Saturday, October 18, 2014


Coal miners, gay activists join forces in exuberant 'Pride'

They were not the most natural allies you could imagine: a clutch of hip, young gay and lesbian activists from London and the working-class denizens of a remote Welsh coal-mining village far. Yet these two diverse groups made history together with an audacious show of solidarity during Britain's lengthy Mineworkers Strike of 1984.

And now their story is dramatized with plenty of heart, humor, and verve in Pride, a crowd-pleasing valentine to diversity from director Matthew Warchus.
Scripted by Stephen Beresford, Pride invites viewers into a pivotal moment in social and political history. In 1984, smack in the middle of Margaret Thatcher's iron-fisted, union-busting tenure as Prime Minister, the notion of out and loud gay pride was only just blinking its way out into the daylight.

When the National Union of Mineworkers in Britain launched what became a year-long strike for improved conditions, putting their jobs and families on the line for basic human rights, a collective of gay activists in London felt a sense of kinship and decided to help publicize their plight.
Warchus and Beresford assemble a mixed cast of historical and fictional characters to tell their story. At its center is Mark Ashton, the real-life gay activist played in the film by Ben Schnetzer (almost unrecognizable from his role, as the Jewish youth hidden in the basement in The Book Thief). Leader of an informal group of like-minded, politically savvy folk who meet at a Soho book shop, Mark forms the group Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM), and takes to the streets with his friends to collect money, food and clothes for the striking miners and their families.

There's dissension in the ranks from both sides the first time the activists drive their "Out Loud" bus over the Severn Bridge to the tiny South Wales hamlet where they deliver their donations. But the film is fueled by smaller stories within the bigger picture of individuals battling their own prejudices and learning to work together.

Imelda Staunton, Dominic West, Paddy Considine, Bill Nighy, and Andrew Scott (best known to US TV fans as "Jim Moriarty" in Sherlock) offer their usual sterling support.

Pride glosses over some facts; it never acknowledges the real-life Mark Ashton's commitment to the Communist Party, which inspired his progressive politics. Yet it succeeds as an entertaining, often deeply affecting, and exuberantly told blueprint for tolerance and solidarity—against all odds. (Read more)

Saturday, October 11, 2014


Feel like you'd like to dip your toe in a tropical ocean this weekend?

Swim with a sea turtle?

Dive to the briny deep in a steampunk submarine?

Maybe glimpse a mermaid or two?

Well, you're in luck—and you don't even have to leave Santa Cruz to do it! Just surf or snorkel your way over to Beth Gripenstraw's Open Studio.

For one weekend only, Beth has converted her living space just off Mission Street into an underwater extravaganza!

A pair of dolphins leaping over a coral reef greet you as you climb the front steps.

The entryway is full of tide pools and kelp beds, and as you enter the main room, a giant sea turtle and his entourage of jellyfish swim lazily by.

Glide into the showroom where Beth displays her colorful, sealife-decorated ceramic platters, bowls, urns, and earrings, along with her sea urchin pots.

Just keep an eye out for these no-nonsense guardian mermaids; they're watching your every move!

But I have to say, my favorite is the dining room, transformed this year into the interior of Captain Nemo's Nautilus submarine, from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

I love the gears, gauges, and tubes along the wall, to regulated the engine (they even belch out steam!), the bolted metal door and window frames, and, of course, the octopus—or is it a giant squid?—watching it all from outside the cabin window.

Of course, the captain's table is set with Beth's festive dinnerware, which this year includes square, starfish-decorated trenchers and vibrant fish-shaped plates.

As a matter of fact, Beth's exuberant ceramic pieces are grouped all around the house, along with her quirky and imaginative watercolor paintings. So don't get so bedazzled by the environment that you miss any of them!

Now hear this: Beth will NOT be open Encore weekend, so tomorrow (Sunday) is your last day to enter her world. So chart a course for #232 in your Open Studios Guide, and enjoy!

Friday, October 10, 2014


Pier Pair, Doug Ross.
Yes, I know, it's been more about words than pictures lately here at the ol' blog. But the 2014 edition of the venerable Open Studios Art Tour is in full swing

The main thing that's new about this year's event is the official Open Studios Art Tour Guide. This year, it's no longer in calendar format, and while that may be sad news for day planners, it's good news for artists and their fans.

With only four images per page, the featured work of every participating OS artist is bigger, brighter, and much easier to see.

Everything else about the Guide is the same as always, including the ridiculously reasonable $20 price tag, maps, and all the info you could ever possibly need to know about the artists.
The Queen, Peggy Snider.

I hope everyone got a chance to get out and visit some fine local artists in their natural habitat last weekend—despite the infernal heat (it melted the tape right off Art Boy's OS posters around the neighborhood!), and the Giants and 49ers games on TV.

