Friday, December 31, 2010

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Celebrate Good Times, Come On.

I’m not usually a fan of big declarative statements. Just as soon as they leave my lips something comes along to prove me wrong or shake my faith. But on this I’m pretty sure I can stand firm, no wavering.
If not even the tiniest, most tucked away part of you doesn’t light up at Kool and the Gang’s Celebration, then we probably aren’t going to make it as friends. 
There it is. I’ve said it. It’s out there. No backsies. 

There's a party goin' on right here. 

I’m not saying that you have to love it the way that I do. You don’t have to be instantly transported back to being twelve years old and dancing in the aisles of the Oakland Colosseum as the A’s win another game. You don’t have to remember grooving in the back of your dad’s wood-paneled station wagon as he cranks up the volume on KFRC. But if your head doesn’t start to sway just a little when that horn section starts in, well, the truth is, I feel a little sorry for you. 

Cause that song is joy, plain and simple. I know that moments of joy aren’t really in right now, especially the spontaneous, bubbling over the brim kind. Those times where you laugh a little too loud in a quiet cafe, or can’t keep the smile off your face as you walk down the street. I get that. Times are tough. You don't have to convince m. We’re supposed to be solemn, cynical. We should be contemplating the end of the world and all that. After all, if the Mayan calendar doesn’t get us, then the mutated super bees surely will.
But let’s be honest, 1980, when this song came out, wasn’t exactly the best of times either. There were recessions and gas shortages, middle eastern conflicts and, of course, the killer bees. If we allowed ourselves a little over four minutes of unadulterated joy back then, and it didn’t hasten the end of world, then I doubt it’s going to now. 
So go on. Click the button. Play the song. Groove a little in your own way. You know you want to. If you don’t, it’s like the bees have already won. 

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

It's a Celebration

Walt Whitman confused me, and a whole lot of other college freshman, with the first line of his epic poem, Song of Myself:

I celebrate myself, and sing myself.

Once I got over the sense that Walt was just a little-- *ahem* --infatuated with himself… once I read on and realized by ‘himself’ he meant the entire world…I decided I could really get behind that concept.

I know, I know, it’s corny to say that we should celebrate ourselves more. But then…we really should celebrate ourselves more.

It's possible I overdo it a little…I know I tend toward the Polly-Anna-ish, “look on the bright side” of things. In fact, I have it on good authority that such an attitude can veer right on over into obnoxiousness. My son makes fun of me: Gee mom, aren't those fluffy pink clouds just the prettiest things you've ever seen? And just look at that flower -- isn't that magenta with orange just amazing?

But the truth is, such things are pretty darned cool.

With the everyday grind of life, the monotonous, never-ending struggle to pay the rent and get the kids to their doctor appointments and keep the paperwork straight and make sure we’re keeping up our end in our jobs and our relationships and our organizations…it is tough to lift one’s head up from the muck and the mire and imagine: What if I knew I was going to die tomorrow? What would I appreciate today? What would I see, and smell, and hear... and know I was going to miss?

None of which is to say that I don’t look ahead and strive for the next challenge, the next adventure. I vow I will not, ever, be lulled into complacency. But while I’m struggling for the Golden Ring, I don’t want to lose sight of the really good stuff along the way.

And I don't just mean the most obvious: Children, friends, wine, food, laughter, love….

How about...
That special shade of green one only sees during spring, in new growth
Commiserating with a dear friend over really good Scotch
The smell of rain when it falls on warm sidewalks
Strings of Christmas lights and the smell of pine in the house
The morning’s first sip of really good, dark French roast
The way loved ones’ eyes crinkle at the corner when they smile
Hitting “send” on a finally-finished manuscript (in which case I simply must dance through the house to Billy Idol, turned up to “11”)

Old Walt had quite a list, himself, but I liked this part especially:

The smoke of my own breath, Echoes, ripples, buzz'd whispers, love-root, silk-thread, crotch and vine My respiration and inspiration, the beating of my heart, the passing of blood and air through my lungs...

It may be corny...but it’s high time to celebrate.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Celebration Changes

When I was growing up, we had a very set method of celebrating Christmas. It didn't ever change, and I reveled in the comfort of it.

We three girls would wake up (or my sisters would, and then they'd jump on top of me in bed, thumping me until I opened my eyes) and remove our stockings from where they hung on the chimney. These we were allowed to open in bed, pawing through the chocolate coins and new socks and silly, fun toys.

Then we'd gather in the living room, all five of us. Someone (usually Dad) would play Santa, handing out our gifts until we had piles stacked in front of us. I had a methodology established for opening: I'd scan each gift, opening what I guessed to be the most boring gifts first, saving the most interesting/exciting for last (a few times I got this wrong, and opened the pajamas or the underwear last -- the feeling of let-down was weighty, even if I'd already received amazing gifts).

Then, one by one, we'd go around the circle opening our gifts. It could take hours, especially since Mom folded each piece of wrapping paper to be saved for future years. Afterward, hyped on stocking sugar, we'd eat homemade stollen and then we'd retire to our various corners to read our new books for the rest of the day. It was a pretty great tradition, culminating in flaming plum pudding for dinner.

This year was our third Christmas without Mom, and it was the first truly okay one. The last two were so painful I could barely breathe through them. But last Sunday, almost a week before Christmas, my sisters and I piled in the station wagon and headed south to Dad's. When we got there, we had a new Christmas. A night celebration with old family friends, we sat in the living room in different places. I'd always sat in front of the fireplace; this year I was on the couch by the window. Dad passed out the gifts, but instead of going around the larger circle one by one, we just ripped into them, like I'd always wanted to do as a kid.

Even the house was different -- Dad's girlfriend Lola moved in not long ago, and it's become (rightly so) her home too. The walls are a different color, a pale sea-green. Her decorating flair is more pronounced than my mother's was. A different smell hangs in the air -- the scent of Mom's house was like rain-washed leaves, while Lola's house smells more floral. I was glad for this -- it made it easier to be there somehow, and even after giving it some thought, I'm not clear why this was true. Perhaps it was that Lola had made it her own, rather than slipping into my mother's place which would have been harder to deal with? Or that there were simply fewer sense-related memories to battle?

