Wednesday, October 19, 2016


Look out, folks! Here comes another installment in the saga of getting Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge into print!

Due to publisher Candlewick reshuffling its release schedule, and some last-minute editorial decisions, my poor Beast has fallen off the Spring, 2017 publication schedule.

But fear not: as of this moment, he's set to come roaring back — bigger, bolder, and stronger than ever — on the Fall, 2017 list. Expected pub date is now September 12.

Stay tuned . . .

In the meantime, treat your orbs to this lovely Beauty and the Beast painting by Jynette Tigner, over at Deviant Art, which I just discovered and posted to my Pinterest page.

I love everything about this image — the romantic mood, the impressive Beast, and the woman smart enough to appreciate him as he is. (Did I mention that Beast, himself, not the "handsome prince," is the hero of my story?)

This is definitely my favorite Beast image of the month!

Find more of Jynette Tigner's fairy tale-inspired work here!

Sunday, October 16, 2016


Okay, friends, under normal circumstances, I prefer to blog about movies, book news, occasional travels, and other fun stuff. But these circumstances are so not normal.

The clown show that is the Donald Trump presidential campaign is so surreal, so much like a bad movie, it just screams for commentary. Who am I to resist?

I'll leave the jokes for the pros. (Besides, this campaign is such a joke already, it defies the job of satire to make it seem even more ridiculous.) I'm more interested in how we've come to this truly bizarro point in our collective public life.

Um, I have an idea.

For about the last 30 years, and certainly the  last eight or ten — in an effort to defeat Obama (unsuccessful), and control Congress (successful) — the GOP has not only admitted, but actively courted every nutsquad out there with a grudge: Tea Party loonies, birthers, homophobes, xenophobes, anti-abortion terrorists, racists, religious right fanatics, climate change deniers, neo-Nazis — you name it.

There are plenty of people who are mad as hell and not going to take it any more. They're sure somebody is to blame for whatever's wrong in their lives, but they don't know who. All they need a target for their rage, and if there's one thing Trump actually does know how to do, it's incite unfocused minds to rage.

("What are you rebelling against?" biker Marlon Brando is asked in The Wild One. "Whattya got?" Brando drawls back. Trump is a master at serving up a bogeyman-du-jour from one speech to the next.)

 Add this bag of mixed nuts to the traditional, conservative GOP power elite of Wall Street, Big Pharma, predatory lenders, real estate scammers, and corporate America — that is, most of the folks responsible for their problems in the first place — and you get an unholy alliance of epic proportions.

Trump is like the Toxic Avenger, the goo that rises up out of this muck to overwhelm the mad scientist (or party) that created him. And now that he's finally beginning to self-destruct under the weight of his own bloated arrogance, Republican leaders are scrambling to save what's left of their party.

But it's too late for that. The damage is so done.

As soon as the GOP grudgingly named Trump to top their ticket, they've been willing to overlook his complete lack of policies, his woeful ignorance of foreign affairs, his inability to prep for a debate, his refusal to release his damning tax returns, and the outright lies and other random things that come out of his mouth on the stump.

He'll tell his cheering fans anything. He'll bring US business back from China (but that's where he sends all his own manufacturing). He'll get Americans to work again — he just won't pay them. (Look at his own record of stiffing contractors and other employees who worked for him.)

It's taken the almost daily allegations of repulsive sexual conduct in these last couple of weeks to alert even the most comatose of GOP stalwarts that something might be just a little off about their so-called candidate. (Not because they actually think there's anything wrong with his "locker-room banter," so much as the dim realization that over half the voting population is, you know, female. Trump's response? Repeal the 19th Amendment.)

This is not Reality TV; this is supposed to be Presidential politics.Those thundering hoofbeats you hear is the stampede of party leaders trying to distance themselves from the Trump debacle while they still can.

It's not news that their candidate is an unrepentant sleazebag, an "octopus" (albeit small-handed) who drools all over pretty women like Kujo. Why are party leaders and supporters surprised? Why didn't the GOP quit him months ago?

Because they kept hoping to sway his nutball "base" back to their own agenda. Ha! As if Trump cared about anyone's agenda but his own. He wants to promote himself as a rich "celebrity," because then he can "get away with" groping unwilling women and paying off debts with lawsuits. All he wants to do is win this horse race, a goal that grows more laughable every hour.

The GOP is the horse he rode in on. The disastrous Trump campaign is going down in flames, and now it threatens to take the whole party with it. And it couldn't happen to a more deserving bunch of folks.

Saturday, September 24, 2016


You guys!

