Thursday, December 13, 2018
There’s good news on the Beast front for e-book readers!
Right now, Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge, is being offered on a variety of e-book platforms at the special (not to say insanely great) holiday promotional price of $2.99!
Such a deal! Read all about it!
This offer is a holiday gift from my publisher, Candlewick Press, on the E-Volt page for YA books at their website. Take a look, or subscribe to the E-Volt online newsletter (it’s free!) for details for this and other upcoming YA book-promotion deals.
But act now! This special deal is only available until the end of the month, December 31, 2018.
Put Beast at the top of your Christmas wish list!
Thursday, December 6, 2018
Mahershala Ali could not have chosen a better follow-up role. After earning a well-deserved Supporting Actor Oscar for Moonlight two years ago, the versatile Ali tries something completely different in Green Book. It's a serious-minded, yet entertaining view of racism in the American South, ca 1962, as experienced by a working-class white Italian-American guy from Brooklyn hired to drive a cultured black pianist on a concert tour through the Deep South.
Directed by Peter Farrelly (one half of the filmmaking brothers responsible for notorious comedies like There's Something About Mary), the movie is based on a true story. Its portrait of century-old racist attitudes still so deeply ingrained everyday life could be (and often is) chilling.
But the movie succeeds on the chemistry between its excellent stars, Ali as the reserved, morally particular pianist, and Viggo Mortensen as his gregarious, tough guy driver, forging a hard-won alliance against institutional racism and their own personal prejudices.
Farrelly trots out all the usual suspects — sneering Southern cops, smarmy, white hoteliers, shifty black thieves at a rollicking roadhouse. (He trades in equal-opportunity stereotypes.) But the movie glides by on cruise control, thanks to its charismatic stars.
Ali, with his killer grin, looks about a foot taller and way more willowy than he did in Moonlight. Mortensen impresses with his edgy, good-humored chutzpah and capacity to grow his character. Together, they make this a trip worth taking.
Friday, November 16, 2018
Movie biographies are tricky. But when the subject is the innovative rock group, Queen, there’s one thing we know absolutely — the soundtrack is going to be killer.
Fortunately, for the surviving members of Queen, the legacy of the legendary Freddie Mercury, and especially the audience, the Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody is more than just great music.
From the opening 20th Century Fox fanfare scorched out of an electric guitar to the ecstatic grand finale of "We Are The Champions" live onstage, this is a joyride for Queen fans.
Directed by Bryan Singer (he was replaced by Dexter Fletcher toward the end of production, but retains the credit), the movie falls into some of the pitfalls of telescoping events to fit the format. But it heroically depicts the Queen era (late'70s - early '80s), and the band's phenomenal creative energy and output.
|Reel life: Malek (R) with the movie Queen|
The best scenes capture the band inventing itself from the solid musical grounding of guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and Freddie's audacious vocal orchestrations, and his desire to do "grand" things, and never repeat himself. The song, "Bohemian Rhapsody," makes no sense as narrative. Nobody has a clue what it's about. Nobody cares. The operatic, six-minute, style-shifting epic is something we get, intuitively, on a visceral level.
Which is how it was conceived, according to this move's delicious montage of the band crafting together the song's diverse bits, on Freddie's instinct alone.
Tuesday, November 6, 2018
Hey, friends and readers!
Look at this: my Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge has placed at #4 on the list 9 Fantastic Novels for Fairy Tale Fans, over at Wiki ezvid!
This is a website devoted to cool stuff whose users and editors compile videos to celebrate their favorite things. Not only books, but food, clothing, electronics, toys — you name it and this site has posted a video about it!
The video attached to the 9 Fantastic Novels list features an interesting, eclectic mix of vintage and more modern images.
I might have selected one or two additional images to illustrate Beast in the video. (In fact, I did! Check out my own compilation of graphics and illustrations that inspired my book, over on my Pinterest page for Beast.)
But I could not be more thrilled that my Beast, having dared to venture out of his lonely chateau, is winning friends and recognition out in the wider world!
I’m also pleased that they gave an additional shout-out to Alias Hook!
Thank you, Ezvid Wiki!
