Friday, December 17, 2010

It Feels Like a Charles Dickens night...

In 1843, Charles Dickens had writer's block. Anyone who's ever started and restarted and thrown away and screamed to the Heavens for some kind of answer know what horror is contained in those little, tiny words:

Writer's Block

So he went to Scotland, on holiday, as the legend goes. He had Scottish ties and found himself wandering around Greyfriar's Kirkyard (or cemetery to us). Now, this isn't just any ghost yard. T.S. Elliot and JK Rowling have also found their literary salvation among the haunts there. But it is a sad place too. Trouble and poltergeists loom large in the cemetery's past and if you ever have a chance to do the ghost tour there .... be prepared to scream like a little girl. I did
And maybe Dickens witnessed his own apparition there on the cemetery grounds because when he came upon the gravestone of one " Scroogie", he misread it for "Scrooge". According to the guides of the churchyard, Dickens was instantly intrigued by the great and powerful tombstone, obviously designed for a great and powerful man. And yet, there were no flowers, no epitaphs, no evidence of any kind that this man was remembered for all his wealth and power.

And it got him thinking.

Today, a hundred and fifty years or so later, the Western world pretty much recognizes Christmas in the way Charles Dickens imagined it should be recognized in 1843. It's interesting to note that before "A Christmas Carol", the traditions mentioned in the story were not necessarily traditions of the day. Lighting the Christmas tree was a foreign concept brought over by a foreign Prince (Albert) and the idea of Christmas Eve parties and carols were how Dickens imagined it should be. And so it is. Even now.

We all have our favorite versions, of course. And aren't we fierce about defending our "Scrooge" as the greatest? My vote is always for the ONLY English version filmed actually in England with an all English cast: "Scrooge" 1970 with Albert Finney. It is the ultimate version of all versions with the deepest despair and the most miraculous of transformations and rejoicing.

And what of "Scroogie"? The forgotten man who was destined to inspire one of the most miserable misers in history? According to the experts at the graveyard, he was actually a most generous and giving soul who was well loved in his community. Or so the story goes. And yet, wasn't it said the same of Scrooge after the ghosts were through with him? Perhaps "Scroogie" had a bit of Jacob Marley in him, his last kind deed was inspiring a young writer with writer's block.

Charles Dickens in 1843

MERRY CHRISTMAS Scroogie and Charles Dickens and all of you wonderful readers and your families!

God bless us, every one!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I Met Kate Morton!

First, let me say, that I've been a dismal blogger, completely failing in my planned Halloween/ Thanksgiving/ Christmas rants. However, I'm repenting of my absence now by telling you all that last night I MET KATE MORTON, author of "House at Riverton", "Forgotten Garden" and most recently, "The Distant Hours."

It wasn't easy.

But it had to be done. When I read House at Riverton, I was hypnotized for days and, as a writer, rather depressed. Who can compare with that for a first novel? It made my own little manuscript look like left over play-do on a Seasame Street set from 1982. And I'll be honest, I cried. A lot. But then, when the tears had stopped (or, I was in public again) I realized how grateful I was that there still were true artists in the world. Kate Morton is the real thing. Like Bronte, like Austen, like Cezanne. She's it.

Her and JK Rowling. But I digress.

As I sat down to read the Distant Hours on Sunday night, a little needling started at the back of my brain. "I wonder if she would ever visit Vroman's bookstore in Pasadena, California?" Now, if you've never been to Vroman's, I'm sorry. One of the last independent bookstores on the West Coast and just about the cutest thing you'll ever see, it also happens to be 2 hours away from where I live. However, back in the day when my best friend and I used to do cool things like hang out in independent bookstores, we accidentally found ourselves at a book signing for Anne Rice. And if Anne Rice could be in Vroman's, why not Kate Morton?!

So I looked. On Sunday night. She was scheduled -- on TUESDAY!

Oh how the logic and reason tumbled together with laziness and fatigue shouting that driving to Pasadena after teaching for 6 hours only to drive 2 hours home again might actually kill me. But this was Kate Morton, the only living writer I worship (and JK Rowling). So I did it. Yes I did. Got there two hours early ( you never know! The woman has sold more than 3 million books! Sheesh!) And I waited, alone for two hours. In the end, there were about 20 of us and I think I was the only one who had actually read the book. 20 people. For Kate Morton!


Those of you who write will understand. Most of the time you are a foreign species worrying about things most people would never consider. You have an inner dialogue that goes something like this "but she can't just go out in the forest, who would go out into forest in the middle of the winter. I don't care if there is a glow in the woods. Who cares?! I suck! This is horrible. My character has no backbone, no pacing, no motivation. I have no backbone, no pacing, no motivation. I'm fat." Something like this. We think about things like word choice and tone and bang our heads against walls when we suddenly realize that we've spent 2 long years writing a half-wit version of Jane Eyre. How marvelous it was to actually talk to someone who is so decidedly an expert and realize that she speaks "writer" too. That I speak "writer". I'm not making it up. My weirdness is allowed. I'm part of a group. A group with Kate Morton in it.

