Saturday, October 3, 2015


Art Boy welcomes you to his 25th Open Studio!
Hey, kids, what time is it?

Ten points for Gryffindor if you said Open Studios time!

Artists all over Santa Cruz County are standing ready, as we speak, to throw open their doors to you, The Public, for the next three weekends. And it all begins today.

For those of you who came in late, here's the deal: participating artists countywide are divided geographically. North County artists (basically from the Yacht Harbor to Davenport) open their studios this weekend. South County artists (between the Yacht Harbor and Watsonville) will be open next weekend, October 10-11.

The following weekend, October 17-18, is Encore Weekend, meaning artists from both sides of the county can be open for one last hurrah. If they want to. It's not mandatory to do a second weekend, so if you're putting off visiting your favorite artist until Encore, check the catalogue first to make sure he/she will be open.

(A word top the wise: North County ceramicist, painter, and jewelry-maker Beth Allison Gripenstraw, a favorite here on the blog, will only be open this weekend. Beth doesn't just show art, she creates entire environments—including, in recent years, Alice's Mad Tea Party, an African safari, and Paris in the 1920s. This year' she's promising a voyage down the Amazon—without the bugs. Or, if there are bugs, they'll probably be made of papier mache! Or perched on a vase, like these froggies!)

Speaking of the catalogue, it's now a slick, glossy magazine format, with much larger images of each artist's work. And this week only, it's free, free, free inside the Good Times! Otherwise, you can pick one up at any of the usual outlets around town for the ridiculously cheap price of $5! (I suggest you get one at the Art League and stop in to see the show featuring one piece of artwork from each of this year's participating OS artists.)

And to get in the mood: look who's the lead story in the Arts & Entertainment section of GT this week! Yes, it's Art Boy (aka: James Aschbacher, above), juggling paint cans and ideas with equal dexterity, in this great photo by Chip Scheuer. Click here to read the profile by the one and only Christina Waters.

Then grab a catalogue and an art buddy, and chart your personal art adventure!

Thursday, October 1, 2015


Fischer vs. Spassky in Cold War chess thriller 'Pawn Sacrifice'

The Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union was waged on many fronts. One of the most intense and memorable confrontations took place not on a battlefield, or in a congressional hearing room, but in an indoor sports arena in Reykjavik, Iceland.

At this venue in 1972, the temperamental American chess phenom, Bobby Fischer, duked it out with defending Russian champion Boris Spassky for the World Chess Championship, an event publicized at the time (and still thought of) as the Match of the Century.

There's a lot of drama here—Fischer's eccentricity, political agendas, the "big game" motif—most of which is used to good effect in the fiction film Pawn Sacrifice. While the plot revolves around the famous 1972 match, through canny use of select flashbacks (along with a harrowing glimpse into the future via newsreel footage at the very end), the film provides a long view into the unorthodox life and times of Fischer, forever teetering on the crumbling border between genius and madness.

Scripted by Steven Knight, the film is thoughtfully directed by Edward Zwick, veteran of TV's Thirtysomething and many other screen credits. In the starring role, Tobey Maguire has to ratchet down his innate likability to play Fischer in all his abrasive, paranoid complexity. Nobody (including the filmmakers) understands Fischer any better at film's end, but Zwick and company successfully reconstruct the context within which he rose to fame. (Read more)

Saturday, September 26, 2015


What does Alias Hook have in common with the books of Sarah J. Maas, Marissa Meyer and Neil Gaiman? They're all featured this week in an article in the glossy showbiz mag, Entertainment Weekly!

Yes, Captain Hook's voyage of conquest through pop culture continues. The occasion for the EW story is the return of the insanely popular TV series, Once Upon A Time, this Sunday night, for its fifth season.

To celebrate this event, EW writer Megan Lewis selected eight books, contemporary novels in the retold classic fairy tale genre, that should appeal to fans of various characters on the show. And since Guess Who is the most popular character on the show, Alias Hook ranks numero uno on the list!