Friday, November 2, 2018
Nov 1 is All Saints Day (which is why Oct 31 is All Hallows Eve), and Nov 2 is All Souls Day — everyone else. Are the Spirits of the Dead up and about on both days? When does the portal between our world and theirs open and close for another year?
I decided that midnight between the night of November 1 and the morning of November 2 was the most likely time for Spirits to be active.
A celebration held at my little at-home altar last night was meant to entice James' Spirit back to visit the land of the living with all the things he loved here — a plastic dinosaur, a toy robot, and a fossil from his childhood collection, his box of paints and his glove, a piece of bubble-gum, a crossword puzzle, and, of course, a bottle of bubbly!
I was hoping all this would be inducement enough for the Spirit of my Art Boy to linger here with me during the time allotted to him.
But I have to admit, I didn’t feel any particular disturbance in the Force overnight. He didn’t visit my dreams (not that I remember).
Maybe it’s all just a big story we make up to comfort ourselves in the face of unbearable loss. Maybe there isn't any way for James’ enormous Spirit to ever get back to me.
Or — maybe he never left.
In Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the noble, dying warrior tells the woman he loves, “I would rather be a ghost by your side than enter the Kingdom of Heaven without you.”
Maybe it’s like that. I hope so!
Sunday, October 21, 2018
You know those friends you've had forever? Maybe you don't see them as often as you'd like, but you've shared so many adventures that whenever you get together, you pick up right where you left off, your conversation as full of vivid memories, tart observations, and raucous laughter as if you'd never been apart.
That's kind of what it's like going to see Tea With the Dames — a chatty and witty conversation with beloved old friends. It features four of our most acclaimed British actresses — Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright, and Eileen Atkins — in the most challenging roles of their careers: themselves.
In this irresistible documentary from veteran feature director Roger Michell, these four great ladies of stage, screen, and television (each of them honored with the title of Dame), and longtime friends in real life, get together for an afternoon of tea and conversation — always, trenchant, often hilarious — about life, love, friendship, and the craft of acting.
|Smith and Dench: impishness has no age limit!|
Wednesday, October 17, 2018
Time to dance for joy!
The animals at Hestwood Park have been restored!
These are the critters James Aschbcher was commissioned to create for the public art installation in the children’s area of the Hestwood “pocket park” in Live Oak.
They were installed to great acclaim in 2002, when the park opened. The kids loved the bright colors and exuberant attitudes of these fanciful beasties!
But over the years, vandalism and weather took their toll on these creatures. Although James devised a way to affix them pretty permanently to the fence, legs, fins, and other body parts were sometimes ripped away.
One character was beheaded.
Meanwhile, hot weather cracked the sealant he used, so that in rainy weather — back when it used to rain — water leaked into the cracks and began to erode the paint.
It was an increasingly sorry sight over the years to go by the park and see how badly these animals were deteriorating.
As you can imagine, my Art Boy was heartbroken about it; he worked out a timetable to do the repairs himself, donating his time and labor if the county would pay for materials.
They said no.
The animals continued to decline, until the opportunity passed for James to ever restore them himself.
But then an angel stepped in!
Robert L. Echols, our neighbor here in Live Oak, who specializes in antiques restoration, made the county an offer it couldn’t refuse. He has taken it upon himself to rebuild, restore, repaint, and reseal every Aschbacher animal in the park — for free.
This was entirely Bob’s idea. When he first proposed the project to me, I was so stunned with gratitude, I could barely gush out my thanks. I told him how excited James would be about it. With a big grin, Bob replied, “He’s a great guy!”
That was the way my Art Boy inspired people to be their best, most generous, most creative selves.
This must be what they meant when they launched the whole “Be Like James” meme at his memorial celebration. He inspired everybody, not by preaching, but by doing. By the way he lived his own life.
He would be surprised to learn how many local people he influenced, just by who he was.
And he would love, love, love how his Hestwood menagerie has been brought back to life, in all its impudent glory!
PS: Here’s the very modest plaque Bob put up to acknowledge his hard work. I hope it’s in a prominent spot!
Tuesday, October 16, 2018
Even for an era of such artistic and cultural ferment as the turn of the last century, famed French author Colette led an extraordinary life. She was a country girl dominated by a sophisticated husband who became the toast of Paris for her wildly successful, trendsetting novels.
