Tuesday, August 25, 2015



     Extended through September 7—Labor Day—because of great demand the Met Museum’s China Through The Looking Glass curated by Andrew Bottom of The Costume Institute is an exciting, enchanting and impressive exhibit to behold.
     Since the beginning of the west’s awareness of China in the 16th century European designers, artists and architects have been inspired by Chinese designs. The exhibit on three floors begins with Buddhist sculptures—serene faces, some with a gentle smile gift the viewer with an air of peaceful meditation. On the opposite wall is a film of magnificent dancing and in the center stalactites of glass project downward.
     Porcelains, jade and calligraphy are on view as well as the Astor Court with a circular “moon gate” that frames a rectangular doorway. Plants, a spring of water and Taihu rocks rest on a floor of gray tile—the half-pavilion is styled after those found in northern China.
     Fashions designed for Haute Couture by western designers such as Christian Dior, Paul Poiret and Yves Saint Laurent attract cameras and amazement with their colors and conception. Three striking black gowns introduce Anna May Wong, the first Chinese American movie star. Wong began her career during the silent film era and became a fashion icon. Her career continued into the talkies but though an acclaimed and accomplished actress, her roles were stereotypical and limited because of America’s anti-miscegenation laws which would not allow her to share a kiss on-screen with a person of another race. She moved to Europe in 1928 and received the acclimation she deserved.
     She returned to America in the 1930s and in 1934 and was voted “The World’s Best-Dressed Woman” by the Mayfair Mannequin Society of New York.
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Wednesday, August 5, 2015


    Theatre director and writers or their characters will often cast against type. Think about the sweet, innocent child who wrecks havoc on his playmates and siblings—a monster who cannot be saved by parents, priest or psychiatrist. Example: The Bad Seed written by William March, later made into a film, where a mother begins to believe her child could be a cold-blooded murderer.
     And who hasn’t written or read about the handsome, personable and intelligent man who is—unfortunately, a serial killer who revels in matching wits with detectives, police or the FBI? There’s a prime example in Dr. Hannibal Lecter, starring in a series of horror novels, penned by Thomas Harris. How many readers fall for the virginal, usually blonde ingĂ©nue whose obsessive love, jealousy and neediness will ruin the lives of people whose lives touch hers. Read Leave her to Heaven by Ben Ames Williams—another novel to film with Gene Tierney, Jeanne Crain and Cornell Wilde.
     The affectionate relative or teacher who turns out to be a pedophile? Or not? Doubt—a play written by John Patrick Shanley kept audience members debating for days after they left the theater. Did Father Flynn molest the boy or was Sister Aloysius, a woman of iron convictions, accusing an innocent man who was guilty of nothing but befriending the child and personalizing the priesthood?
     The bad stepmother has been handed down from old folk tales—what about Snow White and her jealous stepmother—the Queen—characters written by the Brothers Grimm. Books that tell us about the good stepmother who gives her all? There aren’t many. One that stands out is Butterfly’s Child by Angela Davis-Gardner. The story takes place after the geisha Cio-Cio San kills herself leaving her child Benjie to her lover—the child’s father and his new American wife. The author’s inspiration—Puccini’s opera—Madame Butterfly. Perhaps more books are waiting to be written about the good stepmother.

     When my creation twists, turns and changes the route I jotted down so carefully—I have to pay attention. A call from my character may be a surprise—sometimes pleasant, sometimes not—that alters the course of my book. I try to be ready to embark on an entirely different escapade. A not to be missed venture into the unknown.
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Tuesday, June 23, 2015