But that made it right, and good, and FUN. My mother's best friend Gaynelle was there with a different husband, not the man I'd grown up knowing. Her son Sven, whose diapers I used to change when I babysat him, now looks like his father Rick, and he's just about the age Rick was when we first met him many years ago. But Gaynelle's laughter was just the same and I heard her gift with puns echoed by her other son, Leif, whose two small girls rocketed around the house the way we used to. It was home. (But now, as an adult visiting my old home, I stay in the local Motel 6 down the road, and I have to say, the part of me that pulls out my debit card to pay the room charge celebrates also.)

Then, on Christmas Even, back at home in the Bay Area, my sisters and a couple of assorted loved ones came over for drinks after I got off work. There was almost no prep (I did make homemade egg-nog), and we didn't decorate. We were just together, and I loved that small celebration with all my heart.

Life is so different than it was even just a few years ago, but the feeling underpinning the celebration of it is still love. And I'm grateful for that.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Party On, Gentle Souls

by Sophie


I'm not a natural reveler. I confess that with a certain amount of embarrassment - celebrating seems like something that should come as naturally as breathing.

The word "celebration" invokes for me a specific set of images - champagne glasses, confetti, unrestrained laughter. Bright colors, the flash of cameras, hearty voices joined in conversation and song; red lipstick and silvery shoes and dance floors packed with couples.

I don't care for loud noises or crowds or bright colors - I'm hypersensitive to stimuli of all sorts - but it is the whole that is most intimidating, the sense of communal energy, people joining together in an emotional space where I just can't manage to engage.

But despite all that, I don't want to be left out. Introversion is lonely - at least, it is for me - and I long for the company of others. So I find ways of coping. Like my colorblind brother who has adopted a variety of tricks to avoid going out into the world in clothing combinations that clash, buying staples in neutral shades and enlisting the help of his wife to get dressed, I've developed my own tricks and schemes to get through parties and gatherings.

I give myself pep talks in advance ("They're nervous too," and "No one is paying attention at you," I remind myself, like the mother of a nervous middle schooler on the night of her first dance.) I eschew anything eye-catching, anything that might invite conversation, and dress in black and gray. I arrive early enough to scope out the corners and shadows where I can hide. And I find my comfort objects - people who are aware of my flaws and love me anyway - and check in with them from time to time, much like my daughter used to search for me when she was a toddler at the park, climbing into my lap every so often just to reassure herself that I was still there before dashing off for more adventures.

At a recent party, I made a valiant effort for a while, then retreated to a table tucked into a niche. Like a fox in a den, I felt cozy in the little space, armed with my drink and my snacks, observing the glorious melee all around me while I girded myself for another burst of socializing. After a while, a friend slid in across t table from me. "Mind if I hide out with you?" she asked. She's shy too. Of course I didn't mind; like-minded folks understand what you're up to, and make good company. You don't have to explain yourself. LIttle silences feel companionable rather than strained.

Before long another couple joined us, and another, until we had turned our own little party. We laughed and talked and gossiped and drank and, it occurs to me now, did everything that was going on in the big party, but somehow the energy felt a little different. Safer. No one asked me to dance. No one expected me to remember a punch line or sing choruses or regale captive listeners.

Party on, I thought as the evening grew late and I slipped away, leaving the reveling to those hardier stalwarts, the ones born to wear spangles and lead conga lines. I was content - even delighted - to have played my small part. Even the grandest fetes need humble footsoldiers as well as bold captains, and I was happy to be among their number.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Kate Perry's Museum....

Pens are so very pleased to welcome Kate Perry. Kate is the author of the Guardians of Destiny series, a Kung Fu Master, a tango enthusiast, and a cupcake aficionado. Voted by her friends as the woman they'd most want to stroll with down a dark alley, Kate's as likely to be spotted at the opera as she is practicing swordplay in Golden Gate Park.

Glass of wine in hand, Amy sat down on my kitchen floor. “Are you going to get a kitchen table soon? I don’t mind plopping on the floor because you’re making me dinner, but isn’t it time?”

“I just moved in, and I’ve been too busy to go furniture shopping.” I stirred mushrooms into the pan of caramelizing onions.

“Speaking of why you’re busy… I bought TEMPTED BY FATE last week. I’m on the handcuff scene. Hawt. ” She fanned herself. “So how is the new book release going?”

“I have one more guest blog to write.” I turned around, brandishing the wooden spatula. “I’m supposed to write about museums.”

“That’s perfect for you. You’ve been to museums all around the world. Write about your favorite one. Or the city that has the best museums.”

I added cream to my mixture, turned the heat down, and faced Amy. “Actually, I had this other idea.”


“It doesn’t involve explosives this time.”

“That’s only slightly reassuring.” She sighed in resignation. “Tell me.”

“I’m going to open my own museum.”

Amy blinked. “Just when I think I’m used to your crazy ideas, you spring something like this on me. Where are you going to open your museum?”

“Right here.” I waved at the bare walls of my new apartment. “I have prime real estate, not to mention that parking is easy in my neighborhood and I’m by two major Muni lines.”

“Yeah, but where are you going to get paintings from? I doubt you have a bunch of Chagall canvases hiding in your attic.”

“I’m going to do the paintings myself.”

“But you don’t paint, Kate.”

“Yeah, I do,” I said excitedly. I ran to my bedroom, grabbed my pack of paintings, and skid back into the kitchen. “Look.”

She silently flipped through my informal portfolio.

“And I have all these ideas for other paintings. I’d like to do a series based on my Guardians of Destiny series, depicting my heroines kicking ass. And maybe I’ll do a series on the Chinese elements my Guardians represent. And I’d like to do a series on fruit.”


“Like tomatoes on the vine.”

“Oo-kay.” She handed me back the paintings. “I don’t want to be a killjoy, but you write, you study kung fu several days a week, and you have a crazy dating schedule—“

“I’ve also been tango dancing.”

“Exactly!” Amy threw her arms in the airs. “When are you going to fit painting and being a curator in there?”

“I’ll cut back dating to two nights a week. And I don’t need that much sleep.”

Amy opened her mouth, closed it, then opened it again to down some wine. Finally, she shook her head. “You do realize that if you turn your apartment into a museum, people will constantly be walking through. Which means you’ll have to clean more often.”

