’s how I like to think of him. In fact, in my original idea for this year’s Christmas card, James was cheerfully painting a mural on the Pearly Gates.

(But I abandoned that idea because it was too conceptual, and too complicated to draw. )

Besides, not sure if I go along with the whole Heavenly Father/Pearly Gates mythology, anyway.

At the end of the Harry Potter movies I was binge-watching over the holidays, Harry, temporarily dead, encounters his deceased mentor, Professor Dumbledore, in a tunnel of bright white light. (It looks suspiciously like King’s Cross Station, as Harry says, “only cleaner. And without the trains.”)

While Harry opts to return to life and sort things out, Dumbledore says he himself must go.

“Where?” asks Harry.

“On,” Dumbledore replies.

That’s the concept I like: mysterious and unconfined by any specific rules or belief systems. Just “on.”

Or, as the late, very much-lamented Mr. Earl, master spinner of vintage rock ’n’ roll platters for the late, lamented KUSP, used to sign off, “Catch you on the Flip Side!”

But I agree with tribute-writer Claire Norman that James’ art was the expression of his soul.

In this 2011 piece of his, “Act of Creation,” I see James as the central figure, firmly rooted to the earth, but with little batons of bright ideas swirling around inside him, while the fruits of his imagination rise up like stars!

Wherever my Art Boy has gone on to, those stars must be just as bright.

Thursday, December 13, 2018


There’s good news on the Beast front for e-book readers!

Right now, Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge, is being offered on a variety of e-book platforms at the special (not to say insanely great) holiday promotional price of $2.99!

Such a deal! Read all about it!

This offer is a holiday gift from my publisher, Candlewick Press, on the E-Volt page for YA books at their website. Take a look, or subscribe to the E-Volt online newsletter (it’s free!) for details for this and other upcoming YA book-promotion deals.

But act now! This special deal is only available until the end of the month, December 31, 2018.

Put Beast at the top of your Christmas wish list!

Thursday, December 6, 2018


 Stars deliver heart, humor on the road in Green Book

Mahershala Ali could not have chosen a better follow-up role. After earning a well-deserved Supporting Actor Oscar for Moonlight two years ago, the versatile Ali tries something completely different in Green Book. It's a serious-minded, yet entertaining view of  racism in the American South, ca 1962, as experienced by a working-class white Italian-American guy from Brooklyn hired to drive a cultured black pianist on a concert tour through the Deep South.

Directed by Peter Farrelly (one half of the filmmaking brothers responsible for notorious comedies like There's Something About Mary), the movie is based on a true story. Its portrait of century-old racist attitudes still so deeply ingrained everyday life could be (and often is) chilling.

But the movie succeeds on the chemistry between its excellent stars, Ali as the reserved, morally particular pianist, and Viggo Mortensen as his gregarious, tough guy driver, forging a hard-won alliance against institutional racism and their own personal prejudices.

Farrelly trots out all the usual suspects — sneering Southern cops, smarmy, white hoteliers, shifty black thieves at a rollicking roadhouse. (He trades in equal-opportunity stereotypes.) But the movie glides by on cruise control, thanks to its charismatic stars.

Ali, with his killer grin, looks about a foot taller and way more willowy than he did in Moonlight. Mortensen impresses with his edgy, good-humored chutzpah and capacity to grow his character. Together, they make this a trip worth taking.
(Read more)

Friday, November 16, 2018


Great songs, star performance, ignite Bohemian Rhapsody

Movie biographies are tricky. But when the subject is the innovative rock group, Queen, there’s one thing we know absolutely — the soundtrack is going to be killer.

Fortunately, for the surviving members of Queen, the legacy of the legendary Freddie Mercury, and especially the audience, the Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody is more than just great music.

From the opening 20th Century Fox fanfare scorched out of an electric guitar to the ecstatic grand finale of "We Are The Champions" live onstage, this is a joyride for Queen fans.

Directed by Bryan Singer (he was replaced by Dexter Fletcher toward the end of production, but retains the credit), the movie falls into some of the pitfalls of telescoping events to fit the format. But it heroically depicts the Queen era (late'70s - early '80s), and the band's phenomenal creative energy and output.

Reel life: Malek (R) with the movie Queen
 Central is the dynamic performance of Rami Malek (TV's Mr. Robot) as Freddie Mercury. Speculation on who would play Freddie haunted this project for years, but in Malek, the filmmakers found an actor unorthodox enough to embody the singer's outsider persona, yet soulful enough to engage us in Freddie's lifelong quest to become himself. Did I mention he does his own singing?

The best scenes capture the band inventing itself from the solid musical grounding of guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and Freddie's audacious vocal orchestrations, and his desire to do "grand" things, and never repeat himself. The song, "Bohemian Rhapsody," makes no sense as narrative. Nobody has a clue what it's about. Nobody cares. The operatic, six-minute, style-shifting epic is something we get, intuitively, on a visceral level.