Okay, I was too late to review The Light Between Oceans (I was out of town when it opened) but you should still run out and see it. Like, now!

I never read the M. L. Stedman novel, but I was completely entranced by the sophisticated storytelling of Derek Cianfrance's film adaptation. Cianfrance takes his time to tell the story with all the depth of feeling he needs to make an impact.

Michael Fassbender is terrific as Tom, a stoic WWI vet with no family ties who takes a job as lighthouse keeper on a lonely rock off the Australian coast where two oceans meet. After the horrors of war, he's looking forward to the solitude.

Fassbender and Vikander: back to life.

The remarkable Alicia Vikander is Isabel, the spirited daughter of Tom's new boss, head of the Commonwealth that employs him. She eases past Tom's defenses and changes his plans; they marry, and she moves into his cottage on the island.

Gradually, we see all the ways that loving her brings Tom back to life.

And the always excellent Rachel Weisz co-stars as Hannah, a woman of the town with sorrows of her own to contend with, whose life and destiny becomes inexorably knotted up with Tom and Isabel's.

Fassbender and Vikander: to the lighthouse.
Any further detailing of the plot might make it sound schmaltzy. But trust me, it's not. This emotional story is told without an ounce of sentimentality.

It all revolves around what Art Boy and I call "the film noir moment," when characters make that one regrettable choice that will have wrenching repercussions throughout the rest of the movie, and their lives.

And the pivotal moment here when that choice is made is utterly persuasive. Even as the viewer thinks, "No, no! Don't do it!," we can see exactly what it means to the character advocating so desperately for it, and exactly why the co-conspirator is powerless to say no.

This is movie-making for grown-ups, thoughtfully conceived and beautifully shot.

Why are you still sitting there?

Monday, September 19, 2016


A vintage fairy tale book can be as enchanting as the ageless stories that inspire it. Imagine our deight to find this one squirreled away in our stuff!

First, some backstory: Once upon a time, Art Boy used to go to the flea market every Sunday to buy old books.

Most were fantasy/sci-fi paperbacks, picked up for a dime to re-sell in his comic shop (preferably with gorgeous covers by Frazetta or Boris)— an outgrowth of his previous business selling books to collectors through the mail.

Untold cartons of these old books had been taking up space in the rafters of our garage for eons. But last year, when he decided to start recycling them back into circulation, we discovered two things.

One: eBay and its ilk have taken a huge bite out of the collectible book biz; you can get anything you want online. So there's not the same thrill Art Boy used to get from finding that one weird book he knew was on some collector's wish-list.

And two: a dwindling sector of people consider books worth collecting at all. People read on the run, on devices (like they do everything else), or listen to audiotapes. Who wants to clutter up their busy lives with actual, physical books?

Oh, but look what you miss out on!

While preparing a box of old hardcovers for Logos, Art Boy found this lovely volume: Wonder Tales Retold, a collection of folk and fary tales from around the world.

It was written and illustrated by Katharine Pyle (1863-1938), sister of legendary artist Howard Pyle.

Although she is lesser-known today, Katharine Pyle was a prolific and a successful illustrator in her own right.  Besides poems and magazine stories, she wrote, illustrated, compiled, edited, and/or adapted more than 50 books for children.

Wonder Tales Retold features stories from the French, German, Russian, Norse, and English, to Bohemian, French Creole, Persian, "Hindoo," Korean, and American Indian. Some are familiar, like Baba Yaga, or Tam Lin (here called "Tamlane"), but most were new to me.

The minute we flipped open the book, I knew we had to keep it!

It may not the most elaborate fairy tale book ever, by modern standards. But even though it's only a four-color printing process, look how lovely and sinuous these illustrations are! They were done in the Golden Age of Illustration, that decorative era right around the turn of the last century that I love so much.

A lot more women have made their living as artists or illustrators than history records, especially around this era of artistic and social ferment. I'm always thrilled to discover a new one!

What else is serendipitous about finding this buried treasure of a book? It was published in September, 1916 — making it 100 years old this month!

Sunday, September 11, 2016


Jewel Theatre Company on-track with season opener 'Streetcar Named Desire'

These days, Tennessee Williams' groundbreaking drama, A Streetcar Named Desire could seem as quaint and mannered as the fading, delusional Southern belle at its center.

But the old girl holds up surprisingly well in the smart new production of Streetcar that launches the twelfth season of Jewel Theatre Company.

First produced onstage in 1947, the play was controversial for daring to whisper (obliquely) about taboo subjects like homosexuality, sexual promiscuity, and rape. It examines the erosion of Southern gentility, in the hothouse flower that is Blanche DuBois, exposed in the merciless glare of the postwar modern world represented by her rough-hewn working-class brother-in-law, Stanley Kowalski.

