My Beloved Dog, Typpee
She was a Poodle-Something mix, blonde like me, and - also like me - with one gimpy leg.We sorta looked like the dog-human match that you see in cartoons, both of us limping along together.
I found her at The Pound - the Humane Society up the road from us. I wanted a nice little doggie girl, a companion I could lavish affection on and maybe even dress up. Well, she was a sensible critter, too sensible to allow the baby-clothes-routine, but readily amenable to lavish affection, which she returned in spades. They told me she was 13 years old when I got her, her right back leg withered from a possible coyote attack in her youth. But I think she was closer to 8 or 9...and that was 9 years ago. At any rate, she was pretty old, but as of last Sunday still dancing on 3 legs and with the sweetest disposition imaginable.
She had been asthmatic for the past few years, her familiar coughing and wheezing a comforting signal of her dear presence. Always the lady, she loved being groomed and would hold still for almost anything, including baths, clippers and baby kitties.
Yesterday she went to sleep as I petted her, and her labored breathing stopped.
We put her in the flower courtyard under a delicate kumquat tree that bears heavily every year. It's a pretty spot, one that we pass several times daily, and a good place to remember her.
I will miss her terribly.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
My Beloved Dog, Typpee
Thursday, November 19, 2009
I pulled out a couple of "trunk novels" – you know, those things you wrote way-back-when that didn't go anywhere, usually because you didn't know how to write very well at that time – and took a second look at them. Yes, one is so painfully bad it cannot be salvaged, although I got a kick out of re-reading it. The other one has a nifty plot, but I think I'm going to let my Main Character continue to sleep in perpetuity in the trunk and switch her out for one I like a whole lot better. This might be the revision it needs to get going. Or it may just be more writing practice for me. Either way, I intend to have some fun with it.
The Effective Writer
Here is a piece written by BILL THORNTON. He sent this to me in a letter – as a letter, actually - and I got his permission to post it here for you. He calls it "The Effective Writer" but I want to call it "The Character Plays the Part."
The Effective Writer
In order to create a believable scene, one must take the reader to that specific place. The reader must sense the scene, its particular environment, its smells, flavors, sounds and colors, its season and atmosphere. Similarly, the reader must feel the raw emotions of the characters, the urgency of the moment, and the emotional or political climate of the particular scene. He must, in a very real sense, live in the scene if not as a player, at least as a present observing bystander.
Descriptions of the scene must be rich and vibrant, colorful and dramatic. The characters may even be a bit more than real in their ability to express their particular part in the story line. Given the need for realism, muted, subdued even melancholy effects are critical to tapping into the reader’s emotions. These are real sensations that real people feel and sense, and it’s that sensitivity and realism that make a scene believable.
A writer may express deeply committed love, raging anger, explosive happiness, or crushing emotional pain, any number of real human emotions complete with their character’s physical reactions and responses.
Anything less is not honest writing, and conveys less than the actual scene.
While the writer may have personally known these feelings and sensations, it’s his ability to convey accurately those very awareness’s to the believing reader that makes the scene work.
“Dry wiregrass rustled in the early afternoon breeze, buzzing cicadas and the rich scent of cinnamon and fresh peaches drifted over the well worn path to the creek just at the tree line.” Well, what color is the wiregrass? Describe “rustled”. Was it a light breeze, or a near wind? Were the cicadas bussing loudly, or were they a distant background effect? What kind of peaches were they? Was it a dirt path? Did it run through heady scent of lush green freshly mown lawn, or were they long creeping tentacles of aged and unkempt crabgrass? Was the creek silent and melancholy, rich with the pain of the widowed fly fisherman, or brightly babbling and filled with the memories of laughing children? Was that just a tree line, or was it a stand of rustling, quaking aspens, their brilliant trunks contrasting with deep, thick underbrush or heavy clumps of wayward field grasses?
Be in the scene to make it believable.
