Saturday, August 18, 2018


"Oh, you're so brave!"

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!)

So how does it serve his legacy if I'm the first one who cracks up and falls apart?

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, 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


Desire, power, sex converge in frisky, seductive Venus In Fur

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?
In addition to his own original plays, Ives' specialty is adapting the work of comic authors of previous centuries, like Moliere and Mark Twain.
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.
(Read more)

Friday, August 10, 2018


Waiting Up For You by James Aschbacher
You know how couples often have "our song?"

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.

(The same could not be said about our friend, Morton Marcus; at press screenings at the Nick, he habitually snuck into the theatre 10 minutes after the movie had started.

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.

Sunday, August 5, 2018


Friends, it is with extreme delight that I announce the establishment of the James Aschbacher SPECTRA Fund, supporting art education in the schools!

(I especially love this image they picked for the James Fund page on the ACSCC website. Believe it or not, those marvelous paper cut-out self-portraits were made by 5- and 6-year olds! Could they be any more cool?)

Artist and legendary Cabrillo College art instructor Howard Ikemoto once told a story about the time his seven-year-old daughter asked him what he did when he went to work. "I teach people how to draw," he told her. She looked back at him in wide-eyed surprise. "You mean they forget?"

James loved that story.
Cat Support Group, by James Aschbacher

My Art Boy believed that every child possesses an instinctive ability to create art. All they need is opportunity and encouragement. And although he never took an art class in his life, he was an avid supporter of arts education in the schools, not to teach children "how" to make art, but to provide a nurturing atmosphere to explore their own creativity.

James spent 10 years working with mostly 4th and 5th-graders creating murals at elementary schools countywide. And the students weren't there to color in the muralist's image; James tasked every child with the responsibility of creating his or her own creature or character within the larger framework, and painting it on the wall.

And he was always astonished and delighted to discover what the kids came up with, not from any conscious desire to make "good art," but out of the wild splendor of their own imaginations.

"Kid art" was James' favorite kind! He would be thrilled to have his name associated with a fund to support art in the schools, and encourage children to discover their own inner artists.

Visit the page if you'd like to join the support group!

Friday, August 3, 2018


Wry humor, poignant insights, fuel Eighth Grade

Once upon a time, they called it Junior High School, that fraught and fretful gateway into the teenage years. These days, it's known as Middle School.

But even though the name has changed, and the advent of personal technology has altered the landscape even more, the excruciating angst of being 13 is the same for every generation — an experience captured to poignant comic perfection in Eighth Grade.

It's the first feature film from writer-director Bo Burnham, an actor and stand-up comedian best known for directing comedy specials.

What's most remarkable is Burnham's insight into young female psychology, and the eggshell-strewn minefield of parent-child relationships.

Working closely with his muse and co-conspirator, Elsie Fisher, turning in a galvanizing performance as a eighth grade girl enduring her last week of Middle School, Burnham zeroes in with tender precision on the special awkwardness of this in-between, unavoidable phase of life.

Fisher and Hamilton: hopes and dreams
For those of us who have spent our entire adult lives trying to forget our 13-year-old selves (which would be, roughly, everybody alive), this movie brings it all flooding back — every yearning, every perceived slight, every desperately game attempt to at least appear, you know, normal.

Burnham never misses a beat of emotional truth, from the way loud metal music hammers in Kayla's head every time she sees the sloe-eyed lout she has a secret crush on, to her dependence on You Tube to explain the world to her.

One clever device is having the eighth-graders open shoebox "time capsules" they put together for their future selves way back in the sixth grade, revealing the nature of their earlier hopes and dreams. As dorky as Kayla finds hers (it contains, among other mementoes, a USB plug shaped like SpongeBob), its effect is to reintroduce Kayla to herself.

A late-inning scene when her well-meaning single dad (Josh Hamilton) haltingly reveals his own hopes and dreams for his daughter, and the young woman she's becoming, is wonderfully effective. Finally, Kayla's understanding of who she is, and her decision to stay true to her emerging self, no matter what, wins our hearts.
(Read more)

Tuesday, July 31, 2018


From The Shakespeare Oracle Tarot deck
In Runaways, my unpublished sequel to The Witch From the Sea, my hero, Jack, a Georgian-era actor-turned-pirate, rhapsodizes about William Shakespeare:

"Everything you could ever think or feel or want, Shakespeare has already written about it. And everything that happens in your own life affects how you to respond to him, so his words always seem new and fresh, however often you play them."

