Thursday, April 24, 2014

U is for Urgent 2nd Class

Yesterday the strangest thing happened to me: I was in a bookstore searching for a new art book (totally realizing that the last thing I need is a new art book), and when I opened a how-to on watercolor techniques, there was a letter inside. A hand-written, angsty "I-don't-mean-to-be-passive-aggressive-but-I really-hate-you-because-I-love-you" letter. Wow. It was written on lined notebook paper and made me feel like I was a character in a movie or a novel. All I could think about was: Who was supposed to receive this letter and why was it in this book? In a public space!

The part that was really strange to me, though, was that I had already planned to make today's post for "U" be a celebration of Urgent 2nd Class, Creatimg Curious Collage, Dubious Documents, and Other Art From Ephemera, by Nick Bantock, the creator of the Griffin & Sabine series of books. If you are a Bantock fan, you'll immediately recognize the significance of finding a letter in a book. If you don't know Bantock's work--run, don't walk to the bookstore and get yourself a copy of Griffin & Sabine, an Extraordinary Correspondence right now--skip reading this post, just go!

In my opinion, Nick Bantock is the foremost mixed media and collage artist/author ever. The End. I have admired (and envied) his work most of my adult life, and taking one of his workshops is so on my bucket list I get dizzy just thinking about it. Fortunately, I have a way to stay sort-of sane while I'm waiting because Urgent 2nd Class is one of my all-time keepers. The book is full of Bantock's artwork, and better yet, great ideas and tips on how he does it. Not only is the book beautiful, it's genuinely useful.

Bantock is the reason I first became interested in making collages of my own. I've often mentioned in the past how important magazine cut-outs have been to both my artwork and writing, but to get that real "fine art" kind of effect, magazine pics can sometimes be too "slick" or commercial-looking. 

Bantock uses all kinds of strange and interesting materials in his work, much of it found from combing through vintage shops and yard sales. My own collection of collage materials is rather paltry in comparison, and one of the things I'd like to do this summer is start creating a better selection of items. To get started, I brainstormed a list:
  • Used costume jewelry: pins, beads, chains.
  • Old jigsaw puzzles--doesn't matter if pieces are missing. All the better if they are.
  • Vintage postcards, travel brochures.
  • Vintage greeting cards.
  • Vintage theater programs and tickets.
  • Stamps. International, used, pretty, weird . . .
  • Buttons, laces, and fabric trims. Preferably used.
  • Old books in bad condition (so I can tear them up with a clear conscience).
  • Vintage menus, paper placemats.
  • Doilies, both fabric and paper (good for making imprints and texture in paint).
  • Wallpaper scraps.
  • Really bad condition wall-art prints and posters (again for tearing up).
I have a feeling that searching for these items is going to be just as much fun as finding ways to use them. Let me know if you're planning to hold a yard sale any time soon!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

T is for The T.E. Lawrence Poems

When I first moved to Albuquerque nearly eleven years ago, one of the first things I did was join a narrative poetry writing group. I saw their notice seeking new members up at my local indie bookstore, and wanted to join on the spot. I called the listed number, talked to a very nice poet, and attended my first meeting several days later. It was a great group, even if I didn't know that much about narrative poetry at the time, other than having read Gaudete, the subject of my "G" post for the A-Z Challenge. 

Unfortunately, several months later the group was the target of a hostile takeover (bet you didn't know groups could fall prey to things like that) and almost overnight it became a . . . science fiction novel writing group! Huh?? I don't write science fiction. I needed a new group, and soon.

Except there were no other narrative poetry groups in Albuquerque. When I told a poet friend in Canada about what had happened and how much I wanted to learn more about the genre, she immediately sent me a very special gift: a copy of The T.E. Lawrence Poems by Canadian poet Gwendolyn MacEwen, a book my friend described as "narrative poetry at its best." She was right.

The T.E. Lawrence Poems is a fictional "autobiography" told in verse from the point of view of Lawrence of Arabia. This Lawrence isn't Peter O'Toole, and maybe not even the author of Seven Pillars of Wisdom, but he sure comes across as real. Reading this book is worse than having an endless bowl of Fritos--once I start, I can't put it down.

I have never been the type of person who can describe poetry very well. I use words like amazing, fantastic, beautiful, soul-stirring, but none of them say what I want to say about poetry. Maybe it's because I just don't know how you can write about poetry, except maybe to write another poem!

Which is what I did on a trip to Taos, New Mexico a few summers back. It started with a simple misunderstanding: During much of the trip I kept talking about how much I wanted to see all the places D.H. Lawrence had been while he lived in Taos. It wasn't until we were at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House that I realized with a jolt that my husband thought I'd been talking all this time about T.E. Lawrence. I was stunned. Sons and Lovers had NOTHING to do with camels. I had to process this in my art journal before I felt as if I'd fallen down the rabbit hole:

Lawrence in Taos

There were no deserts he could recognize;
His motorbike too small and industrial;
His politics unpopular;
His clothing suspicious.
Arrested over and over for assisting--they thought--Al Qaeda, 
He could not convince them he wasn't who they thought he was:
It was terrible how narrow their vision was
And how much he wanted to go home . . .