She spoke of her love of reading, the process of writing her book and the writing process in general. And here's the deal, folks, she's living the dream. She is quite simply as stunningly poised and beautifully elegant as her characters. She is an international best seller on an international book tour after spending 6 months living in England for research for the Distant Hours.

And she's gorgeous.

If there is a Heaven, I am convinced it looks a lot like the world of Kate Morton and if you want a peek into what that is, pick up one of her books -- you'll swim in it.

You can search here for my review on "House at Riverton".

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Top Halloween Movies For Cold and Stormy Night.

I'm not the kind of girl who likes gory, violent movies. Halloween for me is pumpkins and magic and something mysterious in the air. And Halloween is not Halloween without these three FABULOUS films.

Practical Magic is delicious Halloween fun and every time I curl up with my cocoa, I want
Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock's hair, their magical powers and THEIR HOUSE!!

The house in San Juan on the Puget sound

The Conservatory

The Kitchen

The second fabulous pic on a romantically stormy night is The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. What do you do when you are a beautiful widow who's just moved into her dream cottage by the sea and find you're now haunted by a devilishly attractive sea captain?

Rex Harrison is the Captain who loves Lucy

Lucy can't understand why she's hypnotized by this portrait until...

... she sees the real thing...

And finally! It may sound childish, but if you've never seen Disney's "Legend of Sleepy Hollow", you are in for a treat!! First, the illustrations are the most idyllic New England, Halloween scenes ever -- it's only 30 minutes but it is like chocolate cake after a steak dinner. Halloween isn't Halloween without Ichobad Crane!

Curl up on the couch, light the fire, unplug the phone and feel a little bit of magic.

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Halloween and Ramalama Bang Bang

It's time to feel a little spooky, to wonder about that sudden breeze as you walk home alone, to peer into dark corners and wonder if they're truly empty.

Halloween is coming.

Where I live, there is only sunshine and brutal heat. When I want to feel that tingly of the unknown, something romantic and mysterious, nothing sets the mood like, "Ramalama Bang Bang" by Roisin Murphy.

Roisin Murphy
More specifically I watch Wade Robeson do his thing on "So You Think You Can Dance" and let the 18th Century undead give me goosebumps all up and down my arms.
And I think about becoming a professional dancer -- again.

And Hot Australian coreographers.

If you haven't seen it yet:


Now that you've seen it at last:

You're welcome :)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Fantastic Return of Nanny McPhee!!!

I loved this movie. I mean -- truly. I didn't expect tobut some surprises are so lovely. If you saw the first Nanny McPhee, you know that it is all about whimsey and magical mayhem. But the second is quieter, more grounded in reality which makes the magic so much lovelier.

The children cast in these roles are so real and reminiscent of the old English Empire that the story feels relevant, honest. There is less Nikelodian goo fests and more earnest longing. The result is perfection.

And the ambience in this film is just transporting. There is a scene in the beginning with Maggie Gyllenhaal (who I never really thought of as beautiful until this movie) when she hears the whispers that she needs Nanny McPhee and the wind is up and a storm is coming. It's exactly the kind of feel that puts Halloween in your toes.

It's WW2 and city kids are shipped to their poor farm relatives in the country. The shots of the English countryside and villages are breathtaking and the story is so rich, so surprisingly touching that I cried -- twice. Because I went to see it twice. In two days. I loved it that much. The scene in London is nostalgia straight out of Mary Poppins and I found myself desperately wishing Nanny McPhee would show up at my door.

More Nanny McPhee please!

My favorite character in the movie

The children in this film are absolutely believable portraying
a lost world of old world British charm and sensibility

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Anne Bronte and the scandalous Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Ever wonder what it would be like to be married to Lord Byron? Watch "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall". This fabulous BBC miniseries available on netflix absolutely blew my mind. It is so honest, so open. We always read about the rake who marries the virgin and is transformed. But what if he's not? What if she's partly to blame? What if she still loves him? What if he still loves her?

It's a conundrum.

And Anne Bronte is truly amazing in her ability to weave it all together. Unlike Heathcliff and unlike Rochester, there is no romance attached to the everyday trueness of love, of abandoning our vices, of giving in to them, of hurting, loving and even destroying each other. Throughout this entire story, I wasn't sure if I was rooting for them. I was certain I wanted her to run but I wanted her to lighten up too. I wanted them to be as good to each other as they could have been. I wanted them to divorce. I wanted it to end. I wanted it to have one last fighting chance. I hated him. I loved him. I hated her. I pitied her.