Or hear them.

I put these words in Jack's mouth because I believe the reason Shakespeare's work continues to be performed and to stir audiences over 400 hundred years later is not only due to his timeless themes and elegant poetry.

It's mostly because of his keen sensitivity to the quicksilver fluctuations of human nature and his incisive ways of expressing it.

So it doesn't matter how many versions of a particular Shakespeare play you've seen, its effect on you is different every time, depending on what's going on in your own life.

The Zefferelli version: lush
Case in point: the opening Santa Cruz Shakespeare's handsome new production of Romeo and Juliet last week. Who knows how many times I've seen this play?

There was the lush Franco Zefferelli movie (seen when I was an impressionable 16-year-old — which is two years older than Juliet is in the play), the gorgeous full-length production staged by the San Francisco Ballet back in the '80s, and, I believe, two (possibly three) previous productions at Santa Cruz Shakespeare (the entity previously known as Shakespeare Santa Cruz).

(But what's in a name?)

The point is, no matter how familiar I thought I was with the play, I was not prepared for my own reaction at the finale, this time around. (Spoiler Alert: don't expect a happy ending.) Typically, one mourns the tragedy of the young lovers' wasted lives as they  choose suicide, one after the other, when each believes the other is dead.

Romeo and Mercutio: fervor and fury
But recent upheavals in my own life have altered my perspective. This time, when Juliet awakens from her sleeping potion, finds Romeo's lifeless corpse stretched across her bier, and seizes his dagger, I found myself sort of cheering her on.

Not because I wanted to see the poor girl dead, but because it seemed like the only logical solution, faced with the enormity of her loss. This way, at least, it flashed through my mind, they are together.

Shakespeare is always interactive — what you get out of it depends on what you bring to it!

Particular virtues of the current SCS production include an exuberantly acrobatic Romeo (Taha Mandviwala), the giddy poise of Isabel Pask's Juliet, and a fierce, female Tybalt (Maggie Adams McDowell), Juliet's hot-headed cousin. In the showpiece role of Mercutio, Lorenzo Roberts may have been overly encouraged to ham up the physical clowning, but he also conveys every potent syllable of Mercutio's dark, dry wit with fervor and fury.

Random festival-goers, 2017!
Mike Ryan brings both playfulness and moral authority to the role of Friar Lawrence. And director Laura Gordon concludes the first half on a lovely, visual grace note, and opens the second half with a sharply choreographed and dynamic street brawl. The action is swift and engrossing.

I was especially interested in seeing this play again after recently reading the novel The Master of Verona, by David Blixt, sort of a prequel to events leading up to Shakespeare's tale. Another novel I loved, Queen Mab, envisions a romance between Mercutio and the fairy queen he describes with such lively intensity in his first speech in the play.

That's the thing with Shakespeare — he's always ripe for reinterpretation!

PS: There's a new innovation at Santa Cruz Shakespeare this season: shelves are now installed along the back of each row of bleachers so the people sitting the next row back have a place to put their stuff. It's a revelation! James would've loved this device when we went to SCS last summer — we would have had a place to set down those champagne glasses between sips!

Tuesday, July 24, 2018


Big fun last Tuesday night at Bookshop Santa Cruz where the fabulous staff and an SRO crowd helped me get my Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge properly launched out into the world!

I talked. I read. I signed.

People actually showed up(!) and I was thrilled by the turnout.

Book-lovers in Santa Cruz are the best. You people rock!

Thanks to supermodels Emily, Liz, and John, for posing next to the chalkboard at the Pacific Avenue entrance announcing my event.

(And look how cool it is that they replicated the beast-in-the-rose image from my book cover.)

 Inside, all I had to do was think of something clever to say. Lucky for me my audience was very forgiving!

Bookshop Santa Cruz: the view from the podium

Thanks to Jeremy Lezin and Jane Daugherty for the pics!

Of course, it was bittersweet without my Art Boy in the front row cheering me on, but I like to think he was there in spirit!

This book would never had happened without his patience, encouragement, and endless good cheer — not to mention liberal doses of champagne at the end of the workday!