She was also a music hall performer who scandalized the public, a sexual adventuress who loved men and women, a cross-dresser, and an accidental advocate for equality who had to fight for the right to publish her work under her own name.
Her melodramatic life was always tempered by her wit and wry self-knowledge in her books, reviews, and voluminous letters to friends and family. In his biographical feature, Colette, filmmaker Wash Westmoreland sticks to her early years in Paris, during the metamorphosis by which she would eventually turn herself into the celebrated author.
|Reel life: Knightley, West|
As portrayed by Keira Knightly, this Colette is all good-humored innocence and coltish bravado. The film ends just as she's about to launch herself back into the world on her own terms, so we never get a sense of the wry wisdom of the author's maturity, but Knightley is appealing as an awakening personality in the making.
The movie begins in 1892, in the remote French country village of Saint-Sauveur. 19-year-old Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (Knightley), her beloved mother, Sido (Fiona Shaw), and her father, are entertaining Willy (Dominic West), a renowned magazine writer and critic from Paris, whose father knew Colette's father in the military. Within a year, Willy and Colette are married and living in Paris.
There she discovers that "Willy" is a cottage industry; he employs other writers to crank out the work that appears in the press under his name. To stave off creditors, her husband decides "Willy" should write a novel, and assigns the task to Colette. When he physically locks her in her study to work, she starts writing about her own schooldays.
|Willy, Colette: out of the shadows|
No feature-length movie could do more than scratch the surface of the real-life Colette's long, rich, and productive life (she died in 1954 at age 81), or include her expansive circle of friends, artists, writers, mentors and devotees. But the movie looks beautiful (largely shot in old-world Budapest), and Knightly captures enough of Colette's rebel spirit of adventure to encourage viewers to explore the rest of her fascinating story.
I’m such a sucker for this era of wild experimentation before WWI. Matisse and Picasso were reinventing the world, the Arts and Crafts Movement was redesigning furniture, and women were cutting there hair, agitating for the right to vote, exploring their inner lives, and remaking themselves outside of their husband’s shadows.
There are so many luscious period details in Westmoreland’s movie, you can’t take them in all at once. Just look a the chair back and draperies in this shot of Knightley’s Colette at work at her desk — yow!
Every detail is perfect.
Meanwhile, here’s a companion photo of the real-life Colette at work on the Claudine novels.
At this point, she is still in the prim collar and upswept hair of her early years with Willy. She still had a way to go before morphing into the scandalous, yet acclaimed author beloved for such popular novels as Cherie, and — much later in life — Gigi.
But you can see by her determined chin and serious demeanor that she’s on her way!
Monday, October 8, 2018
This review of Beast arrived in my inbox, from Emmie Enchanted, an intrepid 9-yer-old reader who presides over her own book blog, Fantastic Books and Where to Find Them. It is quite wonderful in its simplicity and enthusiasm!
She says in part:
"I loved this book! This is a retelling of Beauty of the Beast, except an unsuspecting character has the main role. It is a story of how a servant tries to save the beast that she loves before it is all too late. If you love magic and fairy tales, then you will love this book!"
She rates it 3 out 5 on the scary factor, 1 out if 5 for “Yucky-lovey stuff,” and 5 out of 5 Wands of Approval!
Tuesday, September 25, 2018
Some kind person just dropped this off on my porch over the weekend. (I didn't get to the door quick enough to see who it was.)
It's the 2017-2018 Yearbook from Del Mar Elementary School, with a 2-page spread devoted to James— and the 5 murals he painted with the kids there over the years!
I especially love the handprint motif around the edges of the pages! It was James' idea to replace his trademark border of Runic glyphs with the students' handprints dipped in paint when he did school murals — a way to give every child who painted a creature on the mural a chance to "sign" his or her work.
I think it's so cool that the designer of the yearbook layout not only adopted this pattern, but put a negative-space heart in the center of each palm!
Thank you, Del Mar School, for this tribute to my Art Boy!
Monday, September 24, 2018
Got some rabble to rouse? Take 'em to see the new Michael Moore documentary, Fahrenheit 11/9. No matter what side of the political "aisle" you're on, you'll come away in a fighting mood.
