Sunday, May 31, 2015


The Inconstant Traveler does NYC

Okay, I'm a beach girl. I don't know from the city. I'm not like my friend, Vivian, who used to panic if she couldn't feel concrete under her pumps. Just thinking about the fast pace of city life exhausts my brain.

Nevertheless. Although Old World cities like Paris, Prague, Vienna, and Bern might be more to my taste, the phenomenon that is New York City ought to be experienced at least once in a lifetime.

Art Boy and I had a chance to take a whirlwind 3 1/2-day trip to NYC earlier this month. Our good friend, Marta, grew up in the area and still visits several times a year; she decided she and her husband, John, should play tour guides and show us the sights. We secured a rental apartment on the Upper West Side, boarded the Jet Blue red-eye out of San Jose late on a Sunday night, and arrived at JFK around 7:30 in the morning, NY time.

I don't really sleep on planes. (Sitting upright for six hours with eyes squeezed shut is not the same thing.) Still, we knew we had to hit the ground running on such a short visit. And we had to be selective: we couldn't just wander around bug-eyed. We had to have a plan.

Glorious: The Woman In Gold
 The first order of business was the lengthy drive via car service into town—sadly, under a layer of fog that obscured the fabled NYC skyline. However, we discovered our apartment on W 52nd Street offered a spectacular view (see above), as soon as the fog cleared off.

Next, it was time to buy a good bottle of French champagne for my Francophile agent, to thank her for negotiating such a sweet deal for my upcoming Beast book. But my visit to her downtown office wasn't scheduled for a couple of days, and in the meantime, we had a city to explore!

Art museums were high on our list, and we'd done our homework online. So we knew Monday would be our only chance to visit the Neue Galerie, which has recently become famous as the permanent home of "The Woman In Gold (Adele Bloch-Bauer I)," masterwork of the great Gustav Klimt.

In honor of the recent movie The Woman In Gold, the Neue's current exhibit displays Adele as the jewel in a lovely setting that includes another four Klimt paintings, as well as furniture, graphics, silver, photographs, and objets d'art from Klimt's era, the glorious Viennese Secession movement.

The real Starry Night—better than a coffee mug!
But the centerpiece is "The Woman In Gold." And no matter how well you think you know a famous painting from books and print reproductions, there is nothing like seeing it in person. The complexity of Adele Bloch-Bauer's face and hair, the rich, intricate fantasia of Klimt's patterns, and all the gold leaf-on-gold detailing are simply amazing. (Up close, you can also see the variety of the initials "A" and "B" worked into those patterns.) She's worth a trip to NYC all by herself!

Adele is on permanent display, but the rest of The Woman In Gold show runs through September 7. If you're in the city between now and then, don't miss it. (And don't forget to stop by one of the two Viennese coffehouses in the building, Cafe Fledermaus or Cafe Sabarsky, for kaffe drinks and tortes—including the special Klimttorte, hazelnut cake and dark chocolate. Yum!)

The same sense of renewed awe I felt in the presence of Adele washed over me again the next say at the Museum of Modern Art when I saw Vincent Van Gogh's "The Starry Night." I don't care how many coffee mugs and tote bags you've seen with this image on them, seeing this painting for real is extraordinary. There is no substitute for standing three feet away and seeing the brush strokes and the fierceness with which they were applied, noticing how the work was evidently done in such a fury (of creativity? Hyperactivity? Possession?) that the paint doesn't even always stretch to the edge of the canvas. Talk about someone in the grip of his muse!

Bertold Loffler: oddly charming hybrid of styles
And speaking of painting in a fury, we saw a great show of outsider artists ("naive" art makers so compulsive, they are often only one step away, if not already in, an institution) at the American Folk Art Museum. This is a splendid little space on Lincoln Square that all art lovers should know about.

It has a terrific collection, hosts wonderful shows like the one we saw, When The Curtain Never Comes Down, and has a gift shop that offers not only the usual educational toys, books, postcards, and reproductions, but many pieces of genuine, original folk art, as well. Paintings, little boxes, wooden carvings, really cool stuff. Admission is free, although I encourage you to donate to the tip jar on the way in.

I had a lovely chat with my agent, the invincible Irene Goodman, first thing Wednesday morning. Her agency on the West Side is housed in a warren of small, cozy rooms with books literally stacked up everywhere—my kind of place!

Afterwards, Art Boy and I headed off for The Met (the art museum, not the opera house)—a plan only momentarily jeopardized when we flagged dow the only cabbie in NYC who doesn't know where The Met is! Fortunately for us, John and Marta (who were heading off elsewhere) were still standing curbside, so I rolled down the window and asked her to give our cabbie directions. (Hey, it's not like WE know the street address!)