We are grateful to all those intrepid souls who made it to our door last weekend, including those of you who bought original art, prints and cards. Thank you! We will also be open for Encore Weekend, October 18 and 19 (Aschbacher, #124 in your handy OS Guide), and let's hope for more salubrious weather by then!

In the meantime, here are some artists I'm looking forward to visiting this weekend!

Doug Ross: Clean, beautifully composed silkscreen prints in elegant colors. Marine life is his specialty, so if you love seals, sea lions, and otters as much as I do, don't miss him! (#157)

Peggy Snider: Her hand-built ceramic sculptures, large and small, are soulful, evocative, mystical, and rich with inner life. (#287)

Ronald Cook: Exquisitely hand-carved, one-of-a-kind musical instruments and pieces of furniture inspired by Early American and Early European designs.

Beth Allison Gripenstraw: Beth doesn't just open her studio; she creates entire immersive environments featuring her playfully painted ceramic tableware, jewelry, watercolor paintings, and life-sized papier-mache animals. From an African safari to Paris in the 1920s, you never know where she's going to take you next. (#232)

(Although judging from this year's postcard, above, I suggest you bring your flippers!)

Anyway, have fun out there this weekend! And check back here tomorrow for an update...

Thursday, October 9, 2014


Pleased to see that Alias Hook gets top marks today from the School Library Journal, as the lead book in the SLJ's "Adult Books 4 Teens" blog. Nice review in excellent company!

To save the precious eyesight of my readers, the text of the lead-in begins:

"With the holiday season approaching, we present a handful of picks that give a new spin to the definition of family and offer plenty of food for thought."

Read the full review here!

Monday, September 15, 2014


Who knew?

The great American painter and illustrator Howard Pyle must have had a crystal ball. How else could he have envisioned my characters, James Hook and Stella Parrish, for a painting done more than 100 years ago?

So there I was trolling around the interwebs earlier today when I stumbled across this lovely thing. This painting is called "Who Are We That Heaven Should Make of the Old Sea a Fowling Net?" which is a pretty fabulous title right there.

This piece illustrated a short story by James Branch Cabell called "The Second Chance," in Harper's Magazine in 1909. I haven't been able to find out what the story was about, or even if the character was a pirate (Pyle was a famous illustrator of pirate lore).

But judging from the man's outfit in this image, I'm thinking something in the piratical line.  James would love this jacket and lace (although he prefers practical boots over such fussy shoes, especially aboard ship). And the title reference to a "fowling net" suggests someone who has to keep moving before his pursuers close in.

Of course, the lady's gown—also 18th Century—is all wrong for Stella, who comes from 1950. But her untidy auburn hair is just right. And the fact that she's out there on a rocky promontory with the notorious Captain Hook says a lot about her spirit!

Btw, I've been having a great time updating my Pinterest board on the world of Alias  Hook, so check it out!

Friday, September 12, 2014


It's steady as she goes on day five of the Here There Be Pirates Blog Hop and Book Giveaway.

Today, meet  J. M Aucoin, commander of our crew of pen-wielding brigands and author of the Jake Hawking cycle of stories. J.M. is giving away his newest release, the story collection Jake Hawking and the Bounty Hunters.

You can read a Q&A with J. M. over at author Helen Hollick's action-packed blog, Of History and Kings. Find out what he has to say about historical vs. fictional pirates, his creation Jake Hawking, a "thinking man's pirate," and his lifelong obsession with The Three Musketeers!

Once again, we have seven swashbuckling authors giving away seven pirate novels to seven lucky winners during the course of the event, September 8 through September 19 (International Talk Like A Pirate Day).

Scroll down to take a peek at the other piratical adventures being offered on our book giveaway. (As for me, I'll be giving away a copy of The Witch From the Sea!) Follow the links to read all about each book and the infamous rogues and roguettes who authored them!

Click here to enter the Giveaway!

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, September 11, 2014


Two more swashbuckling authors join our merry crew of brigands today as the Here There Be Pirates Blog Hop sails on.

Spread your canvas for Arcadia Prime, the site of author Dan Eldredge, who's hosting a Q&A with author Nick Smith. Nick talks about his rousing historical Buccaneers series, which began with Rogues' Nest.

The second installment, Gentleman of Fortune, is the book Nick is offering in our piratical book giveaway.

Next, head over to the site of nautical author SK Keogh, who's hosting a Q&A with Helen Hollick, author of the Jesamiah Acorne series of seafaring adventures.

Helen talks about the delicate art of combining history, swashbuckling action, and fantasy in her four-part series (with more to come!). The first installment, Sea Witch, is the book Helen will be giving away.

Don't forget, our ongoing Here There Be Pirates event features seven authors of piratical fiction offering seven free books to seven lucky winners.

Follow the link below to enter for a chance to win. You can also earn multiple entries by seeking out the authors' Facebook pages and/or Twitter accounts and "liking" them.