It's sort of a companion piece to Moore's 2004 doc, Fahrenheit 9/11, which excoriates George W. Bush and the horse he rode in on in the wake of the Twin Towers attack, which then became an excuse to systematically erode civil rights at home (in the name of "security"), and launch endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But this time, Moore's principal target is you-know-who, the current occupant of the White House. Still, he has plenty of outrage to spare for the contamination of the water supply in Moore's hometown of Flint, Michigan, thanks to the venal actions of Governor Rick Snyder. Or the ongoing crisis of gun violence in America, and the politicized response of a band of teenage survivors of the Parkland shootings who organize a global protest march to school their ineffectual elders.
This time, the move opens with Election Night 2016, not 2000. "Was it all just a dream?" narrator Moore muses once again. The champagne corks are already popping at the massive Hillary Clinton victory party as the early returns come in. But as the night wears on, the impossible truth begins to surface.
|Match point: the CEO golfs while democracy burns|
As the tragic aria from Il Pagliacci engulfs the soundtrack, the victor, with his family and handlers, takes the stage to address his supporters. "It looked like a perp walk," notes Moore. By the next morning — 11-9-16 — the nation awoke to the grim reality of President-Elect Trump.
As usual, Moore is preaching to the choir, and stunts like aiming a fire hose of Flint water over the gate into the courtyard of Snyder's governor's mansion aren't likely to win him any new converts.
But Moore's relentless drive to connect the dots between past transgressions and current crises and expose the bad guys is as revitalizing as ever — especially in this era of lockstepping conformity among the political establishment of both parties.
(Read more in this week’s Good Times)
Wednesday, September 19, 2018
The Legend of Art Boy continues!
This came in the mail at the end of August from the U.S. House of Representatives. Congressman Jimmy Panetta has introduced remarks into the Congressional Record in honor of James Carl Aschbacher.
My own Art Boy is enshrined in the Congressional Record!
He would be surprised, and honored. And then, I can just hear him saying, "Now if every one of those congresspeople would go out and buy an Aschbacher painting . . . "
Read the full text here.
Thank you, Congressman Panetta!
Tuesday, September 18, 2018
It's an Eden for two of three young brothers growing up half-wild in the woods of upstate New York while their parents are preoccupied with each other — but a challenging proving ground for the youngest brother struggling to come of age in We The Animals.
Documentary filmmaker Jeremiah Zagar makes a impressive transition to fictional storytelling. Adapted by Zagar and Dan Kitrosser from the acclaimed novel by Justin Torres, the movie is a lyrical plunge into the subconscious of a boy on the brink of manhood trying to piece together his own identity.
Zagar manages a very deft balance between powerful, evocative visual style and the casual poetry of Torres' narrative voice, using minimalist dialogue, documentary realism, and fanciful animation to tell a simple-seeming, yet complex and moving tale.
Saturday, September 15, 2018
But let me express my huge, heartfelt thanks to every single one of you who flooded the Rio Saturday night, August 25, for the Celebrating James event. You made it such an amazing success!
You came from all aspects of James' life: friends, neighbors, far-flung family members, comic book and monster movie fans, yoga classmates, artists, artisans, art instigators and collectors, art buddies, chess buddies, food buddies, travel buddies, trivia buddies, harbor buddies. The list goes on and on!
They stashed me in the front row, so I couldn’t always tell what was going on behind me. But I was blown away when I stood up from my seat and got a load of the size and scope of this crowd.
It all went by in a blur for me, as you can imagine. But now that a photo slideshow of the event has been made available online, bits and pieces of the night are starting to come back to me. I also get to see who all was there — and just how jam-packed the Rio was.
It will take me awhile to process all these images (visually and emotionally). But here's an early favorite from the front rows. I don't know what we were all laughing at, but that's the kind of night it was — full of tears and laughter, usually at the same time.
There wasn't a dry eye (or nose) in the house when Joe Ferrara sang his aching rendition of "For Good" (from Wicked), with James' smiling face beaming down on us all!
James’ Swedish relatives (brother David Aschbacher, his wife, Maria, niece Helena Ashbacher Malm,and nephew Tobias Wallster) took the stage to honor “Uncle Jimmy.” They were among the biggest hits of evening!
The one and only Wallace Baine led the crowd in a champagne toast to James!
Lime Green Productions cohort Donna Mekis was there with Marcia and Bruce Mcdougal. She spoke about all our many adventures together!