“Oh.” I frowned. “I hate cleaning.”

“I know.”


She nodded. “I know.”

I brightened. “Maybe I can build a robot to do the cleaning.”

“Around your book deadlines?”

“If I created a heroine who was a painter-slash-inventor, then I could chalk it all up to research.”

“You—I—“ Amy shook her head and held out her glass. “Is there more wine?”

Kate can be found on her website at and follow her most excellent posts on Twitter @kateperry

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Theft at the Louvre

by Gigi

I briefly mentioned an eventful experience I had many years ago at the Louvre in this blog post here.

Now that the topic of museums has come up, I'm going to explore this famous museum theft in a bit more detail.

A few days before my 23rd birthday, I found myself aimless in Paris. I'd recently finished working in London on a temporary work permit, and was trying to travel for as long as possible as cheaply as possible. What better way to spend the day than head to the Louvre on the one day a month when it was free?

As it turns out, a lot of other people had the same idea of heading to this free Sunday at the Louvre -- including an art thief.

On May 3, 1998, Le Chemin de Sevres, a painting by Camille Corot worth $1.3 million, was sliced from its frame. No alarms sounded. Nobody even saw the thief.

I don't remember exactly where in the museum I was, because I didn't realize what was happening until we began to be ushered into the mail hall of the Louvre, underneath the giant glass pyramid. (I assume I was looking at sculptures somewhere in the sprawling museum, since stone carvings are my favorite type of art.)

I was staying at the flat of a French friend I'd known when he was a foreign exchange student in California, but I was alone at the Louvre that day. I had my backpack with my camera inside, so alone in the vast crowd, I started taking pictures.

The press reported that when the missing frame was discovered, "exit doors were immediately locked, and every bag carried by every visitor, was checked thoroughly, until the search was concluded, unsuccessfully, many hours later."

Parts of the press reports were true -- but not everything.

While the authorities kept us trapped in the hall for hours, I had a great time observing everything that was going on. Unlike many of the tourists who were scrambling to leave to catch flights, I wasn't in a rush to get out of the museum. When I finally exited, behind most of the tens of thousands of visitors -- I was never searched.

This fact, even more than the daring theft of the painting, has stuck with the mystery writer in me.

Had the thief slipped out before the doors were locked? Or perhaps... could the perpetrator have been one of the faces in my photographs?

I followed the story in the newspapers for a while, including the hard copy clippings above that I saved in my scrapbook. But as I write this, the painting has yet to be found.

I had already been interested in art theft in mystery novels (e.g. Elizabeth Peters' Vicky Bliss mysteries) but this experience cemented my fascination. I was thrilled to discover Hailey Lind's art lover's mystery series a few years ago -- written under a pen name by the Pens' own Juliet Blackwell -- which happens to be how I got involved with these writers who formed the Pens Fatales.

The best art theft thriller I read lately was actually a nonfiction book, Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasures. It's a memoir by a retired FBI agent who spent his career working undercover to rescue stolen art. When I finished the book, I found I'd put at least a dozen post-it notes in the pages to capture details I wanted to remember when working on my next mystery -- which most definitely involves an art thief.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Martha Takes Her Museums Like Her Tacos - Off The Streets

Picture this.

You're strolling up a hill in San Francisco's Marina district, just a few blocks shy of the lapping waters of the dock.

Steamy, delicious hot dog in one hand.
Cold iced-tea in the other.

Friends on either side, chatting.

Then, hmmm. Lookie here. Spray painted against a building. What do you think of this?

Who is the artist?
What does it mean?
Why is it here?
Why the color choice?
The words inscribed in her skirt - "get up get up get up get up" - a call to arms?
For us?
For what?

That gas mask - so creepy! Some debate the origin of the gas mask in street art but most agree Banksy popularized it (some might hypothesize this is his piece) and even more agree it's iconography ties to British air raids as a symbol of political oppression, groupthink, and a calm acceptance of unacceptable terms.

A regular day, no admission fee, and 20 minutes of philosophical discussion with food in hand. My favorite museum is the street when you weren't expecting it. My favorite piece is whatever happens to be around to catch my attention.

Get up get up get up get up.

There's a museum all around you.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Shrines to the Muses

by Lisa Hughey

So we’ve focused quite a bit on art museums which I love because if I could be an artist I would be, but my scale is never quite right and the color gradations always off, so I mostly appreciate ART and leave the creation to others more talented. Growing up in the Chicago suburbs, I visited the museums regularly (The Art Institute of Chicago, The Field Museum, The Museum of Science and Industry were my favorites) and developed a deep love of museums and the stories behind the exhibits.

I love museums that focus on history, even more specifically on the history of a particular person. My first introduction to this, or at least the one that lingers in my memory, is visiting Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home on the Potomac, during my 8th grade school field trip to Washington, DC.

I can still picture his bedroom with the giant four poster bed, white linens, with a book and a pair of spectacles resting on the bed. It was fantastic to stand in his bedroom, the father of the American Revolution and wonder...what would have happened if he’d chosen any other path?

Mt. Vernon Estate and Gardens

Wandering through his home, seeing how he lived and worked, thinking about his place in history really had an impact on me.

I love docent talks, thrilled to be soaking up all that knowledge of the people who lived and worked in the homes. Lately, I’ve been on a kick to visit the shrines to the muses of writers. There are several pretty cool ones in the Bay Area.

Eugene O’Neill’s Tao House is an experience. Atop a hill overlooking a valley, you have to take a bus to reach the house which nowadays isn’t that far from civilization but when he lived there it was in the middle of nowhere. Neither he nor his wife drove so they relied on day servants who did their marketing and shopping (no UPS delivery back then!). They were for all intents and purposes very isolated. When he wasn’t writing, O’Neill was quite a traveler and the art and collected memorabilia from his travels is fascinating. He was also an entertainer, although a somewhat reluctant entertainer according to reports. An absolutely wonderful part of the tour is the glimpse into his writing process. He wrote every day. By long hand.