I could not be more thrilled to share these column inches with so many other talented scribes. Not to mention being linked up with such a popular show.

Okay, I've had my issues with OUAT over the years. But I have to give the show credit for helping to redeem Hook from the ranks of pure villainy. According to readers on my Goodreads pages, lots of people picked up Alias Hook because they were envisioning Colin O'Donoghue in the role!

Anyway, my Amazon numbers spiked overnight!

Read the whole article here.

Friday, September 25, 2015


Captain Hook dominated the runway last night on Project Runway. But, then, you know what a fashionista he is!

The designers were taken to see the Broadway musical Finding Neverland (based on the Johnny Depp film), about J. M. Barrie's friendship with a widow and her five young boys, which inspired him to write Peter Pan.

The designers' challenge was to create any kind of outfit inspired by any aspect of the show—they were encouraged to let their imaginations run wild! Predictably, most of them riffed on fairies, clouds, dreams; two outfits were done in shades of Peter Pan green.

But not winner Candice Cuoco. She was inspired by Captain Hook—and she went way beyond scarlet coats and pirate boots. Her favorite part of the play was when Hook tells Barrie to "own the darkness inside him." And so she came up with this very cool and edgy look that's all about embracing contradictions: hard and soft, leather and brocade, darkness and light. The judges loved it!

Owning your darkness and growing from it—my hero in Alias Hook could definitely relate. It's the Tao of Hook!

Thursday, September 24, 2015


Last year, Australian author Kate Forsyth's splendid adult novel, Bitter Greens, retold the tale of Rapunzel from three fascinating female viewpoints—Rapunzel herself, the beautiful sorceress who imprisons her in the tower, and Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force, a real-life writer at the court of Louis XIV who set down one of the earliest versions of the Rapunzel tale.

This year brings us The Wild Girl, which is actually Forsyth's first adult novel (written before Bitter Greens), but the second to be published in the US. In the new book, Forsyth builds her narrative around the very act of retelling, collecting, and preserving the old tales.

Its heroine, Dortchen Wild, is another real-life figure, a girl who grew up next door to the Grimm family in the small German kingdom of Hesse-Cassel during the tumultuous early years of the 19th Century.
Dortchen Wild, 1815

It's Dortchen who's credited with telling Wilhelm Grimm, and his brother, Jakob, many of the enduring folktales collected in their now-famous fairy tale book, Children's and Household Tales (first published in 1812).

Forsyth also builds her narrative around the growing romance of spirited, stout-hearted Dortchen, fifth of six daughters of a severe, upper middle-class apothecary and his frail wife, and Wilhelm, second of five sons of an impoverished widow.

As we all know, the ancient tales so painstakingly recorded by the Grimms are nothing like the Disney versions. Forsyth is interested in the way these symbolic, magic-infused tales reflect the real-life human dilemmas of the people who pass them along over the generations.

She skillfully weaves many of the most extreme cautionary tales of violence, mutilation, and treachery into the equally harrowing real-life events of war (as Hesse-Cassel is occupied by the French and then the Russians), oppression, poverty, drunkenness, abuse, and thwarted love.

In particular, the relationship Forsyth imagines for Dortchen and her cruel father (determined to tame his "wild girl" into obedience) looms over the novel like a black thundercloud, providing some of its most grueling scenes.
Later edition of the Grimms' book, 1865

 Yet the humor and lyricism of the story snippets themselves, along with Forsyth's strong character-building (especially Dortchen and her lively sisters), help to offset the story's darker moments.

The pacing falters a bit in the last suite of chapters. The author seems to be delaying events in the speculative part of her story to coincide with historical dates, and these scenes feel somewhat unfocused and meandering after the smooth tension-building of the rest of the book.

Still, The Wild Girl is an impressive debut. It's not as gorgeous nor as intricately put together as Bitter Greens, but does provide an insightful look at the enduring stories we tell, and how, and why we tell them.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015


Did'ja miss me?