And two more Lime Green co-conspirators, Ann Ostermann and Jana Marcus! Thank you, ladies for your tireless efforts on behalf of my Art Boy!
So pleased to see Robbie Schoen from Felix Kulpa Gallery out and about (foreground, front row). Go, Robbie!
And above all, thanks to all of YOU who helped me give my Art Boy the celebration he deserved!
Big thanks to photographer Jade Loftus! (And thanks to Jana Marcus for helping us access these pics!)
And even more heartfelt thanks to everyone who came to celebrate my sweetie. James would have loved it!
Thank you, Santa Cruz! You people rock!
(Above, right, a view of the poster table. Thank you, Karen Kefauver!)
Thursday, September 13, 2018
Janis might have been describing the middle-aged music fan whose obsession with an obscure, has-been rocker fuels the plot in Juliet, Naked. It's a wry divertimento for three voices: the obsessed fan, his neglected, fed-up girlfriend, and the reclusive rocker himself, the fantasy figure whose unexpected appearance in the others' reality throws all their lives into comic turmoil.
The movie is based on a novel by Nick Hornby, that droll English scribe so adept at probing those tricky places where pop culture fantasy and messy reality collide, especially in his first novel, High Fidelity.
In an English seaside town, Annie (a chipper and charming Rose Byrne) runs the local history museum inherited from her father. Approaching 40 herself, she's spent years in a relationship with Duncan (Chris O'Dowd), a transplanted Irishman who teaches literature courses at the local college.
But Duncan spends most of his time in the basement, administering his website devoted to all things Tucker Crowe, an American singer-songwriter who was on his way to cult status among a chosen few fans before he disappeared from the music scene 25 years earlier.
|Fan Meets Fantasy: Hawke, Byrne, O'Dowd|
When Tucker Crowe himself shows up (a frisky Ethan Hawke, rebounding from the gloom of First Reformed), an uneasy triangle between the three of them is inevitable, or there'd be no story.
Wednesday, August 22, 2018
I was going to suggest that anyone who felt inclined to help out in various crowd-wrangling positions should check out the volunteer sign-up sheet. But it looks like all the volunteer positions are already filled.
Thank you, Santa Cruz!
You are still welcome to simply show up at the Rio for volunteer orientation at 5:15 on the afternoon of the event, for any last-minute celebration emergencies.
James' longtime friend and former business partner, Joe Ferrara will sing. Speakers will speak, and a brilliant slide show of candid photographs from my vast archive, alongside images of James' paintings, will be on a loop upstage. (Put together by the miraculous Jana Marcus!)
And of course there will be bubbly! Doors open at 6, and festivities begin at 6:30.
As difficult as it is to say goodbye to my Art Boy, I hope we can give him a rousing send-off!
I'll see you there!
Saturday, August 18, 2018
That's what everyone keeps telling me. But it's not true, not remotely. I just have my meltdowns in private, when nobody's looking.
It doesn't take bravery to keep forging ahead, especially when you have no choice. Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin' into the Future —whether we want to go there or not. There's no "reverse" switch; believe me, I've looked! There's no "pause" button. There's only Fast Forward.
One friend told me if she were in my place, she's stop washing her hair and stay in bed for a month. And my first thought was, Wait! That's an option? I never got the memo!
But I do have one secret weapon standing between me and complete emotional chaos — as tempting as it would be to give in to it.
My Art Boy was all about positive energy. He didn't do angst in his paintings, and he didn't do drama in real life. He was the problem-solver, and no problem was insurmountable. If his plans hit a roadblock, he'd study the situation and figure out a way around it. He could rise to any challenge, and he always did it with a smile on his face. (And usually, a flute of champagne in his hand!)
As James saw it, his mission was to keep things upbeat, laugh at everything, and keep spirits buoyed up so we could all get on with the business of life. And even though he may be gone, physically, I feel like now he's now become my Spirit Guide!
It's Art Boy's voice in my heart that reminds me when it's time to take my pills. He advises me in the kitchen when I'm trying to replicate our favorite dishes for one. ("Watch the pan, so the garlic doesn't burn!") He's the one suggesting I shut down for the evening, come downstairs, pour a glass of bubbly, and enjoy some quality time out on the deck with Bella the Cat. That's what he'd be doing!