Pens, Sophie and LGC and I with our pal, Trish Cetrone

Totally jealousy inducing is the placement of his office, off of his bedroom and closet. To reach his office his wife and servants had to travel a gauntlet of three doors and the house rule was that if any one of the doors was closed: DO NOT ENTER.

The other museum is in the Jack London State Park in Sonoma, California. London was actually a frustrated farmer who wrote in order to feed his dream of a sustainable, working farm. The museum is housed in the simple farm house where he lived and worked and entertained. He loved to have people come stay with him. As with O’Neill, London was an avid traveler. His farmhouse is full of furniture and accessories from exotic places. His office looked out over the farm and had a little cot where he often slept while he was working.

The London Farmhouse

London also wrote every day, insisting that no one bother him until he’d gotten in at least 2000 words (again by long hand). London differed in that he would write anywhere, outside on rocks, out near his man-made pond, in his office. Once he’d written his words for the day, he’d joyously entertain until late at night.

Learning about their every day life, their process and their pain has been great inspiration to continue writing and living life in order to inform my work with authenticity.


ps. In honor of our Museum topic, I’m drag, er, taking my kids on a trip to the San Francisco MOMA to see an exhibit on the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson. :)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Which is Worse: Museum Foot or Housemaid’s Knee?

L.G.C. Smith

I love museums. Any and all museums, except maybe The Three Stooges Museum, which I’ve only heard about from my husband, who adores it and the Stooges. I have never loved the Stooges. Enough said. But any other museum – I probably love it.

Me in a museum in Avignon

I’m sure it comes as a whopping surprise to folks that, as with other things I love, such as road trips, maps, and jam-making, an excess of methodical, relentless perseverance is my preferred modus operandi when visiting museums. None of this half an hour at a time crap for me. Sorry, Juliet. That’s for you people with social lives. I’m basically a recluse --and no, I don’t have major OCD issues. Really. If I go to a museum, odds are I spent a fair bit of time and effort getting there, so I mean to make the most of it.

There is the added advantage that once in a museum, you rarely have to talk to anyone.

There are, however, a few drawbacks to my approach to museums. They are:

1. Other people think you are insane. Other people traveling with you are rarely willing to inter themselves in any museum, no matter how great, for upwards of eight hours at a time. Wieners. My husband’s most admirable trait: he can spend longer in a museum than I can. Which leads to…

2. ...Don’t try to take romantic trips any place there are museums. We spent a week in Florence for our honeymoon. I only remember the museums andthe gelato. And…

3. ...Museum Foot. This is what happens when you shuffle through vast museums sucking in everything paying no attention to how you are moving. Drag. Ooohhh. Stop. Admire. Think. Glance back. Glance forward. Ooohhh. Drag. Wow. Stop. Admire. Think. Cry. Whatever. Repeat for four to five hours. Find cafeteria. Caffeinate. Put protein in. Back to work. Drag. Ooohhh. Stop. Drag. Ooohh. Stop. Repeat until they kick you out. By the end of the day, your feet feel like you’ve run a marathon, then had your toes trod on by a mammoth. In fact, you’ve never moved faster than a sloth all day. Walking the same distance would be a breeze by comparison because you would use your muscles the way they are designed to be used. Clearly, we did not evolve to appreciate the Uffizi Gallery in two days. Even when young.

Me with fellow Museum Foot sufferers at the Rodin Museum

That’s it for the drawbacks.

Some of the most rewarding museums are the smaller ones, those local places that sent all their good stuff to the state capital or a big national museum. Possibly they never had any good stuff to begin with, so they collected what they could and slapped up a museum sign. One of my favorites is the Adams Museum in the town where I was born, Deadwood, South Dakota. (Seriously.) They had some decent stuff, even back when I was a kid, some good Wild West photos, lots of examples of barbed wire, and a load of creepy taxidermy. We went once a year when we visited my grandparents in the Black Hills.

The best exhibit, bar none, was the miniature diorama of a nudist community constructed out of popsicle sticks. I am not kidding, people. Someone local must have made it and donated it. I’m not sure the point was to make a nudist colony, or if that was just a by-product of the limitations of the construction materials. For years on end, my cousins, sibs and I would gawk, point and collapse in silent laughter as we studied the yards and yards of rolling green grass and stick people going about their business in the buff, all inside big lighted cases. Somebody in Deadwood had a sense of humor back in the seventies. God bless ‘em.

The Adams Museum has been renovated at least a few times since then, and the diorama in the basement was gone the last time I was there. Thankfully, the world is full of museums exhibiting similar testaments to questionable taste and generous estimations of intrinsic value. Thank heavens we don’t all have to make it into The Met.

My brother, stricken with an acute case of Museum Foot at Versailles

Finally, the answer to the question in the title is that Museum Foot is always better because it means you spent the day in a museum rather than on your knees scrubbing something.

Friday, December 17, 2010

My Day At The Museum

Pens are thrilled to have our pal Carolyn Jewel as a guest today! Carolyn Jewel writes historical romance for Berkley Books and Paranormal Romance for Grand Central Publishing. My Immortal Assassin, book 3 in her My Immortals paranormal series will be in bookstores everywhere January 4th, 2011.

Last month (November), I visited a writing friend in Brooklyn. (I should mention I live in California so the visit was for a week, not an afternoon.) I brought my son with me so that, in addition to writing related things I had scheduled, my son and I could do some New York-ish things. A brilliant plan! My son was broken-hearted that he was to miss a week of school, but he bore up well under the crushing disappointment.

I knew better than to overbook Things-To-Be-Seen, since that leads to exhaustion and crabbiness. I am not good with stress and overly ambitious schedules that leave no time for serendipity. Also, my son is 15. There’s only so much a teenager will tolerate from his mother and the point of the trip was not to torture him (seriously!) but to create some memories about travel actually being fun. And that serendipity thing? Four words: The Pop Tart Store.

However, I was determined that we should see the Jan Gossart exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art because the exhibit would improve my son’s mind and expand his horizons. Perhaps he would even be inspired to change his career goals from “sitting around playing Star Craft II all day” to “Renaissance Historian. “

It could happen.

It didn’t, but it could have.

Anyway, by this huge, amazing coincidence, there’s a Fantasy I want to write that involves a Renaissance-ish culture. As it happens, I was at this exact time completing revisions on a short story set in this world. My editor sent them to me the day before we were to leave for New York.