No, I did not fall off the edge of the world in a leaky pirate vessel, nor vanish in an untimely explosion of fairy dust.

I've been right here, hunkered down over the keyboard, hammering out my latest revision of Beast: A Love Story. And as much as I love this book, and as mind-expandingly fabulous my editor Kaylan Adair's suggestions have been for tweaking it into even better shape, let's hope this really in the last revision!

I don't want to dither around too much longer; I want to launch Beast in all his glory out into the world. But I also want him to be as buff as possible—and really, really ready for his close-up. And so I cobble away, word by word, sentence by sentence, scene by scene...well, you get the idea.

Fortunately, I love to edit. By this time in the process, you have a complete draft to work on, so you know where the plot is going, and more or less how it's getting there. (Let's hope so, anyway. Expect delays if you're still monkeying around with story structure at this late date.)
Be ready to kill, or at least cut your darlings

So now it's time for the more detailed wordsmithing—reorganizing sentences, phrase by phrase, and finding exactly le mot juste (as they say in France—which happens to be where Beast takes place, and where the best-known Beauty and the Beast tales originated). Picking the right word—this is the fun part for me!

But editing also involves pruning, and you have to buck up and be ready to kill your darlings. (Wait, that sentence was perfect! Except, that plot point has now been discarded. Oh, the humanity!) In the best-case scenario, you have the luxury of time (as I've had, this month) to approach this process with a scalpel, not a broadsword. 

Instead of the wholesale slaughter of entire paragraphs (although I've done plenty of that too), you have to select the most important ideas in that great slog of verbiage and find somewhere else to slot them in. In the sneakiest manner possible, of course, so it will look seamless, as if each sentence had never been anywhere else.

Not to be too anal about it, but every word counts. And as I race (okay, crawl) toward the finish line, I want to get as much juice as I can from every single one!

(Above: Illuminated manuscript, pre-1492, found here)

Monday, August 17, 2015


Onwumere and Smolin: lie coach
If you're one of those slightly benighted folks who think Santa Cruz Shakespeare would be so much fun, except for, you know, all that Shakespeare, then the current SCS production of The Liar is for you.

On the other hand, if you can't get enough of Shakespearean-style wit and wordplay, then The Liar is for you. In fact, if you're breathing, The Liar is for you.

Yes, it's a play you've never heard of, based on a French farce from (eek) 1643. Yes, the entire play is in verse. But this outrageously clever 2010 update by American playwright David Ives uses modern idioms and vernacular throughout (references to Twitter, etc.), to make sure that everyone gets all the jokes.

The farcical plot revolves around Dorante (Brian Smolin), a young man from the provinces on his first day in Paris who's quick to embroider the truth for the sake of expedience. He has no malicious intent; rather, say, he can't be bothered with the boring (or inconvenient) truth when a good lie, ingeniously crafted on the spot, is so much more satisfying.

Or, as Dorante puts it, in one of Ives' slyest lines, "the unimagined life is not worth living!"

Jolene and Cavett, with Smolin: effortlessly fun
 In short order, Dorante hires a manservant, Cliton (Toby Onwumere), unable to speak anything but the truth, falls instantly in love with one of two ladies (but mixes up their names), weasels out of a marriage plot arranged by his father, and fights a hilarious duel of words (which he narrates like an ESPN play-by-play), swords undrawn.

Did I mention the twin serving wenches (one lusty, one pious)? As soon as Dorante boasts to Cliton about his "Memory—keystone of the master liar!" you know he's heading for trouble.

A show that depends so completely on verbal dexterity needs an adroit cast, and SCS has put together an exceptional one. Toby Onwumere gets things off to a rollicking start before the show begins, as Cliton, wandering through the audience with a "Man for Hire" sign, offering to juggle fruit, sing songs or recite for pay. Onwumere is so powerful as the tragic but fierce Macduff in this season's production of Macbeth, it's great to see him shift gears in such a boisterously comic role.