It hurt so much at first to not have him actually there beside me. But gradually, even though I'm alone (with Bella purring happily in my lap — kitties love it when you visit their turf!), I find that as I'm sitting there, surrounded by all the things he loved — our blooming succulents and ripening figs; the industrious humming of bees in the pear tree, the soft, late-afternoon light — some of his exuberant attitude toward life begins to steal back into my heart.
This is exactly the same life he loved with such passion. He's just not here to enjoy it any more.
But I am.
So whenever I get too despondent, when that renegade thought surfaces that I just don't want to do this any more, the voice of my Spirit Guide reasons with me. This is our life, he reminds me, that we worked so hard to create. Don't give up on it yet!
And he's right, of course. James embraced this life with gusto, and now that he can't be part of it himself, it's up to me to do the same. For his sake, and my own.
I may be eating for one these days, but I'm living for two.
(Above: Navigating Life's Obstacles, by James Aschbacher, 2018)
Monday, August 13, 2018
The final mainstage offering from Santa Cruz Shakespeare concludes the season with a bang — and a crash and a boom. Outstanding thunder and lightning effects punctuate the action in Venus In Fur, an often scorchingly funny contemporary drama written by David Ives.
It's a rousing closer to a season that has trained its sights on the politics of desire, gender, and power in many diverse, unruly forms.
Playwright Ives will be familiar to SCS audiences as the author of The Liar, adapted from a 17th Century French farce. The SCS production of The Liar (back when it was still called Shakespeare Santa Cruz) was one of the most uproarious in the company's history.
|Gonzalez and Ibsen: who's auditioning whom?|
But Venus In Fur is something completely different. This time, Ives' source material is an 1870 novella by Austrian literary figure Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (the man who put the "M" in S&M). And instead of simply adapting Masoch's story for the stage, Ives whips up (sorry), a clever bracketing device about a frazzled theatrical director (Brian Ibsen) and a ditzy actress late for an audition (the riotously entertaining Maria Gabriela Rosado Gonzalez) reading through a modern play based on the Masoch story — and confronting all the sexual/political issues it raises.
Directed with sharp-witted aplomb by Raelle Myrick-Hodges, it's a seductive chamber piece for two actors and four voices as the actress and director go in and out of character, the lines between reality and fantasy blur, and simmering, centuries-old tensions between the sexes bubble to the surface.
Friday, August 10, 2018
|Waiting Up For You by James Aschbacher|
James and I had a song: "Tired of Waiting For You," by the Kinks.
James was known to actually slip this CD in the player and blast it all over the house when he was dressed and ready to go someplace and I was still in the bedroom, trying to drag some clothes together and fooling with my hair.
It seemed like I could never quite get out the door on time.
On yoga mornings, despite his reminders ("Wrap it up!" "Shut 'er down!" "Time to go!") I was still upstairs, trying to write that last sentence, or answer one more email, while he cooled his heels at the door, rattling the car keys, afraid interlopers would take our spots on the floor if we weren't there to claim them.
He made sure we always got to the movies on time, where scheduled showtimes waited for no critic.
James teased him about it unmercifully, that Mort never saw this often crucial set-up to the story. "Mort, you missed the murder!" he'd say, as we critics thronged back out into the lobby.)
But when James and I were going out to visit friends, despite my best intentions, I never allowed myself enough time to get ready. Even my sunny willingness to claim all the blame ("So sorry! Totally my fault!") could never quite counter-balance the fact that I'd kept him waiting. Again.
We never fought over it. We never fought over anything. But in retrospect, I find myself thinking, geez, would it have killed me to be on time, once in awhile?
I'm never late now. I get rides to yoga and the movies from different people every week, and I'm always ready and waiting by the door. It's too bad I didn't show my Art Boy the same courtesy when he was still here to appreciate it.
Actually, I did. Once. On a Valentine's Day, when time had slipped away, and I had neither card nor gift for my sweetie, I folded a 3x5 card in half, drew a clock face on the front, and turned it into a "gift certificate" for The Gift of Time — my pledge that I would not be late for one entire year.
His eyes lit up. "This is the best present you could ever give me!" he said.
And I managed to keep my pledge!
Too bad it was only good for a year.