The astonishing timing of editors is the subject of a whole other post, I promise you.

When I was making plans for the New York trip and realized that the Met was going to have an entire exhibit of paintings dedicated to the very period I was using as my inspiration, I was beyond thrilled. There’s a reason English has stolen words like kismet. Also, I am a museum freak. If left to my own devices in a museum I will stop in front of each and every work of art and read every single word. And then contemplate. While writing scenes in my head.

Did I mention my son is 15? Renaissance painters are actually not his favorite thing. He was at great pains to point out to me that I was going through the exhibit slower than the stooped over, gray haired lady with a cane. Well, yeah. She was skipping stuff! The slacker. I suspect, but do not know for certain, that she was not staring at the exquisite portraits and thinking about the best way to steal the clothing for her Fantasy world. I could be wrong about that, of course.

After we finished the Gossart exhibit, we flew through some of the Georgian and Regency paintings because my son felt he had suffered enough and he had a point. Discretion, as they say, is the better part of valor. We went to the Met Store only to learn that the Gossart exhibit book will give you a hernia, so I did not purchase it at the Met. I bought it online later and let the USPS get the hernia shipping it to California.

The Museum of Natural History was much more to the 15 year old’s tastes and we spent quite a while there with nary a complaint about a certain person walking too slow while writing scenes in her head.

How did you feel about museums when you were a teenager?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Kick in the Teeth

Mary Blair’s concept art for Cinderella.

This one is my favorite.

I picked these up at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco about a month ago.

It was also where I saw this, the first known drawing of Mickey Mouse. I must have stood there for a solid fifteen minutes staring at it, as reverently as some look at the Mona Lisa.

The legend goes that Walt drew it at the lowest point in his life. He was broke. A shady businessman had just stolen the rights to his first commercially successful character. He had a long train ride back across the country to dwell on rejection and failure. He could have given up, called it quits. No one would have blamed him.

But he didn’t. Instead, he picked up his pencil and drew. And when he got back to L.A., he had an idea. A few months and a whole hell of a lot of hard work later, the world had Mickey Mouse.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Bringing flowers to museums

I have a confession: I don’t really like museums.

Actually, that’s not true. I adore museums for maybe half an hour at a time.

After that I start to feel a little faint. Maybe it’s the re-circulated air and weird lighting and crowds (I don’t do well in shopping malls, either.) Or maybe it’s the implication that I’ll never be that good no matter how long I paint; or in contrast, the compelling desire to go home RIGHT NOW and paint something to see if I could be great (this was the case with the most recent exhibit I went to on the post-impressionists…I came home and started two new paintings!)

Food and drinks help. A lot. In fact, if I could do museums in half hour intervals studded with food and drinks all day and night. I lived in Florence, Italy one memorable summer, and went to the Uffizi just about every single day, each time discovering something new and precious.

But all that said, I’d like to put in a plug for a great museum experience: the annual Bouquets to Art show at the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco, which comes only briefly, usually in March. If you haven’t been, it’s a little hard to describe.

Essentially, this fundraiser invites florists and artists –artistic florists, really—to create pieces that respond to particular paintings. Then these pieces are presented in front of, or next to, those paintings.

Sometimes the arrangement mimics something from the painting. In other cases it reflects a shape or color. And at times the floral representation simply responds to the mood of the original art work.

What I love about Bouquets to Art is the vibrant, time-limited interaction of the viewers with the artwork. The show invites the artist/florists and the viewers to take part, to interact, to see anew. The flowers live only briefly, so the show only lasts a few days. But that very brevity adds to its charm.

Because sometimes museums are best savored in small doses.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Home Museums

It's funny to me that Sophie and I have such different museum methods. Do we all? The fingerprints of the art world, each one unique?

Me, now, I don't like to plan a museum. I like to stumble upon them, in the same way I like accidentally finding a great coffee place, or a beautiful spot in a park. I don't like the expectations a Good Museum has of me -- I don't know how long to stand in front of each painting, and it always seems like I'm going against the flow of other people. I linger in front of odd paintings where no one else even pauses, and I don't feel what I think I'm supposed to feel at the work in front of which people are queued for a glimpse. (It sounds as if I'm trying to be contrary or even pretentious, and I swear I'm not.)

I love modern. I love weird and mind-bending art, and there's nothing I like more than staring at a piece and having those two opposite thoughts run through my mind: My cat could do that! and Oh, my god, it's the most incredible thing I've ever seen! I like how that makes my brain feel like a collection of rubber bands, all sproinging off each other.

My favorite museum (one I go to on purpose, in fact) is the Peggy Guggenheim in Venice. It's actually her old home, filled with her favorite works, and I love it for its quirkiness. Inside, the most beautiful piece of art (I think) is the way the Grand Canal is framed out its metal-grate covered windows, and I would bet that Peggy felt the same way sometimes. She buried her dogs in her garden and then had herself interred there, too.

Married to Max Ernst (her money came from her father and uncle who perished on the Titanic), the home is full of works by his contemporaries, Dali, Picasso, and Pollack. My own favorite room is the Bosch room -- oh, those tiny wicked scurrying creatures, all doing nefarious things. I could stand in there all day looking at their little evil faces.

But it IS, of course, a Good Museum, and therefore, it is full of people who "know" things and speak knowledgeably about art in hushed voices, so soon I always escape out to the front, where the most infamous piece of art stands proudly in view of all passing water traffic: Marino Marini's Angel of the City. Completed in 1948, he was asked to sculpt it with a detachable penis (the song gets stuck in my head at this point), in order to avoid offending young ladies passing by, but it's reported that Peggy would remove it and chase guests around her home with it during parties.

Ol' Peggy had PLENTY o'love and lovers in her life, detachable penis or no, and I'm as intrigued by her home and her stories as I am by the art with which she surrounded herself. To me, THAT'S a good museum, all right, full of life and ribald humor and pathos and beauty. But then, that opens up the definition of museum to include all of our homes, don't you think?

