Wednesday, October 22, 2014


A journalist friend of mine, making the leap into fiction, once got some conflicting advice about "voice" in a novel. She asked me what the formula was. If only there was one! In my experience, finding a novel's narrative voice is a mysterious process of intuition, alchemy, trial and error. Every book is different, and each one demands its own storytelling voice.

My first book, The Witch From The Sea, had to be written in first-person subjective by my heroine, Tory; her perspective on the life-changing events happening to her in the novel were so much more wry and humorous than an indirect third-person narrative could ever be.

The shaping of Tory’s personality is what the book is about, so I really heard her telling her own story. It later evolves that she’s keeping a log of her adventures, but the first-person narrator doesn’t always have to be setting down her thoughts as part of the story. It’s okay for the author to write from inside the character’s thoughts as she reflects.

Runaways, my sequel to Witch couldn’t be told in the same way because too much of the plot depends on things Tory doesn’t know. So I had to switch to third-person omniscient, that is, switching around between the viewpoints of different characters as the plot demands. (Alternating scenes or chapters from the heroine’s viewpoint, the hero’s, the villain’s etc.) This way, the reader gets more info about the big picture than any one character has, which hopefully creates suspense or anticipation from the reader wanting to see what happens when certain events or characters or agendas on a collision course finally do collide. This is useful when characters are in opposition to each other, but may not know it; it's especially useful to plunge into the mind of the villain/antagonist to get the lowdown on his or her diabolical plans.
Vintage log books: a great way for a heroine to tell her story

One of my novels (not in the Witch series) came to me in first-person present tense. (“Sun stabs through the leaded glass in the window. I can see the way they smirk at me when they think I’m not looking.”) Don’t ask me why, but I was physically unable to write it any other way. I needed to be inside the protagonist’s head, reacting to every little stimuli the instant it happened to her. It made the whole story so much more immediate!

This is also the narrative voice I used for Alias Hook. That’s just the way the protagonist, Captain Hook, started "talking" to me in my head, looking around the Neverland and telling me what he saw and what he thought about it all.

 Readers may need to know more than your characters
This put a few constraints on the plot; I wasn’t able to wander off and follow my heroine around Neverland as much as I would have liked. But since so much of the action depends on James Hook's emotional evolution—letting go of the past, giving up the game, understanding the true nature of his fate, and earning the possibility of freedom—it turned out to be the best way to tell his story. His is also a journey out of isolation, which the reader shares by being right there inside Hook’s viewpoint the whole time.

That he can be such an unreliable narrator—meaning his interpretation of events is not always exactly correct—makes the story so much more interesting! And practically interactive—it's up to astute readers to get wise to James Hook, decipher his fears and prejudices, speculate about what might really be going on, and root for him to (finally) get wise to himself.

First-person present tense used to be thought of as sort of weird and experimental; one story market I submitted to wouldn’t even look at anything written in that format. Then for awhile, it seemed like every other novel was coming out in first-person present tense (including Philippa Gregory's Boleyn family bestsellers).

But these things go in and out of fashion, just like anything else, so best not to worry about the market, or what other writers are doing. If your protagonist wants to do all the yakking, let her. If you’d rather address your readers with a nudge and a wink, like Thackeray, and let them know more about what’s going on than the characters know, then do that. Trust your own instincts, Grasshopper. Just start writing and the story will tell you how it wants to be told.

Monday, October 20, 2014


Look who's making a comeback in pop culture!

That would be Hook, Captain Hook, to you.

Sure, the title of the upcoming live onstage TV broadcast is Peter Pan, but look who gets the dominant position on the poster. And, yes, that's Christopher Walken under those black piratical curls.

I like Walken a lot as an actor, although he is not exactly the way I pictured the character in Alias Hook. And while he'll bring the requisite blue eyes and his innate sense of menace to the role, he might have to finesse his New Yawk accent a bit.

This upcoming holiday production is brought to you by the same folks who tested the waters with The Sound Of Music Live last December.

 The idea is to take some creaky, oops, I mean venerable old stage musical, infuse it with fresh young blood, and stage it in real time to be broadcast live, just like in the good old days of live TV on kinescope. This was semi-successful in Music: the kids were cute, and Carrie Underwood sang well as Maria, although her acting was a slightly different story.

In Peter Pan Live, they'll hew to the 100-year-old tradition of casting a grown woman in the role of Pan, in this case, Allison Williams, from Girls. In the theatre, you can almost make a case for this: actual children can be difficult to work with, and, at least nowadays, there are child labor laws. But, I'm sorry, on TV, a grown woman looks like a grown woman, no matter how short they cut her hair. Just sayin'...

On the other Peter Pan movie front, Pan, coming out in the summer of 2015, no pics have yet been released of Garrett Hedlund in the Captain Hook role. (That's the project featuring Hugh Jackman as the dread pirate Blackbeard.) Stay tuned for further details!

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!