Maurice Denis: weirdly evocative, even without faces
But we finally did arrive, grabbed a map and plotted our course, finding our way up to the 19th-Early 20th Century paintings exhibit. Besides the usual suspects—Picassso, Matisse, Gauguin, Renoir—we made some cool discoveries.

The decorative Vienna Secession-meets-the Pre-Raphaelites of Austrian artist Bertold Loffler's "Youth Playing the Pipes of Pan," 1912. Odilon Redon's pastel and mystical "Pandora." And the sketchy and dreamy "Springtime" by Maurice Denis, a French Symbolist artist neither of us have ever heard of.

We probably spent an hour or two wandering around, until our eyeballs couldn't absorb any more, and what we saw was maybe one twentieth—probably lots less—of the Met's exhibition space. It makes a person weep to look over the brochures, once back home again, 3000 miles away, to see all that we missed—from Greek pottery, Egyptian art, and medieval manuscripts to The Met's fabled Fashion Institute costume exhibits. *Sigh* But who had the time?

One thing we did have to make time for—Marta insisted we couldn't leave NYC without sampling them—were pastrami sandwiches from a New York deli. And they were great: paper-thin pastrami (and plenty of it!), soft rye bread, mustard and a whole pickle on the side. So NYC!

Back home in Santa Cruz, I can't really say I miss the Big City. It's nice to take life at a slower pace, to wake up to birdsong in the lemon tree outside our window instead of honking traffic, and to have cats and flowers around again. And stars! There are too many city lights to see the stars at night in NYC, which disappointed my inner Van Gogh.

On the other hand, the NYC skyline at night is its own dazzling light show. We don't get this view in Live Oak!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


Hardy love quadrangle explored in 'Far From Madding Crowd'

You might call Thomas Hardy's 1874 literary classic, Far From the Madding Crowd the grandfather (at least one of them) of the modern romance novel. (Along with just about anything written by the Brontes.)

Set in a wild, rural landscape—Dorset, in the West Country of England—Hardy's story features a strong-willed, rule-breaking heroine loved by three very different men who play out the novelist's recurring themes of love, class, passion and independence.

I was an impressionable teenager when I saw John Schlesinger's 1967 adaptation of the novel with Julie Christie, Alan Bates, and Terence Stamp. I thought it was the most romantic movie I'd ever seen.

I didn't have quite the same rapturous response to the handsome new Thomas Vinterberg film of Far From the Madding Crowd.
Will it be Bachelor Number 1, Number 2, or Number 3?

For one thing, okay, I'm no longer a teen. (And that makes a BIG difference!) For another, Schlesinger's film was some 49 minutes longer than Vinterberg's new version, and it's difficult to compress the scope of Hardy's 460-page book into a concise, digestible two hours.

The plot points tick off right on schedule, but it sometimes feels as if there's not enough time for the emotional weight of the events to fully resonate with the characters (much less the audience).

It's too bad, because Danish filmmaker Vinterberg's excellent last film, The Hunt, was all about emotional nuance.
Mulligan and Schoenaerts

Still, working here from David Nicholls' script, Vinterberg makes a beautiful piece of craftsmanship out of the film. The rolling green hills, rugged seacoast, and stone villages of Dorset (the film was shot almost entirely on location) look splendid and convey Hardy's sense of place.

And the cast is generally persuasive. The non-traditional casting of lively Carey Mulligan as heroine Bathsheba Everdine is very effective. Michael Sheen is excellent as Boldwood, the wealthy but edgy bachelor next door.

But it's the sturdy and seductive performance by Matthias Schoenaerts as a suitor aptly-named Gabriel Oak, who becomes the backbone of the film.

It's in the subplot concerning bachelor number 3, dashing cavalry officer Sgt. Troy (Tom Sturridge, last seen as the painter Millais in Effie Gray), that the movie founders a bit.

Bathsheba might be swept away by the first taste of raw passion she's ever known, but it's unconvincing that this independent-minded woman would be married to him within a few scant minutes of screen time, and utterly baffling that she's regretting her decision (in a heart-to-heart with Gabriel) before the wedding feast is even over.

It doesn't help that the filmmakers can't decide of Troy is simply a cad or a man wounded by a tragic former love affair. Sturridge gamely plays him either way, as the scene demands, but he can't find anything deeper in the character than a certain pouty haughtiness. (Read more)

Just for laughs, look at the poster for the 1967 version, packaged as a potboiler romance. Don't even get me started on Julie Christie's Swinging London minidress and hairstyle!

Btw, my favorite screen version of Hardy's novel is still Tamara Drewe. Netflix it now!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


Here are a couple of fun things I found on the Interwebs this week.