The writer need not actually be experiencing the emotions he conveys, though experience is the “real” of realism. It’s often said that the successful writer writes about things he knows. One cannot take the reader to rural Southern Georgia in the 1920’s unless he has been there and walked those well worn paths to the creeks, smelled that peach pie cooling on the window sill on a heavy, humid southern afternoon in the dog days of summer. He may not have actually been at the scene in those literal times, but that’s the stuff of research, and interviews, and imagination combined. Atmosphere is the stuff of creating realism. Raw emotion, drama and contrast are the stuff of the writer’s skills and talent.
When a scene is created that conveys these senses, does it leave the reader feeling angry, hurt, elated, melancholy, inspired? These are the meat of the writer’s fare. Listen to his footsteps echo, fading down a long, wet alley amongst towering brick walls rich with the sounds of unnamed apartment dwellers in the bowels of a rotting city, rife with tenements, screaming windows into the lives of those imprisoned in the confines of their own desperation. The stench of leaking sewer lines, greasy Chinese food, and diesel hangs heavy in the late afternoon stillness of a filthy, cracked and weathered doorway, its once bright and vibrant red now grease and dirt colored, thick with years of neglect and apathy.
Does the writer take you into his world to bring you into the scene and make you part of it, or are you just reading words on a printed page? The flatness of the print on the flat page is often the stuff of boredom. Living words and emotions are the stuff of writing.
Did I give you my anger, or the anger of the character? How different are they? It’s the character that plays the part. An angry scene does not reflect an angry writer. Nor does a happy holiday scene, filled with laughter, reflect a happy writer.
PAINTING STUFF – IN FRONT OF THE REAL THING
THREE BEAUTIFUL THINGS
My old kitty Jeeves. My sweet Jeebee is still hanging in there, although thin and elderly (13-16 years old) he is eating well and active. And he doesn't take any sass from the younger cats & the 2 doggies.
Having lunch with friend Leslie Cole and then looking at mid-mod property in Claremont. It's no coincidence that four of my friends are in real estate. But lunch with Leslie always includes more: this time we talked about crock-pot recipes, cat recues and travel. I swear, we sound like old ladies in print, but the conversation was not of the sweet, cozy type – more of the speculative, adventurous type.
My sister-in-law Pris's 70th Birthday Party – what a blowout bash! With my husband's whole entire extended family there (except brother Charlie & his wife Joyce who live in Australia) and everyone Pris knows, it was an exceptional dinner for about a hundred people at Kellogg West at Cal Poly. A slideshow of Pris during her early years (like in a baby carriage!) and other family members (like my DH as a sullen-looking but still very smokin' 15 year old) was the highlight of the party. The cake was a work of art from Some Crust in Claremont, but looked like Duff and the folks at Charm City had made it.
Pris had a good time – everybody had a good time! – and the DJ was great, too. Many thanks to Pris's sons, Derek and Kyre, for putting on this terrific bash.
(That's DH's brother Art & sister Sandra - Pris was married to Art)
Be careful out there
Posted by Kate Thornton at 10:59 AM
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
"Step forward now, you soldier, you've borne your burdens well.
Walk peacefully on Heaven's streets, you've done your time in Hell."
Americans, remember all our veterans today - my Daddy was a naval officer, my brother Bill is a disabled Viet Nam vet, and that's a picture of me in my Army uniform during Desert Storm (I spent 22 years in the Army.) Make Veterans' Day the time you reflect on what so many gave - and continue to give - for you.
Twice a year he had to watch his step, watch his mouth, not say anything he knew would upset her, not let the memories of war long past come between them.
Every year the war itself receded. It was someone else’s turn now, and young kids had their own war to think about, dread, and hope to return from.
Hardly anyone thought about the Gulf War, Desert Storm, with the horrors of the Iraq War on everyone’s mind. Gulf War vets were older now, most of them staring down their forties, although so many reservists had gone that there were plenty in their fifties and even sixties now. It had been a short war, so there weren’t that many disabled, not like the masses of disabled Iraq War vets. Not like the last of the disabled Viet Nam vets, either, with their hollow eyes, at the ragged ends of their ruined lives.
He looked at her with a mixture of affection, exasperation and pride. They had been separated during that short war, and both of them had done things they regretted, things they wished they could erase from their experience. He had been lonely and scared, looking for comfort and order, and some kind of reassurance. It had been his first real experience of war, as he’d been just a kid when Viet Nam was the nightly news.