Which is how it was conceived, according to this move's delicious montage of the band crafting together the song's diverse bits, on Freddie's instinct alone.

Real-life Queen
The movie celebrates the appeal of Queen not to gay, straight, or neutral audiences, nor fans of any particular genre, but as "misfits playing to other misfits!" How inclusive can you get? "We Are the Champions" is an equal-opportunity anthem. No wonder this movie zoomed to the top of the box office its first weekend!
(Read more)

Tuesday, November 6, 2018


Hey, friends and readers!

Look at this: my Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge has placed at #4 on the list 9 Fantastic Novels for Fairy Tale Fans, over at Wiki ezvid!

This is a website devoted to cool stuff whose users and editors compile videos to celebrate their favorite things. Not only books, but food, clothing, electronics, toys —  you name it and this site has posted a video about it!

The video attached to the 9 Fantastic Novels list features an interesting, eclectic mix of vintage and more modern images.

I might have selected one or two additional images to illustrate Beast in the video. (In fact, I did! Check out my own compilation of graphics and illustrations that inspired my book, over on my Pinterest page for Beast.)

But I could not be more thrilled that my Beast, having dared to venture out of his lonely chateau, is winning friends and recognition out in the wider world!

I’m also pleased that they gave an additional shout-out to Alias Hook!

Thank you, Ezvid Wiki!

Friday, November 2, 2018


Which day exactly is Dia de Los Muertos?

Nov 1 is All Saints Day (which is why Oct 31 is All Hallows Eve), and Nov 2 is All Souls Day — everyone else. Are the Spirits of the Dead up and about on both days? When does the portal between our world and theirs open and close for another year?

I decided that midnight between the night of November 1 and the morning of November 2 was the most likely time for Spirits to be active.

A celebration held at my little at-home altar last night was meant to entice James' Spirit back to visit the land of the living with all the things he loved here — a plastic dinosaur, a toy robot, and a fossil from his childhood collection, his box of paints and his glove, a piece of bubble-gum, a crossword puzzle, and, of course, a bottle of bubbly!

Also, a little piece he made years ago for a local Dia de Los Muertos altar somewhere, in honor of his own grandmother — a photo of his teenage self and his Grandma Asch, in a frame he made citing all the ways she shaped his life, from making German Potato Salad to teaching him magic tricks.

I was hoping all this would be inducement enough for the Spirit of my Art Boy to linger here with me during the time allotted to him.

But I have to admit, I didn’t feel any particular disturbance in the Force overnight. He didn’t visit my dreams (not that I remember).

Maybe it’s all just a big story we make up to comfort ourselves in the face of unbearable loss. Maybe there isn't any way for James’ enormous Spirit to ever get back to me.

Or — maybe he never left.

In Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the noble, dying warrior tells the woman he loves, “I would rather be a ghost by your side than enter the Kingdom of Heaven without you.”

Maybe it’s like that.

Sunday, October 21, 2018


Art, life, friendship dished up at Tea With the Dames

You know those friends you've had forever? Maybe you don't see them as often as you'd like, but you've shared so many adventures that whenever you get together, you pick up right where you left off, your conversation as full of vivid memories, tart observations, and raucous laughter as if you'd never been apart.

That's kind of what it's like going to see Tea With the Dames — a chatty and witty conversation with beloved old friends. It features four of our most acclaimed British actresses — Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright, and Eileen Atkins — in the most challenging roles of their careers: themselves.

In this irresistible documentary from veteran feature director Roger Michell, these four great ladies of stage, screen, and television (each of them honored with the title of Dame), and longtime friends in real life, get together for an afternoon of tea and conversation — always, trenchant, often hilarious — about life, love, friendship, and the craft of acting.

 The talk is lively, and Michell makes judicious use of vintage footage from the actresses' illustrious careers to illustrate their stories.

Smith and Dench: impishness has no age limit!
This is a welcome time-out between the season of men in tights and testosterone action thrillers and the more serious, Oscar-bait movies to come. Grab a crumpet, pull up a chair, and refresh yourself!
(Read more)

Wednesday, October 17, 2018


Time to dance for joy!

The animals at Hestwood Park have been restored!

These are the critters James Aschbcher was commissioned to create for the public art installation in the children’s area of the Hestwood “pocket park” in Live Oak.

They were installed to great acclaim in 2002, when the park opened. The kids loved the bright colors and exuberant attitudes of these fanciful beasties!

But over the years, vandalism and weather took their toll on these creatures. Although James devised a way to affix them pretty permanently to the fence, legs, fins, and other body parts were sometimes ripped away.

One character was beheaded.