But Williams knew that the perceived elegance of the Old South — built on generations of slavery and repression — was as much an illusion as Blanche's fragile image of herself as a genteel lady.

Schindele and James: culture clash
These are no longer considered scandalous, or particularly new ideas. But director Susan Myer Silton sets them up vividly in her JTC production. The story is set in the French quarter of New Orleans, and one of Silton's coolest innovations is to place a three-man jazz combo on a wrought-iron balcony overlooking the stage; they play the actors in and out of scenes, subtly punctuating the action, but never overwhelming it.

Stanley Kowalski is played by Brent Schindele, previously seen in a dinner jacket, tinkling the ivories as the lounge pianist in JTC's delightful film noir musical, Gunmetal Blues. His performance here is a pretty nifty about-face. Erika Schindele (she and Brent are married in real life) plays his wife, Stella, with strength and compassion. The Kowalskis  enjoy a strong physical, if sometimes volatile, relationship.

Stanley and Stella: volatile
But their marriage is strained when Stella's older sister, Blanche (Julie James), arrives. A spinsterish onetime high school English teacher, Blanche spins a tale of woe about how the family home (a Mississippi plantation called Belle Reve), has been "lost," as the elder generation died out.

Alternately reproaching Stella for "abandoning" the family that Blanche had to care for, and buttering her up as her "precious baby sister," Blanche has nowhere to go, and her travel plans are indefinite.

Blanche deplores what she considers the Kowalski's miserable living conditions in their two-room apartment, and finds Stanley crude and common. Stanley suspects her of cheating Stella out of the family inheritance; he loathes her superior attitude, her interference in his marriage, and her pretense to gentility, which he considers a phony act.

And the clash of wills between them only intensifies. (Read more)

All photos ©2016 Steve DiBartolomeo-Westside Studio Images

Thursday, September 8, 2016


The Inconstant Traveler goes to Sweden!

The next time you're in Sweden visit Millesgarden, a fabulous home, art environment, terraced sculpture garden, and gallery space overlooking Stockhom Harbor.

It was created by and for sculptor Carl Milles (who studied with Rodin) and his wife, Austrian-born painter Olga Granner Milles, in the artistically simmering early decades of the last century.

This object to the left is a actually a (very thin) sponge, purchased in the gift shop, but I won't be mopping up spilled champagne with it anytime soon. I love the way its Wiener Werkstatte-inspired design and colors look on my aqua-green kitchen wall!

The graphic in the upper corner of the sponge replicates the design of this wrought-iron gate on the grounds. My Swedish is too rusty (okay; nonexistent) to translate the words, but I can read the date well enough: 1920.

This was right around the time the intricate, floral Art Nouveau aesthetic was starting to segue into the clean, machine-made design motifs of Art Deco.

Milles' bronze sculptures are monumental, mostly figures taken from Greek, Roman, and Christian mythology. On the grounds of Millesgarden, they are made even more imposing by their gravity-defying placement on tall, thin pedestals.

(For scale, see the tiny figures huddled at the low wall to the left, between the huge statue in the foreground, and the little spritz of water bubbling out of the fountain to its right? Those are actual people; that's how gigantic these sculptures are!)

Carl Milles' sculpture garden: monumental.
Each irregular paving stone in the terraces was placed by hand. Construction lasted for decades!

Austrian-born architect and textile designer, Josef Frank, who relocated to Sweden in the second half of his life, had a hand in some of the building on the Millesgarden grounds.

When we were there, the Millesgarden gallery was hosting an exhibition of Frank textiles, created by the Swedish design group,  Svenskt Tenn, with which Frank had a long association.

These are modern textiles based on Frank designs, shown alongside Franks' original watercolor sketches of each pattern. The colors are bold, the attitude playful, and the images abstract and amorphous, or wonderfully curvy, inspired by the fecund shapes of flowers, fruits, and leaves in nature.

Josef Frank: "Terrazzo."

Wall tapestries of Frank's designs were hung amid pieces of furniture  upholstered in these same patterns, ebulliently padded and poofy sofas, pillows, and chairs.

(Frank's dislike of hard, sharp corners is thought to have inspired Apple designer Jonathan Ive, a Frank fan, in his creation of the original blue iMac.)

I loved the designs for "Terrazzo," inspired by Italian mosaics. I also liked the starry, cloudlike silhouettes of "Zodiac," and a design based on images of historical sailing ships.