Sign in now, and free loot could be yours! Har!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


The swashbuckling continues on our Here There Be Pirates Blog Hop and Book Giveaway!

Today I'm delighted to be a guest over at Rogue's Nest, the fine Historical Pirate Fiction site captained by author Nick Smith. Now it's my turn to be grilled by the King's men—oops, I mean to participate in the Blog Hop Q&A on writing piratical fiction, history, romance and adventure!

J.M. Aucoin, the admiral of our buccaneer fleet here on the Blog Hop, asked each of us participating authors to describe our ideal pirate flag, then he made a graphic of each one to post with our Q&As. This is the one he designed for me. Pretty cool, huh?

Asked to describe my pirate flag, I wrote:

Pirates like to feature the tools of their trade on their flags (swords, pistols), but I suppose an image of a keyboard wouldn't look very dynamic! (Besides being totally the wrong era.) How about a silhouette of a quill pen with a big, poofy feather. Black flag with a white quill pen. Dripping blood?

I think it came out great!

And speaking of J.M. Aucoin, sail on over to his author blog to read a Q&A with another swashbuckling author on the Blog Hop, SK Keogh. The book she's offering in the giveaway is The Alliance, second installment of her trilogy featuring Jack Mallory, who joins the Sweet Trade in order to settle an old score. 

To recap, our ongoing Here There Be Pirates event features seven authors of piratical fiction offering seven free books to seven lucky winners.

Follow the link below to enter for a chance to win. You can also earn multiple entries by seeking out the authors' Facebook pages and/or Twitter accounts and "liking" them. Sign in now and claim your share of the plunder!

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


Ahoy, me hearties!

It's my pleasure today to host adventure/romance novelist Christine Steendam as part of the ongoing Here There Be Pirates Blog Hop and Book Giveaway.

For those of you who came in late, we have seven swashbuckling authors giving away seven pirate novels to seven lucky winners during the course of the event September 8 through September 19 (International Talk Like A Pirate Day).

Click here to enter the Giveaway!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And without further ado, enjoy an interview with Christine Steendam on the art of writing pirate fiction!

What made you want to write about pirates in the first place? What is it about them that intrigued you as a writer?

Pirates just scream adventure. There is something incredibly romantic yet dangerous about a man that lives by no rules but his own. As a writer there is a lot of potential there for stories and conflict.

Tell us a little about your book, Heart Like an Ocean, that you’re giving away for this event.
Heart Like an Ocean is an adventure romance novel. Yes, romance… It follows the story of Senona Montez, a young, naïve, upper-class Spanish woman looking for an escape from the prison that is societies’ expectations. Her paths cross with the handsome British privateer, Brant Foxton, and things get very interesting from there.

In reality, pirates were awful people that most of us wouldn’t want to run across if we were sailing a ship, but in our culture they’ve been romanticized so often that it’s almost expected by some folk. Do you have trouble balancing reality with the romanticized aura of the pirate, or do you not worry too much about that when crafting your tales?

I admit, I romanticize pirates. I mean, I do write romance after all, so if my pirates had rotting teeth and were murdering people left, right and center that wouldn’t be very fitting of a romance, now would it? So, I really don’t worry about balancing reality too much… though I do like to get my facts right.

How often do you turn to real-life pirates for inspiration in creating your characters or plot?

I haven’t gotten a lot of inspiration from real-life pirates, but I definitely look towards them for fact-checking. If I want to know if I can get away with female crew members or pirates I turn to the people that lived and were documented as pirates or privateers.

What makes your series (or book) different from other piratical adventures out there? What’s your main goal with your pirate stories?

My stories are not primarily pirate stories. They are romance adventures set within a pirate setting. There is so much more there to explore in the story—both society, personal growth, and the age old question of right from wrong.

Bonus Question: If you had to design a pirate flag for yourself, what would it look like?

Because my pirate ship is called the BlackFox, I’d probably have a fox skull with a cutlass clutched in its teeth.

Author Bio:

Christine Steendam is the Award-Winning author of the Foremost Chronicles and the Ocean Series.

She is a self-proclaimed genre hopper in both her writing and reading, an avid horseback rider, and a cup of coffee is never far from her hand.

Christine makes her home in Manitoba, Canada on a sprawling 15 acre ranch with her husband, sons, and assortment of animals.

Visit Christine's website!
Christine on Facebook
Christine on Twitter

Monday, September 8, 2014


The first author Q&A in the Here There Be Pirates Blog Hop is up and running!

Trim your sails for the blogsite Caffeine and Contemplation, presided over by adventure/romance author Christine Steendam.

Christine is hosting Dan Eldredge, author of the offworld piratical adventure, The Pirates of Alnari.

Surf on over and see what he has to say about writing pirate fiction in a setting other than Planet Earth.

Tomorrow, it will be my pleasure to host a Q&A with Christine, right here on this blog!

So stay tuned...