Meanwhile, hot weather cracked the sealant he used, so that in rainy weather — back when it used to rain — water leaked into the cracks and began to erode the paint.

It was an increasingly sorry sight over the years to go by the park and see how badly these animals were deteriorating.

As you can imagine, my Art Boy was heartbroken about it; he worked out a timetable to do the repairs himself, donating his time and labor if the county would pay for materials.

They said no.

The animals continued to decline, until the opportunity passed for James to ever restore them himself.

But then an angel stepped in!

Robert L. Echols, our neighbor here in Live Oak, who specializes in antiques restoration, made the county an offer it couldn’t refuse. He has taken it upon himself to rebuild, restore, repaint, and reseal every Aschbacher animal in the park — for free.

He borrowed some of James’ paints from me to match up the colors, but all other expenses of time, labor, materials, and craftsmanship, he has donated to the project out of the enormous goodness of his heart.

This was entirely Bob’s idea. When he first proposed the project to me, I was so stunned with gratitude, I could barely gush out my thanks. I told him how excited James would be about it. With a big grin, Bob replied, “He’s a great guy!”

That was the way my Art Boy inspired people to be their best, most generous, most creative selves.

This must be what they meant when they launched the whole “Be Like James” meme at his memorial celebration. He inspired everybody, not by preaching, but by doing. By the way he lived his own life.

He would be surprised to learn how many local people he influenced, just by who he was.

And he would love, love, love how his Hestwood menagerie has been brought back to life, in all its impudent glory!

Thanks, Bob!

PS: Here’s the very modest plaque Bob put up to acknowledge his hard work. I hope it’s in a prominent spot!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018


Country girl becomes celebrated author in lively Colette

Even for an era of such artistic and cultural ferment as the turn of the last century, famed French author Colette led an extraordinary life. She was a country girl dominated by a sophisticated husband who became the toast of Paris for her wildly successful, trendsetting novels.

She was also a music hall performer who scandalized the public, a sexual adventuress who loved men and women, a cross-dresser, and an accidental advocate for equality who had to fight for the right to publish her work under her own name.

Her melodramatic life was always tempered by her wit and wry self-knowledge in her books, reviews, and voluminous letters to friends and family. In his biographical feature, Colette, filmmaker Wash Westmoreland sticks to her early years in Paris, during the metamorphosis by which she would eventually turn herself into the celebrated author.

Reel life: Knightley, West

As portrayed by Keira Knightly, this Colette is all good-humored innocence and coltish bravado. The film ends just as she's about to launch herself back into the world on her own terms, so we never get a sense of the wry wisdom of the author's maturity, but Knightley is appealing as an awakening personality in the making.

The movie begins in 1892, in the remote French country village of Saint-Sauveur. 19-year-old Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (Knightley), her beloved mother, Sido (Fiona Shaw), and her father, are entertaining Willy (Dominic West), a renowned magazine writer and critic from Paris, whose father knew Colette's father in the military. Within a year, Willy and Colette are married and living in Paris.

There she discovers that "Willy" is a cottage industry; he employs other writers to crank out the work that appears in the press under his name. To stave off creditors, her husband decides "Willy" should write a novel, and assigns the task to Colette. When he physically locks her in her study to work, she starts writing about her own schooldays.

Willy, Colette: out of the shadows
The book, Claudine At School, is an immediate bestseller. Together with its three sequels, it influences a generation of young women, who copy Claudine's clothes and hair, bathe with "Claudine" soap, and nibble "Claudine" chocolates. But the books all come out under the name of "Willy," who refuses to compromise his "brand" by allowing Colette to take credit for her own work.

No feature-length movie could do more than scratch the surface of the real-life Colette's long, rich, and productive life (she died in 1954 at age 81), or include her expansive circle of friends, artists, writers, mentors and devotees. But the movie looks beautiful (largely shot in old-world Budapest), and Knightly captures enough of Colette's rebel spirit of adventure to encourage viewers to explore the rest of her fascinating story.

(Read more)

I’m such a sucker for this era of wild experimentation before WWI. Matisse and Picasso were reinventing the world, the Arts and Crafts Movement was redesigning furniture, and women were cutting there hair, agitating for the right to vote, exploring their inner lives, and remaking themselves outside of their husband’s shadows.

There are so many luscious period details in Westmoreland’s movie, you can’t take them in all at once. Just look a the chair back and draperies in this shot of Knightley’s Colette at work at her desk — yow!

Every detail is perfect.

Meanwhile, here’s a companion photo of the real-life Colette at work on the Claudine novels.

At this point, she is still in the prim collar and upswept hair of her early years with Willy. She still had a way to go before morphing into the scandalous, yet acclaimed author beloved for such popular novels as Cherie, and — much later in life — Gigi.

But you can see by her determined chin and serious demeanor that she’s on her way!