But for me, Best in Show was this whimsical riff on the classic bearskin rug (displayed only a couple of inches off the floor). The best thing about this life-sized accent piece is that it doesn't require the death of an actual animal to produce!

Oh, and the title of this piece? "Beast."

Saturday, August 20, 2016


Okay, my opinion is not exactly impartial. But even I didn't expect to have so much fun at the premiere of Alias Hook last night at Louden Nelson Center!

I wasn't sure how I'd feel about Santa Cruz Parks & Rec Teen Theatre leaders Sara Jo Czarnecki and Darwin Garrett fooling around with my grown-up story for a cast of 12-17-year-olds.

But I was very impressed with the way they managed to telescope the book's action and themes in an early draft of the script they showed me.

And last night onstage, it came together with much more pizzazz than I could ever have hoped for!

There's a real thrill in seeing my characters brought to life before my eyes, not to mention hearing my jokes get laughs from the audience!  (Although, some of the biggest laughs were for funny lines that Sara and Darwin added.)

Sure, compromises were made. There's no flying, and no underwater merfolk community. The sexy Fairy Revels are replaced by a crew of cute flapper fairies doing the Charleston.

The racier aspects of James and Stella's relationship are eliminated (no doubt to the cheers of my readers over at the Republic of Goodreads, who are often shocked to find this is an adult fantasy, not written for kids). But Stella still indulges her fondness for wine!

And while James Hook's backstory is mostly cut out, the character of Proserpina, the voudon priestess who cursed him to eternal life in the Neverland, weaves in and out of the action, haunting him with his lifetime of mistakes.

There were other clever additions. I especially liked the moment when James, no longer able to play his beloved piano one-handed, rises from the bench, hand and hook moving over imaginary keys in the air, while the music playing in his head fills the auditorium.

Proud author with Aidan Brekka as Hook!
Most importantly, the heart of the story comes through intact — James Hook learning to give up the endless war games with Pan and extricate himself from the Neverland by finally growing up.

Much credit for this goes to Aidan Brekka for his brisk, commanding performance as James. He strikes just the right notes of sarcasm and despair. Sophia Alexander-Sidhom is poised and funny as Stella.

In the role of Pan (ironically played by a girl), Seyla Manzo is just as brash and bratty as she should be. And kudos to every single cast member, playing various pirates, fairies, Lost Boys and Indians, for making this show such a success.

After the show, Sara and Darwin presented me with this copy of the production's poster, signed by everyone in the cast! That was very, very cool, and I was also thrilled to meet a lot of the young actors down in front, afterwards. I said they were all great, and I meant it.

"Thank you for writing us!" They responded.

Seriously, I couldn't have had more fun!

Friday, August 19, 2016


Hey, Santa Cruzans, tonight's the night!

Alias Hook will have it's World Premiere, live, onstage, at Louden Nelson, courtesy of the spirited folks at Santa Cruz Parks and Rec Teen Theatre. These kids have been working for 12 weeks to get my book up on the boards, and tonight, we lucky local get to see the result!

Check out some of these rehearsal stills. Looks like fun!

The unsinkable Sara Jo Czarnecki, godmother of the program, has been (among other accomplishments) assistant fight choreographer with Santa Cruz Shakespeare.

So expect plenty of crossed swords, one damsel (occasionally in distress, but mostly not), plenty of pirates, fairies, and Lost Boys, and one voodoo priestess.

And, of course — the (dreaded) Pan!

Showtime is 7 pm tonight (Friday) and Saturday night, plus a 2pm Saturday matinee. Talk about an exclusive engagement!

If you've ever longed for Captain James Hook to have a chance to be the hero, this is the show for you!

Visit SCP&RTT's Facebook page for more details.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016


Dreamy vision of Old Hollywood dished up in Cafe Society

If Blue Jasmine was Woody Allen's homage to A Streetcar Named Desire, his latest, Cafe Society, evokes Casablanca, in tone and romanticism. True, Allen's film is set in the 1930s, not the '40s; it takes place in Hollywood and New York City, not Paris, and there are no Nazis lurking about.

But otherwise, this plays like a spiritual prequel to the classic Bogart movie, the kind of bittersweet story of young love that might come back to haunt the participants years later, after they've moved on. (It even ends up where Casablanca begins — in a nightclub.)

Beautifully shot by veteran Vittorio Storaro, at Old Hollywood locations all over Los Angeles (including the Chinese and Los Feliz Theatres, and several vintage Bel Air mansions), Cafe Society revolves around Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg).