Veterans Day and Memorial Day–they always brought back all the old pain and resentment.
He cleared his throat. “Want to visit the kids this weekend?” he asked with what he hoped was the right amount of casualness.
She looked up from her paper, over her steel-rimmed reading glasses and smiled. “Sure,” she said. “Let’s see if they want to go out to dinner or something.” Then her eyes clouded as she remembered it was Veterans Day. Everything came flooding back in a wave of pain.
He watched helplessly as her memories took her back to a bad place, to a desert road backed up for miles with trucks and family cars, the blades of her chopper whipping up children’s toys and the smell of burned bodies. The blinding heat and noise passed over her face and she was gone for a few minutes.
“Yes,” he replied. “Dinner. Let’s try that new sushi place, okay?”
She nodded. Okay.
Be careful out there.
Posted by Kate Thornton at 10:12 AM
Thursday, November 05, 2009
THE TOUGH PROJECTS AND THE PASSING OF HEROES
I had the pleasure of meeting with Pomona College Museum of Art Montgomery Art Center Assistant Director Steve Comba this week to experience something so intense I have to wrench back a word into real language and call it awesome. Nothing inspires awe like real art, but real art up close and personal, with the Museum's Assistant Director at your side and all the time in the world to look at it, to draw impact from it, to savor it at angles, under the lights, on a table, just you…yes, awesome is the word.
I am privileged to be among a handful of local artists chosen to participate in a joint da Art Center/Montgomery Art Center project called In Front of the Real Thing. This project allows the artists to choose an object in the Museum's extensive collection for private study. The artist may then produce a work inspired by the piece which will be part of a public exhibition at the da Art Center in January of 2010.
Not content with one masterpiece, I chose two – and the Museum graciously allowed me this extravagance. My two chosen works are from the Kress Collection, Madonna and Child, a religious painting in the School of Barnaba Modena, c. 1370-1380 and from the Modern Art Collection, Untitled, 1971, a lithograph by Sam Francis. I know they may look wildly different at first, but I see only the similarities when I look at them. My work, an oil painting, is inspired by the similarities I see.
After choosing a canvas in the right (for me) size and proportions, I then layered on fifteen coats of gesso, the last dozen in texture. This is not just homage to the Italian masters who gessoed their wooden boards, sanding them between coats to achieve that beautiful satiny finish, but also a way to achieve the raised splatter textures necessary to the work.
I met with Father Bill Moore to talk about what exactly halos are so I could get them right. I wanted to avoid the golden-plate-on-the-back-of-the-head concept while abstracting the image to its most basic form.
Then it was time to find an oil-based gilding medium (gold paint) that was in the right consistency for droplets to splash properly. After much experimentation, I found the right stuff, but it takes 21 days to dry. It's drying now.
More on the progress of the work as I finish it – the color will be transparent oil glaze thinned to the consistency of ink wash and will echo the reds, blues and yellows in both paintings.
I'll keep you posted on the progress of the work. Here are a couple of pics of the progress:
I have a bunch of new stuff up at the Sugar Rush Café & Gallery – it's worth a trip for their excellent food and artisanal coffee even if you aren't a big fan of the paintings.
WRITING STUFF - THE TOUGH PROJECT
I finished a Christmas story last week and sent if off to a magazine that has a tracking application online. Of course, I check it daily. Five days in slush and still not read – I may have to volunteer as a slush reader to get it going.
The really tough writing project I am working on is a novel I wrote in 1998. Back then, I thought I was a novelist and knocked out 3 or 4 long works - adventure/mysteries - that I thought were really good. Hah! Shows what little I knew! They needed a lot of work. So I shelved them (one was actually agented and had some interest from St. Martin's Press, only back then I didn't know enough about revisions to do the necessary rewrites.) But I had lunch yesterday with an old friend, a dear friend, who asked about that particular book and remembered it fondly.
So I am re-reading it first (I have a copy printed on my old laser printer) then doing a page-by-page rewrite into my computer. I used to have this work on an ancient five-inch floppy disc, but who knows what happened to that and what I could use to extract the info anyway. Also, I think it was in one of the very first iterations of Word Perfect.