     I watched the new version of Poldark, a swashbuckler British television series on PBS last Sunday and at the end saw a dedication to the actor Warren Clarke who had played his last role as Charles Poldark on the program. Americans will join their English cousins in missing this fine actor.
     His work as Albert Robinson in another series Sleepers that crossed to America's shores brought him to my attention and I watched the programs faithfully. The plot has the KGB integrating two agents into British Society. The agents forget why they've been sent and become as British as the native born. Warren Clarke played a moderate trade unionist, a happily married man with children and a council house in the north of England. When the KGB realizes what has happened they pursue the agents closely followed by the CIA and M15. I never missed an episode of the series.
     Reginald Hill's Dalziel and Pascoe crime fiction are classics and they were presented as a series on PBS featuring Clarke as Detective Superintendent Andy Daziel--fat, crude and complicated. I--along with many, many fans--never missed an episode.
      On reading his obit, I learned of all the stage roles Clarke had played and wished we had been able to see them here in America.
     Rest in peace Warren Clarke.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015


     The Newseum in Washington, D.C. displays photos of rocks, circa 4,000 B.C., portraying people talking in Tassela, Algeria—is an elder relating a legend to young people about the past? A visit to Uluru, Australia, offers cave drawings of plants and animals drawn long before our time on earth by Indigenous Australians.
     The Lascaux Caves in southwestern France are famous for Paleolithic cave paintings thought to be 17,300 years old. 

     A tour of Sydney, Australia’s Opera House, where a Possum Drawing is exhibited, attracts the attention of local attendees and visitors avid to learn the history of this fascinating country.
      Pompeii’s mosaics and frescos, and portraits illustrate the history of the residents, work by poets like Menander and panels depicting scenes from the Iliad. I can picture our ancestors, sitting around campfires, exchanging news of food, shelter and survival and telling tales—non-fiction and fiction—of conquests, their vision of the future and how they came to live on earth—then painting, drawing and carving their stories on a canvas of rock.

     Text and coins proves that Julius Caesar used words to great advantage. He wrote a history of his military feats in 59 B.C. and minted coins to commemorate his victories. A daily news-sheet—Acta Diurna—was published and posted in places accessible to the public.
     Drums, bells, horns and gongs once carried messages to villages in Asia and Africa. Councils answered the call when the beat of drums meant danger or death. Bronze bells called the Chinese to worship, meet, plant and harvest in 600 B.C.—by 740 A.D., their descendants invented printing by pressing carved, inked blocks of wood onto paper.
     Stained glass windows in Cathedrals such as Chartres tell biblical stories that instruct uneducated parishioners who could not read the written word. Four panels originally made in 1145 survived the fire of 1195 and are displayed along with others were created between 1205 and 1240. The windows tell stories of The Virgin and Child, the Old and New Testament and the Lives of Saints.
Photo by Eusebius
     Koreans produced bronze type for molds in 1403, while in Cuzco Valley, Peru, Inca messengers recorded and tallied new conquests, birth, and death and crop yields on knotted, multi-colored cords called quipas. The quipas were then carried to local officials.  This was the century Johann Gutenberg invented movable type and type metal. Little changed for 400 years but with the development of the linotype—a typesetting machine—printing was revolutionized. Low priced publication of books and newspapers was now possible leading Thomas Edison to call the machine, “The eighth wonder of the world.”
     In 1609, printed weekly newspapers made their appearance around the globe—the first regularly printed American paper was the Boston Newsletter, printed in 1704. James Gordon Bennett published the first penny papers in 1833. Featured were lurid crime stories, human interest and diverting pieces of gossip—most far fetched—just like today’s tabloids. The front page of an 1835 edition of the New York Sun reads, “Exclusive! Creatures with Wings … on the Moon.” Science fiction and fantasy?
     A copy of The Charleston Mercury, dated December 20, 1860, announced the start of the Civil War; reporters followed the troops into battle providing the public with eyewitness news. Matthew Brady hired a team of photographers who covered nearly every battle of the Civil War. 
     Pulitzer and Hearst competed with their coverage of the Spanish-American War in 1898. The focus back then—railroads, civil rights, suffrage and immigration are still in the news today. Newspapers went unchallenged until 1920 when the public was introduced to newsreels, newsmagazines and radio. The Federal Radio Commission issued the first television station license W3XK to Charles Jenkins in 1928 and by 1948 cable television was introduced in Pennsylvania bringing television to rural areas and challenging motion pictures. An e-reader was first introduced around 1998 but didn’t take off until 2009 when new models for e-books began to be marketed and produced. In the 1930s, elevator music was easily available streaming media. Today we can hear stories and novels via audio books, stream via screen capture over the internet and yet love the feel of paper when we pick up a hard cover book. So many ways to hear tales, stories, fables, legends, fiction and fact.

