Archive for April, 2018

When Art Does Not Imitate Life

A print of one my favorite paintings hangs in my office: “Wheat Field,” by Monet.

It’s representative of countless other landscape paintings, like those of Millet, Corot, Church, Cezanne, and Pissarro, all of which I love. I could sit in front of any of them for hours.

What’s so blog-worthy about that? Most of us relish the moments of meditation and pleasure we get from works of art.

But what I can’t figure out is this—if I were actually standing in one of these landscapes, I’d be freaking out. A wheat field? Eeuuw, I’d be scratching and itching, as well as asking “Where’s the nearest Starbucks?” So why do I have prints like this all over my house?

The Rocky Mountains, Lander's Peak, 1863

Bierstadt’s “The Rocky Mountains,” (The Met Collection, Roger’s Fund, 1907) is even worse. The sun is strong. I don’t like sun, in general. Or bugs. Or plants. And there are animals. Eeek! I’m afraid of the wild half of the animal kingdom and allergic to the tame half. Besides, they tend to add organic matter and odors to an open area like this meadow (valley? grassy knoll?), both of which I would find unpleasant if I were to stand at the focal point of this painting. I’m cringing at the thought of what would be on the soles of my shoes. And still no Starbucks or even a family-owned bistro. Nor a convenience store to buy bathroom tissue—oh, right, there’s no bathroom in sight. No sign pointing to the nearest hospital. No cell tower. Just thinking about it being there, I’m hyperventilating.

My idea of roughing it on vacation: a couple of galleries at MOMA are closed, darn; my theater seats are in the balcony, darn; and late night room service takes more than fifteen minutes, darn.

Thinking about this phenomenon—why I love paintings that depict scenes I go out of my way to avoid—it’s a lot like my relationship with fiction.

I write crime fiction; I love reading and watching movies about crime. The ensemble heist, the perfect murder, the “lovable” serial killer; a juicy kidnapping. But I don’t want any of it to touch me in real life.

There must be a name for this syndrome?

Socking it away with Ann Parker

What a thrill this week to have a special guest — my amazing friend, author, and traveling companion, ANN PARKER. Here’s her story!

First, many thanks to dear friend and colleague, Camille Minichino, for giving me one of her Thursdays to reveal the real me.

Second, lest you think the title of this post has to do with all the millions I’ve stashed away from my writing career… you are, alas, sadly mistaken.

You see, to understand the “real me,” you need to examine my ankles. (No, that isn’t a Victorian-era come-on.)

Most of the time, I dress fairly conservatively, particularly on those days when I go into the office (aka cubicle-land) or when I am doing a book event. A little color here or there, but basically I’m the “lady in black.” Black is practical. No muss, no fuss. When you wear black, no one can tell if you spilled coffee down the front of your blouse or if a chocolate bar fragmented all over your lap.

Black is my color of choice… except when it comes to hosiery.

I have rarely seen a pair of nifty socks that I can resist. Socks sporting pandas, poison, or polka dots—makes no difference. If I have the pocket change and the urge, I’ll buy them. I am particularly drawn to three-of-a-kind sock assortments where you can mix and match, while staying thematic through color and/or pattern.

Pandas . . .

poison . . .

and polka-dots!

This obsession can be dangerous. I have three drawers, full to bursting, and ever more footwear pouring in. I get socks for my birthday. Socks for Mother’s Day. Socks for Christmas. Socks for Valentine’s Day. Socks for Halloween. If there is an occasion that involves gift-giving, I will invariably receive socks. And I love every pair I receive. I keep thinking I should set up a schedule, whereby I track which socks I wear when, so I can rotate through my stock of socks in an orderly way.

A portion of one sock drawer!

I’ve sometimes wonder if my love for snazzy foot coverings (socks, not shoes, that is) might be a physical manifestation of my love for those colorful, but much maligned parts of speech—adjectives and adverbs.

Just as with hosiery, I have never met an adjective or adverb I didn’t like. I know, I know, this runs counter to the current writing fashion, which favors stripped-down language—nouns bolstered by strong verbs but scant on the flowery curlicues and flourishes. Since I write historical fiction, I cut myself some slack in this regard. After all, 19th century writing is overloaded with long, circuitous sentences and heavy with modifiers. I don’t want to write like James Fenimore Cooper (read here what Mark Twain had to say about JFC’s many literary offenses, including his breaking of the rule: “Eschew surplusage”). However, I do want to evoke some of the feel of that time in my narrative, without sending readers screaming for the door; adjectives and adverbs can help me accomplish that goal.