I want to salvage the basic story, change the main character to one I have been developing, and update the technology (both in the storyline and what I use to write with.)
Maybe it will be a successful project. If so, I have three more "Trunk Novels" that could get the same treatment, if they're worth it.
THE PASSING OF A HERO
My friend and mentor, Colonel George Francis O'Connor, died last week of complications of esophageal cancer. He was 86, old to some of you, but still young to me.
George made my life in the Army an exciting trip through the world of Counterintelligence. He spotted & recruited me, then made sure I got the training and opportunities necessary to make me into an agent. I was privileged to work several missions with him. As one of very few women in units mostly made up of Vietnam War veterans, it was tough going at first, but gentlemen like Col. O'Connor, First Sergeant Eddie Scroggins and CW4 Artie Gibford made sure I got equal opportunities and they cut me no slack on performance. I loved them all dearly – even more when we were called to war during Desert Storm and I was one scared puppy. Okay, we were a litter of scared puppies.
I wish I could tell you all the funny stories of the things we did. I nearly laughed out loud at the funeral when LTC Glenn Miller leaned over and told me about the time they ran a convoy to the Madonna Inn. I told him about the time George "decorated" a few of us after a mission no one could talk about. He knew we were disappointed that no one could talk about a rather nice thing we had done (we were the Good Guys, after all) so he wrote up notional citations under the nom de plume "Col. Murphy" – I still have mine, neatly framed, citing us in the most incredible and very funny terms for something never mentioned.
There's not enough space here to outline his remarkable life – he was commissioned before I was born – but he was a real gentleman – and a real hero. He made me proud to serve. Good bye, George. A grateful nation will miss you, but no one more than I.
THREE BEAUTIFUL THINGS
Terry O'Connor, George's son – remembering the good times.
The flowers, of course.
And the way real art – like time – can heal.
Be careful out there.
Posted by Kate Thornton at 8:39 AM
Friday, September 25, 2009
A SHED AS A THING OF BEAUTY
PAINTING STUFF - A NEW STUDIO FROM OLD STUFF
Our 1955 Cliff May mid-century modern house is a delight to live in. But with Jerry's impending retirement, we need to convert that middle bedroom from a paint-splattered, fume-ridden mess of a painting studio into a sleek, modern office for two. That's not so hard – empty the room, scrub the floors, paint the walls and move in a bookshelf unit and two side-by-side desks with chairs. The perfect place for me to write and live in the cyber world and the perfect place for him to, well, do whatever he wants. My PC and his MAC, living in peace and harmony and the excitement of DSL, with a comfy reading chair (that Plycraft Eames-style lounger and ottoman!)
But where would I paint?
Well, I explored the idea of an offsite studio in the Arts Colony, and Terry and Rolo Castillo of the da Center for the Arts made a couple of very generous offers. Susie Eaton of Bunny Gunner Gallery even called a property owner to check on studio rentals and Vincent Blue sky of Blue sky Gallery and Steve Ruiz of Blue Core Gallery both steered me to a possibility, too.
After a short 3-week hiatus, I was painting again yesterday and realized that I don't want to leave here to paint. I like painting in these beautiful surroundings with the plants and pets around me. I like hearing the cacophony of the birds. I like painting in my nightie, the bathroom only steps away. I like it that my kitchen, with its little drinks refrigerator, is right here, offering cold water and a whole lot more.
I could buy one, of course, if I want to spend $8,000 - $45,000. And they are very beautiful. Companies like Modern Cabana, Metro Shed, Studio Shed and Modern Shed offer gorgeous prefabricated modern studios which they construct on your site.
But I like the idea of matching my house, re-using materials from original Cliff May homes and building exactly what I want. Not to mention cost. I think we can build this – with some expert help – for less than $3000. It might take a while, but I think the result will be wonderful. I will post pics of the progress as we go.
Here's the site as it is now. The main patio is to the right, and there is a perfect concrete slab for the studio here (not to mention good light)
And here is what will be the view from the front – see how the view is an echo of a door set and window set? That's the Master Bedroom, with a bamboo obstructing the right hand window set. Doors & windows are each 5 ft wide.