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Monday, December 8, 2014


     DNA? Musicians, composers, lyricists, painters, sculptors, and writers. Artists whose efforts bring pleasure to devotees born hundreds of years after their work was first presented. Often their skills and talents are passed from one generation to the next—fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, siblings and if traceable perhaps a great-grandfather or a rumored cousin three times removed.
     Johann Sebastian Bach’s ancestors all worked as professional musicians—church organists, court musicians and composers. His dad was a town musician in Eisenach, Germany. Johann lost his parents at the age of ten and was brought up by his older brother Johann Christoph—the town organist.  John Sebastian wrote music for organ and other keyboard instruments, orchestras, and choirs. His second son, Carl Phillip Emanuel was held in high regard by his fellow musicians—he composed in the then fashionable Rococo style as did his brothers W.F. Bach, J.C. Bach, and Friedemann Bach.
     A self-taught musician, Johann Strauss the Elder, wrote waltzes, polkas, quadrilles and galops. Johann the younger wrote more than 500 pieces with 150 of them waltzes. His waltz titled The Blue Danube established Strauss as “The Waltz King.”
     Oscar Hammerstein I immigrated to America in 1864 and built opera houses that drew a wide audience to listen to some of the finest singers in the world. Times Square became the “in place” because of him. His sons Willy and Arthur presented stars like Al Jolson and Houdini and Willy gifted America with his son Oscar Hammerstein II who wrote lyrics with Jerome Kern and Richard Rodgers during the “Golden Age of the American Musical.”. Rodgers begat Mary Rodgers who wrote the music for “Once Upon a Mattress,” and the novel and screenplay for “Freaky Friday,” and Mary begat the Tony award wining Adam Guettel who wrote the music and lyrics for “Floyd Collins” and “The Light in the Piazza.” The sons of Oscar Hammerstein II—William and James—were directors and he nurtured the talent of Stephen Sondheim.
     Actors? Robert Alda gave us Alan Alda, Judy Garland presented the world with Liza Minnelli, Goldie Hawn had Kate Hudson and, America’s Royal Family, the Barrymores, are still going strong with Drew.
    Artists? The Wyeth family is blessed with talent—N.C. Wyeth is the venerable father of three generations of Wyeth-Hurd artists and renowned for his illustrations in grand adventure stories, and classics for children such as Scribner’s Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe. His youngest son Andrew Newell Wyeth is recognized as America’s foremost realist artist. His first daughter Henriette became a fine portraitist and his second Carolyn is known for her introspective work in modern-day painting. Grandson James Wyeth found recognition at an early age with his portraits of people and the animals he painted in his rustic setting.
     And taking pen to paper or fingers to keyboard we have the Brontes—Charlotte’s Jane Eyre, Anne’s Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Emily’s Wuthering Heights. The Waugh family, beginning with Arthur who won the Newgate prize for poetry in 1888, continued with sons Alec who wrote Island in the Sun and Evelyn with Brideshead Revisited and continues with the latest generation, Auberon and Alexander. There’s H.G. Wells and his son Anthony West, Hilma Wolitzer and her daughter Meg, Alexandre Dumas, pere, and fils, and Mary Higgins Clark whose works have sold over 100 million copies and her daughter Carol Higgins Clark who has been nominated for the Anthony and Agatha Awards. High on any list are Stephen King and his wife Tabitha King and their sons Joe Hill and Owen King—writers who keep us up all night.
     Are they any artistic ancestors in your family? How about your children? Do they need, want, love to write?          
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Monday, November 10, 2014