Brian Smolin's Dorante is an utterly charming scapegrace, delighting himself (and us) with his extravagant fabrications, soaring to ever new heights on the addictive helium of his own tall tales. Smolin delivers his lines with clarity, precision, and impish glee, to match the flamboyant grace with which he prowls the stage; he's effortlessly fun in a demanding role.

Smolin and Parret: must be the lusty twin
The ladies, sassy Clarice (Mary Cavett) and quiet, but smoldering Lucrece (Sierra Jolene), keep the action hopping along, putting their suitors through their paces. Darek Riley scores as Alcippe, Clarice's other suitor (and Dorante's dueling/sparring partner in that great, er, wordfight scene). Allen Darby makes a droll impression as his friend, Philiste, and Kurt Meeker is the imposing voice of authority as Dorante's father.

Melina Parret is terrific fun as both twin servants, Isabelle and Sabine. SCS audiences may (or may not) recognize her from her other role this season as Lady Macbeth.

David Mickeklsen's vivid costumes vaguely recall the Musketeer era of the original French play (with a few cartoony/Commedia del'Arte flourishes), and Art Manke's smart direction is frisky, but never so frantic that we can't appreciate the jokes or the splendid performances.

This is probably the funniest play I've seen in the Glen since Danny Scheie's original production of A Comedy of Errors, back in the Stone Age. It's what live theatre is all about, and it only plays four more times through August 29, so get your tickets now.

Why are you still sitting there?

Saturday, August 8, 2015


Dressed to thrill: Parret & Pickering
William Shakespeare might as well have written Macbeth for the Festival Glen at UCSC. Who can resist witches, ghosts, blood and mayhem under the towering redwoods at night, under a canopy of stars?

The new Santa Cruz Shakespeare production of the play could not be any more atmospheric. Director Kirsten Brandt's staging of the durable drama of ambition, murder, and revenge in ancient Scotland comes roaring out of the trees and down the aisles, across Nina Ball's splendid stage and the ramparts above.

Rodolfo Ortega's sweeping, Game Of Thrones-like music soars over all, while the sound and lighting designs of Ortega and Kurt Landisman keeps thunder and lightning rumbling ominously through the trees between scenes. (Although, perhaps not as ominously as the real-life lightning storm that blew over the Glen Thursday night, canceling the last preview performance.)

B. Modern's costumes are a Shakespeare fangirl's dream of kilts, tartans, leather leggings, and velvet medieval gowns worked in gold.
Wohlrabe as Banquo's ghost

The show begins with a bang: the three shrieking witches are hauled down the hill and onto the stage by soldiers, who denounce them with Biblical quotes ("Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live!"), and lock them into horned, cage-like headdresses.

This sets up the conflict between mysterious female energy and male military power when the witches are encountered by the troops of old King Duncan (Kurt Meeker), returning from a victory at the front.

Speaking in riddles, the witches prophesy that Macbeth (Steve Pickering), Thane of Glamis, will be king, and that his comrade-in-arms and fellow thane and general, Banquo, will found a dynasty of kings. Banquo is usually a male role, but in this gender-bending season, the general is a woman.

Greta Wohlrabe looks great in the part, strutting around like Brienne of Tarth, but since Banquo functions as the conscience of the play, the moral force that Macbeth abandons for glory, it's too bad she and Macbeth don't establish a deeper camaraderie from the outset.

Melinda Parret is a bold and effective Lady Macbeth. She starts plotting the minute she hears about the prophecy, calling on the gods and spirits to harden her natural female tendency toward mercy to do away with the old king while he sleeps under her roof, so Macbeth can ascend to the throne. Her murderous plan shocks her husband, at first, but ultimately seals both their dooms.

There are two traits anyone playing Macbeth needs—fire and tragedy. But Pickering seems a little complacent in the role. He never quite musters the intensity of a good man fatally tempted to hazard all for the sake of ambition. As a result, his waffling over his part in the bloody deed doesn't have the weight of a moral crisis, of a man grappling with the destruction of his own soul. He just seems wishy-washy.