Whew, that felt better.

I hope you get a chance to read The T.E. Lawrence Poems one day. The copy my friend sent was a used edition, and I was lucky to get it. There are some pencilled annotations in the margins from previous readers, and whoever they were, they seemed to have enjoyed the book almost as much as me! 

Happy National Poetry Month, everyone, and I'll see you tomorrow with the letter "U."

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

S is for Sunset Vegetarian Cookbook

The real title of today's keeper selection is: Sunset Menus & Recipes for Vegetarian Cooking; Entertaining Specialties, International Favorites. But to keep life simple, I just call  it the "Sunset Vegetarian Book."

It's the only cookbook I own, and I've had it for years and years. I don't think there's a recipe  in it that I haven't changed, altered, substituted, rewritten . . . whatever works, right? After all, you can't really go wrong with vegetables! 

But the real reason I've kept the book so long is for a recipe that isn't even part of the book. Instead, it's one I've handwritten onto the inside front cover, and its a recipe I do follow (pretty much) to the letter. And that is for:


This is a recipe I got from my late father-in-law, a larger-than-life character straight from the pages of any runaway bestseller of a novel. Heck, they could make an entire mini-series from his life: hunting tigers in India for his 21st birthday (yes, yes--it was a different world back then); fighting with distinction in the second World War and being highly honored for his service; continuing to serve in Libya and Malaysia (where he took my husband and his siblings into the Malaysian jungle to meet with headhunters) . . . 

Eventually he moved to New Zealand where he became a strict vegetarian, one of the reasons he could go on yearly European skiing vacations well into his eighties. (He was also very kind to cats of all shapes and sizes.)

One of his daily rituals was to eat a bowl of his own homemade muesli every morning. He gave me the recipe when he was staying with my husband and me in California one year, and I wasn't able to find ANY kind of muesli for him to eat. I could find Fruit Loops, Coco Pops, cornflakes--but noooo muesli. 

After searching every store in my area, I realized I was going to need help and just make some myself, hence the need for a recipe. The Colonel scribbled one down for me, and guess what? It was so good, I've continued making it to this day:

The Colonel’s Muesli

4 cups of oatmeal
3 cups of bran
3 cups of wheatgerm
1½ cups coconut
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup sesame seed
1 cup stoneground wheat flour
2/3 cup honey
1/3 cup vegetable oil

Melt the oil and honey together in a saucepan over low heat. 
Mix the remaining ingredients in a deep oven-proof casserole dish. 
Add the honey and oil. Stir well.
Bake at 350 degrees for half an hour, checking occasionally, 
stirring to rotate the ingredients.  
When cool, place into a large lidded container.
 Lastly, add 1-2 bags of your favorite trail mix. (You have to open the lid for this.)

Note: be careful not to overcook. This isn't granola
so you don't want it too dark or crunchy.
"Lightly-toasted" is what you're going for.

And there you are! Now just keep an eye out for those tigers . . . 

Monday, April 21, 2014

R is for River Bones

Mary Deal is one of my favorite authors. I own four of her books, all keepers, but the only one that starts with "R" is River Bones, so that's the title I'm featuring today. River Bones is an exciting page-turner of a mystery set in California's Sacramento River Delta area.

It has a bone-chilling book trailer:

And I want to re-read it RIGHT NOW! Except I can't. I'm at work.

One of the main reasons I enjoy Mary's work so much is her voice. When I read (and re-read) her books, it's hard to remember I'm reading about fictional characters. Instead, all of her story people feel like real people to me--people I'd like to invite to dinner one day--well, the good guys, at least! Mary is an expert at portraying villains, and I would never want to know any of them in person.

Exactly four years ago (almost to the day, where does the time go??) I wrote a post about Mary's book, The Tropics. Since then, Mary has come out with a completely new version of that book, titled Legacy of the Tropics, available on Kindle. Whichever version you read, though, I think that first post sums up my thoughts on River Bones, too.

Mary also teaches writing, and she has a great website full of excellent tips for writers at all stages of their careers. For more on Mary and her books, plus invaluable writing info, please check out

In the meantime, I hope your week is off to a great start and you've been inspired to start searching through all your own bookshelves, discovering which are keepers and what titles you might want to pass on to friends of the library. See you tomorrow with the letter "S"!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Q is for Quick & Clever Drawing

Street Scene, Barcelona

Participating in the A-Z Blogging Challenge has been fun, no two ways about it--but it's also been very, very time consuming. I've had to give up a few of my daily routines and practices, and one of these has been sitting down to draw or paint every day. Which is why it's good to have a nifty keeper book like Quick & Clever Drawing by Michael Sanders.

I haven't owned the book for more than a year, but it's been a handy reference guide for when I'm feeling lost and falling behind in my artwork, like right now. Originally, I purchased the book to help me gain some pointers with my travel journal and sketchbook when I went to Barcelona last summer (oh, no, not Barcelona again, I can hear you thinking. Apologies for bringing it up so often, but it's a very interesting place!).