Earlier in the day, I found this lovely review of Beast on the blog teenreads, calling it, "a fairy tale retelling you really don't want to miss."


Meanwhile, the indefatigable Marshal Zeringue, over at Campaign For the American Reader invited me to write guest posts for two of his reader-oriented blogs.

In the first, Writers Read, I divulge what I personally am reading these days.

The second site, is called The Page 69 Test. If you can't judge a book by its cover, what can you glean from page 69?

That's the premise of this site, in which authors are invited to scrutinize one page of their book (guess which one) to examine how representative it may (or may not) be of the book's larger content.

My page 69 turned out to be a pivotal moment in my story. Read it and find out why!

Monday, July 9, 2018


Hey kids!

Tune in your earbuds for all things Beast this week as I take to the radio airwaves to talk about my brand new book — Beast A Tale of Love and Revenge!

Lucky me, I get to visit two of my favorite local radio folk in their natural habitats.

Tomorrow, Tuesday, July 10 — my publication day! — I'll be the guest of my longtime pal and frequent co-conspirator, the inimitable Bruce Bratton on his show, Universal Grapevine, broadcasting from high in the redwoods overlooking the UCSC campus.

Showtime is 7 pm, at KZSC, 88.1 on your FM dial, or listen online.

Bright and early the next morning, Wednesday, July 11, I go live with the effervescent Rosemary Chalmers at KSCO (AM 1080, or online).

My segment starts at 8:40 in the morning, and continues until they drag us off the air for having too much fun!

Please, support local radio and lend an ear!

Sunday, July 8, 2018


And the Beast of the Month for July is (ta-da!) —

My Beast! The true hero of Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge.

To celebrate the imminent publication of my novel (this Tuesday, July 10!), I am thrilled to offer up the prologue of my story. Just to get you in the mood.




It wasn't all the witch's fault.

    She was just the one he saw as his spine hunched forward, as claws sprang out of the furry paws that had been his elegant hands only moments before, as long tendrils of mane erupted out over his eyes.

    "What have you done to me, Witch?" he bellowed, although it was difficult to understand him with the lengthening of his snout.

    "I have done nothing," she told him, with a coolness I had to admire, as if he weren't crouching before her with animal horns and shaggy pointed ears sprouting from his head and long rows of raptor feathers cascading down his back. "This is the truth of who you are inside."

    "Change me back!" he thundered.

    "I cannot," she told him. "That power lies with you, not me."

    Well, that wasn't the whole truth. I had something to do with it, although even I didn't know it at the time. So I was surprised when the witch suddenly turned to me in her awful majesty. "And you, girl. What do you want?"

All I wanted then was my revenge, to see him groveling on all fours, his handsome face and manly form reduced to beastliness. Things might have been very different had I left it at that, run off with the other servants on that terrifying night, taken up a new life in some other place. But as soon as I had what I most wished for, I found I craved more.

    "I want to see him suffer," I breathed. I was drunk on my own hatred, more powerful than anything I had ever felt before.

    "As you wish," she said, and that was the end of it. And the beginning.

    I didn't know then the journey I was on, could never have imagined any power that burned brighter than hate.

    I had so much to learn from the beast.

    My Beast.

    Until she came.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018


Mystic Portal by James Aschbacher. What lies beyond?
There was an old movie with Sandra Bullock as a young wife whose husband is killed suddenly in a car accident.  She suffers the shock of loss and despair, endures the funeral in a trance, and finally begins to face the awful reality of a new life alone.

Then, one morning, she wakes up to hear her husband in the shower, warbling away as if nothing has happened.

I don't think I'm in that movie.

Brendan Fraser stars in another movie as an underground cartoonist in a coma who goes on a series of wild adventures with the nutty characters teeming inside his brain in a desperate effort to manifest some kind of visible brain activity before his grieving wife can be talked into pulling the plug. Finally, at the last possible second, he succeeds.

I'm not in that movie either.

(Although it's delightful to think of my Art Boy in some unknowable limbo, cavorting with the creatures of his imagination — pink bunnies, hula kitties, and all!)

I'm not expecting James to start talking to me through Whoopi Goldberg, or pouring me nips of bubbly like George and Marian Kirby in the old Topper TV series. (Although that would be just like him!)