And here are a couple of pictures of similar structures, but you have to imagine the door-and-window combo that we will use.That one on the left is closest in design, I think.
They are all very pretty, and I will take inspiration from them
The new mystery short story is coming along – I have the set-up and the characters, and there is a delicious little twist. But I'm struggling with the plausibility factor – sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, but that just makes it unbelievable, so it can't be used. Sometimes you gotta make stuff up to make it sound real.
The Short Story class will become a reality in Pomona – Terry Castillo and I will get together soon and nail down dates, format, etc. Maybe we need an introductory talk and a workshop. Maybe a couple of workshops…hmmm…this could be a lot of fun!
Jerry getting his 30-year pin at Cal Poly Pomona. I listened in awe to his biography – I had no idea he had done so much.
Be careful out there.
Posted by Kate Thornton at 8:44 AM
Friday, September 11, 2009
WRITING STUFF – TRUTH IS GREATER WITH FICTION
I gave a very successful talk at the Burbank Public Library last week – "Writing the Short Story" was sponsored by the Los Angeles Chapter of Sisters in Crime and attended by about 50 people, ranging from beginners to published authors. Librarian Louise Paziak was terrific, providing me with a plush auditorium, cold water and copying my numerous handouts. Kudos to librarians everywhere for enriching the lives of writers.
I had a wonderful time, talked for 2 hours, and then schmoozed with some very interesting and really nice folks afterward. Many thanks to ARLENE for her delightful thank-you note – got it in the mail yesterday, Arlene!
Louise has contacted me about a couple of future presentations next year. Of course, I'll be delighted.
I spoke to Terrie Castillo at the da Center for the Arts (now partnerned with the SCA Galleries and Cheryl Bookout) about providing my Short Story Workshop to the Pomona Community. I have given the workshop (and its shorter talk/panel versions) dozens of times in the past few years, but never in my own community. Go figure!
I will plan an adult/all ages/all levels of writing experience talk similar to the one I gave in Burbank last week first, then maybe a workshop for young people who are just learning to write fiction. Details will have to be worked out, but a portion of any nominal fees will be donated to the da/SCA in support of Community Arts.
Inspired by my talk, I began work on another story and knocked out a few more pages on the novel as well. The publication of six of my stories this year by Flashshot brings my total short story publication numbers up over 100. Woohoo!
Every time I get "Painter's Block" I write. I've had Painter's Block for a couple of weeks.
I took four small paintings into Susie Eaton at BUNNY GUNNER to be framed together. I did these for the SUMMERTIME show at Bunny Gunner Gallery this summer, and have decided they would look better framed together, quatro-style, as "The Four Seasons" – hey, it's always summertime here, right?
(That's Time and Motion on the left)
I am still looking for studio space in Pomona, but I am also weighing the pros and cons of working offsite from my home.
Pros: More discipline, less turpentine and mess in the house (big concern – I'll have to repaint the studio/office soon, and not in "early spatter") and more room for larger works.
Cons: More discipline, can't work in underwear anymore, can't work at odd hours without getting out of the house, bathroom not steps away, kitchen not steps away, beautiful light at home.
Maybe I need to make studio space here at home work for me somehow. Maybe a garage remodel? Greenhouse or glass-framed shed? The patio would be beautiful, but I need a more controlled environment for drying/light/heat/ etc.
Life – it's one big happy dilemma.
THREE BEAUTIFUL THINGS
A few days in Tucson with my brother. Ostensibly for a Birthday Celebration for him with a handful of cousins, the cousins backed out at the last minute and my brother, his wife and I ended up at a Tucson Denny's for dinner. I was very disappointed in the cousins, who are on my sh*t list right now, but delighted that we had a very good time anyway. My brother Bill – who is active in Veteran's Affairs and works tirelessly with homeless veterans – is truly a Beautiful Thing. (And Lori, his wife, is too!) Happy Birthday, Bill. (That's an old pic of us - we've both lost weight since then!)
PS I'm posting this on September 11th, but I want everyone to remember that it is not just tragedy that unites us. We are united in happiness, too.
Posted by Kate Thornton at 9:05 AM