So, I throw open the prose doors when I write and welcome in descriptors, just like I tug open my sock drawers and take on more pairs.

Finally, did I mention that my husband signed me up for sock-of-the-month club for my last birthday??

Sock-of-the-month club from SockPanda.com

I’m doooooooooomed!

At the Book Carnival earlier this month for the launch of Ann’s latest book, A DYING NOTE, with bookseller Anne Saller (left), Rebecca Wischkaemper, and Camille Minichino (right), with Ann in the middle. (Note the ankles!)

Ann Parker—science/corporate writer by day and crime fiction author by night—writes the award-winning Silver Rush historical series published by Poisoned Pen Press, featuring saloon-owner Inez Stannert. The first five books in the series are set in 1880s Colorado, primarily in the silver boomtown of Leadville. The recently released sixth, A Dying Note, brings Inez to the golden city of San Francisco, California, in 1881. Publishers Weekly calls this latest addition to the series “exuberant” adding that it “…brims with fascinating period details, flamboyant characters, and surprising plot twists.” For more information about Ann and her series, check out http://www.annparker.net

Boston, the Hub of the Universe

Or so we were taught!

There’s a new movie out, Chappaquiddick. I don’t plan to see it, mostly because I prefer to hang on to whatever I think I know of the Kennedys. Reviews have called it out on historical facts, and also on the accents that are supposed to represent Boston.

So, it’s time to drag out my BostonSpeak piece.

I claimed Boston as my home for the first decades of my life. I was born in a suburb less than 8 miles away, went to college on the Fenway. Yes, THE Fenway—in certain classrooms on campus you could hear the crack of the bat. I also taught at that same college for many years. Is that enough Boston cred for you?

Besides hosting more than 53 institutions of higher learning, including MIT and Harvard, Boston has its own accent. Travel even 20 miles from Boston, and the accent is gone, indistinguishable from that of the network anchor in Grinnell, Iowa.

Everyone recognizes the accent; not everyone can imitate it. Even after many years in California, I can go back to it whenever I choose. Or, whenever I talk to my relatives and friends who still live there, says my husband.

“Hi, they-ah,” they say.

“Howahya?” I ask.

Even though I now speak like Californians, careful with my r’s, I’m very protective of Boston-speak.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when actors/actresses who are not natives try to take on the accent. It doesn’t work. Nothing can spoil a movie for me like a pretend Boston accent, which makes the actor sound like he’s rolling a hot potato around in his mouth. An old but good example is Rob Morrow in “Quiz Show.” In an attempt to sound out the broad a’s, his lips never met. Similarly, in “The Verdict,” set in Boston, no one got it right. Thank you, Paul Newman, for not trying. In newer movies, actors and their directors know enough not to try. They leave it to natives like Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.

JFK himself is often ridiculed for his accent. People laugh at his “Cuba(r) and Laos.” But Kennedy, and every other Bostonian, would pronounce Cuba as Cuba, unless the word is followed by another word that begins with a vowel. Thus:

“I went to Laos and Cuba,” but “I went to Cuba(r) and Laos.”

Similarly, a Bostonian would say “I obey the law,” but “I’m studying the law(r) of gravity.”

This is a common practice in many languages, where the letter used for the elision is actually written, as in Italian with e and ed, the words for and, depending on the first letter of the next word.

Back in the days of landlines, I called the San Jose Airport, seeking information (pre-Internet) about the layout of the airport before I drove there for a flight.

“Can you tell me where to park my car?” I asked.  ["Pahk my cah."]

“I’m sorry,” the clerk said. “We have no flights to Pakaka.”

At that moment I decided to learn to speak like a TV anchorwoman. Now, I do. Well, most of the time.

Hand me my lappet, please

It’s one of those weeks when I have to search for something to celebrate. April Fool has passed, and it’s 2 weeks till we can honor Paul Revere.

April 3 was Alec Baldwin’s birthday, but he’s getting enough attention lately. (Congratulations on that Emmy, Alec!) April 5, 1908 is Bette Davis’s birthday, but who remembers her?

It’s also National Caramel Day and National Dandelion Day. Ho hum.

Never mind those. Instead, I thought I’d learn a new word. I started with my favorite research spot: the public domain collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Here it is, image and all: a lappet.

French, early 19th century

Dictionary definition:

Lappet: a small flap or fold, in particular.
  • a fold or hanging piece of flesh in some animals.
    noun: lappet; plural noun: lappets
  • a loose or overlapping part of a garment.

Clearly I’m going for the garment app.

Can you use lappet in a sentence? (Yes, this is 5th grade.)