However, Toby Onwumere (above) has fire to burn as Macduff, Thane of Fife, onetime ally and ultimate adversary to Macbeth. The production jolts to life whenever he's onstage. Brian Smolin (such a hit in this season's hilarious farce, The Liar), is very funny as the cranky Porter of the castle in the play's one comic scene.

And the witches (Patty Gallagher, Suzanne Sturn, and Mary Cavett, right) are pretty fabulous, draped in rags and flotsam and moondust, their voices amped up with an eerie reverb effect that echoes through the trees.

The entity formerly known as Shakespeare Santa Cruz is playing the last four productions it will ever give in the Sinsheimer-Stanley Festival Glen this month. (The word is, the company will relocate to Delaveaga Park for the 2016 season.)

Since this production makes such excellent use of the Glen in all its wild, spooky glory, it serves as a fitting way for fans to bid a fond adieu to this marvelous performance space.

Sunday, August 2, 2015


"You can't spit on board a ship and not hit eight fellows called 'Jack.'"

So says the pirate hero of my first swashbuckling novel The Witch From The Sea. My Jack chooses the name for anonymity in his dubious trade, as he explains to my heroine, runaway and accidental pirate-in-training Tory Lightfoot.

In swashbuckling fiction, on land as well as sea, characters named Jack seem to have all the fun. (Unless they're named James, like my other pirate hero, James Hook.) I'm partial to my Jack, of course, but since it's summer reading season, here are some of my other favorite literary rakes and rogues named Jack, with one more Jamie thrown in. Enjoy!

MASTER AND COMMANDER  The first volume in Patrick O'Brian's beloved 20-volume adventure series introduces Captain Jack Aubrey of the Royal Navy, and his best friend and shipmate, Dr. Stephen Maturin, Irish-Catalan surgeon, naturalist, and spy.

Called "Lucky Jack" for his genius in out-maneuvering enemy ships and earning prize money (yet all at sea in attempting to manage his financial and social affairs on dry land), big, bluff, hearty Jack and small, dark, wry, and learned Stephen sail all the world's oceans throughout the Napoleonic Wars, facing every sort of peril, in a friendship that deepens and matures over time.

Launched with this book in 1970, the series has become the gold standard of modern seafaring fiction.

JACK ABSOLUTE  In the kind of breakneck adventure for which the term "rollicking" was coined, C. C. Humphreys embroils his protagonist Captain Jack Absolute—onetime officer, full-time rake, and part-time spy—in  a duel, a chase, witty repartee, sex backstage (and onstage) at Theatre Royal Drury Lane, and guest appearances by General Burgoyne AND Richard Brinsley Sheridan. And that's just the first three chapters.

In 1777, Jack and his Mohawk Indian blood brother, Ate, are ordered back to America to serve Britain in the fight against American independence. They soon find themselves battling ferocious colonial militiamen, British incompetence, and their own doubts about which master they serve.
Write what you know: Humpheys as Absolute

 The audacity with which Humphreys purloins a character out of Sheridan's classic stage comedy, The Rivals, for his own devices, is matched only by the skill with which he pulls it off—with plenty of dash, wry cynicism, bloody action, and a surprisingly tender and gripping love story that sneaks in the back door and turns the entire enterprise on its ear.

Actor, swordsman, and fight coordinator Humphreys knows whereof he writes. He first became acquainted with Jack Absolute when he played him in a stage production of The Rivals in 1987; since then, he has shepherded the character through three volumes of adventures, including The Blooding of Jack Absolute, and Absolute Honor.

PLAYING THE JACK  Mary Brown's vivid and ripping romantic adventure has justifiably become a cult favorite among thinking women everywhere. In rural England of the early Napoleonic era, teenage runaway Zoe, disguised as a boy, is discovered in a ditch by a ragged troupe of traveling performers.