I like that.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

One Life At The Museum

by Sophie


Before I get going on today's topic, one I love, I have a little Pens-on-the-Loose photo to share. Juliet and I were down at one of our favorite bookstores over the weekend, Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego, for their holiday party and author event. We saw old friends, were introduced to some of the seasons hot titles by reps from Harper Collins and Random House, and met some fun people including YA authors Cindy Pon and Andrew Smith; Scott Browne, who wrote BREATHERS (which, as some of you know, is my second-favorite funny zombie book after DAWN OF THE DREADFULS); and the astonishing and tireless Philip Margo who was a member of the Tokens, that band that sang "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." Uh huh. That one. Now I can't get that song out of my head!

Me, Mysterious Galaxy publicity manager Maryelizabeth Hart, and Juliet

Back to the subject.

I'm a museum brat from way back. My mother was an artist, and she took me into the big city of St. Louis - quite an intimidating journey, from our smallish town two and a half hours away - several times to see shows at the Museum of Art. My mom could be a little prickly about art - it mattered deeply to her, and her opinions were closely held - but I have to say that when we went to the museum, she allowed the art to do all the talking. She kept her own counsel; she was not one of those dreadful loud people who carry on conversations in galleries as though - as though (can you tell I am sputtering?) - as though they are on their own *driveway* talking to the neighbors twenty feet away - -bah!

Museum of Art in St. Louis

These were in the days before audio guides. (Now, with the iphone apps, I think the entire museumgoing experience is changed forever; I can't decide how I feel about this. I daresay I appreciate the eerily silent crowd; and yet, I cannot believe it is a good thing for *all* of us to attend without comment. Perhaps if they allowed *me* to choose who could speak, and not?)

So anyway, I was exposed early, and there lodged in me a lifelong love of not just art but a true reverence for museums. I prefer the imposing ones, the oldest ones our country has to offer, though of course these are not very old at addition to the one in St. Louis - which will always be my favorite - I love the NY Met and the Chicago Art Institute and the Philadelphia museum of art, where I was briefly a volunteer. I am fond of the American Crafts Museum in New York - it was a favorite destination when my brother and I used to prowl NYC in the 80s. I have an uneasy relationship with the MOMAs on both coasts - I heartily endorse their existence, but I visit with about the same enthusiasm as I attend Mass - I feel I should, now and then, but I never particularly enjoy it. (I'll let Juliet explain her feelings about modern vs non-modern, high vs low; what she says what she says what she says.)

I have an emotional relationship with several pieces in a variety of cities that is too personal and in some cases, too melancholy to explore here. The thought of one work in particular always moves me to tears, though the story is a complicated one. I mention this only to make the point that I think that those who wander in and out of museums over the course of a lifetime are the true and right beneficiaries of permanent collections: far better for ____ to reside at the Art Institute in Chicago, where I know I can always find it - repository of my precious memories and stories - than in my own living room, which seems by comparison far too risky.

(I know that, here, i should chime in on art being for the masses, and accessibility and all that - but that's not my particular crusade. My mother made me feel like all the art in St. Louis was ours - for those few hours when we visited - and that is how I prefer to view it to this day. I ignore the busloads of visitors, the schoolchildren and the foreign tourists and the elderly ladies. My favorites are MINE and there is a small mean corner of my soul that doesn't want to share.)

Yes, of *course* I took my children to museums! I took them out of grade school without a second thought; I took their girl scout and boy scout troops. I took my daughter at the age of 5 to a Magritte exhibit featuring paintings of women's sexual organs (Geogria O'Keefe? - ho hum) and told her what they were when she asked. I don't regret that. I took my son to a Japanese textile exhibit that bored him to tantrums; his response was understandable, but I made up for it with a photograph of a sneeze magnified many times over (snot!! in mid-air!) and a performance art piece where a video played in a loop, of hairs being plucked from a scalp - magnified, again, many many times - perhaps that being the secret to modern installations. (Juliet will explain - I'm quite sure of it.)

a perplexing installation at the SF MOMA a year ago...

My favorite moments in museums, however, have been the ones when I have been alone. I suppose my mother is there with me, in some way, always; but on an inclement winter Tuesday afternoon, one can still find a gallery to oneself, I imagine, in any major museum. I like being there with my thoughts. I like to approach the canvases (oh, and if I didn't mention it before, my preference is for painting - acrylic or oil, with watercolor a distant second - then drawing, especially studies in a bold hand; and then three-dimensional art, but only if I must) and look at the brushstrokes, then draw back and squint. I can do that for a very long time.

I don't know how to wrap this post up. It's late; I'm travel-weary. Maybe I'll just share a couple of the first works I feel irrevocably in love with:

Study by Drurer

Cezanne - Blue Vase

Friday, December 10, 2010

Pens Welcome Author Virna DePaul!!

Virna DePaul is a former prosecutor whose debut paranormal romantic suspense series, The Para-Ops Novels, launches on May 3, 2011 with Book 1, Chosen By Blood, Berkley. It’s about a unique special ops team, its vampire leader, the human female he’s forbidden to love, and the mission that can save his clan.

This month, every person who pre-orders Chosen By Blood will get a free full-length e-novel by paranormal romance author Tina Folsom. See

Thank you so much to the Pens for inviting me to be a guest here today! I’m proud to be in the same writing chapter with such talented, inspiring, and kind women.

“[A]ge is not just about surviving, it's about flourishing.”

That’s a line in a Psychology Today article that discusses how women only get better with age. Of course, the line actually starts with “Old age” and I felt compelled to change it. No matter my age, I will refuse to consider myself “old.” I’m shooting for “experienced.” Well-developed. Enlightened. Seasoned.


Ah, that’s a nice one. At the end of my days, I want to be bursting with a juicy nectar that can only come from living an honorable, authentic, and bountiful life—one that can only come from trying. And I don’t mean a half-hearted, brief or intermittent kind of trying, but the kind of trying summed up here:

"Life is not a journey to the grave to arrive safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out and loudly proclaiming "WOW! What a ride!" (Ian Coress)

So I guess you can say I aspire to be a ripe piece of fruit with collagen to spare, but one that’s otherwise banged up, bruised up, limping and smiling like crazy.

