Saturday, September 29, 2012


Artists countywide will be throwing open their studio doors to the public next weekend for the 2012 edition of the Open Studios Art Tour.

What better time for local mystery writer, Vinnie Hansen, to launch her new detective novel, Art, Wine & Bullets, which concerns murder most heinous during the Open Studios event?

She'll be reading and signing copies of Art, Wine & Bullets at the Capitola Book Cafe, this Thursday, October 4, at 7:30 p.m.

This is Hansen's sixth mystery set in Santa Cruz, featuring baker-turned-amateur sleuth Carol Sabala. Hansen's series heroine, first glimpsed baking tarts in the kitchen of a swanky restaurant in the first book, Murder, Honey,  has solved crimes from Watsonville High (where Hansen taught English for 27 years), to Mexico. In the new book, she's trying to solidify her reputation as a private eye.

There's always a lot of local color in Hansen's books, which make them fun reading for Cruzans. And she's sure to bring an insider's view to the OS milieu, since she's married to a longtime OS participant, abstract artist Daniel S. Friedman.

So, is Art, Wine & Bullets a roman a clef? We're not telling! Better read the book and find out!

(Art, Wine & Bullets is available as we speak at Capitola Book Cafe, Bookshop Santa Cruz, and Inklings & Things (Capitola Mall). If you miss the book launch this week,  Vinnie will be signing books at Inklings & Things 2-4 p.m., Saturday, October 13.)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Don't turn around, but the 2012 Open Studios Art Tour is just around the corner. Santa Cruz's premiere art event takes place during the first three weekends in October, when more than 300 artists countywide will open their studio doors to the public for the annual self-guided art tour.

You know the drill: South County artists (from Watsonville to the lower Yacht Harbor) will be open October 6 and 7. North County artists (upper Yacht Harbor to Davenport) will be open October 13 and 14. Anything goes on the third, Encore weekend, October 20 and 21, where participating artists countywide can choose to open for one last hurrah. Studios will be open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Remember, this is not a race (or an endurance test); you don't win a prize for visiting the most studios—but you might make yourself so crazy you no longer even know what you're looking at. The idea is to breathe, Grasshopper, focus on what you really want to see, and open yourself up for the task at hand—the optimum stress-free pleasure of mingling with art and artists in their native habitat.

Start with the OS Artist Guide, a 15-month calendar with a color photo of the work of every OS artist, along with their addresses, websites, emails, phone numbers, shoe sizes, mothers' maiden names—well, you get the idea—all for only $20. Detailed maps and supplemental indexes list artists alphabetically, and according to medium.The Guide also tells you which artists are open which weekends, and whether their premises are wheelchair-accessible.

Go here to buy a calendar online or find a location near you to purchase one in person. All proceeds go to the Cultural Council of Santa Cruz County to support OS and fund arts programs throughout the county.

New this year is the OS App, which puts all the info in the Guide on your phone. It's available now for just $4.99 via iTunes or Google Play; click here for details.

And don't forget to visit the Open Studios Preview Exhibit at the Art League (526 Broadway in Santa Cruz), to see a sample of each artist's work. Believe me, seeing the work in real life will save you hours of aimless driving around later. You can also pick up free color postcards of many of the artist's work, or purchase the OS Guide at the Art League.

The OS show opens this Saturday (September 29) and continues through October 21. Meet the artists at the opening reception this Sunday, September 30, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Exhibit hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

And that's all there is to it.  So do your homework, grab an art buddy or two, and maybe I'll see you on the road!

Friday, September 21, 2012


'Chicken With Plums' a luscious, imaginative love story

First there was Persepolis, a gorgeously rendered black-and-white animated film about growing up female in Iran based on the graphic novel memoir by Marjane Satrapi. 

Now, Satrapi and her filmmaking partner Vincent Paronnaud are back with a splendid sophomore effort, Chicken With Plums. Although based on another Satrapi graphic novel, the new film is a stylistic departure from Persepolis in many interesting ways: it's live-action, it tells a soulful, romantic fictional drama, and its shot in delirious color.