The graphic above was posted awhile back on Leonor Antunes' excellent book blog, A Cup of Coffee and a Book. I was thrilled that Alias Hook placed # 3. (Thanks, Ner!)

Meanwhile, over at another bookish blog, Me, My Shelf and I (love that name!), I found the graphic below. It's always fun for an author to get a play-by-play from a reader while the book is being read!

They have also just posted my guest blog Child's Play: Revisiting the Neverland Through Grown-Up Eyes. Big thanks to Team MMSAI  for inviting me to come over and play!

And this just in: a wonderful review of Alias Hook was just posted over at The Emerald City Book Review. Thanks to Lory for such a thoughtful review!

Sunday, May 10, 2015


I don't know about other writers, but I love to edit. Once a few drafts have been written, and I finally know where the story is going (if I'm lucky), and the plot is more or less in place, it appeals to the Virgo in me to sculpt and shape to make everything stronger and (I hope) smarter.

So I was thrilled to get my first letter of editorial suggestions last week from the editor who just bought my next book, Beast: A Love Story.

No wonder other authors run out of superlatives when discussing Candlewick editor Kaylan Adair online!

In her thoughtful, 7-page letter, she covers four major plot points, and offers several alternate ideas of how I might approach each issue—or not, as I see fit.

This she follows up with a Miscellany section, touching on very small details (like character nicknames), what she thinks could stand to be re-imagined, and why.

None of her suggestions are set in stone; none come in the form of a command. But her ideas are so persuasive, the movie of my book that's on a constant loop inside my head is already starting to play out in a much more interesting way.

I'm in Virgo heaven!

Yes, I'll be going back to the keyboard, but it's amazing how sharp her suggestions are. Best of all? She totally gets this book! I can't wait to plunge back in!

(Love the above illustration for Beauty and the Beast from English illustrator Paul Woodroffe, ca. 1905. That candlestick is especially pivotal in my version of the tale!)

Tuesday, May 5, 2015


Happy Cinco de Mayo to one and all!

And while you're hoisting that margarita, how about a toast to the brand spanking new paperback edition of Alias Hook, available today at fine book emporiums and online portals everywhere.

Same story—a view of the Neverland and "that infernal, eternal boy" from the viewpoint of Captain James Hook. After years cursed to play villain to a band of malicious little boys in a pointless war that never ends, Hook is finally given one last chance to escape.

(For those of you who came in late, here's the Publisher's Weekly review of the hardcover edition.)

Same fabulous cover, from the good folks at Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press, designed by Lisa Marie Pompilio.

New, easy, lightweight portable size!

If you need a gift for a reading friend, or if you're in a book club looking for a new selections, please do consider Alias Hook!

Available now at Bookshop Santa CruzAmazon, and everywhere else!

Raving readers on my Amazon page

Friday, May 1, 2015

GEM at the JEWEL

Dueling sibs: Mike Ryan and Julie James
Sharp writing, great cast, highlight JTC's 'Complications From a Fall'

For the fourth production of its Tenth Anniversary season, Jewel Theatre Company has plucked out a plum. Santa Cruz's own Kate Hawley bestows a gift on JTC and its lucky patrons with her new play, Complications From A Fall. This is the World Premiere of Hawley's play, a witty, often breezy comedy about a  serious subject—aging parents, and the grown children reluctantly deputized to care for them.

The play has everything to recommend it to theatre companies large and small. It can be staged on a single set (with a few inventive flourishes, like those dreamed up for the JTC production by director Paul Whitworth). The cast is small, consisting of four terrific acting parts. And the subject matter is universal—parent-child relationships, sibling friction, family secrets, and memories, lost and found. Hawley skillfully mines this material for life-sized humor, without resorting to farce, or cheapening the drama of the situation.

An agitated Helen (Julie James), a spinster-ish university professor, is fuming in the house of her elderly, bedridden mother. She's awaiting the arrival of her younger brother, Teddy (Mike Ryan), a scruffy musician in an obscure rock band that's perpetually on the road. Helen has been their mother's caretaker since the older woman took a fall awhile back, but she has a scholarly conference to attend so Teddy has to come home for a few days to help out.

Teddy faces his first hurdle when his mother (infuriating, yet beguiling Nada Rowand) wakes up; she recognizes him as her beloved son, but keeps calling for the previous hired caregiver, Lucy. His sister has told Teddy she let Lucy go because pieces of their mother's jewelry kept disappearing, but Mom becomes so distressed, Teddy calls in Lucy (an engaging Audrey Rumsby) for back-up.

Everything works, from B. Modern's effective costumes and Kate Edmunds’ smart set design (its walls covered with the handwritten script of old letters), to the wartime-era pop songs that play between scenes in this thoughtful and entertaining production. (Read more)