I turned 40 last spring and, although I’m not happy about the extra pounds that are appearing far more easily or the wrinkles that seem to show up overnight (hence the need for extra collagen), I have to say I’m the happiest I’ve ever been, even though sometimes I still struggle with bouts of anxiety and insecurity. I’m more in touch with who I am, even as I constantly try to deepen that knowledge. Not everything I’ve learned about myself is positive (not even close), but for me, discovering the nuances is exciting and getting past the difficult times is empowering. It seems that as the years pass, I discover more things I like or am willing to do, things I’m not willing to put up with, or things I am capable of.

I believe my writing journey reflects my progress towards ripening, both personally and professionally.

By pursuing my passion for writing, I’ve learned some ugly things about myself, but I’ve learned to appreciate certain aspects of myself, as well. While most people see me as “nice” (I used to hate, hate, hate that term in high school), dedicated, a little quiet (and I am all those things), I am also bold, passionate, hedonistic, and funny. I’m stubborn and ambitious and driven. And yes, I am a slob, impatient, neurotic, quick-tempered, incredibly insecure, and often selfish, too.

But even so, I like myself. Because I’m trying.

The same can be said for my writing. After several setbacks submitting straight romantic suspense stories, I decided to write paranormal, a genre I read but had never even considered writing. Turns out I not only love writing it, but a publisher thought I was really good at it. Since then, I’ve tried my hand at contemporary romance, first person urban fantasy, and even erotica. I’ve enjoyed writing all of them but, best of all, I learned I can write all of them pretty darn well. That doesn’t mean I’ll ever publish in those genres, but who knows? The point is I wrote things I never thought I could because I was willing to take a chance and try something new.

My stories are generally darker, but in my contemporary romance and urban fantasy, my writing voice is notably more humorous.

And of course, all that passion I told you about? I think I express it in my life in general, but what happened when I refused to hold back and instead went balls-for-the-wall and wrote an erotic novella?

I surprised even myself. But no matter what, the essence of who I am, the good and the bad, is in whatever I write.

I plan to keep on writing, keep on improving and growing, and keep on flourishing with age. I’ll try until the ride is over and I’m not going to let anything or anyone derail me.

Virna just self-published her debut erotic novella under the pen name Ava Meyers at It’s set to move at only 99 cents. Here’s a brief description of Copping To It.

Read the excerpt at

When Claire meets undercover cop Ty Williamson, she fears revealing her inner vixen. Then she's captured by a gang of bikers that Ty has infiltrated. Ordered to have public sex with Claire, Ty just wants to get her to safety - until he sees the desire burning in her eyes. Now Ty will prove he wants all of her: the good with the bad. In fact, the badder Claire is, the better they'll be-together.

Guess what? Virna will randomly draw names of two commenters who can pick either a prize listed at OR an e-copy of her erotic novella!!!! Comment away!!!!

You can find Virna on the web at and

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Our Gigi

Gigi is…well, darn. What is Gigi exactly?

I’ll start with the obvious stuff: she’s beautiful. There, I said it. Actually, she’s freaking gorgeous…I don’t mean to be superficial, but please. Long black shiny wavy hair. Flawless skin. Rockin’ bod. Incredible smile. Deep brown eyes that carry any number of secrets in their depths…

In fact, that’s it!

Gigi Pandian is mysterious. In a good way. She’s an intriguing blend of exoticism with a kind of down-home unpretentiousness. She has this quiet calm about her, interrupted most frequently by an adorable little smile that lets you know she’s in on the joke…in fact, she’s probably telling the joke.

Every time I’m with her I can’t help but appreciate the lovely, subtle way she has of moving through the world…of course, that might have something to do with the fabulous, sexy-yet- comfy rubber-soled shoes she always wears.

I first met Gigi at my first professional writers’ conference, Malice Domestic, where I was stumbling around like a deer caught in the authorial headlights. Gigi came rushing up to me in the aisle after my very first panel, introduced herself, and earned my undying love by comparing my books to those of Elizabeth Peters. In fact, we then went on to bond over our mutual love for Peters’ smart, academic heroines and adventure-mystery novels. Only later did I learn that Gigi was picking up a William F. Deeck Malice Domestic grant at that same conference, for her novel Artifact, featuring treasure-hunting Indian-American historian Jaya Jones. She went on to be a finalist in the 2009 St. Martin's Press / Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery competition. Since then I've been lucky enough to read some of her work-- trust me: she’s a wonderful, hard-working writer, one of those who will surprise no one when she announces she’s sold her novel for bucket-loads of money. Gigi walked away from a PhD program when it got too tedious, moved to the Bay Area, met the love of her life, and started working as a graphic designer –not for one of the ubiquitous tech companies crowding out the area, but for the ACLU. She works for the organization dedicated to defending the Bill of Rights. Yes, Gigi’s Just. That. Cool.

Of course, she could hardly help it. She’s the child of cultural anthropologists from New Mexico and the southern tip of India. And then she spent a bunch of time in Edinburgh, Bath, and London. I mean really. That’s an awesome back-story for any heroine, real or fictional.

Oh! I almost forgot the most amazing thing about Gigi -- she's an artist. The woman has an amazing relationship with cameras...she favors cheap ones that over- and under-expose photographs, because she likes to just see what happens. Our Gigi doesn't feel the need to be in control of everything; rather, she likes seeing where luck leads her. Check out some of her amazing fine art photography -- it's breathtaking.

The other night Gigi sat across from me at dinner and confessed, over wine, that she and her partner share a “geeky commitment to changing the world” by working for non-profits and pursuing art and writing and cooking up all sorts of schemes that I won’t divulge here. Suffice it to say that our Gigi dreams big. And the best part is, I have no doubt that she’s going to achieve those dreams, and change our world for the better.

And she’ll accomplish it all with apparent ease…quite mysteriously.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010 turn, and I got Martha!!

We're switching things up around here. For the next couple of weeks, instead of writing about a particular topic, we're writing about each other. We've fired up the ol' randomizer and received our assignments.

How many times have I found myself talking about Martha to someone who hasn't had the pleasure of meeting her yet - and trying to find the words to describe her, failing utterly, and ending up saying "Martha is unlike anyone else I know"....?