And I can't quite imagine him perched broodingly on a rooftop somewhere, gazing down at the bustle of human activity below, like Bruno Ganz in Wings of Desire.

James never brooded!

So what do I imagine instead?

I don't know.

No one knows what lies beyond the mystic portal after you leave this life. Way smarter minds than mine have grappled with this question, and they don't know any more about it than I do.

Friends and family of a Christian nature tell me that God called James early because He needed some laughter around the place. But it's difficult for me to think of my Art Boy draped in a sheet, playing a harp, joining the Heavenly Host.

Besides, I wasn't done with James yet. Couldn't God have waited His turn?

Some Eastern cultures believe that soul mates journey endlessly through time, living out entire new lifetimes — from infancy to old age, over and over again — hoping to meet up with each other again. But reincarnation seems like an awfully long and arduous process to me.

(I mean, who wants to keep going through the eighth grade?)

I recently caught up with Coco, in which a living child crosses the bridge into the land of the dead to find a non-stop party going on — feasts, flowers, mariachi bands, the works!

But there's an expiration date for the dearly departed. If the time ever comes that no one alive remembers them, the party's over: they vanish forever. The child has to get back to the land of the living in time to honor his ancestor on the Dia de los Muertos altar so he won't be forgotten.

That's is my idea of an afterlife — music, food and fun! A place where the beloved departed are kept eternally alive by the memories of everyone who loved them.

Monday, July 2, 2018


Fashion-wise, designer Vivienne Westwood is the real deal. The intriguing story of her life and work is told in the frisky documentary Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist, directed by former model-turned-filmmaker Lorna Tucker.

The movie not only celebrates Westwood's revolutionary clothes, but her rebel spirit as well — along with her fascinating career.

While she started out making confrontational stage clothes for the Sex Pistols, Westwood nurtured her craft and her fashion identity over the next four-plus decades, going on to win Britain's prestigious Designer of the Year award for two years in a row.

Westwood: then
Westwood may not have invented punk (as one interviewee claims), but she certainly dressed it.

A working-class English girl who couldn't afford to go to art school, she ditched an early marriage that was too confining, and, with two young sons to support, starting selling hand-made clothing out of the back of a record shop on King's Road in London.

Her partner (business and otherwise) in this venture was provocateur Malcolm McLaren, who would go on to manage the New York Dolls and the Sex Pistols.

Westwood: now
They believed in outrageous clothing and behavior, "confronting society" to initiate social change. (In one ironic clip, we see a Westwood stage outfit from this era, a torn and grimy T-shirt with a graphic political message, handled with great delicacy by a curator in white gloves from the Victoria and Albert Museum.)

As Westwood says, "Everything I design has to have a story."

When Westwood saw her impudent designs and spiky haircuts being copied on the runways in Milan and New York, she realized that punk was over as a cultural moment.

She decided that if anyone was going to succeed with her distinctive clothing style it was going to be herself, and entered the fashion business on her own terms.

Today, her smart mix of fabrics, textures and patterns, and a new androgynous line to be worn by any and all genders, are right on point with the times. Westwood is proof that fashion and political audacity have no age limit.
(Read more in this week's Good Times)

Sunday, June 24, 2018


 At long last, Beast is on the way!

The official publication day is looming — July 10 — after which you can expect to find Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge arriving in your mailbox, on a bookstore shelf near you, or a reading device of your choice.

And then, one week later — July 17 — please join me at my reading/book-signing event for Beast at our own, beloved Bookshop Santa Cruz! Help me get Beast properly launched into the world.

I'll be sharing stories of how and why Beast came into being, the rocky road to publication, the peculiarities of a writer's life, and why my Beast is most emphatically NOT the Disney version!

Showtime is 7 pm, Tuesday, July 17.

Hope to see you there!

Saturday, June 23, 2018


Behold, friends and readers!

My first hard-cover copy of Beast arrived this week!

It's photographed in situ on my desk, so you can see how the gold foil lettering and scarlet rose design catch the light. Pretty cool, huh?

I am utterly stoked, of course, to finally hold his beautiful production in my hand!

Yet it's a bittersweet moment for me, that James isn't here to share the excitement.

My Art Boy knew better than anyone everything I went through in the two-year editing process to get to this point. We went through it, together.