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

But back to Quick & Creative Drawing. Basically, the book encourages artists at all levels to just go for it. My favorite quote from page 5 is: "Drawing is simply making marks on paper." Yay! That's the spirit!

Sanders encourages his readers to keep those initial "marks on paper" simple and uncluttered, in other words, be quick; be clever--e.g., if you need to use a cardboard template to get the angle of a roof right, don't be shy, go get the scissors. And be very willing and open to "make mistakes" while you're experimenting. As he also states, rather than tell yourself, "I can't draw," say, "I can LEARN to draw."
    Good advice--and what we all need to keep in mind about every creative endeavor we pursue, whether it's painting, writing, or learning to sew. And because it's the weekend and we get Sunday off from the challenge, I'm setting aside everything else in my life to grab my paper and pencils and go learn some more drawing tips. See you on Monday, and have a wonderful weekend. Eat chocolate!

    Friday, April 18, 2014

    P is for Past Recall

    Happy Friday! Today's keeper book is Past Recall, When Love and Wisdom Transcend Time, a time-traveling, paranormal romance set in the south of France by author Nita Hughes:

    Past Recall was published as an indie book before it was cool to publish an indie book, and has always been an inspiring and fascinating book for me to read. I met Nita through my writer’s group back in Carrollton, Georgia, and the most exciting thing I remember from that meeting was Nita’s deep love and dedication to her theme and subject of the Cathars, a small but powerful movement throughout southern Europe; people who were considered heretics by the Catholic Church. The Cathars were the victims of the only Crusade into Europe, with thousands of people killed and tortured as a result, culminating in the final destruction of the sect.

    When Nita was ready to publish her book, I had the privilege of writing a short blurb for the back cover. I wrote: “A haunting blend of metaphysics and historical romance at its best. Past Recall is filled with rich characterization and a great sense of style.” Still rings true for me today!

    Nita is a wonderful writer, with a special gift for bringing her characters and settings to life. Her high-tension storytelling combined with spirituality and historical information is particularly impressive. I thoroughly enjoyed Past Recall when it was published, and I enjoy it to this day. A sequel, The Cathar Legacy, is equally compelling, and it shares keeper shelf-space right next to PR.  

    A few years ago I asked Nita some questions for my blog just before she was about to leave for France to teach a writing workshop in Cathar country: 

    Q. When did you first decide to become a writer?
    A. I always loved to write since age 4, holding a pencil. And to speak-- communicating, stirring passions and prompting thought via words seemed miraculous.

    Q. How did you become interested in the Cathars?
    A. Cathar interest hit me out of the blue, literally, as I sat in the corner on a stool in a Melbourne bookstore, perusing books to buy. A book fell above me, landing in my lap, and opened to Cathars. Never heard of them and from that moment felt duty bound to bring them back to life.

    Q. Do you have a writing schedule and if so, what is it?
    A. 3 hours-between breakfast and lunch.

    Q. What is your favorite book?
    A. Many, but loved Anna Karenina by Tolstoy, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera (heavy on passions and magic realism).

    Q. Any writing advice to share?
    A. Write from your passion(s) –whether fiction or non-fiction.

    Nita’s advice is invaluable. Are you writing from your passion?

    Altogether Nita has published three books, with Safe Haven, a romantic thriller set in the Philippines, being her most recent. To learn more about Nita and her books, please visit See you tomorrow!

    Thursday, April 17, 2014

    O is for Overtaken--and a Free Giveaway

    My recent novel, Overtaken, is a keeper because--I wrote it! Better yet, I want you to have a copy too! 

    From now until the end of the 2014 A-Z Challenge on April 30, all you have to do is leave a comment on any of my posts and you'll be entered into a random drawing on May 1, 2014 to win your very own copy. This goes for everyone who's already commented on earlier posts as well. And if you're a follower of my blog who leaves a comment, it gets even better--I'll throw in a bonus prize! This is to thank all of you wonderful people for taking the time to visit, comment, and join. "O" is for overjoyed to meet you!

    In the meantime, here's a little more about the book: Published in 2012, Overtaken is a literary Gothic fairy tale centering on Sara Elliott Bergsen, a portrait artist living in London. You can watch the book trailer here, and get some idea of the story settings from my Pinterest board here. 

    I started writing the book as part of an exercise in a workshop I took at the International Women's Writing Guild Summer Conference at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY. We were meant to try a visualization process to invite a story in that we could write about. We closed our eyes, sat in deep silence and meditation, and asked a character to visit us. That's when Sara appeared, climbing the stone steps to a mysterious mansion, on her way to being . . . Overtaken. I was equally overtaken, and for the next several years I wrote every day in my spare time to find out what happened to Sara and why she was at the mansion in the first place. I was as surprised at what I found as she was.

    Now Sara and her story are so much a part of my life I can't think of what my world would be without her. One of the strangest things about writing, to me, is how our characters become real--imaginary friends that change our lives as much as we create theirs. What is real, what is illusion?, the exact dilemma Sara faces throughout the book, and questions I still love to explore.

    How about you? Looking forward to hearing from you so we can discuss these questions together! See you tomorrow with the letter "P."