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In Runaways, my unpublished sequel to The Witch From the Sea, my hero, Jack, a Georgian-era actor-turned-pirate, rhapsodizes about William Shakespeare: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