He would be so delighted that all my hard work — and his unflagging patience and encouragement — had finally paid off.

Thursday, June 14, 2018


Everybody asks me if there will be some sort of public event in honor of James Aschbacher.

In a word: yes!

A dedicated team of Wonder Women, all very close to James and me, are planning this event with their usual wit, poise, good humor, and passion. And I am utterly thrilled they have invited me to be part of the project!

Fear not; event planners extraordinaire Ann Griswold Ostermann, Linda Bixby, Jana Marcus, and Donna Mekis are on the job. Ladies, you rock!

Celebrating James will take place on Saturday, August 25, at the Rio. (We're expecting a crowd!)

James' longtime friend and former business partner, Joe Ferrara will sing. Speakers will speak (including any audience members who wish to chime in), and a slide show of candid photographs from my vast archive will be on a loop upstage.

And of course there will be bubbly! Doors open at 6, and festivities begin at 6:30.

How can you (yes, you!) get involved? The instigators have set up a GoFundMe page to underwrite this event, and keep it FREE to the public!

We've almost reached our goal already, but believe me, it warms the very cockles of my heart to view all the notes of support and encouragement all of you in the community are leaving on the page in honor of my Art Boy!

He would be so touched! And so am I. Big time!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018


This just in: Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge has a new cover!

No, I don't mean the fabulous Candlewick cover for the print edition. Nobody is monkeying around with that one!

This is the new cover for the audiobook version — available for pre-order from Audible, STARTING TODAY!

Sorry, I wasn't able to grab a bigger image of it, but you get the idea. I admit, I'm surprised at the rose under the bell jar. There is no such device in my book as the petals falling off the enchanted rose like the sands of time in an hourglass; that's a Disney invention.

But I think the brooding mood of this image is just right!

What do you think?

Monday, June 11, 2018


One more month until Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge is unleashed on the world!

In the meantime, let's celebrate with one more — well, actually two more — Beasts of the Month.

These two vintage images may help to illustrate why my book is different from more traditional versions of Beauty and the Beast.

Take a look at these two views of the transformation scene.

This is what I call the moment that all thinking women dread — noble, soulful Beast transformed back into a (yawn) handsome  Prince!

The first is an Art Nouveau postcard from 1906, illustrated by Sophia May Bowley.

I do like the little beast-heads decorating his tunic and sleeve.

But isn't it a little weird that he's shrugged off his Beast persona like a cheap suit?

Over here, we have an illustration by Peter Newell from the book Favorite Fairy Tales, published in 1907.

Now, this is more like my reaction would be if I suddenly saw that the extraordinary Beast I'd fallen in love with had turned into an ordinary prince!

Wait, what? Where's my Beast?

Beast did all the work of wooing Beauty. Why should the Prince get the girl?

Beast (and his Lucie) get a much more satisfying ending in my book!

(Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge lopes onto bookshelves and devices everywhere on July 10!)

Sunday, June 10, 2018


Had a lovely time last Sunday at Pajaro Valley Arts Gallery.

It was the reception for the annual membership show, "What Nourishes Us," in which member artists pay tribute to the things that inspire and/or nurture their work.

For the last two-and-a-half years, James Aschbacher sat on the PVA board and managed the in-house Gallery Store.

So now, for the run of the membership show, (through July 15), they've turned the Gallery Store into a tribute room to my Art Boy!

The entire store space is full of art loaned to the gallery from the private collections of PVA members.

It's the biggest collection of his work you'll probably ever see, outside of my house!

Talk about nourishing! I was basking in the glow of his upbeat energy just being in the room!

(Okay, maybe it was the bubbly they plied me with . . . )

Art Boy-painted chair for a Shakespeare SC auction

And while you're there, of course, don't forget to stroll around the rest of the show to see what inspires more than 70 local artists.

Cheers to James!

Big thanks to PVA!

Wednesday, June 6, 2018


Received this 4-star review from the online book blog, Rajiv's Reviews, over the weekend!

He says, in part:

There are lots of twists and turns, and I found myself glued to the book. I also loved the climax of the book and was satisfied with how the characters were treated.

Lisa Jensen has written this story in a beautiful and majestic manner. Her words are like fine wine and compliment to the setting and timelines of the story.

Thanks so much, Rajiv!