Taken in and educated in stagecraft, cunning, and the school of life, eager young Zoe is spellbound by the troupe's leader—wily, enigmatic, flamboyant Jack, a complex, and conflicted man at war with himself who harbors as many secrets as Zoe herself.

From the rollicking start of their relationship on the road, Zoe evolves through a few more incarnations (including boudoir seductress), while the oh-so-fallible, yet noble-hearted Jack drops a few masks of his own, on their way to a climax full of skullduggery and redemption.

Lively dialogue, deeply faceted characters who never stop growing, and a riveting pas de deux between well-matched romantic partners make this an unforgettable (if shamefully unknown) classic.

OUTLANDER With a hit TV adaptation of her first novel on STARZ, Diana Gabaldon needs no introduction from me.

In this first (and arguably best) book in Gabaldon's time-traveling romantic adventure series, Englishwoman Claire Randall, a former nurse in bleak, postwar England, is vacationing in Scotland with her husband, recently returned from the front. At a group of eerie standing stones, she tumbles 200 years back in time to meet the soulmate of her life.

As heroes go, Jamie Fraser is the real deal: moral, courageous, good-humored, compassionate, and sexy in the best way—he doesn't know it. At only 24 years old Jamie is also a virgin—in a nifty twist on the old romance novel cliché about the tremulous virgin bride who has to be mastered by a more experienced husband. But there's nothing tremulous about Jamie; "I'm a virgin, not a monk," he tells Claire.

Packed with tumultuous history, hair-raising action, wry banter, compelling drama, and incendiary love scenes, Outlander is an exhilarating feast of a book.

Saturday, July 25, 2015


Aging detective vs. memory in lyrical Mr. Holmes

In the canon of famous literary characters, few have been so gleefully adulterated over the years as Sherlock Holmes.

The brilliant, eccentric "consulting detective," first conceived of by Arthur Conan Doyle in the1880s, has proved irresistible to countless other writers trying their hands at Holmesian-style tales, among many other multimedia adventurers.

In the famous series of mystery films of the '40s, Holmes was enlisted in the fight against Hitler. Two popular current TV series (the marvelous Sherlock, and Elementary) update Holmes to the present day.

So, the new movie, Mr. Holmes, joins a longstanding tradition of adapting the character to suit the needs of a new author or agenda, presenting an elderly Holmes in retirement attempting to solve one last case.
Hattie Morahan with McKellen: one last case

Based on the Mitch Cullin novel, A Slight Trick of the Mind, it reunites star Ian McKellen and director Bill Condon, almost two decades after their successful collaboration on Gods And Monsters.

It is, in many ways, a lovely, lyrical film about aging, loss, and redemption, although it settles for an overall tone of wistfulness, instead of the deeper resonance it might have had.

The framing story begins in 1947, with McKellen's craggy, truly ancient-seeming Holmes returning to his stone farm cottage and bee hives on the Sussex Downs after a trip to postwar Japan. Retired from detecting for the past twenty-five years, he's gone to Japan in search of a rare herbal compound he hopes will improve his declining mental faculties.
He was a teenage Sherlock

After years of enduring Dr. Watson's fictions about him, Holmes is determined to write a story of his own.

Holmes' household is run by his Irish housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney), a war widow, whose young son, Roger (Milo Parker) is an avid reader and fan of Watson's stories.

But in addition to simply telling his story, Holmes is struggling against his diminishing powers to remember what happened in his last and only unsolved case—and why it was the reason he quit the profession.
Art imitates art imitating life: Mckellen and Rowe (onscreen)

The cross-currents underlying the plot are not always clear, nor is the central encounter of the film the emotional epiphany it needs to be.

(But there is a sly in-joke at the cinema with Holmes watching a black-and-white film about his exploits where the onscreen Holmes is played by actor Nicholas Rowe—who starred in Young Sherlock Holmes back in 1985.)

Mr. Holmes is a thoughtful, atmospheric addition to Holmesiana. Still, I hope the next time the movies want to do something really original with Sherlock Holmes, they discover the novels of Laurie King.
(Read more)