An innocent nebbish from one of Allen's typically large, boisterous Jewish families from the Bronx, Bobby wants more out of life than working in his father's factory. So his mother, Rose (Jeannie Berlin), ships him off to her brother, Phil Stern (Steve Carrell), a hotshot Hollywood agent.

Stewart and Eisenberg: they'll take romance.

Phil assigns his personal assistant, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), to drive Bobby around and show him the town. Beautiful, level-headed Vonnie isn't interested in the glitz and glamour of showbiz; she'd rather live at the beach and eat tacos in a cozy Mexican joint. Bobby is completely smitten with her, even though she tells him she has a boyfriend.

Allen presents a romanticized vision of a 1930s that never was — except in the movies. (The same way Casablanca romanticized the wartime era, Nazis and all.) And as a confection celebrating old-time Hollywood glamour, Cafe Society is pretty irresistible.

Still, as fresh and youthful as the central love story is, this is the work of a mature sensibility, a wistful meditation on choices made that invites us to ponder what might have been. (Read more in this week's Good Times.)

Sunday, July 31, 2016


SCS reinvents Hamlet in solid new production

It's not like a woman has never played Hamlet before.

Sarah Bernhardt famously played the great Dane onstage in 1899, captured for posterity in this poster by Alphonse Mucha.

Classical Danish actress Asta Nielsen essayed the role in a 1921 silent film.

(Although, it seems like Shakespeare without spoken words is sort of missing the point).

What's wild about Nielsen's version is that this Hamlet was supposedly born female, but her parents brought her up disguised as a boy to preserve the lineage.

That this Hamlet has lived all her life in male drag complicates relationships in the drama: she sort of jollies along old Polonius' attempts to match her up with his daughter, Ophelia, but she secretly pines for friend and schoolfellow, Horatio.

Here's a highlight reel of the film via You Tube, with includes a link to the entire two-hour film.

What's fresh about the new Santa Cruz Shakespeare interpretation is that Kate Eastwood Norris plays the character of Hamlet as a woman.

Nothing is changed in the script, except references to "son" are switched to "daughter," and the prevailing form of address becomes "my Lady," instead of "my Lord."

The rest of the play is still intact, including Hamlet's love affair with Ophelia.

Everyone knows they've always been drawn to each other; when Hamlet feigns madness, in hopes of sussing out the truth of her father's untimely demise, everyone assumes she's out of her mind with love for Ophelia.

Dueling Hamlets: Eastwood Norris
And here's the deal: nobody thinks anything of it. Casting Hamlet as a woman doesn't turn it into a "lesbian love story." The Hamlet-Ophelia subplot is about young love, in all its recklessness, passion, and confusion — just as it always has been.

Meanwhile, the rest of Shakespeare's tragedy marches on in this bare-bones, yet powerful production. The metal monkey-bar towers from Midsummer are wrapped in bunting to stand in for interior castle columns.

And without atmospheric sets, it's up to the writing and the acting to deliver the goods. Happily, both Shakespeare, and this excellent cast, are up to the task.

Norris doesn't miss a note of the character's complexity; her Hamlet is dashing, introspective, and witty, by turns. Torn as she is between inaction and confident resolution, she also makes the most of every wry aside — especially concerning the marriage of her mother, the queen, to her uncle, after the sudden demise of her father, the king.

Dueling Hamlets: Bernhardt

When she cries,, "Frailty, thy name is woman!" this female Hamlet sounds both astonished and self-deprecating.

Bernard K. Addison (so boisterously funny as Bottom in Midsummer) is both fierce and stately as the Ghost of Hamlet's murdered father, as well as his own murderous brother, Claudius, Hamlet's uncle, all too speedily wed to her mother, Queen Gertrude (Carol Halstead).

In this version, Patty Gallagher plays a female Polonius as a sort of dotty matchmaker, egging on her daughter, Ophelia (Mia Ellis), to encourage and comply with the increasingly distracted Hamlet in hopes of arranging a royal union.

Mike Ryan makes a stalwart Horatio. And Larry Paulsen is absolutely terrific in voice and manner as the Player King.

This is where this season's costume budget went, with B. Modern designing a fabulous lace-covered gown for Queen Gertrude, and a magnificent, ivory-hued robe for the Ghost — who makes an eerie circuit around the back of the seating area before joining the action onstage.

(However, the backpacks and plaid skirts for the female Rosencrantz and Guildenstern make them seem more like Catholic schoolgirls than university students. But it's a nice touch that Hamlet wears her skirt rakishly over pants, and her vest unbuttoned.)

The play is definitely the thing in this streamlined, highly effective production.

Addison, Norris, Halstead: that's Princess of Denmark.