Saturday, June 2, 2018


Midnight In the Garden. But I think of it as Letting Go

On her melancholy Blue album, in a song about the aftermath of a painful break-up, Joni Mitchell sings, "The bed's too big/The frying pan's too wide."

Here's what I would add to that checklist:

It takes twice as long in the morning to make half the breakfast. There is less to prepare (yogurt, fruit, toast, tea for one), but also less time, since I have to do all James' morning chores as well — feed the kitty, bring in the paper, open the shades, turn on the tea kettle, haul the bucket out of the shower to water the plants outside.

When I get out of the shower, I have to remind myself to take the plug back out of the drain and hang the wet bath mat back on its rack; nobody is coming in after me to use them.

A single crossword puzzle might last me weeks! Some couples might come to blows if one found the other trying to horn in on his or her puzzle, but crossword puzzles are one other thing that James and I always did together. Each of us had different bits of arcane information to contribute — although my main job was to spellcheck his answers!

Family and Friends   
We used to work on crosswords at meal times, as a way to eat more slowly, and also savor a few laughs before heading into the business of the day — or, later in the evening, confronting the (dreaded) news hour. Little victories, like finally figuring out a particularly knotty clue, or getting irate over a particulaly "specious" answer, aren't as much fun on my own.

Until I started walking around our life in his shoes, I had no idea how time- consuming his half of our couplehood could be. I'm getting a whole new appreciation for the hard work he did evey day just to keep our life going — and for the unfailing good cheer with which he approached every task.

Now, without him, I have to line up movie dates, yoga buddies, people who do yard work and home repair, as well as indulgent friends willing to take me on errands. It takes a village of wonderful friends and neighbors to replace one Art Boy!

And then there's housecleaning. Either one of us might have occasionally picked up the vacuum, or a broom, or a dustrag in random moments, but neither one of us was ever obsessed with keeping things spic-and-span. So, a little benign neglect around here will be considered okay — at first. (We're "creatives;" nobody expects spotless.) But I have to monitor the situation, now that I'm on my own. Navigating some charming artistic clutter around the house is one thing — as long as I don't degenerate into Miss Havisham!

James loved every nanosecond of this life we worked so hard to build together. His enthusiasm for life was enormous. And so, now, even though I'm stuck in a kind of half-life without him, I can't let my own enthusiasm for life diminish by half. That wouldn't be fair to James.

According to an old Wiccan proverb I read recently, "They are dead, so we must live."

That's the spirit!

(Paintings by James Aschbacher. But you knew that!)

Sunday, May 27, 2018


If a designated "thriller" doesn't have E-ticket action, it had better come up with some other way to keep its audience riveted. The dark, edgy drama, Beast, manages this, big time; it has thrills to spare, not from violent action, but from the deft accumulation of detail.

For his impressive debut feature, writer-director Michael Pearce crafts an eerie mood of unspecified menace, in which anything might happen — and anyone might be capable of the most heinous actions. Trying to figure out whodunit — that weary cliché — is a puzzle that keeps us on the edge of our seats in Pearce's capable hands.

The tale is set in a contemporary village community on the isle of Jersey, off the southern coast of England. The town is on edge over a series of murders of young women. The serial-killer-on-the-loose motif is standard for the genre, but Pearce uses it as a launching pad to examine the tensions (emotional, psychological, cultural) already at work beneath the placid surface of this middle-class community.

At the heart of the story (and Pearce's nesting-doll design of inner tensions wrapped around each other) is young, twenty-something Moll, skillfully played with both presence and vulnerability by Irish singer and actress Jessie Buckley. She is ably partnered by Johnny Flynn — unsettling, and dynamic — as Pascal Renouf, a reclusive young handyman living in a stone cottage inherited from his parents far out on the edge of town.

Not every question is neatly wrapped up, but the stylish look of the movie, its dark heart, and the fascinating complexity of leads Buckley and Flynn, make for a highly provocative thriller.

(Read more in next week's Good Times)

Saturday, May 26, 2018


Just found this tribute from the newsletter for Pajaro Valley Arts (PVA), where James Aschbacher, (aka Art Boy) served as a board member for the last two and a half years.

(He also applied his business skills and artistic eye to running the Gallery Store at their Watsonville gallery!)