In Chicken With Plums, the filmmakers take a fanciful approach to a story supposedly inspired by Satrapi's uncle, a concert musician, turning it into a wistful, allegorical, fairy tale-like drama. 

Although shot in French with an international cast, the film story is set in Tehran in 1958, during the last eight days of its protagonist's life. The narrative pirouettes back and forth between past, present, and future, a device that allows the filmmakers to observe several decades of Iranian culture while gradually revealing the love story at its core. (Read more)

Thursday, September 20, 2012


Usually, you go to a museum to view capital-A Art. The Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History democratizes the whole process in its current exhibit, Santa Cruz Collects, wherein ordinary local folk like you and me are invited to show off their personal collections of stuff.

Got a thing for shoes? Check out the vintage footwear from all eras collected by Judy Steen, research librarian and aficionado of historical costume.  The variety of shoes in so small a space is amazing! These are downstairs in the Atrium, fetchingly displayed in this wonderful cabinet painted by Watsonville artist Carol Bowie.

Other collected objects include the humble—Lance Linares' bottle caps, Bruce Bratton's international toothpaste boxes and tubes, and Stacy Grant's (I kid you not) dryer lint. Some are formed around domestic objects, like Nita Gizdich's garden gnomes, or Dusty and Craig Miller's fantastic display of vintage toasters.

Others qualify as found art, like Daymel Shklar's aquarium tank full of sea glass, or the crushed metal forms  culled, again, by Grant. (She has seven different oddball, yet strangely compelling collections on display, including a wall full of multicolored beach sand in tiny vials, as varied as seeds or spices.)

And some collections are plain weird. (My favorite category!)  Assemblage artist Jack Howe shows a vast array of the found junk he uses in his work, ingeniously  displayed in three twin bed-sized boxsprings, their rusting coils a perfect network of cubbyholes. Local veterinarian Dr. David Shuman displays his collection of bleached animal skulls, gorgeously mounted in the corner of the Solari Gallery, under the skylight. Dr. Bruce Damer presents a tower of quaintly clunky vintage computers that seem to date from the Flintstone era.

Here's one of my favorite collections in the show. These are electric drills from all eras collected by woodworker Sandor Nagyszalanczy, a craftsman who has published many books on woodworking, tools and home projects.

Normally, I would never look twice at a drill, but look how strikingly these are displayed, like so many Buck Rogers ray guns!

Some are sleek, chrome Art Deco models, others more of the Rube Goldberg variety, but all are endlessly fascinating. (I'm sure Nagyszalanczy must have built this giant wooden mandala of a display board, too.)

Be sure to click on the image and see them in more detail!

I was also drawn to this grouping of Native American "baby baskets." The collector is Dean Silvers, a longtime Santa Cruz  elementary school teacher and self-taught historian. He is also an avid collector of California Indian baskets, Latin American crafts, and Native North American art.

I did a lot of research on Native American baby-carrying devices for my first novel, The Witch From the Sea. In the northeast, among the Iroquois (the heritage of my fictional heroine), they were carved out of wood and called "cradleboards." Most of my tribal research for The Witch ended up on the cutting room floor, but if you're interested, I've posted more info on cradleboards on my Witch website.

I assume these are all California Indian basket cradles, and possibly reproductions of vintage designs. (Maybe the tiniest ones are for dolls?) Look at the intricate workmanship on these pieces. There is nothing like seeing  such beautiful artifacts in person to make history come alive!

Santa Cruz Collects is up and running at the MAH through November 25.

Monday, September 17, 2012


Evidently I'm not the only one who thinks James M. Barrie's immortal pirate captain is ripe for revival.

 Last year's hit TV series, the fairy tale mash-up Once Upon A Time, is adding a new character to its roster of villains for its second season; none other than (wait for it)—Captain Hook.

Here's a teaser trailer, oozing sinister portent.

For most of us, the "original" Captain Hook is this cartoon version from Disney's 1953 Peter Pan.