That's a great story.

So why haven't we heard of it?

Charlotte, Emily and Anne all discovered they were writing secretly. As a sisterly unit, they made a pact to get published together. Charlotte was the very last to be published but when she was, it was Jane Eyre. All of the sister's books sold. It is a fallacy to think they were in any way unsuccessful.

Anne in particular began to sell with "Tenant of Wildfell Hall". It was so scandalous and shocking that it sold out in 6 weeks. A second printing was in order but, tragically, Anne was already dead. At 29, she was the last of three Bronte siblings to die in 6 months. First their brother, then Emily and finally Anne. When she died, it was CHARLOTTE who denied the second printing. In her opinion, it wasn't morally worth reprinting and "Agnes Grey" should be the work her sister was remembered for. What a tragedy. What a pious, ridiculous, self-important judgement to make.

Of all the sisters' work, it is "Tenant of Wildfell Hall" that is the most sincere, the most grounded. She doesn't mince the realities of Victorian marriage but she doesn't have the hero digging up their lost love buried deep in the earth, or staggering all over the wilderness starving to death because she won't sleep with him either. Rochester is only a hero in comparison to someone like Heathcliff who is truly evil. But let's face it, he did lock his wife up in an attic and then seduce the 18 year old nanny. I'd set his house on fire too.

Anne's anti hero is the villain. He knows it. He owns it. But he's not supernatural in any way. He's not even unique. He is that breed of selfish young men who were ruined by their own gluttony for excess. Theirs is a marriage that should have worked but didn't.

She told the truth about the dark horse and it wasn't what the world wanted to hear. At least, not what her sister Charlotte wanted to hear.


Thank goodness we have the chance to view and read at leisure today. Anne Bronte -- genius.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Wistful -- Searching for Jane Austen Pt.2

A year ago July, I was in the south of England with my mother and we visited Jane Austen's cottage in Chawton.

Chawton Village is just outside of Winchester and so worth the 28 minute drive. It still is a village with thatch roofed cottages, single lane roads and on the cloudy morning we arrived, it was still sleepy and quiet. There on the corner is the cottage without ceremony or distinction. There are no gates and no monuments. Even if you didn't know this was her home, Jane is everywhere. Suddenly, you know what Barton cottage looked like for Marianne and Elinor. You see the fields where Lizzy rambled to Netherfield Park to rescue Jane. It's all there and so are you.

Jane Austen didn't write for 10 years. Her father had died. She was suddenly, in the despair, came a cottage given to her mother, herself, Cassandra and a friend by Edward, her brother. Suddenly, in this peaceful place, she could sit at the window, watch the traffic, the passersby, the fields across the way.

There are still original pieces of furniture in the main room, most especially her writing desk at the window, 1st edition Austens in the secretary desk and some of Jane's own personal reading collection.
I've always thought of Jane being alone because she never married. It always filled me with a kind of sadness at her solitude. How wrong I was. In this little cottage are rooms made up for all her brothers and nieces and nephews. The life and the love shared in that cottage is still palpable -- the family is imprinted in its spirit. Jane was adored.

The gardens at the cottage
The most powerful moment of the visit was reading a letter they have in a case from Cassandra to their niece Fanny detailing Jane's last hours. It's impossible to relay the intimacy of the experience, standing where they stood, knowing what the two experienced together. Theirs is the true story of love and loyalty. Maybe she didn't have Darcy but she had Cassandra and once Jane was gone, Cassandra carried on alone in Chawton on the 800 pounds Jane left her in her will. She opened a school and taught there for many years.
Across the street from the Austen house is the Greyfriars tea house .
Flowers at Greyfriars
The field across the street from the Austen Cottage

If you enjoyed this post you might enjoy a former post: Searching for Jane Austen pt.1


Former Post: Looking for John Keats in Hampstead:

Friday, August 20, 2010

Let's Be Honest: Eat, Pray, Kill Myself

Everywhere I go, I hear about this book. I did pick it up one time. I opened it, I read the first page and thought --"it's amazing how much I don't care about this person." But I thought that was just the book. After all, the movie has Julia Roberts and how can a person not care about Julia Roberts?

Answer: Apparently me.

This was the worst movie I've ever seen. I've seen movies I've disagreed with, movies I've disliked enormously because they were banal, insulting or just lame. But this is different. This is a whole new level of "How did I get myself into this hideous mess?" So I'm going to lay it out -- exactly what had me seeing lights of nausea in the theater and then I would love your opinions.