I mean, how often do you really get to say that? Without for a minute dismissing the snowflake-like uniqueness of every human being, many of us share some characteristics. Of LGC I might say she's loyal the way my son is loyal - completely unshakably. I might compare Lisa's kindness to my own grandmother, who just couldn't see ill in anyone.

But Martha? Every experience, every interaction, goes through the Martha-filter and comes out fascinating. (Don't worry, I'm getting to the compliment part - if you haven't figured it out yet, a week and a half into this grand experience, we're all pretty much crazy about each other.) A cheeseburger, it turns out, is not the admittedly delicious assemblage of bun and meat and cheese that I've loved all these years - it is in fact a QUEST deserving of serious attention and vigorous city-scouring. A social note is not a folded piece of paper but a precise marriage of paper stock and design. A book - a book! No book is just a book; Martha can analyze and interpret and read between lines and consider the reader and discuss its merits, all without ever losing the joy of just reading it in the first place.

I love what a bundle of contradictions she is. I once borrowed a shirt from Martha to have my photo taken in. She KNOWS her tailoring, and fine fibers, and the vagaries of design, and owns impossibly beautiful pieces by designers who, of course, she knows personally. And yet - when Martha gets her hair cut she apparently tells them to get it right the first time because she won't style, flatiron, or even blowdry it. She has more important things to do.

She's marvelously self-possessed and confident - and then you discover she has this crazy little fan-girl streak that renders her nearly incapacitated in the presence of someone she admires. (But we took care of that, Pens, didn't we?)

She sees through to the core of people with laser-like precision - and then she claims she can't write emotion. (Ha! HA! That's me, scoffing.)

Remember the word I used up there - "vigorous"? Not long ago Martha met me and my daughter for lunch, since we had an appointment in the city. Afterwards we offered to give her a lift, but Martha merely slung her backpack over her shoulder and said she lived too close to need a ride. People, she lived THREE MILES AWAY. Now I know that lots of people walk or run or stairclimb similar distances for exercise, but the thing is that Martha had probably begun the day by swimming across the bay or dueling with her sensei or spearfishing or poledancing (ok, i made one of those up).

You may doubt me, but I've never seen Martha turn down an opportunity for adventure. She has this whole host of friends she knew before she met us (she's very matter-of-fact about it; her social calendar is legendary, and we have to plan things months in advance if we want her there - and trust us, we *always* want her there) - and apparently they are all foodies and fashionistas and marathon runners, and they routinely dash off to all corners of the globe to have sumptuous experiences, and we might be tempted to be a little bit jealous except that when Martha is with you, you always feel like you have 100% of her attention. Make that 120%, because it's Martha.

She has this one darling expression - my favorite, I'll confess. It's her "wheels-turning" face. Ask her anything - really! the 80th digit of pi or whether you ought to break up with that guy you're seeing or if you should get the shoes in patent or suede - and she does this one-eye-narrowed, slightly-frowny-mouth thing...and sometimes she actually *says* "hmmm..." and well, I always feel like the balance of the universe hangs on the answer. And that it'll be unimpeachably accurate.

I could go on forever, because she's *that* fascinating. I haven't even told you about martha and numbers (genius), martha and story (captivating), martha and generosity (you'd have to know her to believe me). But I could just keep writing and writing and never finish up. Let's leave it at this - I adore this woman, and I feel just a little sorry for everyone who's never met her.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Lisa: An Angel by Any Other Name?

By L.G.C. Smith

I’ve known Lisa Hughey for fifteen years. We first met at our local RWA chapter meetings. I don’t remember when exactly, only that she was a beautiful young woman with long, long hair, quiet confidence and a quick laugh. Then we served on a chapter board of directors together, and I saw her competence, attention to detail, and sharp mind.

A couple of years later I joined her critique group, and came to appreciate her thirst for knowledge, her love of suspense fiction and her talent for writing a sexy blend of romance, adventure, and espionage that’s impossible to put down. Seriously. Suspense is not my favorite genre but I can’t stop reading Lisa’s books once I start one. I’m not biased or anything. That ten years of reviewing romance, more years than that spent researching the field and teaching in universities, thirty years of reading widely – I couldn’t possibly know what I’m talking about. Nor do I ever listen to my uncle, the market research sensei, or my sister the genius who has propelled her organic stone fruit farm into a nationally known brand name with the highest reputation in her industry. One learns things about marketing and identifying broad appeal. A lot of things.

Lisa’s books have those things. Kick ass characters. Authentic emotion. Gripping tension. HOT love scenes. And all sorts of smart and sneaky spy things. But mostly, it’s the way she puts everything together in fast-paced stories that, lest I wasn’t clear the first time, are impossible to put down.

To any editors who might stumble across our little blog – you want this woman in your publishing program. Readers are going to snap her books up like bears scooping up spawning salmon. She’s already got a fabulous agent behind her. Lisa is the real deal as a commercial writer. Mark my words: She’s headed for the bestseller lists.

However, Lisa’s writing isn’t her greatest gift. That distinction belongs to her spirit and the astounding capacity of her heart. She cares deeply about many, many people, and she does things every day that show it. If someone is late to a meeting or event, Lisa is taking note and phoning or texting them to make sure all is well. In times of stress, she checks in, letting us know she’s thinking of us. If Lisa knows you, even if she might not like you, she’s going to care about your well-being and wish you well.

She’s good to the bone, which doesn’t mean she’s a Pollyanna or a sap. Oh, no. She’s got too pithy a vocabulary for that, and too sharp a wit. But she would instantly give you anything she possessed if she thought it would make your life a little easier. She’s willing to hold her friends accountable for taking care of themselves and managing their writing careers. That last takes a lot of belief in those of us who may, at times, have shown tendencies to commit heedless career hari-kari.

Lisa is possibly the sanest person I know. She has a strong marriage (if it isn’t perfect, it’s what I hope for all the children I love when they grow up) and a wonderful family. She tends things well. Herself. Her home. Her family. Her friends. Her career. Watching her, I’ve learned how to be kinder and wiser in tending the things I love.

Most of all, Lisa loves with her whole heart. Unstintingly. All in. With deep compassion and inborn wisdom. This is a gift of the highest order, one that makes angels weep with joy, if there are angels. Looking at Lisa, one might be tempted to make a case for angels living in our midst.