First produced for the London stage in 1904, Barrie's play about a tribe of boys who refuse to grow up in a childhood dream world called the Neverland might have gone the way of the Dodo if not for the presence of this flamboyant, crowd-pleasing pirate chief, the lovable, hissable villain who's kept generations of audiences coming back for more.

This overdressed, supercilious, cowardly comic-opera villain that we know as Captain Hook is almost—er—single-handedly responsible for the ongoing popularity of Barrie's sentimental domestic comedy.

Disney's animated Hook wrings every possible laugh out of his swordplay, pratfalls and surreal flights of fancy, along with an exaggerated cartoon visage worthy of his every scheme— hawk's beak, chin jutting like the prow of a ship, quivering Salvador Dali moustachios, wiggling eyebrows with a life of their own.

Not to mention the juicy, overripe trilling of Hans Conried's vocal performance (he was also the voice of Snidely Whiplash on the old Rocky and Bullwinkle TV show).

Another famed onscreen Hook was stage actor and music hall veteran Cyril Ritchard (right) in the Broadway musical Peter Pan, which was filmed for TV in the mid-'1950s and rebroadcast sporadically after that. This is the famous version with Mary Martin as Peter, but, it was the delightful Ritchard, dripping dry wit and fussbudgety sarcasm, who made the show so much fun.

It's been a longstanding tradition for mature women to play Peter onstage. But ever since Barrie published his novelized version of the play, Peter and Wendy, in 1911,  allowing readers to imagine Peter as a real boy, it's believed that all little girls swoon for Peter. Current discussion boards on Goodreads reveal that young female readers still can't understand why Wendy doesn't choose to stay forever young with Peter in the Neverland.

But not me. Stay in the Neverland forever with a bunch of mangy boys? No thanks. Even as a child, I thought Peter was too much like the boys I went to school with—bratty and full of himself.

I liked Hook! He had the funniest lines, and by far the coolest clothes!

Book representations tend toward a more menacing Hook. Look at this F. D. Bedford illustration from a 1912 edition of Peter and Wendy.

This Hook as more of a Medusa-headed ogre than mere villainous human.

The image of Captain Hook as mincing fop was re-established by Dustin Hoffman in the 1991 Steven Spielberg movie, Hook. Hoffman brings plenty of comic brio to the role, but this is an aging, defanged Hook fading into the sunset.

By far the darkest and sexiest screen Hook is Jason Isaacs in the 2003 live-action Peter Pan. Isaacs (below) is all menace laced with a shot of wry; he suffers children and childish pirates with elaborate, if short-fused patience. ("Silence, puling spawn!" he roars when the kids start whining, a sentiment any babysitter or parent will understand.)

It was Isaacs' Hook, cracking jokes to himself, sotto voce, that nobody else gets, who set off the spark in my imagination about how awful it must be for a functioning adult to be trapped in a world invented and run by children.

 And the more I started thinking about it in those terms, the more real and complicated and tragic the character started to feel to me. I started to think of James Hook as a character worthy of redemption. I wanted to get him out of there!

They've got a handsome young Irsishman, Colin McDonoghe, coming in to play the character in Once Upon A Time, which suggests another reinterpretation of the Classic Hook. (Not surprising in a series in which Red Riding Hood is also, herself, a shapeshifting Wolf, and the hobgoblin, Rumplestiltskin—played by the delghtful Robert Carlyle—also gets his own Beauty and the Beast love story.)

The series' second season begins September 30, and Hook is scheduled to make his first appearance in Episode Four.

But as long as Captain Hook remains a designated villain, that's not the story I'm telling in Alias Hook.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


Julie James (L) and Diana Torres Koss (R)
Queens struggle for power in JTC's ambitious Mary Stuart

Two great divas from the local theater scene play two of the greatest divas in history in Mary Stuart, the inaugural offering of the Jewel Theatre Company's 2012-2013 season. This historical play dramatizes the conflict between Queen Elizabeth Tudor of England and her cousin, Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, a volatile pair of queens brought to life con brio at Center Stage by JTC veterans Diana Torres Koss and Julie James.