     Seventeenth and eighteenth century musicians faced a slow economy and many chose not to publish their compositions with the traditional publishers of their time. Some publishers paid for neither paper, ink nor the hours the composer spent producing a piece of music that often lived on after they were gone—passed down from generation to generation.
     Numerous musicians chose to self-publish their music to promote their work as composers. They retained ownership of the metal plates and were able to print further impressions whenever extra copies were needed. Many of the composers are known to us today and include George Philipp Telemaan, Johann Sebastian Bach and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.
     Today we—as writers—have e-books and print-on-demand and many authors have chosen to self-publish just as writers and composers did in earlier centuries. Eighteenth century authors often faced problems when they offered their writings for publication. The majority of booksellers chose recognized authors rather than take a chance on an unknown writer and risk their currency and reputation. Without a patron or sponsorship from an established author and rejection of an unknown’s work a constant, a number of authors chose to self publish.
     In 1901, The Tales of Peter Rabbit received a few rejections, and Beatrix Potter self-published. The firm of Frederick Warne & Co. who at first rejected the stories soon picked up the book and turned it over to the youngest brother—Norman. The company published 22 additional books during the next 40 years and in 1906 Beatrix and Norman became engaged. Tragically Norman passed away before the wedding.
     Marcel Proust paid to have his masterpiece published 101 years ago. Swann’s Way remains a literary classic.
     Written and self-published by Irma S. Rombauer in 1931, The Joy of Cooking has sold well over 18 million copies. The jacket was designed by her daughter Marion. Later versions, edited by her family, can be found in kitchens all over the world today.
     Non-democratic nations have often banned publication of books written by prominent writers who opposed a regime’s ideology. Fans often manually reprinted a copy that would be considered illegal—another form of self-publishing and a way for a book to reach the reader.
     How many of you have or intend to self-publish and how many have chosen traditional publishing?
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Wednesday, August 27, 2014


Art courtesy of David Teniers the Younger 1610-1690
   So many crime novels, so many good authors, so little time. Do you cross borders for books? Travel around the world via the printed page or app to sample a recommended author? How many authors of crime, suspense, noir, cozy and detective fiction that you read come from a nation other than your own?
     As an American, I read Nancy Drew during childhood, later learned about the Navajo Tribal Police with Tony Hillerman’s Jim Chee and Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, studied the alphabet with Sue Grafton, and the law with John Grisham. I read every book written by Dennis Lehane and Elizabeth George. Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent had me on the edge of my seat and Mario Puzo’s The Godfather is said to have enthralled the mob as well as his readers. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird remains a must for any author while Walter Mosley’s writing entertained a president as well as many of us who borrowed the book from the library and...for a book I return to whenever I need to escape I choose Jack Finney’s Time and Again.  
     I admit to being hooked by British detectives. I’d go anywhere with Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse and cannot put down the Dalziel and Pascoe mysteries by Reginald Hill. Daphne du Maurier wrote Rebecca—I’m sure—for the romantic teen-ager that was once me—there’s still a bit of the romantic hanging around my book shelves and P.D. James with her Commander Adam Dalgliesh is on my top shelf. I join every lover of mysteries by begging and borrowing every Sherlock Holmes written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the Miss Marples and Hercule Poirots penned by Dame Agatha Christie. Then there’s J.J. Marric a.k.a. John Creasey who wrote about Commander George Gideon. 
     Canada is home to Louise Penny and her Inspector Armand Gamache—her newest came out this month. Israel has Batya Gur with Detective Michael Ohayon. The Welsh gifted us with Ian Rankin and the fun loving Alexander McCall Smith. The French are known for George Simenon’s Inspector Maigret. Italy for Umberto Eco and The Name of the Rose and Russia Feodor Dostoyevsky’s works live on—think of Crime and Punishment. Swedish crime novels are in today—what American can resist Steig Larson’s heroine? Then there is the Wallender series by Henning Mankell with his unshaven, melancholy hero.
     What country do you reside in, where do the characters you write about live and which “crime” authors have you read that are from other nations?


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