It is with heavy hearts that we say goodbye to our dear friend James, who left this earth with a suddenness that created a huge hole in our community.

Board President Adrienne Momi wrote "James was a very important part of our PVA family, not only a Board member, but the guy who didn't hesitate to roll up his sleeves to get the rocks shoveled into the hole in the garden and to put the railing up so we complied with the (ADA) rules.

"He was a 'doer.' James' commitment to PVA included the annual Membership drive - and although he didn't want to take credit, his efforts produced more than 15% of our annual budget." 

James managed our gallery store, and filled in with whatever tasks at hand needed to be done. He worked with humor and directed focus. Judy Stabile, Board Member wrote. "Saying goodbye is so difficult, especially to someone so vibrant and joyful. James, you made PVA a better place to create, and a happier place to be."

The tribute concludes: "During our members' show, What Nourishes Us, you will find the Gallery Store filled with James' work from our private collections, as a dedication to his life, so well lived."

Hear, hear!

Thanks, PVA!

Thursday, May 17, 2018


Great news, faithful readers! 

The folks at Publishers Weekly just awarded a STARRED review to Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge!

The review says, in part;

In this compelling reimagining of “Beauty and the Beast,” Jensen integrates a new plot thread in the form of a third protagonist into the familiar fairy tale. Jensen includes all of the tale’s most significant elements, while still adding new twists and depths. Haunting language and lush descriptions (“the petals are long-dead; they have lost their bright color and velvety texture and curled into crisp, dry cinders...”) engage the senses, making this a memorable, worthy addition to the canon of “Beauty and the Beast” retellings.

This is my first ever starred review from PW, and I couldn't be more thrilled!

Beast unleashes (at last!) on July 10! Meanwhile, read the full review.

Thanks, PW!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018


Superhero Ginsburg fights for justice for all in smart doc RBG

Forget The Avengers Infinity War. Here's a movie that's really worth cheering about, entering the marketplace with the same quiet, unassuming, yet  determined demeanor as its subject — legendary Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

As cunning as Loki, as grounded as Black Panther, she wields her opinion with the impact and precision of Thor's hammer, and achieves actual change, fighting for gender equality under the law as she has for five decades of groundbreaking decisions.

And nary a special effect in sight — unless you count her incredible stamina to keep fighting the good fight at age 84.

According to Gloria Steinem, Ginsburg is "the closest thing to a superhero I know." An opinion shared by many in this smart, sly, and heartfelt documentary, RBG, by directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West.

The title references the recent biographical book, Notorious RBG (inspired by the moniker of the late rapper Notorious B.I.G), a nod to the younger generations of fans who have discovered RBG on social media and weren't even alive when she was fighting for things like equal pay and equal social security benefits in the workplace.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: pop culture heroine

"Whenever she writes a dissent," notes one of the younger observers in the film, "the Internet explodes!" It's sad that in these troubled political times, the actions that have recently made RBG such an unexpected social media icon are the clear and vigorous dissenting opinions she's written in opposition to recent Supreme Court rulings.

The Court has been shifting gradually to the right since RBG (nominated by Bill Clinton) was confirmed in 1993. In the current so-called administration, RBG is one of the few voices of sanity left on the bench.

But what a lot of people don't know about RBG (particularly her younger fans) is the hard work and determination with which she chose a legal career, and how the obstacles she faced shaped her views on society and the law. This is the story told most persuasively by filmmakers Cohen and West.
(Read more in this week's Good Times)

Monday, May 14, 2018


Friends, if you'e missing James Aschbacher as much as I am, here are a couple more tributes that might ease the sadness a bit.

First is from his longtime friend and business partner, Joe Ferrara, co-owner of Atlantis Fantasyworld.

It's a lovely, heartfelt memoir of how they launched the store, way (WAY) back in the day, November, 1975.

But get a load of these vintage pics of the two of them as eager young entrepreneurs! Guaranteed to make you smile!

And here's one written by the mighty Michelle Williams, intrepid head of the Arts Council of Santa Cruz County, in appreciation of all James did for the arts community.

It's kind of hard to imagine how the Santa Cruz arts community is going to forge ahead without James cheering them on.

But from the outpouring of love and support (and great stories!) that has been coming my way, I am comforted to think that my Art Boy continues to live on in the hearts of all who knew him!