When director Susan Myer Silton went looking for a property with strong female roles, it's easy to see why she pounced on this one. Based on an 1800 German play by Friedrich Schiller and given a spiffy new translation by English playwright Peter Oswald in 2005, Mary Stuart distills the complex power struggle between the two queens into a subtle war of wills and words as both women navigate the often conflicting demands of honor, politics, religion, the obligations of queenship, and the vagaries of the human heart. (Read more)

Btw, exciting plans are afoot for JTC next spring when the intrepid home-grown company partners with Shakespeare Santa Cruz. The fruit of this intriguing collaboration will be an evening of two one-act plays by Harold Pinter. One For the Road, directed by SSC Artistic Director Marco Barricelli, will feature Paul Whitworth, Mike Ryan, and Julie James. The Lover, will be directed by James and feature Ryan in the cast.

Play dates are April 25 - May 12, 2013, so mark your calendars now!

Sunday, September 9, 2012


Davenport's own Heather McDougal is a woman of many talents. She's an educator,  sculptor, beekeeper, designer, creator of the excellent blog, Cabinet of Wonders (which counts Neil Gaiman among its many fans), book reviewer, and short story writer. And, any minute now, she'll also be a published novelist.

Songs For a Machine Age, Heather's first book-length adventure in a clockwork world of mystery and magic of her own devising, will be available in bookstores and on Amazon in November, 2012. (Is this not a cool cover, or what?)

Heather's small, but intrepid publisher is Hadley Rille Books, which specializes in titles of fantasy, sci-fi, and archaeology. But the days are long gone when an author could just write the book, send it off, then sit back and be fabulous. Writing the book is just the beginning these days, and that's why Heather is personally taking her book to the prestigious World Fantasy Convention in Toronto in November.

But she has an even craftier plan to really jump-start the book, besides merely being there. Many of the genre's biggest writers, editors, reviewers, fans, and buzz-generators will be in attendance, and Heather's dream is to get copies of her new book into the free book bags handed out to every single attendee.  The only hitch is, Hadley Rille lacks the budgetary resources to finance this master plan.

So Heather has launched a fundraising campaign on the website Indiegogo. If she can raise the $1000 necessary to buy 100 copies of her book and get them distributed in conventioneers' book bags, she will reach a full one-eighth of  the event's 800+ attendees. (And of course, the more books she can buy to distribute, the merrier!)

If she raises the funds by October 15, she'll be able to get the books ordered and shipped in time. Meanwhile, YOU get an ebook or signed paperback of Songs For a Machine Age for your generous donation. Here's Heather to tell you all about it!

Sunday, September 2, 2012


Speaking of books, here's something I've wanted to post for a long time. I have a new novel coming out!

I've just signed a contract with Snowbooks,  a small, award-winning independent publisher in the UK,  to publish my fantasy novel, Alias Hook.

Not your father's Peter Pan, my book views the children's paradise of the Neverland from the caustic perspective of Captain James Benjamin Hook, its prisoner, a grown man stranded in a world run by a capricious 11-year-old boy. (I don't know about you, but that would be my vision of Hell!) Once an embittered warrior with a grudge against the world, now Hook is trapped forever in a pointless war he can never win nor end against the boy tyrant, Pan, and his magical allies.

There's no Wendy or Tinker Bell in my book, but I do make pretty free use of the Neverland as created by James M. Barrie in Peter and Wendy, his 1911 novelization of his famous play. Except I go where Barrie feared to tread, deep into the society of merwives who live beneath the Mermaid Lagoon, the Sisterhood of fairies who guard the island, and the Indian tribes who have learned to make peace with the boys.

In my story, a grown woman dreams her way to the Neverland in defiance of all the boy's rules. She may be the key to Hook's redemption—maybe even his release—if they can unravel the curse that binds him there before Pan can capture her and drag Hook back into their neverending game.

Eight years in the making, Alias Hook is a story of love and war, male and female, and the delicate art of growing up. Tentative publication date is June, 2013, so watch this space for further details!

(Sketch of Hook at his glass © Lisa Jensen, 2012)