The things that drove me nuts:

* How cruel and self-centered can one person be?
*If you're going to Rome, India and Bali, you gotta know that we're holding out for some pretty lush scenery. This movie was gray -- all the way through
* Let me get this straight -- she totally destroys sweet husband and then is tortured over a child actor she met for .25 seconds while still married? Puhlease.
* The Texas guy in India: Kill me
* All of India: Kill me
* And the most unforgivable thing of all time: If you're going to make something nearly THREE HOURS long -- for the love of all that is decent in this world PLEASE GIVE US SOME KIND OF PLOT. Any kind of plot. Anything!!!

I never, ever thought I'd say this: I longed for the wit and pathos of 27 Dresses.

It was that bad.

But what did you think, readers? Anybody like it? Anybody agree? Anybody smart enough to hold onto their money?

Readers, I want your opinions. Did you see this movie?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Coming to LA? Tea at Huntington Library?

Critics often say there is no culture in Los Angeles. Maybe it's because of the Han Solo look a likes on Hollywood Boulevard or the 6000 hand made signs that say "Star Maps Here". Perhaps it's the "Star Van Tours" clogging the city's traffic. Whatever the reason for this snobbery -- the Huntington Gardens in San Marino proves them wrong.

San Marino is where everyone in the world wants to live. Don't believe me? It's where they filmed "Father of the Bride." Remember that house? That neighborhood? San Marino. And tucked into the wide, nostalgic streets shaded by old growth trees and multi million dollar verandas is the elegant estate of Mr. Huntington. He donated his entire property to the county and thank goodness he did!

Admission cost is around $20 but even if you just hit the gift store -- it would be worth it. Everything from Jane Austen collectibles, works of art, and histories of the world can be found within.

Outside are the properties which house incredible works of art that range from Mary Cassatt, to Monet, to Gainsborough, Romney and other awe worthy Regency artists. There are also collections of Victorian and Regency sculptures. Think Keira Knightley studying Darcy's likeness in the newest Pride and Prejudice. You are captivated by their realism.

But if you never even go in to see the notorious "Blue Boy" or Lady Emma Hamilton, the grounds are wondrous to behold. There are gardens representing nearly every culture.

The Shakespeare Garden

And while you're wandering, pondering the beauties of the universe, stop in for tea in the refreshing tea house -- always packed so book at least a few days in advance. Then be prepared for an all you can eat buffet of fruits, crustless sandwiches that are sinful and desserts that made me embarrass myself.

The Tea House

The Japanese Garden

An illegal shot of Huntington's bust of Lord Byron

Monday, July 26, 2010

I Want to be Georgette Heyer!

... Or at least I want to be in one of her novels. I don't read multiple works from a single author very often and yet I find myself at the end of a 4th from Ms. Heyer! I can't quite believe it because every time I pick up one of her Regency Romances, I think to myself the same thing "... eh? Am I really in the mood to work this hard?"


I know. It's crazy talk. As if using language that I don't hear every day at the high school where I teach will reveal my illiteracy. I LOVE the books I've read by her so far. Love them. And I find myself in the most fabulous glow when I've finished. Last night, I finished VENETIA.

Venetia is a 25 year old country beauty used to a life of solitude caring for her eccentric father and notoriously brilliant but crippled brother. Worse, she likes this life. However, when the notorious rake, Damerel, takes up residence as her neighbor, she finds their paths crossed and her heart quite lost for the first time in her life. However, it would seem that everyone who has ever cared or even been curious about Venetia is throwing in an iron to make sure that such a horrible mistake is never made. Have I read this plot line before? Of course (I do own every book Julia Quinn ever wrote). So why read this? Because it's LOOOOOOVVVVVVEEELLLY! It is truly romantic in a way most romances routinely miss. Damerel is truly Bryonic and Venetia is a worthy, lovable heroine. I found myself sighing shamelessly to myself.

If you've never read Georgette Heyer, here are five things to remember:

1.) You MUST plow through the first two chapters of "set up". Once you hang in there through Chapter 3, you find yourself trapped.

2.) Be prepared for some serious Regency Romance. Heyer had over 1000 reference books on the period before she died. It never gets in the way of the fun, the jokes or the romance but the woman knows what she's talking about and as a result the characters are characters you take seriously. Even the fools

3.) The newly released soft back covers are beautiful works of art from Romney, Lawrence and other Regency artists. Simply gorgeous.

4.) The women in Heyer's romances are real women, whether they're beautiful, plain, independent or eager to please, you actually like these ladies. They have personalities, strengths and weaknesses. These are girls you can root for. On the flip side -- her men are MEN. They talk like men, react like men and do not, for one minute sound like a WOMAN writing a MAN for her romance novel purposes. Prepare to swoon.

5.) This is my recommendation for starting your journey. Begin with SYLVESTER, then VENETIA,

Follow those with THE FOUNDLING

And end with Bath Tangle. These are the four I've read and I've loved every minute of it! You've got to love authors who take away the real world for just one beautiful moment.