Sunday, October 21, 2018

TEA INTERSECTION

Art, life, friendship dished up at Tea With the Dames

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.

 The talk is lively, and Michell makes judicious use of vintage footage from the actresses' illustrious careers to illustrate their stories.

Smith and Dench: impishness has no age limit!
This is a welcome time-out between the season of men in tights and testosterone action thrillers and the more serious, Oscar-bait movies to come. Grab a crumpet, pull up a chair, and refresh yourself!
(Read more in this week’s Good Times)

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

ART (BOY) RESTORATION





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.

He borrowed some of James’ paints from me to match up the colors, but all other expenses of time, labor, materials, and craftsmanship, he has donated to the project out of the enormous goodness of his heart.

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!


Thanks, Bob!


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

FRENCH TWIST

Country girl becomes celebrated author in lively Colette

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
The book, Claudine At School, is an immediate bestseller. Together with its three sequels, it influences a generation of young women, who copy Claudine's clothes and hair, bathe with "Claudine" soap, and nibble "Claudine" chocolates. But the books all come out under the name of "Willy," who refuses to compromise his "brand" by allowing Colette to take credit for her own work.

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.

(Read more)


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

ENCHANTING BEAST


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!

Thanks, Emmie!

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

TRIBUTE TO ART BOY


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

FIGHTING MAD

Michael Moore finds some hope amid outrage in Fahrenheit 11/9

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

ART BOY HONORED


 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

BOY ON THE BRINK

It could almost be a Third World country. The overgrown landscape is lush and green, with rambling, clapboard houses tucked in here and there, and a swimming hole hidden under and outcropping of trees.

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.
(Read more)

Saturday, September 15, 2018

BIG NIGHT

Okay, it’s taken me awhile to get a grip!

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.


Just wow!

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!

I'm so sorry I didn't get a chance to speak to every single one of you — I'd have had to get myself cloned. But I'm so grateful to everyone who was there. And you know who you are!

Big kudos to the intrepid fearsome foursome of Lime Green Productions — Ann Ostermann, Linda Bixby, Jana Marcus, and Donna Mekis — for pulling off this extraordinary event.

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

COMIC TURMOIL

Once, on a TV talk show interview, Janis Joplin scoffed at critics who pounce on rock music for hidden, deeper meanings, when (as she put it), "it's just some guy going 'shoobie-doobie.' "

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.
(Read more)

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

CELEBRATING JAMES UPDATE

Don't forget, friends, this Saturday, August 25, we'll be Celebrating James at the Rio Theater!

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

MY SPIRIT GUIDE

"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.

James.

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, 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

ROUSING CLOSER

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

THE GIFT of TIME

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

JAMES LOVES KIDS' ART!


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

UNLUCKY 13

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

SHAKESPEREAN RHAPSODY

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

BEAST MEETS WORLD

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."

Woo-hoo!

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!